In high school, I made it my mission (or at least a hobby) to “prove God” to people, provided those people were my friends and I had control of the conversation. When the social media consisted of email and AOL IM, I learned how easy it was to insult and cajole someone for not thinking the way that I do. At times, my conversation was a kind of bullying in order to assert how right I was.
For example, when someone once suggested the Bible was just a bunch of stories to help children sleep at night, I insinuated that what would help me sleep at night was something violent happening to them. I felt I had the right to be so arrogant and careless. If they didn’t see the obvious truths as I’d presented them, they weren’t worth respecting in a debate. My mission was about my right-ness. It took a long time to change my attitude.
In the past three posts we opened up the letter of 1 Peter, whose center contains one of the most fundamental passages urging Christians to engage in apologetics, in an effort to place that passage in its original context.
Peter’s words on apologetics tell us that apologetics is the art of giving a testimony of our hope when under scrutiny, and must be carried out with gentleness and reverence, giving respect to all people without slander or deceit, showing love, humility, and patience, knowing our real enemy is the devil and our real Lord is self-sacrificing and merciful.
I will now examine some examples from my youth, how I failed to exemplify a Christly apologetic and how I could have done so better.
Example 1: I once said something to the effect of…
“Darwin was just an idiot on a mission to slander God who bumped his head while riding on his boat in the ocean and wound up with this stupid idea that because finches have different beaks we all came from monkeys. He’s going to Hell for denying God. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.”
I later came to learn more about Charles Darwin, a man who was once religious, but struggled to believe the creation account as he sought to explain the origin of different species, as well as struggled to believe that an omnipotent, benevolent God would allow so much suffering. I’d always assumed he was always motivated to make up some lie because he hated God from the beginning. Rather, his faith slowly waned, and he avoided the controversy of trying to argue against traditional religion in public. This contrasts with the militant atheist view I once had of the man. He wasn’t stupid, and his ideas came to him through serious observation.
I also learned, more importantly, that name-calling someone and pronouncing judgments on their soul that belong to God alone are not helpful ways of giving a testimony of the hope within me.
Example 2: I once said something to the effect of…
“They’re here. They’re queer. Steer clear.”
It’s been over 15 years. I can’t believe that there was a time when I thought that was an appropriate way to begin a newspaper Op-Ed on homosexuality. Was the rhyme clever? Maybe, for a teenager. But what did I accomplish, aside from a pat on the back for myself? The message I communicated at the time was that gay people are a they, a dangerous other, that better people like myself should stay away from. Even if I had continued my Op-Ed with a very loving, thoughtful, earnest plea for people to reconsider how they view sexual behavior, I lost all chance of reaching to anyone with that opening statement. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t kind, and it wasn’t standing for anything. It wasn’t a testimony of the hope within me, but a testimony of how I branded people whose issues were not mine.
Example 3: I once said something to the effect of…
“I can prove God exists in a heartbeat. It’s part of my job to evangelize, so if you don’t like what I have to say, then just walk away or hit delete.”
It was easy to ignore my own arrogance as a young man. I felt that if I was right, I had the right to boast of what I was right about. My apologetics were very me-centric. I, with my own righteousness and skill, could defend anything about the God I perfectly knew about.
I came along way since those days, and I still find myself learnings lessons about how to witness and contend for faith and hope with passion and caring.
I try to ask myself more often now, “what do I want people to know me for as a Christian?”
Jesus says that others will know we are his disciples because of our love for one another. The first and last apologetic is love. I don’t want to make a convert out of anyone merely because of a rational argument. I want them to see the love of Christ and his disciples.
Peter wrote a letter in which he told us that, no matter what happens to us, we should be ready to, in the face of persecution, testify as to why we still have hope. This is the heart and soul of any defense of our faith.
If I was ever put in a position where I was given the opportunity to renounce my faith or die, I hope I would have the strength to choose to die for my faith. When prompted as to why I would choose to die for such an idea as a resurrected Lord, I would want to be fully prepared to defend my hope. I must love this enemy who wants to kill me, and reverently follow through with the testimony. This is the root of apologetics.