The Man in the Other Room: An Analogy for Apologetics

The Room

Imagine you and a friend are sitting in a room. There is another room on the other side of the wall that you’ve never been in. Your friend explains that there’s a man in the room next door. How would you know if he is telling the truth?

Your friend then gives reasons to believe that someone is in the other room. “The room that we are sitting in was built by this man,” he explains. He goes on to say that you can learn about this person by observing the room around you. He pulls out an autobiography that claims to be written by the person in the other room. Finally, your friend recounts the story of how he met this person. He then implores you, “Don’t just take my word for it. Go knock on the door yourself and see if he answers.”

Three Types of People

I’ve often heard a shorter version of this story as an analogy concerning God’s existence. There are three types of people: theists, agnostics and atheists. Theists believe that there is someone in the other room. Agnostics are unsure whether someone is in there or not, while atheists believe that the room is empty.

It’s easy to blur the lines between atheism and agnosticism. Many atheists say that since there are no good reasons to believe in God, then He must not exist. Even if your friend’s reasoning is unconvincing, however, someone could still be in the other room. This would make you an agnostic and unsure if God exists. To move into atheism, you need to have reasons to believe that the room is empty.

So how do Christians show that someone is in the other room? The study of apologetics seeks to answer this question among many others. The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “a verbal defense.” Peter calls believers to always be ready “to make a defense [apologia] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As Christians, we must be prepared to defend our faith.

Three Approaches to Apologetics

The reasons given in the story above represent three basic approaches that Christians can take to show that someone is in the other room. The first approach is to provide evidence for God’s existence through reason and the experience of nature, also known as Natural Theology. In this approach, you invite others to see God’s handiwork by examining the universe around them. For example, you could argue that the apparent design in the universe points to a Designer (teleological argument).

The second approach is to show that the person in the other room wrote a book about himself. As Christians we believe that God has revealed Himself through the Bible. We can point to the Scriptures and show that they are reliable and inspired by God. Specifically, we can point to the historical person of Jesus and show that there is evidence to believe that He rose from the dead.

The third approach is to share our own personal experiences of meeting the person in the other room. Paul shared his testimony before King Agrippa as an example of the Gospel’s power to change hearts (Acts 26). Believers have a personal relationship with the risen Jesus and should invite others to knock on his door.

All three approaches to apologetics are rooted in Scripture and have their place when dealing with unbelievers. Paul argued that we can know there is a Creator by examining creation (Romans 1:19-20). The Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts written by those who knew Jesus personally (Luke 1:1-4). Jesus invites all to knock on the door: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).

As we talk with unbelievers, we should use all three approaches when applicable. Above all, we must preach the Gospel, inviting unbelievers to knock on the door and meet the person in the other room.


Sources:

Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996. Print.

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “The Man in the Other Room: An Analogy for Apologetics

  1. There is a forth possible option, though it may not traditionally be considered appologetics, I certainly believe it is: demonstration. Given the analogy, one could bring the other man into the same room with the skeptic who would then have to determine, not so much whether they would believe, but whether they will be rebellious to the Truth manifestly revealed to them.

    The difficulty with the analogy on this wise is that God is a Spirit, not a physical being which can physically be discerned (as He once was 2000 years ago). This shows us the limitations of the skeptics’ imperical thinking. Nevertheless, when God’s presence is manifestly discernable (say in an anointed worship service, or -ideally – in the preaching of the Word), they become confronted at the very least with a gamut of emotiinal responses that they have to come to grips with. God can, will, and does manifest in the world. We are told to pray that God’s kingdom come in the earth. In a place where skeptics are introduced to the manifest presence of God is the place where they are truly confronted with whether or not they will believe (TASTE and see that the Lord is good). ‘Bringing the man into the room’ is what Christ, and the apostles did when they wrought miracles, or were filled with the Spirit. They were demonstrating a tangible interaction with God in the world.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. No analogy is perfect obviously, but I see what you are saying. I agree that God still interacts in the world in tangible ways, especially in the preaching of the Word. Good point. God bless!

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  2. Atheism doesn’t say that the room is empty. It asks for proof that the room is occupied from those who claim what they themselves have never seen but proclaim as true nonetheless

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    1. Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it. However, I obviously disagree.

      First, my definition of “atheism” comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which says atheism is “the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/#1). Another example of this would be the question of whether there is gold on Mars. Some believe that there is gold on Mars and give reasons why this is the case (theists). Others say that there is not enough evidence to form a belief either way (agnostics). While the third category are those who believe that there is no gold on mars. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig goes into this in more detail as well as the discussion about proving a negative here (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-definition-that-will-not-die).

      All of the arguments or proofs for God’s existence may fail, but it could still be the case that God exists.

      I am curious, where do your definitions come from, and how would you distinguish between atheism and agnosticism? I hope we can have a cordial conversation about this. I want to understand your view and where you are coming from.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A-theism literally means ‘without god’ it is a position of having no God or Gods. It does not inherently include the positive assertion that there is/are no gods to have.
        You are including something that is not in the meaning of the word for the purpose of misrepresenting it. This you are knowingly doing and it is dishonest.
        Agnosticism is a middle position of admitting to not have knowledge of whether there is a God or gods.
        Atheism is a position on belief
        Agnosticism is a position on knowledge.
        But they both say the same thing from two different positions

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      2. I am not misrepresenting the definition at all, my definition came from the resources above. Clearly you are not wanting to have a cordial conversation since you are attacking my character and saying that I am being “dishonest.” You do not even know me at all, how could know my intentions? If I was wrong, why couldn’t I just be mistaken instead of willingly dishonest?

        I’m still willing to have a conversation, so let’s just say that we disagree on the definition for now.

        “God exists.” Do you affirm or deny this proposition?

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      3. I would say that you have the burden of proof for the affirmative claim. Along with asking which of the thousands of gods in history you mean when you say God exists?

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      4. The third perfectly acceptable and honest position is “I don’t know”. I think would add… ” and neither do you”
        Belief and knowing are two very different things, you know.

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  3. Great post, Carey! I find it silly that some atheists want to challenge a term that clearly defines them. The famous atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell, characterized atheism and agnosticism in this way: “The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or denial.” And that’s exactly how you characterized it, Carey. Clearly, KIA’s beef is not with you but other atheists.

    Also, it seems, his beef is with his own actions. For if KIA is going to challenge your positive arguments for the existence of God, from what position would KIA do such a thing? From a neutral position? From the position that God exists? Obviously not. It would be from the position that the God you’re arguing for does not exist, or else why bother arguing with you in the first place?

    Anyway, great stuff. Keep it up!

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  4. Unfortunately, the conversation with KIA went nowhere fast. I was accused of being dishonest and was called “clueless” as well. Clearly, this person was not wanting to have a cordial conversation as I had hoped. I genuinely desired to know where they were coming from, and wanted to discuss our differences in a civil and reasonable manner. It is hard to have a conversation with someone who will not clearly state their position. So I had to end the conversation there. But others can feel free to comment and let me know their thoughts. I will gladly have a discussion with you unless you resort to similar tactics.

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  5. In the analogy we have the possibility of a man in the other room, an autobiography that is alleged to have been written by the man and a claim that the person has met the man.

    I think in this scenario, most people would take interest, what do they have to lose? Do I really have an interest in meeting this man? If I decided to meet this man, I can knock on the door and meet him. Will the man answer, will I meet him face to face? Did the other person meet him face to face or was that stated metaphorically?

    The analogy makes it sound cut and dry and we know the existence of a god is not.

    So what happens when I read the book and find that the stories were not written by the man behind the door but maybe “inspired” by the metaphoric man behind the door. Or when I knock on the door, the “man” is a metaphor.

    If I just shake my head in disbelief, will you continue to preach the gospel to me? Why not just accept that I have different beliefs than you?

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would like to clear up a few things. First, I recognize that the analogy is a very simple one and falls short in many ways. The purpose of the analogy is to help Christians understand three basic approaches to defending their faith. I had in mind Christians who are just beginning to study apologetics and feel like they might get lost in all the technicality.

      I also recognize that the the discussion of God’s existence is not as cut and dry as the analogy says. It can be a very complex endeavor. Again, it is not designed to give a robust view of how to defend God’s existence. It is just a simple analogy to help Christians think about how to defend their faith. The whole point is for Christians to see that they can defend their faith by pointing to evidence from the universe around them, the Bible, and their own personal experience. It is not written to convince someone who does not believe in God. Also, it would take many posts to lay out each of these three approaches.

      I think the existence of God is a question that most people are interested in because of the implications that follow whether He exists or not. As far as meeting the man in the other room, all I am saying is that Christians believe that they have a relationship with God and should invite others to have one as well. Not that they have seen physically seen him or something like that. Christians believe that the Gospel is what begins a relationship with this God, and that the Spirit indwells the believer, and “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). So Christians should share their stories of how their relationship with God began and then preach the Good News of Jesus to others. One way I would personally do this would be to ask someone to read the Gospel of John with an open heart to see who Jesus claimed to be and to see what they make of his teachings and claims.

      Here is where I am coming from in regards to sharing my beliefs with others. I enjoy having conversations with those who do not believe as I do, so I will have those conversations with people as long as they want to. But if someone tells me that they don’t want to talk about Christianity anymore, or a conversation comes to a halt, then I won’t try and force it on them. I don’t think that is how Jesus or the apostles handled things in the Bible. At the same time, since I believe Christianity is true and believe that I am commanded by God to share about Him, I don’t think I should just keep my beliefs to myself altogether. So I will share them with others if they are open to conversation and until they are no longer open to conversation. I hope that makes sense and that I am understanding you correctly. Again, thanks for commenting!

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  6. Ah, You used the Agnosticism and Atheist tag so I figured this was directed at them as well.

    I tend to be all over the gamut on religion. I was raised catholic, had an extensive Christian education, felt there was not enough evidence to convince me. I’ve been agnostic, strong atheist, studied Buddhism, covering world religions – even though I consider myself atheist. At this point, I understand everyone has their own belief system, in the US we have religious freedom and I just hope others use religion or their worldview to be good people.

    With that in mind, I don’t want to step on someone else’s toes but like to get involved in interesting discussions. I don’t agree, that a non-believer must be saved but I know it is your job to spread the good news but always keep in mind, those that wander are not always lost. 🙂

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    1. You make a great point David. I went ahead and removed those tags. I see how that would be misleading and I realize that I got a little tag happy!

      It sounds like you are well-versed in many things! I am grateful to live in a country that allows religious freedom. I appreciate your perspective and friendly tone. That seems rare these days, especially when two people of differing views dialogue about religion online.

      I am curious about your story. I plan on checking out your blog when I get a chance. Do you have any posts on there that talk about your personal journey away from Christianity?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, you got me on a good day! I do get frustrated sometimes, some days my posts reflect that.
        Over the course of the past 3 years blogging, my views have likely changed and each day I try to be a better person. I tried to go through my blog and find something that tells the story of me but I’m not sure I ever went 100% in details with my journey away from Christianity. To be honest, I think the teachings may always be part of my life (as are many other teachings) but there is not enough proof for me to believe in a god of man.

        I am not Atheist (I am…. David)
        https://story4today.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/i-am-not-atheist-i-am-david/

        Short Snippet of Atheism in the USA:
        https://story4today.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/short-snippet-on-atheism-in-the-usa/

        Explaination for Everything..
        https://story4today.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-explanation-for-everything-creationevolutionignorance/

        Religion/Philosophy can help…
        https://story4today.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/religionphilosophy-can-help-zealotry-perhaps-not/

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      2. I enjoyed reading this and have a better perspective on your views. I followed your blog and perhaps I will chime in on one of your posts in the future, who knows? Thanks again!

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      3. I haven’t read your blogs yet but intend to because I always love to learn from another’s spiritual perspective, especially someone who walked away from Christianity. My story is a very long one, but I’m very similar in that I’ve studied and sought faith in a multitude of religions. I was raised agnostic and had been searching for years until I had a dramatic spiritual encounter that had left such an imprint on my life, I never looked back. Ultimately, I truly think what it comes down to is seeking truth above and beyond all else. Once I removed myself from what I wanted religions to be and opened my mind up to seek after what’s true, all the pieces began to fall into place. Christianity is the ONLY religion that cohesively explains who we are, where we come from, what’s the point and where we are going. There is no lack of evidence that God exists, Jesus was a human fully filed with God’s spirit and demonstrated to the world that he loved us by dying for us. The evidence for theism absolutely exists. The evidence for the truth claims of Christianity are the only claims that completely line up with reality. It’s really our wills that do not WANT to believe. Those who look for truth find it. As long as their hearts are truly trying to find it devoid of agendas. But when we allow our intuition to guide us, ask questions, very specific questions and you will find logical, rational, reasonable answers. They are there. It’s inevitably up to you to put the pieces together and decide to believe. Good luck on your journey. I truly pray God leads you to where He knows you need to be.

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