Apologetics is kind of like a tool. It can be used properly or improperly. Think of a hammer. You can use it to pound nails into lumber, or you could hit someone with it. Proper use is use out of love for our neighbor, not to beat them up or to win.
We live in a world today where Christianity is not ‘simply accepted’ by the majority. People will not be coming from a position of accepting Christianity until they feel they have found too many flaws in other worldviews. They will, instead, be skeptical unless they are given a good reason to believe. This makes apologetics crucial. Francis Schaeffer famously referred to it as ‘pre-evangelism’.
Here are some tips:
- Build relationships. This can’t be emphasized enough. While there are times when apologetics will take on other formats (academic debate, group discussion, Internet forum debate, etc.) most of the hard work is done through relationships built on trust. A great example of this is Gary Habermas’s friendship over the years with Anthony Flew (the famous atheist). For a very interesting apologetics story, look that up.
- Be willing to listen. You need to understand where the other person is coming from and what they are saying. If you do not, you are simply spouting or preaching. Think of how you respond when someone of another religion or worldview unloads their view on you without considering your concerns.
- Be ready to admit where Christianity has gone wrong, and apologize for it. (No, this isn’t what apologetics is, contrary to what some think when they hear the term, but it might be a good reminder of this point.)
- Get your terms and definitions clarified. Otherwise you will just be talking past each other.
- When you do correct some point, do so out of love, gently and humbly.
- Style is important – Try to refrain from stating your position as something that only a fool would not agree with. But, present your case with confidence in what you believe to be true. After all, would you believe it if you didn’t believe it to be the case? Hopefully not, and hopefully the person you are talking to can appreciate this. They likely believe their position to be true as well. Just be aware that there is a line that is too often crossed between confident (while humble) and arrogant.
- Intellectual integrity is critical. When you don’t know, say so. Do your research. Don’t overstate things. Above all… DON’T CHEAT (One would think this would be obvious for Christians, but I catch Christian apologists doing it all the time. Just because our opponents do it, doesn’t mean we should.)
- Read your opposition – I can’t stress this one enough, and it goes along with intellectual integrity above. How can you respond or critique something you don’t understand? Of course we’re all going to be guilty of not understanding our opposition fully. We can’t be a specialist in everything. But, we should try our best to understand as much as we are able.
Here are some dangers:
- Dealing with skepticism and doubt all the time can rub off. Be sure to realize God is in control. Read Revelation… we know how the story ends. Be involved in a church community. Be aware of cynicism and pessimism.
- Watch out for people who just want to argue (while being aware of 3rd parties). There are some people who are just ‘baiting’ and looking for arguments. It doesn’t really matter what you say to these people, they aren’t really listening. You can usually tell after a couple exchanges. However, if you have a listening audience, it can be worth engaging these people for the benefit of that audience. At that point, being civil and gracious (especially when contrasted to this other person) will clearly register with those 3rd parties.
- Watch out for urban legends. Check out your sources and details. Many Christian apologists have fallen for stuff like “Evidence for Joshua’s Long Day,” which was a set-up, or things like ‘Dino and Human footprints together’ type stories. I’ve seen the later even used by some pretty major ministries.
- Prosperity gospel – Don’t make arguments that by becoming a Christian, your life will improve. It certainly might in some aspects, but the Bible usually talks about how much more difficult life will now become BECAUSE you are a Christian. Good things will follow, but trying to build a 1:1 case, or that Christianity provides ‘the good life’ will always backfire eventually.
- Experiential arguments – Most people are not going to change their deeply held convictions or worldview based on the experiences of another person. Think about this for a second. Would not the advocates of just about any religion make such claims? When the Mormon presents their ‘burning in the bosom’ case, do you as a Christian convert? Why should they convert for your story? I’m not saying do not present your story. Stories can be powerful under the right conditions, and possibly foundational for our own personal faith. But, they should not be your primary mode of evangelism. People should believe Christianity because it is true, not because you do.
Hopefully these tips are helpful and will prepare you in communicating the ‘meat’ of apologetics, presented in other posts here and elsewhere. Unfortunately, you will find that I will often fail in many of the above points. When you see me doing so, please don’t be afraid to call me out on it in the comments (just try to do it nicely please).