21st Century Apologetics: Diplomacy through Conversations
Many authors have commented on the erosion of belief in absolute truth among Western societies. The rise of relativistic thinking in post-modern America seems to discard long-accepted ideas like a heliocentric solar system in favor of a flat-earth theory. Relativism is commonly expressed as “My truth is my truth; your truth is your truth,” or “You do you.” Evangelical authors often pose a concern about the effect this trend will have on sharing the gospel. How can we share the truth of scripture when truth is viewed as customizable?
Mature followers of Christ are right to be concerned about this trend. The common response centers on training in apologetics, or defending the faith. That word often brings to mind some form of debate (which most believers do not feel qualified to begin) or verbal combat (which most believers do not enjoy). Is there another way to share the good news of enduring hope, joy and peace with our friends, co-workers, families and neighbors? Yes, believers have the best message to share to a confused, hurting world and can reach others through conversations that pose questions in a way that deepens relationships.
Know What You Believe
Christ-followers should know what they believe and be prepared to share this in meaningful ways. Speaking to the first topic, Francis J. Beckwith captured the essence of a Christian worldview in three points:
- There exists an eternally self-existing moral agent named God, who created the universe ex nihilo.
- God created human beings in his image.
- God reveals himself in special revelation, the Bible, as well as general revelation.1
Christian apologists rightly quote 1 Peter 3:15 – “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”2 There is a Kingdom mandate for God’s people to proclaim the gospel, and to be prepared to do so. Study helps in preparation, but notice the phrasing of this passage. Peter is assuming that Christ-followers will live in such a way that others will ask about the hope they hold in their hearts.
Know How to Share What You Believe
Peter immediately follows that well-quoted phrase with a caution: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Training in what to say should be accompanied by training in how to say it. Speaking to tactics, Gregory P. Koukl challenged Jesus-followers to “artfully manage the details of dialogue.”
Here are a few questions that should get your friend to examine their thinking:
- Do you mind if I ask you a question?
Believers can avoid coming off as pushy or preachy by “inviting others to participate in dialogue.” The answer will signal whether our friend is willing to engage in conversation or if the believer should prayerfully look for another opportunity for dialogue.
- What do you mean by that?
Likewise, open-ended questions place an expectation on the other person to define what they mean when delivered with a genuine desire to understand them.
- How did you come to that conclusion?
This question assumes the best for the other person: that they have thought through what they believe and can relate their position with clarity. It may also reveal where our friend has built their beliefs on feelings instead of evidence or careful thought.
- Have you ever considered … ?
Here is where a believer can gently challenge another’s position. By presenting evidence for an alternative conclusion, believers can plant seeds in conversation that our friends desperately need to hear.3
This strategy is more like skilled diplomacy than heated debate or armed combat. Knowing what we believe is only half the preparation; knowing how to share the truth in a conversational way makes us effective ambassadors for the Kingdom.
If you would like training in either area, please consider one of these courses:
- Contemporary Issues in Apologetics (graduate course)
- Apologetic Issues for Cross-Cultural Engagement (undergraduate course, open to current high school students)
Follow one of these steps if you are interested in registering and you are not yet a GCD student:
High School students (not yet graduated): fill out this application
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Graduate-level students (completed a bachelor degree): fill out this application
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- Francis J. Beckwith, To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 14-15.
- New International Version.
- Quoted or adapted from Gregory P. Koukl, “Tactics: Applying Apologetics to Everyday Life,” in To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 48-54.