Apologists often have a bad reputation. The term “Christian Apologist” is used by some people as an insult, a reason for eye rolling and derision. Perhaps part of the cause is that apologetics is about persuasion. It’s about giving a reasoned defence for Christian belief in a way that shows the vital importance of Christ, and the decision to believe in Him. Yet many people who attempt this fail to do so in a firm but respectful way. Hence the bad reputation.
“But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” 1 Peter 3:15-16.
Apologetics is all about persuasion…not railroading. Respectful reasoning, not manipulation. So, how do apologists make sure they persuade in a HEALTHY way? After all, its possible to simply try to railroad people, to force something at them. I’ve had the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door just like everyone else. But frankly, taking their approach with historic Biblical Christianity does not help the cause of Christ or respect the person we are talking to.
In a recent Straight Thinking podcast, Ken Samples asks the question, “How do you stop apologetics becoming propaganda?”
PROPAGANDA: “The spreading of ideas, information or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause or a person.” – Mirriam-Webster dictionary
I run an apologetic blog that seeks to persuade people of the truth and importance of historical biblical Christian belief. But I certainly don’t want to injure anyone or look like I’m doing so! And yet, in my urgency for the other person to become a Christian I can easily find myself thinking less critically about an issue than I should. And frankly, who wants to talk to someone who thinks they are always right, and railroads everyone toward adopting their own personal position on an issue?
Ken Samples gives six helpful insights that should help the necessary enterprise of Christian apologetics avoid looking like the spread of religious propaganda:
1 Be Careful and Fair Minded with Other People’s Ideas
This is Ken’s golden rule, and one I can only aspire to! Always treat other people’s opinions in a fair-minded way. Be a charitable person, giving others the benefit of the doubt.
Take the time to understand your opponent’s argument. After all, we must understand our opponent’s views before we can decide whether we agree with them or not.
If we are not listening to what that person is saying, we will slip into the Straw Man fallacy…where we intentionally or unintentionally distort what they are saying to make it easier to dismiss.
Practical – take the time to restate the person’s position back to them to check we understand it.
2 Stay On Topic When Responding To Another Person’s Argument
The escaped convict who covers himself in smelly fish is a wise person. Because when the prison guards send the dogs out after them, those dogs will be distracted by the smell of fish…giving the convict an advantage and opportunity to escape.
When we fail to stay on topic in a discussion, it looks like we are adopting this tactic…distracting the person…engaging in the red herring fallacy. It’s frustrating when other people do that to us (it REALLY is!)
Practical – when we reach a blockage in our discussion is – rather than changing the topic – is to ask questions. How did your last statement fit into your overall argument? And listen and engage with their response.
3 Give an Honest and Fair-Minded Assessment of all the Evidence Supporting an Opponent’s Position
Don’t suppress positive or negative evidence. Admit the difficulties in your own position and don’t seek to shield an argument making it appear one sided. Generously expose all sides of the argument.
At the same time – fight vigorously on the side of the answers and don’t be tempted to paint them as just one other opinion amongst many.
Practical – stop when you find yourself starting to say that they have everything wrong. Think about this. This person has not got everything wrong. Some points will be right.
4 Identify Common Ground with People
Where can we agree? This is not just good manners and kind conversation…its also important when discussing important differences in opinion.
Practical – find areas of common ground and invest time talking about them.
5 Recognize that Everyone Has Positive Information to Share
In biblical terms, every person on earth is a recipient of God’s common grace. We all can see the natural world, and make inferences about the cause. We all have some God initiated truths embedded within us.
Practical – notice when the other person highlights this positive information and underline it as something you share with them.
6 Fairly Evaluate Differences
This is tough to do, and takes time. It’s evidence of a scholarly attitude.
Ken says one of the ways he does this is to approach disagreement this way. “Here are four arguments against my position. I don’t think they carry weight and I will tell you why.”
Practical – whenever looking for a quote from someone who’s position you seek to challenge, always seek out the best quote. And make sure it IS a real quote…have the reference to hand to prove it.
In summary, I think Ken’s dead right. There’s a right way and a wrong way to persuade. I for one want to become more skilled at doing it the right way.
Image courtesy of Pexels.
 Ken Samples, Straight Thinking: Apologetics vs Propaganda, accessed 2nd February 2018, https://reasons.org/explore/multimedia/rtb-podcast/read/rtb-podcast/2018/01/10/straight-thinking-apologetics-vs-propaganda.