Often times when we talk about defending our faith, we get a mental image of donning a suit of armor, mounting a horse and brandishing a sword or lance as we race into battle, intent on annihilating whoever dared to ask us a question. Perhaps instead of viewing questions as a threat, we need to welcome them and view them as an opportunity to share the Gospel. Let me explain.
For most of my adult life, I was employed as an elementary public school teacher. Though sometimes children would ask questions in order to delay doing something they did not want to do, most of the time the reason they asked questions was because well, they wanted to understand or learn how to do something. A true teacher always welcomes genuine questions. Why? Because questions demonstate a genuine desire to learn and understand. I wasn't troubled when my students asked questions. I was, however, troubled when they did not.
For some reason, Christians often tend to view questions as some sort of threat. We expect people to blindly follow us, accepting whatever comes out of our mouth as the truth. Is this what Jesus did? The Gospels are filled with examples of people asking Jesus questions. He didn't get mad or insulted when they did. He responded to those questions. Often He anwered with a question. Why? Because the person asking the question really did know the answer deep down inside. He was merely trying to get them to think about it. This is a very common practice of teachers even today and is a very effective teaching tool.
A good apologist presents their case as to what they believe and why. They are not drawn into arguments. Contrary to what people may think, a debate is not an argument. It is presenting your case, substantiating it with evidence and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions as to whether or not they agree or disagree.
We cannot ram the Gospel down someone's throat and indeed when we attempt to do so, we will fail. Oh, they might appear to yield for a time but they are only doing so to get you off their back. They have no firm foundation so when the storms of life hit, their faith will crumble.
As Christians it is essential for us to not only know what we believe but why. The questions people ask us should cause us to ask our own questions and in doing so, seek the answers. Why do we believe what we believe? As we answer our own questions, we are better equipped to answer the questions of others.
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"I wasn't troubled when my students asked questions. I was, however, troubled when they did not."
Erm, yes. Every few months I usually do a training session at work, delivered online, with screensharing and speaking into my little headset. We can have anything from ten to over a hundred people signed up for the little series. Getting only a few questions, or none at all, is especially terrible when you can't see your students because it's so hard to establish what the barrier is. Mute button? Shyness? Something I did wrong?
Recently I signed up for a similar class myself. Come question time, someone asked a difficult, and very specific question - trying to "catch the trainer out". Unfortunately the trainer was not only caught out but drawn into an argument We get these as Christians too - I remember standing on Eyre Square in Galway city centre handing out treats and tracts, and a lady laughing as she asked a question she hoped would catch me out. When this happened, the Lord helped me. I somehow found the words, "Do you believe in God?" - and to my surprise, she said, "Yes." - much easier from there.
Certainly, though, anyone who hopes to "come out on top" every time is going to learn the hard way, and fast. There will be those times when, even through no fault of the apologist, one's words will simply fall on stone. You get insults and dirty looks and, worst of all, people who just want to make a mockery of our Lord - and yet God wipes these setbacks off the board and fills you with joy as you go on to meet others who are genuinely touched and blessed. All sorts of folks. I met some lovely people like that while sharing last summer - they blessed me immensely, and sometimes, without saying a word. God willing, would love to do the same again this year.
God bless, and thanks for an interesting blog,