Friday, November 27, 2015

Having Conversations Full of Grace and Seasoned With Salt: Advice to the Christian Debater

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul instructs his readers to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Colossians 4:6). I have found this advice to be invaluable in the context of debate, an activity in which many of us in the apologetics community participate.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be involved in several debates with both Muslims and atheists.

In such situations, it is so important to always exemplify an attitude of humility and graciousness. Too often, regrettably, I have seen people (believer and unbeliever alike) attempt to disparage people on the other side of the argument. For the Christian, I firmly believe that the purpose behind debating is not simply to win an argument. Let me say that again: The purpose of debating, for the believer, is not simply to win an argument. It is possible that one successfully win an argument while failing to win the audience or one’s interlocutor. There are souls on the line. A message of love should thus be clearly conveyed — through the words we speak, through our conduct and mannerisms, and through our devotion to the message of the cross. It is so easy to let our Christian apologetics be reduced to nothing more than an intellectual pursuit, or a way to bolster one’s own ego. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2,
"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
Having a tremendous stock of knowledge will do you, or anybody else, no good if you have not love. Each opponent whom you face, and each person who observes and watches you debate, is an individual precious soul, desperately in need of Christ. If you view them as such then your conduct during and after debate will reflect that.
If we are honest, there can sometimes be an element of superiorism among Christian intellectuals. We feel smug about being the ones with the truth, and pride ourselves in having the better arguments to support our position. But remember that, had the Spirit not opened up our eyes and illuminated our vision so that we could clearly perceive the mystery of Christ, we would be in precisely the same place — lost, in darkness, without God, without hope of salvation. What is so clear to us is not clear to those whose hearts are covered by a veil (2 Corinthians 3:14). The only thing that makes you able to perceive and understand the Truth is God’s grace — nothing more, nothing less. Coming to that realization is without doubt a humbling experience, and one that should spur us on to treat our non-Christian dialogue partners graciously, and with love and humility.
Ultimately it is the Spirit of God — and not your arguments — that will convict a man of his sin and bring about repentance. Yes, your arguments may persuade him intellectually that Christianity is true — and God may opt to use that as the means of drawing Him towards Himself (Isaiah 55:11). But the Bible teaches quite plainly that unless God supernaturally enables a man to repent and choose to submit to Him, man will always be in perpetual rebellion against God, looking for excuses to not believe. Now, let me be clear: this is most definitely not to say that we should not handle information and facts responsibly. Indeed, I believe that our presentations of the truth should always be accurate and well researched — and we in the apologetics community should hold each other accountable in this regard. In so-doing, we honor God who is Truth itself.
It is so important that we exercise love, graciousness and humility towards those people with whom we engage in debate and argument — even if the attitude is not reciprocated. Your conduct is just as much a part of your apologetic as your persuasive arguments. It is not honoring God to coldly present the arguments without exemplifying love and compassion for the precious people you are speaking to. Remember, it is only by God’s grace that you have come to a knowledge of the Truth concerning the gospel. So present a defence of the faith that is within you, but do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).


Unknown said...

Acting humble doesn't win over the audience, show you are right and not so much for compromise. The western world gave enough space to muslim migrants where islam was non-existant, it did bring adjustment any closer. Segregation by choice, victimhood and terrorism- how's that for gratitude!?
Remember Jesus didn't always act humble and restrained. When he cleared out the temple the moneychangers got a proper whipping.

Unknown said...

Bas H, I understand what you're saying, but when we get snippy we run the risk of alienating people. There is such a thing as letting our opponent's behavior & arguments speak for themselves.

"I do not attempt to convert my opponents - I aim at converting their audience." - David Goodman

Sally said...

Well, here we get into the definition of love. My best teacher left me strung out to dry in the cruellest way imaginable and while it, mercifully and gratefully, has left me in the most humble acquiescence to God, my personality is chilli pepper hot and supersalty and I can take on raging maniacs and control the atmosphere and I'm never actually angry because I know it. To that end, everyone has their own style and they are all needed. All the little mouse people who scurry into their holes the moment I open my mouth need a different guide. But of course apologetics is civilized and so yes true love, agape, is true and good. Although if you make your opponent angry, that's also a valid tactic for winning hearts and minds because people see who's got the floor and the angry man will be need to re-examine his heart ... if he's wise. Anyway, I'm new to all this and just looked up "apologetics" because it's been a bit confusing to me because I think to apologise means to say sorry. Imagine my surprise to learn it means to make your case. This is fascinating because we live in a world cowed by victimology (which as far as I'm concerned is the direct result of not understanding how Christ the "victim" lives eternal ...) So it's little surprise that true apologetics as if is has come to be equated with "please don't withdraw your love and affection from me or I won't be able to stand it and I'll do anything to make you love me again". I live in South Africa so please post when and where you'll be debating. If it's in Cape Town I'll will make a point of attending. We had Hamas leader feted there last month and I'm keen to find out a bit more about who's who in the Muslim zoo down there. (that's not derogatory, it's a perfectly natural adjectival insert that people would only take offense at if they're hypersensitised about Islam.) And it would be nice to hear your debate, too.

taomeano said...

Folks, when it comes to how christian debaters or apologists should conduct themselves when debating muslims, David Wood is the standard. I would posit that every christian debater should conduct themselves like David Wood. In my view David Wood is one of the best christian debaters ever. He presents his points with such calmness and yet with such authority without belittling his opponent or being disrespectful to his opponent. David Wood is such an awesome christian debater, I have practically watched every single one of his debates. David Wood never shouts, never gets agitated or angry. In fact in one of his recent debates with Dr Shabir Ally, Shabir, in a subtle way, in my view made a disparaging statement regarding the intellectual integrity of David Wood. Shabir did it in a very subtle way, you would miss it if you don't pay attention. David Wood did not respond in kind, he just continued to present his points with such composure and grace. Listen even when David Wood uses sarcasm in his debates he does it with such calmness that it does not come off as being a strident remark. When it comes to how to comport one's self when debating muslims, David is the standard hands down. Any questions ?

FH Sanders said...

Great article, Mr. McLatchie. It's good to see you writing articles for Answering Muslims. By the way, would you or any other writer for this blog please consider doing a response to this video by Dawah Man about dr. Nabeel Qureshi: ?

m s said...

I'm not an apologist by any stretch of the imagination but I have decided to engage and not let pass any bogus information about islam is a ROP taqiya. I already have a cut an paste for the standard quran 5:32 if you kill one man is as if you killed humanity (that's for jews, 5:33 is for muslims). Mohammed was a champion of women's rights (sahih muslim book 4 number 2127 shows that mohamed beat Aisha in the chest which according to Aisha caused her pain). tafsir on quran 4:34 shows strike them refers to a case where a muslim man slapped his wife in the face and mohamed decided to get revelation 4:34 from Gabriel, etc.

Anyway, you do need patience to deal with the responses and the gist of this article also applies to regular comments on youtube or comments to the "news" you always see on CNN and other members of the media.