Where Sincere Christians Sometimes Make Bad Witnessing Mistakes!
Towards the Avoidance of Confrontational, Loose and Poorly-Grounded Witnessing and Apologetics
Why Christians Should Never Argue Beyond Their Personal Level of Knowledge...
ARTICLE QUOTE: "...The 'supporting Christian' suddenly made an unwise comment and I thought to myself, 'Oops! Thats it! We have just lost this argument'!! The person was sincere, of course, but a little out of his depth and an unwise comment was made which was actually catastrophic for the defence of the Christian gospel."
I am heavily involved in Christian Apologetics, which is, the reasoned defence of the Christian Faith. I believe Christian Apologetics to be a very decent, noble and worthwhile field. However, just occasionally, some Christians get involved in Apologetics when – sincere though they undoubtedly are - perhaps they are better suited to other areas of Christian activity and witness. For the truth is, Apologetics is a field where the utmost care needs to be employed, else we are in danger of making complete fools of ourselves – or even bringing real reproach on the cause of Christ! In what way, you may ask?
A few tend to be a little rash in going on the attack and they use “facts” to defend Christianity which are not facts at all, or they may use arguments which are flawed or even illogical, or maybe they just use emotion masquerading as 'a reasoned defence of Christianity.' If a reasonably intelligent person perceives that they are the victims of illogical argument, or of the misuse of “facts,” or if they perceive that emotion is all that Christians can offer, then they will certainly conclude that Christians can produce no decent or sustainable arguments to defend the claims of the Christian Faith. Regarding evolution, for instance, if one is not truly au fait with some of the latest thinking (on both sides of the argument!), then such a person would be well advised to completely avoid arguments and controversies on this highly emotive topic. Better to simply steer clear of the subject. Above all, such an individual should avoid 'taking on' that particular kind of highly materialistic intellectual who has fully bought into philosophical naturalism and who is a somewhat skilled communicator/propagandist for evolutionary theory. I too usually avoid such people – leave people like that to 'the big boys'! There were times (before I learned that it is often better to avoid these things), that I found myself involved in a little controversy with atheists/agnostics and found another Christian 'in support' and the “supporting Christian” suddenly made an unwise comment and I thought to myself, 'Oops! Thats it! We have just lost this argument'!! The person was sincere, of course, but a little out of his or her depth and an unwise comment was made which was actually catastrophic for the defence of the Christian gospel and faith (quite often because a line of attack was used which could just as easily be used against us!)
Evolutionary Atheism Logically CANNOT Take the Moral High Ground
In fact, I have now learned that – if one is going to go on the attack (which, as I say, I now know is not necessarily always wise) - atheism should be immediately attacked on purely logical grounds. If the inquisitor is an atheist who supports evolution, he or she should never win an argument against Christianity – no: never! – and will not if the right approach is being used. For, if godless evolution is true, then nothing in this whole world means anything or amounts to anything – including their own arguments! Morality, for instance, would become meaningless and yet such people usually quickly fall into the trap of arguing against God on moral grounds. But if evolution is all there is, then love, decency and morality have no meaning. Atheistic so-called “Humanism” has tried all sorts of ways to find a way to argue their case on moral grounds but 98% of the time humanists quickly fall into the trap of assuming at least elements of Judeo-Christian values in their approach. Of course, once they do so, their argument is lost! But having said all of that, I am not convinced that arguing with such people usually produces good results. After all, a closed mind is just that: a closed mind – and such a mind will prohibit the entrance of any new mental input which might challenge opinions already 'set in stone.' Quite often such people are more likely to let their defences down if they notice something about the way Christians behave or something which Christians do which they like or admire. But – purely intellectually – they have raised up the drawbridge and there is no way through.
Have All the Relevant Information, or, Leave Well Alone!
But, despite all of the above, it remains the case that Christian Apologetics is a most vital discipline and the apostle Paul, for one, obviously employed its tools. But I find that people react better and are more open to correction when they are reading, rather than undergoing a 'heavy' confrontation with a Christian. But my main point in all of this (and I have admittedly digressed a little), is that it is not the strong point of every single Christian. Frankly, those most suited to the discipline will be people who read a great deal; such people will be very aware of much of the latest thinking by atheists, agnostics and Christian philosophers. To take just one obvious example, on the topic of evolution, if one is not familiar with the arguments which arch evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins has employed in some of his books (such as 'The Blind Watchmaker' and The Selfish Gene'), and if one is completely unfamiliar with the Intelligent Design/Irreducible Complexity movement among those scientists who are starting to reject evolutionary thought, then one's knowledge on this topic is too old and/or too restricted to debate with evolutionists at all. If such a person – however sincere – gets out of their depth by attempting to debate with a supporter of Darwin, then – make no mistake! – that Darwinist will ridicule all of Christianity because of the unknowledgeable clumsiness of that person. We should not do that. Now – having said all of the above – I do greatly lament the fact that so many modern Christians are not even able to define the Christian Gospel by turning to just four or five Scriptures. Most Christians who have been around for a few years, should have far more knowledge than they do. Too many churches – yes, including many “evangelical” churches have failed desperately to educate their people in even the basic rudiments of the Christian Faith! This means that those who attend such places cannot adequately 'give an answer' to those who ask questions about their faith. We would not expect any better of liberal churches – but this is one of the most grievous errors and failings of evangelical Christianity!
Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who lived A.D. 354-430, was an important figure in the development of Western Christianity and one who is admired equally by Roman Catholicism and by modern evangelicalism. But Augustine sometimes erred in his enthusiasm. He claimed, for example, that little babies who died without baptism would go straight to Hell. This not only goes beyond Scripture, but - more seriously - it is completely unscriptural. In an age in which numerous babies never made it to adulthood, this serious doctrinal error caused many to reject Christian teaching.
