Defend…or Offend?

One of the most amazing things a person can learn as a Christian is the art of apologetics. It is truly satisfying to know the answers to difficult questions about the Christian faith that at one point were very difficult for your to understand. We can’t deny that both Christians and non-Christians alike ask difficult questions and we should be able to give a strong doctrinal, theological, and a biblical answer. Had it not been for my study of Scripture and personal devotion to theology I would’ve never been able to answer the accusations people had against orthodox Christianity in a way that was precise and understandable. All that being said, I still had a problem.

Though I was able to give some of the best defenses of the faith, and I could’ve proved that God existed through biblically sound apologetics, I didn’t exercise it in love. In the same way that I was disrespectful, uncivil, and truly offensive before I came to Christ, so I was when I was a child of God as well, and strangely enough…I believed I was doing the right thing. I used God as a crutch to defend my bad character when it came to apologetics. Sure, I answered questions about the faith, but I also was uneasy with people’s hearts. I came to learn that was not God’s design for apologetics, and that Christ wants us to be as humble, compassionate, and loving as He was.

How do we treat apologetics in our own lives?

Do you go out of your way to defend the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or do you go out of your way to offend people? This is a very serious question the Scriptures demand from us that should be convicting, especially since many (like myself) have confused those two approaches. The line between being on the defensing and offensive can get even more blurry as you grow in knowledge. I understand how difficult it can truly be to stand up for truth without offending people. The fear of offending people became so great after someone approached me about my character, that for a while I didn’t exercise apologetics, but remember that we are not to be silent. Love is not an excuse to be silent on important matters, but to walk in the truth and testify to the peace in Jesus Christ.

Even though we are people who know the truth and have every right to make it known, we must also realize that we are called to be peacemakers. Jesus Himself said that those who are truly peacemakers will be called the sons of God in Matthew 5:9. In Romans 12:18 (ESV) we are called to live a peaceful life saying, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Now, is it possible that some might only be offended by what you say because of their own selfish, ungodly, and biased nature? Of course that can be the case, but we must still do everything in our part to make sure that we are accountable before God. We must be sure that we did not use the Word to abuse an emotional being, but to point them to the glory of God, even through apologetics.

Here are some point of consideration when approaching apologetics, both with non-believers and believers alike (yes, even believers need to be corrected in their theology):

1) Debate. Don’t fight.

A debate is generally considered to be a platform in which two people with opposing views could disagree respectfully, and have the chance to make a case for their conclusions. Fights on the other hand are not as much known for their beginnings, but rather the violent, bickering, and ungodly showmanship of one’s own abilities. This is of course not to be overshadowed by the fact that all fights (at least the real ones; not the silly dance fights you see in movies these days) lead to injury, hurt, and bitterness. While some debates may be an exception to the normal practice, the desire to debate is much better than a desire to fight.

Too many people approach apologetics as if it was a gladiator match. From the Scriptures we learn that it is much better to build up rather to bring unnecessary offense. Jesus did say that He came with a sword, Paul did say we are fighters in a boxing match, and David constantly wrote about vanquishing enemies in the Psalms. However, we must remember that with those examples, God also tells us to approach the matter at hand with great respect, love, and kindness. This is not so that we can convince people that Christians are just so nice, but because God is pleased with that behavior.

Paul reminded us where our fight takes place in Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) saying, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Holy living calls for us to fight against spiritual forces, and not so much against men. Remember that you are not there to make them feel ignorant, but you are there to point them to the good news of Jesus Christ. Discuss and debate, but never get into an ungodly slander-fest with someone else. If the other person begin doing that, then it is just best to walk away.

2) Make an argument. Don’t start one.

Now, this is not what I’m saying: don’t argue at all. I do not believe that arguments are bad things. I do believe that if we are able to discuss in a godly, civilized, and a truly biblical way then we’ll be able to control our emotions when having arguments. We should be able to present an argument that is loving and kind. However, there is a difference between having an argument for why you believe something in the Scriptures, and arguing for the sake of arguing.

This is a very important aspect of apologetics since the very point of apologetics is to give an answer for the faith that is within us. In order to give an answer, there had to be something that would need an answer (duh). Too many people invite themselves into a fight, even when there is no real cause for theological or doctrinal dispute. Even though I have stated that I don’t think arguments are bad in of themselves, I do believe that they should be approached with consent and godliness. There should be a restraint on sarcasm, unnecessary judgement, and personal attacks against someone during apologetics (you would think that would be a given, but sadly I’ve had strange experiences).

When it comes to your part, do your absolute best to approach certain questions raised against Christianity in a Christ-like manner. It is difficult to control your emotions while being in a debate that requires much thoughtful arguments, but that is what we need to do. Starting an angry, bickering, and malicious argument will not get anyone anywhere, so it is very important to watch how you react and how you speak the truth.

3) What is worth fighting, rather than to have fun fighting.

Now, I must admit that I do struggle with this, and I can’t say that it is only sometimes. In fact, it’s actually more frequent than I imagine it to be, but the Lord has been gracious enough to teach me every day to walk in the light, and to have the true character of Christ when exercising apologetics. I would start fights over issues that were of no importance to the message of the gospel, or was so minor that it had no correlation with the gospel such as what Bible translation is best, clothing in worship, and what instruments to use for worship (I thought organ and choir worship was unspiritual). However, the Bible calls us to defend the matters of the gospel.

Matters of the gospel would have to include topics such as the Atonement, Calvinism, Justification by Faith Alone, Complementarianism, the 5 Solas, etc. because they all have a connection to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, some people in the “Calvinist Club” might see that I wrote Calvinism on there and start cheering and getting their cigars, beard combs, liquor, and Crossway Study Bibles, but hold on a minute. I am not saying that Calvinism is something that should should make us accuse Arminians, but rather we are to debate on the matters of soteriology and try to come back to the clear views of the Scriptures in a loving matter.

We must also keep in mind that we must be subjective to the moment as well. It is easy for people who are both people-pleasers and mega-debaters to be confused as to when to speak up for the faith, but the Holy Spirit will lead us to it. God told Jeremiah that He would speak whatever God revealed to Him, Jesus promised to us that we will speak by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Paul said that the Spirit enables us to preach the gospel. So, if our hearts have a desire to see people be transformed by the news of the gospel, then the gospel should be the premise, the reason, and the goal of any theological debate.

I hope these tips were of a great blessing to everyone who read this, and I truly hope that God would work within us in order to defend the faith. May we be able to defend the gospel with love and compassion, and may we lead the people we may debate with to the gospel, that the Holy Spirit would grant them repentance and see the truth that is Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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