A Time to Be Silent: When to Refrain from Sharing the Gospel

Reposted from It Is Written.

One of the marks of a Christian is a desire to share the good news of the life-transforming gospel with others. In the words of the apostles, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). But what if a friend, fellow worker, schoolmate, or family member asks us to desist? Does there come a time when we should refrain from speaking to a person about Jesus and Christianity? 

Thanks, But No Thanks

A few years ago, I sent John Piper’s booklet The Passion of Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die to several close friends and relatives. To my knowledge, most of them were not Christians. I had already shared the gospel with some. With others I had not–at least not in a more comprehensive way. I wanted to be able to face Jesus on Judgment Day with the knowledge that I had attempted to share the gospel with those who were close to me.

Disappointingly, one couple replied with a letter and some materials that made it clear they rejected Christianity, affirmed materialistic evolution, and wished me to relinquish my attempts at trying to convert them. They were polite. But they were also resolute. They didn’t believe in God, and they preferred that I give up any attempt in persuading them otherwise.

A Time to Keep Silent

According to Scripture, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7). I believe gospel witness falls under the umbrella of this general axiom. All Christians have a responsibility (according to their level of maturity, gift, and opportunity) to propagate the good news about Jesus (Matt 5:13-16; Acts 8:1-4; 1 Thess 1:6-9; 1 Pet 3:15).1 Moreover, we should be prudent, patient, and persevering in our gospel witness (Prov 26:4-5; Matt 10:16; 1 Cor 3:6-7; 1 Tim 1:12-16; 2 Tim 2:24-25; 1 Pet 3:9). Nevertheless, there comes a time when we should refrain from speaking.

The New Testament teaches by principle and precedent that Christians should temporarily or, in some cases, indefinitely terminate their explicit communication of the gospel with certain individuals when those individuals resolutely reject the truth and clearly request that your evangelistic efforts stop. Jesus told his disciples to move on when a person or group of people firmly rejected their gospel witness and no longer welcomed them (Matt 10:11-14; cf. Acts 13:44-48; 18:5-6; 19:8-9; 28:17-28). Elsewhere he repeated the directive in metaphorical terms: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6).2 Jesus himself continued to share the gospel with antagonists up to a point–then he was silent (Matt 26:63; Mark 14:61; Luke 23:8-11; John 12:36-40).

One Last Time

So I judged it was time to stop sharing the gospel with this couple–at least overtly. I also thought it wise and appropriate to communicate my intent with kindness and tact. However, since this would be my last opportunity to address with them a topic of such eternal magnitude, I decided to accompany the promise to cease with a final gospel challenge. Below is the letter I sent to them, edited to protect their identity. (Those familiar with Christian apologetics will note my “presuppositional” approach.)3

Dear ________ and ________,

I regret that a busy schedule has forced me to put off a response to your letter. But it has remained on my list of “things-to-do” for some time, and the opportunity has finally come!

First of all, thank you both for your love and concern. I am doing much better now, though to some degree I must live with a measure of chronic pain and fatigue. But compared with many who suffer in this world, my bodily affliction is relatively light. I thank God for the health I do enjoy and which I do not deserve. Secondly, thank you for the nice map. Our family is big on maps, and this one has made a nice addition to our collection. Thirdly, I want thank you for responding to my earlier request that you consider the truth and claims of Christianity. The National Geographic article arguing for evolution, the magazine article entitled, “How to Think About the Mind,” and the comments in your letter make it clear that you have chosen to believe a materialistic-evolutionary view of reality rather than a Christian view of reality. As a Christian, I still love you and respect your freedom (as individuals made in the image of God) to choose your own beliefs. I would, however, indulge one last time upon your patience and goodwill. Let me assure you that I will never bring up the Christian faith or gospel with you again unless you ask me to. But I would like to leave you with a couple of final thoughts.