Don't Go Beyond Scripture, and Don't Speculate With Unbelievers!
The tendency to go beyond Scriptural teaching in formulating an argument cannot, sadly, be confined to the unknowledgeable; the great Augustine, bishop of Hippo, whom both Roman Catholics and modern evangelicals tend to look upon as something of a great 'spiritual forefather' was also often guilty of this. As an example, Augustine was in no doubt that little babies that died unbaptized were headed straight for the flames of Hell – without any remedy! The quite amazing thing is that he considered this part of “Christian theology” even when such a belief is completely foreign to Holy Scripture. In fact, of course, this is part of that area of the bishop's theology which has far more in common with the Fatalism which he inherited from Manichaeism, that heretical set of beliefs which had been such a major early influence on him before his conversion to Christianity. In arguing in support of the concept that a loving God would willingly send millions of tiny babies to hell, Augustine not only went well beyond Scripture but the man who had been such an enemy of heretics, himself became a heretic! We Christians must always beware of going beyond scriptural teaching.
I recall, some while ago, hearing a Christian arguing about re-incarnation with a person whom, I believe, had been affected by New Ageism. I will call the commited Christian Michael. Now Michael stated quite dogmatically (and correctly) that the Bible contains no evidence of re-incarnation and so, as a Christian, he solidly rejected it. Good for him!! No problem. He rejected any view that human beings made in the image of God were involved in any sort of trans-migration of souls. He undoubtedly peceived that this was one of those New Age elements which have arrived from Indian religion with Hindu's teaching of 'Karma' and of a repeated cycle of death and rebirth. Michael was correct to reject any schema that people may be re-born again and again, including maybe some births into the animal kingdom, until their souls were sufficiently purified.
Michael made his point excellently but then, somewhat foolishly, allowed himself to be drawn into idle speculation. Now I do not think that speculation is always wrong. And I think that speculation on spiritual matters – occurring between two mature Christians who agree, and are clear, that it is only speculation - can be fascinating, interesting and truly inspiring. But if we allow ourselves to get drawn into spiritual speculation with non-believers, there is every chance that such people may later become very confused about what was said and will think that we were outlining Scriptural Christian doctrine when we were simply speculating! Michael foolishly got drawn into areas he really should have avoided with a non-Christian. It started in this way: The New Ager, said, “Okay, reincarnation, perhaps, does not affect people at all – maybe I will accept that. But what about animals? Don't they too have a sort of soul? They have very short lives: wouldn't it be almost wasteful of God not to re-use an animal life and soul many, many times?” At this point Michael should have responded with something like, “That just goes beyond Scripture and I am not going to speculate!” But – undoubtedly a little upset that reincarnation had even come up – Michael over-reacted and went beyond Scripture when he blurted, “Categorically No!! God does not use reincarnation at all – even among animals. Reincarnation is just a doctrine of demons!”
But How Much Does the Bible Tell Us About the Continuous Cycle of Animal Birth and Death? Nothing!
Now, the way reincarnation is usually represented – as relating to people made in the image of God, it might indeed be thought of as an evil teaching, but – truth is – the Bible never tells us how God deals with the endless cycle of animal birth and death! Sure, we know that they endlessly reproduce 'in their kinds' but the Bible does not outline much else about animal life or about 'animal souls.' We do know that they are not made 'in God's Image' and that they do not apparently have the sort of 'spirit souls' which can ever achieve knowledge of, let alone a relationship with, God and we know that they are mainly guided by instinct. But is it just possible that God continually re-uses animal souls?? Some would say that animals do not even have souls but animals certainly have a certain level of 'being' and 'knowing' and existence and can even sometimes respond affectionately to people and so certainly have a kind of 'soul essence' though undoubtedly very different to the souls of people fashioned in God's image. Again, we don't know because – for the present time – God has not revealed much to us on this subject. So since this is now a little speculative and non-believers (as well as Christians) will read this, I must be careful – but I would say that this is not entirely impossible, but the Bible does not legislate on this and neither do I. However, Michael was wrong to imply that he – or any of us – know enough about the entire realm of God to make any categorical assertions in areas which the Holy Bible never discusses. We must always remember that the 'secret things' of God are not yet being shown to us, and that this is a huge area – not a small area!! But what God has revealed, belongs to us and to our children forever. Deuteronomy 29:29.
A few Christians appear to operate on an unwise assumption that the Bible tells us everything, when it plainly does not – and it never even claims to. This leads to them using the practise of what I call Scriptural Elastication. What do I mean? That is to use (abuse??) a Scripture which appears to come close to their topic under consideration and to stretch that out to include their topic – a topic which the Scripture is not even addressing! The cults and sects have, of course, been especially adept at doing this but all honest and conscientious evangelical students of the Bible must always resist it.
I think it best to conclude this by making several pleas to commited Christians.
Strive to Increase Your Biblical/Theological Knowledge: It is Never Too Late! Quit ONLY Reading Literature Put Out by Your Own Denomination/Favourite Preacher but Read Across a Wide Evangelical Spectrum!
Always Avoid Witnessing to Others/Defending the Faith in Any Manner Beyond Your Personal Level of Knowledge and Understanding!
Do Not Argue with Commited Evolutionists AT ALL Unless You are Totally Up to Date with the Very Latest Thinking on Both Sides!
Think Seriously About Whether Argumentation is Even the Best Way Forward For Somebody with a Rigidly Closed Mind. Respectfully Suggest Good Reading Material Instead: Our Websites Contain a Huge Amount of Reading of This Type!
If You Quickly Become Overly-Emotional or Quickly Lose Your Cool, Avoid Personal Witness with Commited Atheists.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
You may also wish to consult:
Does Matthew 10:18-20 Bar Christian Apologetics?
WITNESS TO THE WORD
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS