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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.
Here you’ll find the video archive of Barna Frames Live, a new training event inspired by a new way of publishing non-fiction. You’ll find my segment beginning around 4:35:00.
I got to be a part of this because I won the 10th Frame! Barna & Zondervan graciously offered a contest to determine the author of the 10th and final mini-book in Frames Season 1. I’ll keep you posted on my titles release (sometime this Fall). It’s called, Lover of Themselves: The Rise of American Narcissism.
Many, many thanks to all of you voted for my entry to win!
My friend Joe Boyd directed and starred in a movie that releases this Fall. I’m really looking forward to seeing A Strange Brand of Happy. In fact, I’m hoping to help get it here to NYC (perhaps more on that later).
In the meantime, he’s asked a bunch of people to write guest posts on his blog about happiness: what it is, how to get it, whether it’s worth focusing on, etc. Here’s some of what I wrote (click the link for the rest):
Being happy is a mirage. Feeling happy, on the other hand– we can drink that.
I think that’s what we all really mean when we say things like “I want to be happy” or “I just want him to be happy.” We mean, “I want to feel happy” and “I want him to feel happy.” Otherwise, what does it even mean to be happy? Maybe you can imagine being happy without feeling happy, but I think that’s nonsense.
Whatever else it takes to feel happy, one thing is certainly required: to feel happy, one must feel.
And now we’re getting to the big old nasty stink of it all…
(read the rest here): How To Be Happy
“This was stupid,” Matt said.
“Yes, keep the doors locked,” I agreed, jittery with adrenaline as we inched our way through each blackened intersection, hoping we wouldn’t get broadsided by a yellow car, or worse, hit a pedestrian. Everything above 34th Street was the usual Start-Spreadin’-the-News Big Apple. Below 34th was like stepping back in time 100 years. One window out of a thousand flickered with candlelight. The Empire State building shone like a lighthouse on the shore of a great, dark sea.
It was Halloween night, 2a.m., not long after the tidal surge receded from lower Manhattan. As we crept from block to block, rescue workers in Staten Island searched for two young brothers who were swept away from their frantic mother by a large wave. Their tiny bodies wouldn’t be found until the following day.
As we crept from block to block, 320 residents of the Kenmore— elderly and infirm people who could not evacuate– huddled in their rooms or in the lobby downstairs, unaware that three men have finally managed to get a truck-load of supplies within blocks of where they sit and wait.
It was Halloween night, 2a.m., and as we crept from block to block, I saw something moving in the inky darkness between buildings.
A young couple dressed as zombies rode bicycles, apparently peddling off to a party somewhere, their pale, fake-bloodied faces gleaming in our headlights.
We had managed to get to a Sam’s Club in New Jersey earlier that day and loaded the truck with peanuts, granola bars, apples– anything that didn’t require preparation– and also D Batteries for flashlights and 2-cycle gas for the generator. We cruised through the pitch blackness along the Hudson River and coasted back into Manhattan on fumes. There was no power at the gas stations, and the shortages had begun.
We rented a Zipcar that had 3/4 a tank and waited for midnight. Earlier, the Twitterverse had exploded with complaints: “Took me 4 hrs to go 15 blocks!!! #sandy” During the day, lower Manhattan was a snarl of honking horns. We hoped for smoother sailing after dark, and we got it, but it was creepy sliding through those blackened streets.
After we stacked the supplies in the lobby and exchanged “thank you”‘s and “you’re welcome”‘s, we drove through Alphabet City and silently observed the salty film on the insides of car windows and the strange drifts of debris.
“This is going to take months.” We all nodded.
We circled back around and parked right in front of Union Square, like we owned the place– a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That’s where I took the picture above.
Our part of Manhattan and the participants of Everyday Church came through this thing unscathed. We were helping the Kenmore through our sister church, Forefront Church, who have been scrambling– it’s really not an overstatement to say “scrambling”– to get aid to vulnerable residents. Trinity Grace Church has been going nuts on the lower Eastside. I can’t even name all the NY churches who have leapt into action and stayed in action– new, hip churches and mature, stable churches and churches I’ve never heard of. This town has one of the lowest church-to-resident ratios in the country, but you wouldn’t guess that from the vantage point of these damaged streets. And fortunately, other churches came to our aid as well. Mountain Christian Church in Baltimore started loading and driving truck after truck of much-needed supplies. Churches all over the country are sending help to victims through funds like the one Orchard Group set up, and we’re gonna need every penny.
I think officials and emergency workers have responded admirably to this disaster. Truly, it would have been much worse without their effort. This is just the beginning, of course. There’s a lot of cleaning yet to do. There’s a lot of healing. I thank God that, as media coverage and national attention moves on to the latest, the churches in New York City aren’t going anywhere.