While I advocate defending the faith, which will sometimes mean arguing for God and his truth, we have to be very careful about the way we interact with people. Much of what passes for apologetics or evangelism actually shames the faith it claims to defend.
There is a difference between arguing for the truth and being argumentative, between witnessing and bullying. Our calling is to help people see and embrace the truth, not make them look like idiots.
When we engage people in a debate about life’s biggest questions, we are entering vulnerable territory. Sometimes a person will reject Christianity because she finds it illogical. But very often a person rejects Christianity for reasons that are incredibly personal—church members have hurt her deeply, she feels betrayed by God or some of his followers, she experienced some deep loss in her life and doesn’t understand how a loving God could allow such a thing to happen.
These situations call for loads of compassion. There are answers to such questions, concerns, and emotions, but people aren’t always looking for answers. They want to be understood. They want to be held. They don’t want us to vindicate God, they want to experience his love. Most people are crying out for relationship, compassion, and love, but we offer arguments, guilt trips, and self-righteousness.
What comes to your mind when you think about defending your faith? Many of us picture a debate. I think that more often, defending the faith looks like clinging to God in the midst of a painful situation. It looks like coming alongside someone else and bearing her burdens.
Francis Schaeffer was a serious apologist for the faith, but he was also known for his extraordinary compassion. He wrote about some of the attempts in modern art to demonstrate the supposed absurdity of life. He liked to use John Cage as an example. Cage composed music by flipping a coin, inserting bizarre sounds randomly into a piece of music in an attempt to say that life was chaotic and meaningless. It’s difficult to listen to the music of John Cage without laughing or saying, “What the ____?” But Schaeffer warns us never to laugh when we come face to face with someone else’s worldview. The correct response to such hopeless expressions, he says, is to weep.
So when you run into someone who mocks the faith that you care so deeply about, don’t get angry. Be sad. Weep for him. Feel compassion for him. This person is rebelling against his Creator, he is at odds with the Ultimate Being in the universe; he doesn’t need your wrath, he needs your love. Love him in his brokenness. Share his pain. Listen to his questions, his arguments, his bitterness. Be a faithful presence in this person’s life, and trust God to bring healing in his perfect timing.
You may well need to engage in an intellectual debate with the people that God has placed in your life. But this type of debate must be soaked in compassion. And it can’t be the sum total of your evangelistic efforts. Remember that it’s not about winning arguments, it’s about seeing each person transformed by the power of the gospel. And transformation is typically painful, so we should be a compassionate presence to guide people through these vulnerable moments.