When I was an atheist, thoughtful defenses of faith in Christ like C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity contributed to the beginnings of my own belief. More recently, humble approaches like Tim Keller’s The Reason for God have encouraged my faith. I’m a fan of Christian apologetics. But I sometimes find myself despairing the project is doomed, and not because apologetics has lost value, but because of some of the apologists.
They’re snarky. Scripture tells us to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15) Obedience to that call leaves little room for sarcasm or witty one-liners.
In all the hoopla surrounding the “Hamm on Nye” debate, here’s what bothered me most: In Ken Ham’s promo video, he twice mentioned that evolutionists believe we “came from slime.” Twice in a five-minute video. But that’s not how they describe their own beliefs. And the word “slime” is unnecessarily charged with negative connotation, and distracts from the facts. It is not a respectful way to talk about the formation of the first amino acids. And according to the Bible, whether or not God made us out of slime, he did make us out of dust.
It took me a while to put my finger on what bothered me, because Hamm’s manner seems gentle and respectful. It’s that his depiction of his opponents’ views is less than generous and perhaps less than accurate, and I think as Christian apologists, we should hold ourselves to the highest standard of respect-giving. I propose this standard: when we describe or define someone’s views, we do so with their own words, in context, in such a way that if they were right beside us, they would nod, pleasantly surprised, and think, Yes. That is precisely what I think.
I recently read a post entitled How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist by believer (I assume) Rob Bowman, which was his response to atheist Victor Stenger’s article in Huffington Post online, How to Debate a Christian Apologist. Both of these gents raise some valid points, but I think the content of Bowman’s post is more convincing and compelling… except that it’s crippled by a generous smattering of snarkiness.
For the writer who aims to make an impact, snarkiness is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Any hack can write a negative review and make it entertaining. Writing something with gentleness and respect that is also a good read requires some real skill and effort.
Given God’s tremendous, incomparable, unimaginable love and capital P-Passion for men and women like Victor Stenger, don’t we owe it to God to put forth that effort? We must remember that our struggle is never against atheists, but rather for atheists (Ephesians 6:12).
Jesus was occasionally snarky, maybe, but the only recorded instances I can find were to believers who had exaggerated their own importance. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” he chided experts in the Law (Matthew 12:5, etc.).
Whether you are an academic, a public debater, or an ordinary Christian like myself, I hope you’ll hold yourself to this standard. We all sometimes find ourselves in conversations that present an opportunity to explain or respond or enlighten, or otherwise commend Jesus to someone. When that happens, may you respond with the full weight and beauty and force of the Gospel, and intelligently, as someone who loves the Lord with all your mind. By all means, give the reason for the hope that you have.
But I hope it sounds like hope, because it is a very great hope. And for the love of God, do so with gentleness and respect.