This blog concludes my series on the “Ten Commandments of Apologetics,” adapted from my book, Engaging the Closed Minded. The last commandment, number ten, may well be the most important one of all. In my next blog, we'll look at “evolution’s five fundamental assumptions—are they scientific or philosophical?”
9. Don’t Be Intimidated
Most non-Christians have little knowledge of the Bible, and few have read even a portion of it. They seldom ask difficult questions or need in-depth answers. In fact it’s best to keep our responses as simple and specific as possible.
In many cases, unbelievers are so ignorant of Christianity that they have a hard time even articulating their arguments—let alone offer any evidence for their beliefs. For example, when non-Christians claim the Bible is “full of contradictions” or “The Bible is unreliable because it’s been recopied so many times during the centuries,” they are seldom able—when asked—to point to one such alleged contradiction or to explain why the Bible is unreliable despite its history of transmission. (Apologists know it’s actually just the opposite. With thousands of ancient manuscripts to compare, scholars can pinpoint accurately what the original Bible documents said!)
This is not to say there are no astute non-Christians with sophisticated arguments. But most of the people Christians encounter are friends, relatives, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors. Their criticisms are usually the product of anti-Christian sentiments that they absorb from the print media, TV and movies, secular colleges and high schools, and so on. More often than not, critics are merely parroting what they hear in popular culture. Seldom are their criticisms well-thought-out arguments.
If you do encounter questions you can’t answer, or arguments you can’t refute, admit it. Our responses to all challenges must be honest. Not having a response at the moment, however, is not the same as saying there is no response. Point this out. Assure the unbeliever that there is an answer to his challenge and that you will find it. This provides an opportunity to meet another time.
If you won’t be seeing that person again, research the answer anyway. Next time you’ll have a response, if the issue arises.
10. Keep the Right Attitude:
Shortly after I began my apologetic ministry in the mid-eighties, two Mormon missionaries knocked on my door, and I invited them in. The discussion did not go well for them, and they asked if they could return with their “superior.” I agreed, and the four of us met about a week later. As the three were leaving the second time, one of them turned to me and said, “You know, you’re the nicest person we’ve ever talked to!”
People who know me well chuckle when they hear this story because I have a reputation for being rather blunt and outspoken. In other words, their flattering comment does not accurately reflect my normal behavior when engaged in, say, a lively discussion (as C. S. Lewis put it) on “a tough bit of theology.” In other words, I was being polite and respectful as any Christian should be when sharing with unbelievers. That’s how we’re supposed to behave.
But their comment brings to mind how rude and self-righteous Christians can be. One can only imagine how many stories cult evangelists can tell about unfriendly, belligerent Christians. Part of the reason for this, as I believe the late Dr. Walter Martin aptly put it, is because the average Christian can be tied up like a pretzel in about five minutes by the average cultist. When that happens, it’s not surprising that Christians become frustrated, angry, and vent with hostility. This is why all Christians should be trained in practical apologetics.
The lesson here is that being discourteous or rude does not create an environment that encourages the work of the Holy Spirit. I could have gotten frustrated, then angry, then argumentative, but that would only reinforce their conviction that Christianity is in error. When unbelievers get rude and defensive with us, don’t we assume it’s because they know they’re wrong and can’t admit it?
The primary apologetic text in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:15: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [Greek: apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you , . . . ” Unfortunately, this is as far as some Christian apologists go. They leave out the equally important last part of the verse—and the one that creates an atmosphere where unbelievers willingly give us a fair hearing: “yet with gentleness and reverence (emphasis mine).
Critical thinking, persuasive reasoning, and objective facts are the tools of the trade in apologetics. And for a trained apologist, it’s not difficult to thwart arguments raised by non-Christians—even sophisticated challenges. But this does not automatically result in a conversion. We may win the argument, but the unbeliever can still remain far from submitting his or her life to Christ. Good apologetics is convincing without being aggressive or belligerent.
So, how do we defend our faith with “gentleness and reverence?” The Apostle Paul gives us the answer:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsides; make the most of every opportunity. Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col 4:5-6).
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
By following this advice, Christian apologists will seem not only interested in sharing truth, but genuinely interested in the unbeliever as a person. Which we should be. (c)