In my article How to Get Ready to Defend your Faith (How to Become an Apologist) I wrote about several things that we can do to get ready to answer to challenges to our Christian faith. According to 1 Peter 3:15, we must always be ready. This article takes another look at this same verse but shifts focus to the end of it. At the end of verse 15 we read how we are to behave while we give our defense.
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (1 Peter 3:15)
When we engage with others and do the work of an apologist, we must do so with gentleness and reverence. This command and others in the Bible about Christian behavior in general, give us a clear picture of how we should behave during any encounters we might have. As I wrote in the above mentioned article, how we behave as apologists is just as important as being ready to answer to those who ask us about our hope. Both are commands from God’s word. Even if we do not know exactly how to answer biblically or otherwise, we can behave biblically. We will review some proper behavior below.
There are also suggestions for some basic practices that can help make our encounters go better. They are based on my decades of hands on experience. Some of your encounters might be unplanned and some might be scheduled. The items below can be tailored for both situations. Additionally, you can apply many of these things to the different ways people connect. Your encounters could be through email, on the phone, in person, or online. Quick note: Take extra care online. The degree of separation that comes from sitting behind a screen sometimes lowers the decency bar. Christians are called to a much higher standard.
No matter where the encounters occur and whether they are planed of not, I pray the following list offers some encouragement and guidance for my sisters in Christ for their apologetic endeavors.
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
Best Manners and Practices for an Apologist
Pray. It seems that I start many lists with the item prayer. This is because I am keenly aware of my fragility in serving and doing well. I lean heavily on the help of my sovereign God for many things. I want to seek His will and guidance. Apologetics is no different. In the work of apologetics there are many things for which to pray, for both you and for those you encounter. For them, you could pray for their hearts to be opened to the truth in God’s word. They may or may not already be in Christ, but this prayer could apply to both. Sometimes Christians get entangled with or hold unto unbiblical beliefs and need illumination. Also, it would be good to pray for their patience and willingness to listen. For yourself, pray for patience and the willingness to listen. It works both ways.
You could also pray for your own discernment, wisdom, humility, and clear thinking. Furthermore, you may wish to pray for spiritual protection and that God might calm your nerves if you expect some anxiety. More on that later in the article. You may also find the need to pray during encounters. I have, especially when it is a spur of the moment thing. Lastly, after your encounters, continue to pray for them. Pray that seeds planted might blossom into understanding and faith that would bring glory to God.
Whenever possible, have scheduled or intentional encounters. We cannot control the timing of every encounter. Sometimes we hear a knock in the middle of the afternoon, open the front door, and find a friendly pair of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. We could find ourselves suddenly needing to answer questions about Christianity from a relative at a wedding or from an acquaintance at our child’s dance class. Maybe a co-worker launches a barrage of critical comments or questions. It’s not always easy to manage these impromptu conversations. Sometimes you can convert them into scheduled sit-downs. When it makes sense, ask if they would be willing to talk at another time. You could offer to talk in person, on the phone, or even by email. Whatever works best. Rescheduling will give you time to better prepare and give you more time with them. If they do not wish to schedule anything, move forward with your best effort and prayer. When you can schedule something, if possible, see if you can agree ahead of time as to what specific topic(s) will be discussed. When appropriate, before you part ways, don’t forget to ask if the conversation can continue in the future.
Be prepared. Hopefully, if you have a planned get together, you have done your homework and are ready. If you would like some suggestions about how to get ready please see the above article How to Get Ready to Defend Your Faith (How to Become an Apologist). When a situation comes up unexpectedly, hopefully you have been doing some ongoing general work to be ready. Again, see the forementioned article for some help in this area.
Keep the conversation simple and focused. For planned encounters, before you get together, think about the main things you hope to communicate. Make a list or outline. Keep the list short if the topics are complex. Work to stay on topic. Try to avoid what my husband and I call flashlight tag. We borrowed this name from a game we have seen people play with cats. A person shines a red laser dot on the ground and wiggles it to get the cat’s attention. The cat runs for it and swats at it. The person then moves the beam a few feet away and wiggles the light. The cat leaps for it again. This process is repeated over and over. Poor cat! Well, something like this can happen in conversations too. Someone brings up a topic, you begin to answer, and then they change the topic. You begin to answer to the new topic, and they switch topics again and so on. Resist the urge to follow the light and stay focused. This is also important for impromptu encounters.
Additional thought: Having a plan for your discussions is helpful, but it is also important to be flexible and discerning about the need to allow the conversation to go in an equally good or even better direction. Sometimes it is beneficial to make adjustments in the moment. We do not know what will happen or what God will do, so it is wise to remain flexible while making sure not to chase the wiggling red light down unhelpful paths.
