How to Do Apologetics without Fear or Aggression

tools and weapons

When I was sixteen, I went to summer camp. But instead of mountains, sunrises, and songs around the campfire, this camp offered school desks, podiums, and hours of daily lectures. This was no ordinary summer retreat—this was a training ground for would-be apologists.

Led by experts on worldview, Christian leadership, and culture, this camp provided training for young Christians who wanted to know how to defend their faith—and I thrived in that environment. I was fascinated by the lectures and eagerly anticipated the next small group session, devotion, and worship session. At camp I was given tools to defend my faith, but as I tried to integrate them into my everyday life those tools eventually began to feel like weapons.

Beyond “us versus them”

My experience at that camp was valuable overall, but around that same time I began to develop an ”us versus them” perspective on the world. Although it wasn’t obvious from the outside, my interactions with non-Christians became fearful and aggressive. Though the camp leaders probably didn’t intend to teach this, I believed that if I just had a certain set of answers memorized, I could confound and convert even the most committed atheist.

Related article: Different Approaches to Apologetics

The irony is that while I was confident I had The Truth and needed to convince The Unbelievers of all The Facts, I also was afraid. I knew people wouldn’t react well to the confrontational approach I thought I needed to take. Not only that, I was afraid I wouldn’t actually have all the answers when I needed them. The result? I did my best to be bold about my faith, but I often felt inauthentic. When I was sharing, I felt that deep down I had ulterior motives (proving that I was right), and when I wasn’t sharing, I still felt that I had ulterior motives (being liked by people).

Through years of discipleship and growth, I have learned some valuable lessons about giving a defense for my faith—lessons that have taken away both the aggression and the fear.

Relationships aren’t a means to an end

I used to approach “friendships” with non-Christians as secret missions; now I approach them as . . . friendships. Strangers and acquaintances aren’t targets, they’re people. I used to be afraid of being perceived as a salesman—and that fear was grounded. I really was befriending people hoping they would buy my message. People can tell when you’re being friendly just to sell them something, and no one likes that.

Since I started relating to my non-Christian friends as human beings, I am more open to sharing my faith because I care about them. I’m genuinely interested in their lives, and I want them to hear about the joy, peace, and hope of knowing God.

I don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok

Bobby Conway says it best in his Mobile Ed course on apologetics: “You don’t have to know everything about everything, right? You can’t. It’s impossible. . . . We need to, first and foremost, understand our own Christian doctrines, and then when we seek to learn about other faiths. We just want to know where they differ on their main doctrines compared to ours.”

Related article: 4 Things Francis Schaeffer Taught Me about Faith and Doubt

I don’t have to memorize everything about every faith to be an effective apologist. In fact, some of the most powerful conversations I’ve had with people of other faiths have taken place when I have asked them about things I don’t know or understand about what they believe.

A few years ago I was travelling on a train from London. Planning to spend my two-hour journey writing, I pulled out my journal. But the man next to me would have none of it and unrelentingly engaged me in conversation. (Sometimes the Holy Spirit makes it very clear that I am not welcome to hide in my own little space, however much I want to!)

Reluctantly, I began asking the man about himself. The topic of conversation quickly turned to faith, and I discovered he held a view of Jesus I had never heard before. Intrigued, I continued to ask questions and to share my own beliefs. We spent two hours discussing what the Bible says about Jesus! This was only possible because I was willing to admit what I didn’t know—and because I continued the conversation even though I didn’t have all the “right” answers memorized.

Only God can change people

Even if we share the most reasonable arguments for Christianity, and even if we do that with the utmost “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15), people may still disregard what we have shared. The sobering fact is, we don’t have the power to change hearts; God does.

But this is also wonderfully freeing. Even if from the outside it looks as though our words are ineffective, God can still grow every seed that has been planted at any time he chooses. We are certainly called to “always be prepared to make a defense” (1 Pet 3:15), but God is the one who does the real work of convincing people of the truth. When we trust God to call people to himself, it dismantles the fear and aggression. All of a sudden, the tools of apologetics no longer feel like weapons.

Get the training you need to defend your faith, without the fear and aggression: Bobby Conway’s Introduction to Apologetics course will show you how to winsomely, lovingly, and rationally give a defense for the hope within you. Learn the fundamentals of apologetics from one of our most engaging contemporary apologists.

Learn more about Mobile Ed’s Introducing Apologetics with Bobby Conway.

Comments

  1. “Only God can change people” might have been in an even larger font.

    • Kaeli Joyce says:

      Definitely. That realization—that it’s ultimately God’s work and not mine—has really changed my life.

  2. Claire Graham says:

    What a wonderful article. It definitely goes along with what our Bible Study Group is now studying and I plan to read it at our next meeting

  3. At 17 I would have laughed in your face at the attitude the you could confound even the most hardened atheist. I met ’em all. And sent them down in flames.

  4. I have done some study on apologetics, and have found some new ways to communicate to non-christians, such as asking the simple question “where is your hope?.” to get them to think. But ultimately I have found John 15:5 to be the ultimate truth. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” When i am in conversation with someone about Jesus, I try to remember to say a silent prayer saying something as simple as “I need your help, Jesus.” Also don’t forget what 1 Peter 3:15 says “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” Key words are meekness and fear. Fear means respect. If you don’t show respect, you can do more harm than good.

    • Kaeli Joyce says:

      Thanks for those additional insights! It’s so good to keep in mind that there are different types of fear, and the fear that 1 Peter is talking about is necessary for sharing the gospel, unlike the fear I used to experience.

      • I had a friend once say “i quit going to a church because he said we should fear the Lord.” I had previously learned and explained to him “fear of the Lord” is not being afraid of him, just having “respect or awe of him.” He said “fear does not mean that!” I showed him in the dictionary that it specifically says “to have a reverential awe of “. It even uses the example of fear of God. How neat is that!

        • Kaeli Joyce says:

          Wow, what a compelling conversation! I bet hearing that explanation of the fear of the Lord was powerful in your friend’s life.

          • Well, I can only hope it did, for God does work in mysterious ways. My friend doesn’t discuss much doctrine or biblical things. He doesn’t believe in the doctrine of hell. He actually grew up in the Catholic church, and now goes to a non-denominational church. Sometimes when you show a little knowledge, some don’t like to discuss spiritual things. I had another friend bring a scripture to me, and said “What do you think of this?” showing me Hebrews 10:26 “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” I believe he was emphasizing that if you deliberately sin after you are saved, then God gives up on you. I went home, and got numerous commentaries on the verse, and printed them out for him. I told him he needs to read before and after the scripture to accurately interpret scripture, and if the verse does not match up with other doctrines in the bible, then it probably is being taken out of context. He never brought any more scriptures back either. It is from one extreme to the other. One wants to have his ears tickled, and one is thinking his own good works is going to justify him in front of God. We have a lot of work to do.

          • Kaeli Joyce says:

            You’re right, God does work in mysterious ways! Every conversation is a seed planted.

  5. It is important we understand; our success is not based on another’s reaction to the Word we share but rather our obedience to share that Word under the urging of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8

    • Kaeli Joyce says:

      That’s a good point. Even when we are gentle and respectful, people will respond to the Word in variety of ways, and “success” isn’t measured by those reactions.

    • Great points. Bless you all in your ministry.