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Posts Tagged ‘debating’

So I’ve been thinking recently about apologetics: which is the technical term for defending the Christian faith i.e. discussing and debating with atheists or those from other religions, it comes from the Greek term meaning ‘speaking in defense’. As I was thinking about it I found myself part of (or observing) a number of different apologetics situations and this has set me thinking about what the place of apologetics is and what good apologetics looks like, and that is what todays blog is about!

Place of Apologetics

The first place to start is thinking about the purpose of apologetics, what part does it play in the journey people take to knowing God? I guess a key question is this:

Can somebody be talked into becoming a Christian?

In answer to that I’d say no. Someone can be convinced that Christianity is reasonable yes, they can be shown that the teachings of Christ are definately the best path. However the actual change, the conversion event so to speak, is solely the work of the Holy Spirit responding to our willingness to let him into our lives. This is a great relief because it takes the burden off of us: it is not our job to make people into Christians, which means when we reach the end of our very finite abilities God doesn’t turn to us and say “you’ve failed” rather his response is “now watch me do the rest”.

Therefore the role of apologetics is to remove the barriers so that people become open to God, becoming willing to say “okay” to God, how many times have you heard people repond to the Gospel message with “yes but what about…?” well thats where apologetics comes in, it responds to that question with “well…” Of course sometimes people come to faith despite the questions (and we never reach the end of questioning, but thats another post!), but for some the obsticle is so big it needs to be broken down first.

Some guidelines for good/successful apologetics

So how do we do apologetics well? Well let me make a few suggestions:

  1. Listen: Oh man this is a huge one, its so frustrating when people don’t listen, whether its trying to convince the telesales operator that you don’t want double glazing or life insurance, to explaining some deep worry thats been bothering you to someone who clear isn’t focusing at all. This is a major factor in apologetics; listen to what the person is saying, and more than that listen to what they are not saying. If you are talking to someone who is raging about how can God allow suffering listen to the inflections of their voice, it may be that someone close to them is dying and the last thing they need is to be told cold hard truth rather it may be just a listening ear or someone to rage at that they want, sometimes not saying anything are the best words you can give. Especially don’t shout people down, dismiss what they are saying or interrupt them unless it is really necessary (for example in a group discussion where someone is drunkenly ranting).
  2. Know your audience: This is pretty important, especially with the increasing influence of post-modernism in our culture. You don’t share the Gospel in the same way to everyone you speak to (or at least you should think about it if you do!), different people will respond to different things, for example a person who is focused on facts and thinks in a logical and linear way (Myers Briggs type T) is likely to listen to a step by step logically exploration of Christianity, where as someone who is focused on feelings (Myers Briggs type F) will be more interested in the people involved.
  3. Don’t fight out of your league: By this I mean if all you have is a GCSE in biology don’t try and argue the scientific evidence for God in biology with a person who has a doctorate in biology and has been in that field for 40 years! If you know you are outgunned either refer to experts in that field (for example with the above point them to Prof Frances Collins one of the worlds top biologists) or stick to something you know. This doesn’t mean that you should never debate/discuss Christianity, but stick to stuff you know and don’t pretend to be an expert on everything. Be prepared to admit that you don’t know something, that’s totally fine, but do try and find out suitable sources to refer people to (e.g writers in that field or friends who know more in that area)
  4. Be graceful: Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (got the point!) tell the person they are stupid or belittle their struggles. This doesn’t mean you can’t respectfully disagree or challenge what they are saying but do it with love and respect. Unloving/ungraceful Christians who shout abuse at everyone who disagrees with them are the best advert for atheism there is, and never lead people closer to God.
  5. Know your own faith: Exactly as it says on the tin! Know things about Christianity and know your bible, if you want to do a good job of apologetics and evangelism in general know about what you are sharing with people, you can’t properly introduce someone to Jesus unless you know him! Again this doesn’t mean waiting until you are an expert or have done a theology degree, but rather make sure you are immersed in the Bible and Christian teaching, and be willing to admit when you don’t know.
  6. Look out for truth in culture: There is a wealth of truth in popular culture (amongst a lot of junk), look out for it. For example lines in songs or films that express an eternal truth (for example the Matrix or the Dark Knight, and so on), then use this to point back to the Bible or Christian theology, as people are more likely to react positively to something they are familiar from than something they are alien to.
  7. Know the aim: Remember that the aim of apologetics is not to get someone saved (that’s God’s job) its to assist in removing the barriers. This therefore means that ‘winning the argument’ isn’t the main aim (although neither is losing it!), rather having a reasonable discussion is. There are times when you can have technically ‘won the argument’ but have not had a good apologetics discussion (a major mistake oft made I think), leaving the person with lots of questions is a pretty good result as it will cause them to continue thinking about the issue and potentially meet God through the questioning. Essentially people don’t want answers shoved down their throats, they want information which will allow them to make their own conclusion (sadly sometimes people make the wrong one)
  8. Jesus is the key: This is the most important point, this is why the Alpha course starts with Jesus, its why Paul said; “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” in 1 Corinthians 2. You can argue til the cows come home the existential arguments for God in creation or with science (science has neither proved there is a god or that there isn’t), but it is Christ that things stand and fall on. If you can show someone that (a) Jesus existed (which the evidence supports), (b) that the biblical narratives about him are true, and (c) what this means, then you are on a very good road!

So there are my suggestions for ‘doing’ apologetics, let me know your thoughts…

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