Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apologetics: 6 Pre-Answer Attitudes to Adopt

In a typical 'Christian apologetics' session at a local church group, the typical mix of questions (based on my experiences) would roughly consist of the following:
  • 60% Apologetics/Philosophy/History (e.g. "If God was good, why [fill in your favourate global problem]?", "How can we be sure that Jesus was raised from the dead?"),
  • 30% Christian Education (e.g. "What is the rationale for infant baptism?")
  • 10% Misc/Uncommon/Weird Questions (e.g."Why is God referred to in the Bible as HE and not SHE?").
Whislt it was tempting to focus on the answers to most of the above, I'm glad I didn't (and besides it was only an hour-long gathering). Instead I tried to target the pre-answer attitudes, especially when doing apologetics (i.e. 'defending' the faith intellectually). Here are some:

1. It's okay to remain silent or say, "I don't know" - especially if you don't know the answer (duh) or the malice/hostility index is too high, or you're too emotional or angry, and you just know it's no longer a debate but a debacle. We don't see Jesus arguing very much during his passion, right?

I still remember Glenn Miller saying that we can raise more questions in 5 minutes than we can answer in 50 years. Read: There is simply NO NEED to feel helpless when barraged with questions you can't respond to. Because if satisfactorily answering EVERYTHING asked was a criteria for legitimate belief, no one could believe anything!

2. It's more important to communicate lovingly than logically - basically an extension of no.1, and this wouldn't be worth saying if not for the fact that there are many apologists and theologians who are EXTREMELY logical but whose logic seem to correlate very well with their arrogance and unkindness.

Apologetics is about ministering to people. It's a good chance to prove not only that Christians have good reasons for their faith, but also to demonstrate that we care MORE about merely giving answers (and sometimes we make the 'point' that scoring argumentative points can be a bad way to live).

We're not mini-professors each one of us; we are mini-replicators of Calvary. And Calvary was one BIG BLOODY answer beyond answers and reason and even words.

3. Think about (or find out) the real question/charge being thrown, not just the presenting one - "Why do Christians have so many denominations?" may be a simple historical inquiry OR a thinly veiled insinuation (i.e. "Why are you Jesus freaks so messed up and always breaking away from each other?"). When we focus on the real issues, as always, time and energy is better spent.

4. Ask what you can learn from the question - it keeps your eyes fixed, if not on ministry to the questioner, then on self-development. Much better than aiming for just another intellectual triumph which usually comes along with the idea that, "Ah, this is just another ignorant anti-Christian attack by a dude who has an attitude problem and who's either stupid, incoherent, heretic or all three!"

5. Read 1st Peter 3:15 and 16 - take to heart the 'gentleness and respect' (15b) parts, the Christlike behaviour part (16a) and the slander-reversal parts (16b). Don't get carried by the 'always be ready to give an answer' thinggy, as if you just GOTTA respond like a pro if you're challenged (grin).

(Finally a more 'technical' one...)

6. With simply outrageous, near-illogical questions, refrain from answering and work on the questioner's logic - e.g. for something like, "If we're made for God's glory, does this mean we are puppets for His amusement?", it's best to ask - gently and respectfully - for the thought patterns and the process leading up to the conclusion. Like, "I'm really curious as to how you went from one point to the other...I'm really interested to understand why you would equate A and B, etc."

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