Tailor your approach to the need at hand. While a lot of the items one this list could apply to many different types of encounters, remember that parts of your approach may change depending on the beliefs involved. The conversations will need some customizing. You will speak with an atheist differently than you would a Roman Catholic. There are different topics and arguments involved. If you need ideas, the internet has many articles about just this thing. A little research will give you some guidance as to what Bible verses to use, how to use them, and what other approaches you can take. You can find suggested questions and answers for specific individual beliefs or religious groups. There are also a variety of methods or approaches to apologetics in general that you might benefit from learning about and trying. Three common ones are classical apologetics, evidential apologetics, and presuppositional apologetics. For more information about this please visit:
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
What is classical apologetics?
What is evidential apologetics?
What is presuppositional apologetics?
Be Gentle. “… yet with gentleness” (1 Peter 3:15) When speaking about the possibility of getting together to talk about contradictory beliefs, people have said to me that they don’t want me to come after them with both barrels blazing. Clearly, this is something they had experienced or feared. I assured them, it would not be that way. It does not do any good to come on strong. And even when we don’t think we are, they might think we are. So we really need to pay attention to our tone and intensity. Speaking from experience, things can escalate quickly. I have learned to mentally “check my pulse” every now and then throughout the conversation to make sure I am still being gentle. If you are like me, you are passionate about what you believe. That’s great, only we need to keep our passion in check if it comes across as harshness or closemindedness. Being gentle does not mean that you water down the message in the Bible. Let the sword of the Spirit cut; not you.
Be Reverent. “… and reverence;” (1 Peter 3:15) Peter tells us that we need to be reverent when we make a defense for our hope, i.e. the truth of biblical Christianity. Sadly, a short time on social media will show that this is all too often not followed. Whether online or offline, please remember this command. Of what are we to be respectful? The obvious answer is the people with whom we are conversing. Don’t mock. Don’t insult. Don’t even “joke” around with slight digs if you do not have the relationship with them to do that. Be respectful of their personal history, feelings, ideas, beliefs, and extent of knowledge. Simply said, be respectful in everything. This does not mean you do homage to false ideas and beliefs, but it does mean that you do not steamroll over them. Also, since the Greek word for “reverence” in verse 15 is so often translated as “fear” in other places in the New Testament, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more here. Should we not also be respectful of the message we are giving and the work that we are doing? This is serious, glory to God, eternal life business; and it must be treated with the utmost care and respect.
Have and show genuine love, concern, and understanding. The two items above should communicate that you care about the person with whom you are speaking. But have this in your heart intentionally. See the person in front of you. Try to understand where they are coming from. Apologetics is not about showing off or winning arguments. It should be motivated by real love and compassion for the unsaved, uniformed, mistaken, and misled.
Be Patient. Not sure if this needs explanation. I will at least say, be patient not only while you are in the moment but also realize that people don’t often change their views or beliefs on a dime. Give it time.
Be humble and teachable. You may believe one hundred percent that you are holding the correct view, and you might be right. But guard against pride and looking down on those who disagree with you. Furthermore, no one knows everything. Remain teachable so you will be open to any corrections that need to be made in your own beliefs.
Be honest about what you know and don’t know. Don’t try to bluff your way through an answer. It is ok to say: “I am not sure how to answer that. I will find out and get back to you.”
Be a good listener. A few things fall under this item:
1. Don’t talk over people when you meet with them. Let them say what they want to say and ask what they want to ask. You will be able to communicate better if you understand their position well. And besides, it is simply impolite to talk over people or interrupt them. Don’t keep cutting them off even if you think you know what they are about to say. Even if you have heard the same argument from others many times before, let them say what they have to say and be patient while they are saying it. If they don’t think they are being heard, they could get frustrated.
2. People say things and believe things for a reason. When you listen, try to discern what is underneath the words. Work to uncover what presuppositions must be there for them to believe what they are saying. Their presuppositions are driving them whether they have made that connection or not. Pointing them out can be very enlightening. Help them see how they are leaning on them and lead them to test their validity. It can be effective to directly answer to what is beneath or behind an argument rather than trying to answer to surface comments.
3. When you are listening, be on the lookout for logical fallacies. Spotting them and avoiding trying to answer to them can prevent a lot of unnecessary back and forth. You might also try to help others see how their logic doesn’t mesh. On the flip side, watch yourself too and guard against committing fallacies in reason. For some help in this area please see:
Ask questions as a means of gently guiding to a certain conclusion. Questions can be just as effective as statements, sometimes even more. I think it makes people feel like they are safer (and maybe even more knowledgeable) since it can create a greater sense of control. When possible, ask leading or thought provoking questions to help people arrive on their own at the points you are trying to make. When they hear the answer, it comes from inside of them instead of “at them”. This creates a different level of acceptance as it lets them “see” it with less defenses in the way. When people find the answer for themselves, it can have a greater impact on them.