You may not realize this, but I am a converted evolutionist. As a young man, I was taught the theory of evolution as fact, and I eventually embraced it as such. However, later in life I was introduced to the Christian worldview, which contradicted evolution. But it was not merely the teachings of Scripture that finally convinced me evolution was untenable. I have rejected evolution on both scientific and philosophical grounds as well. And as the National Geographic article you sent suggested, I am not alone: “nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most” (p. 6). Of course, the author of this article, a rather zealous evolutionist, blames “Scriptural literalism” and widespread “ignorance.” But another cause, which he overlooked (?) is a growing rejection of evolution among well-educated and scientifically-minded people. Either the author of this article is himself ignorant of the growing body scientific and philosophical literature that exposes the fallacies of evolution, or he prefers to win an argument by ignoring his opponents. A much more honest and humble approach is exemplified by Dr. W. R. Thompson—himself an evolutionist—in his preface to a reprint of Darwin’s Origin of Species:

As we know, there is a great divergence of opinion among biologists, not only about the causes of evolution but even about the actual process. This divergence exists because the evidence is unsatisfactory and does not permit any certain conclusion. It is therefore right and proper to draw the attention of the non-scientific public to the disagreements about evolution. But some recent remarks of evolutionists show that they think this unreasonable. This situation, where men rally to the defense of a doctrine they are unable to define scientifically, much less demonstrate with scientific rigor, attempting to maintain its credit with the public by the suppression of criticism and the elimination of difficulties, is abnormal and undesirable in science (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1956).

Because I know you both like science and because I assume you want to follow the truth wherever it leads, I’m sending you two books, which seriously undermine the so-called scientific or philosophical basis for the theory of evolution. Let me quickly point out that neither of these books has been written by a pastor or theologian. The first book, Darwin’s Black Box (The Free Press, 2003), has been written by Michael Behe, professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University. This book has proved so persuasive that a leading atheist has recently become a theist. (See the enclosed ABC News article, “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God.”) The second book, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), has been written by a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Let me assure you there are many more such books, but I have found these quite helpful and enlightening. I am also sending you a taped debate between an evolutionist and Christian theologian-philosopher entitled, “The Great Debate: Does God Exist?” The books and the debate will demonstrate that Christianity does not require one to put his head in the sand. Please accept them as a gift.

But perhaps you feel skeptical. After all, according to the article you sent there are still a number of Americans today—at least 12 percent—who believe “that humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god” (p. 6). We know that religions can sometimes hold on to and perpetuate bad dogma. But is it possible that educated people could hold on to and perpetuate bad “science”? Absolutely! Take, for example, the medical practice of “blood-letting,” which killed our first president. The medical establishment of George Washington’s day defended and practiced this deadly “remedy” as science despite the total lack of evidence for its effectiveness. (Even the Bible cannot be blamed for this superstitious practice since, according to Scripture, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” [Lev. 17:11, 14]!)

But I believe there is another reason, besides bad “science,” for the tenacious insistence and perpetuation of evolution. I would suggest that many people prefer to retain evolution—despite the lack of real evidence—because it justifies living life apart from God and apart from any absolute standards of morality. In your letter, you assert that “almost all the battles and wars [of world history] are over religion.” I won’t deny that religion has often had some part to play in wars. But I would point out that atheistic evolutionism as a view of reality and ethics has also had a part to play. Indeed, it was Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” that moved Hitler to exterminate so many Jews as inferior specimens of the human race. Of course, if I were an evolutionist, I could not condemn Hitler or Nazi Germany for the Holocaust. After all, as the Harvard professor in the article you sent me argued, what many of us would call “murderous,” “hateful,” “depraved,” and “evil,” was in reality nothing more than “the activity of the brain.” If I were an evolutionist, I would have to chalk up Hitler’s “atrocities” to overcharged neurons or chemical imbalances in the brain!