Avoid making assumptions about the people you speak with. This refers to things like their knowledge level or commitment to their belief system. Try to avoid underestimating them or overestimating them in any way. Assumptions can make it difficult for us to see the person. Some degree of “sizing up” is unavoidable and helpful, but avoid taking it too far. Do not put them in a box. This can lead to harmful results like closedmindedness on your part, being caught off guard, embarrassing yourself, or appearing arrogant.
Work through the butterflies in your stomach with prayer. Apologetics work might make you nervous before and during exchanges, but you can still do it. If this happens, you are not alone. My husband and I both experience this. We are not confrontational people by nature, so willingly stepping into conversations when we expect disagreement takes some guts. Really, it takes prayers, lots of prayer. Being scared does not have to be a reflection of how prepared you are. It can just happen. If you wait until it no longer seems scary, you may never do it. The thing is to do it anyway. However, if your anxiety is severe and you cannot get past it, it is good to be reasonable. Perhaps lay this work aside for a while. Maybe you will find a way that is less distressing.
Prayer can minimize anxiety; but sometimes, my heart still pounds at the beginning of conversations. As we continue, I keep praying and my nerves begin to settle. God is good. He does provide. If you experience fear because you think you might not be as prepared as you need to be, it might be better to postpose. If the fear is because you are not sure what to say or how to say it, I believe God provides in those moments too. My husband and I have walked away from a number of encounters knowing we had help. The words and wisdom that were shared were so apropos that it was undeniably not in our own strength alone. If the fear comes from thinking Christianity cannot stand up under scrutiny, take courage! God commanded that we should be ready to make a defense. That means there is one! If you stick with His word, you will be speaking that defense. In it is truth.
Do not be surprised by “no shows” or no immediate results. I once gently asked a dear, Catholic, Oblate brother why he didn’t want to further discuss material that would shed light on the errors of the Catholic Church. He vey honestly replied: “Self-preservation”. People have a great deal of themselves wrapped up in their beliefs. It has been my experience that more often than not they do not want to make an honest examination of them. They’re “ok”. (I have seen this in Christians too who are beholding to false teachings. We must not let anything keep us from making sure that our beliefs line up with God’s word, even if the process threatens dearly held beliefs that we have espoused for a long time.) Even when there is an agreement to meet, sometimes there are “no shows”. I have spent countless hours if not weeks studying to meet with different individuals who said they would meet, and then they never showed. I am actually surprised when someone follows through and shows up. Apologetics can be a lonely undertaking.
Also, when we do have encounters, be they impromptu or planned, it can take time for people to process what they have heard. Planting seeds is not just a catchy phrase. It is more often than not the work that is done. We might never know what if anything grew. It’s important be ok with that. When people do not show up or seem unaffected it is tempting to get discouraged and wonder what’s the point? But keep your hope in God, do the work anyway, and leave the results to Him.
Know when not to engage or when to walk away. Though we are called to make a defense for the hope that is in us, there are times when it is best to never even begin a conversation or to cut one short. I am referring to times when we run into people who are unreasonable and/or insincere in regards to the things of God and Christianity. Sometimes you might come across some serious arrogance or foolishness or be on the receiving end of insults or mocking. We must discern whether it is wise to have exchanges with folks like this. Where will it lead? The book of Proverbs gives us guidance about this. There is real wisdom there. Amongst other things, it speaks of the folly of trying to speak with a fool. (Proverbs 18:2, Proverbs 23:9) It is ok and even wise to either not engage or to walk away from these conversations whether they are online or in person. It may be tempting to enter the fray, but the counsel from Scripture is to do otherwise. For a more in-depth look at this, please see: Apologetics and the Wisdom of Proverbs.
After you have an encounter, evaluate what you knew and what you didn’t. Were there any gaps or things you need to brush up on? If so, the good news is, we can always get ready or get more ready for the next time.
Don’t beat yourself up with the “I should have saids”. My husband and I have done this. After an encounter ended, we would think of more things we think we should have said and then get miffed for not saying them. Thankfully, we have learned not to do this anymore. Evaluating to make sure you behaved biblically and getting in touch with what you were prepared to share or not is one thing. But beating yourself up for the conversational paths not taken is not helpful. Remember, our Lord is sovereign. These encounters do not happen outside of His plans.
Remember always, the fruit of your work is in God’s hands. I left this for last, but it is of the utmost importance. We are not in control. God is. We can trust that He is working all things after the counsel of His will. (Ephesians 1:11) Our job is to work hard, prepare, and present our best effort. What comes of it is up to Him. We count not on our knowledge, persuasiveness, or the soundness of our arguments but on the power of God and His word. He can choose to work through us as we obey Him and give an account for our hope in His son Jesus. Seek to do your work well, thank Him for the opportunity to serve, pray that His will be done, and leave it in His hands. To God be the glory.