I am in no way implying that you, ________ and _________, would excuse Hitler’s actions, any more than I would excuse atrocities committed in the name of religion. But I would ask you to consider this: how does materialistic evolutionism provide you with a basis to judge the rightness or wrongness of another man’s beliefs or actions? In reality, evolution provides you with no basis of ethics, which is another strike against it. You have to assume a worldview in which there are absolute standards of right and wrong—a worldview in which human beings have intrinsic worth and therefore should be “respected” because they’re not just a sophisticated blob of molecules!

I know you know this in your heart of hearts. You have been created in the image of God with a moral faculty called “conscience,” and you cannot escape the nagging reality of human value, human sin, and human accountability to the Lord of all creation. At least that’s my view of things.

In any event, I don’t want to try your patience and goodwill. I suppose you wish I would simply keep my “theory” of Christianity to myself, just as you keep your “theory” of evolution to yourself. If you insist, I will comply with your wish. But I confess it’s not as easy for me as it is for you. Once again, look at our “theories” as views of reality. Imagine there’s a building filled with people and smoke rising from the top. Your “theory” says, “The smoke’s just part of the building. It’s normal. Nothing to worry about.” My “theory” says, “There’s a deadly fire and people’s lives are in danger.” My theory compels me to “meddle” in another’s business and warn him of perceived peril. Your theory, on the other hand, allows you to mind your business and leave others alone. Of course, this illustration does not by itself prove or disprove either “theory.” But it does account for the reason why Christians, like your two sisters, ________ and ________, find it difficult not to share their views with you.

In closing, let me reiterate my love and respect. At one level, I genuinely view you both as “good people.” That is, you have many admirable qualities and have done many admirable things. Yet, at another level, I view you both, as I view my own self and all other men, as sinners who have rebelled against their Creator and who are in need of a Savior. If you are ever interested in learning more about that Savior—Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God—I’d be delighted to tell you! Otherwise, from this point forward I will keep my Christianity to myself until you ask. And whether or not you ever want to talk about religion, I still hope to see you again.

With sincerity and love,
Bobby Gonzales

Still Praying

It’s been over ten years since I wrote that letter. This couple has remained very friendly and generous toward me. In fact, they’ve actually asked me questions about the Christian faith since then. I love them. I hope they’ll change their mind about the gospel before they die. But until they give me the “green light,” I’ll try to live a life that adorns the gospel I believe (Titus 2:2-10; 1 Pet 3:1-2) and keep praying for God to grant them a change of heart (Luke 11:1; 2 Tim 2:1-4).


1 I develop this proposition more fully in a two part series entitled, “Giving Proper Due to the People in the Pew: A Biblical Defense of Lay-Evangelism,” Founders Journal 83 (Winter 2011): 11-27.

2 Jesus is not discouraging us from zealously engaging in evangelistic outreach. Nor is Jesus calling us to pre-judge individuals with whom we come into contact. “Dogs” and “pigs” are metaphors for individuals who fail to appreciate the value of the gospel, hold it in contempt, and show hostility toward those proclaim it. Thus, there are times when biblical prudence may lead us to close our mouths and refrain from preaching the gospel to that class of individuals who judge themselves to be unworthy of hearing the gospel. That may not mean that they are beyond the reach of God’s saving grace. But it does mean that until they soften their posture towards the gospel, it’s God’s will that the gospel be withdrawn from them.

3 Presuppositionalism is a method of defending the faith in which one attempts to show that the biblical worldview alone can provide the necessary epistemological framework for true knowledge and ethics. In the letter above, I try to demonstrate that materialistic evolution fails to provide epistemic justification for reality and morality whereas the biblical worldview does. For a systematic treatment of this apologetic methodology, see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd edition (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1967); Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions of Defending the Faith (Covenant Media Press, 1996); and John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1994).

Bob Gonzales bio

Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewThe Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.

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Craig Toliver's picture

good article 

Aaron Blumer's picture


Sad story, but I really do think that's the best way to handle that. And thanks to Dr. G for sharing it. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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