Toxic Apologetics

By Lane Noble

There are very few strangers to the battlefield that is the internet nowadays. Even my grandfather, who doesn’t even own a computer (and hasn’t for years), is well aware of the of the swarm of angry mobs that populate Facebook, Twitter, and even Tik Tok. Different opinions are shot back and forth, and if you don’t agree with someone, or in some cases even if you agree with them for the most part but differ slightly, you risk ostracization. You are deemed unworthy of respect. The evidence and the logic is so clear. How could you disagree? No respectable person would disagree on this topic!

This isn’t a new problem. The problem has just taken on a new form. The uproars that we now see on social media used to take the form of mobs holding torches and pitchforks. Echo chambers were more physical than digital in nature. However, the nature of the debates we see online tend to scare people. We’ve all had thoughts that sounded something like this, “Is there somebody out there that actually believes that?” or “Is this sort of logic growing in our culture? I hope it doesnt become prominent.”

These sorts of thoughts come from listening to people talk on all sorts of topics: capitalism, socialism, communism, abortion, euthanasia, racism, religion, and the list goes on and on. It is not uncommon to write those people off as insane, or, more commonly, evil.

We are developing an even greater awareness of this behavior in our society today. There are many camps, and most camps seem to have some sort of thought police, and, I am saddened to say, Christians have found themselves in the middle of it.

While Christians have done damage in many areas in the midst of this culture war, I’m more concerned here with the area of Christian apologetics.

Apologetics can be defined as “the logical defense of the Christian faith.” One of the primary passages of Scripture that this is based on is 1 Peter 3:15 which says: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV).

There is a growing interest in Christian apologetics these days. Especially amongst college-aged students who have been positively impacted by notable Christian apologists such as Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, William Lane Craig, and, in my case especially, Ken Ham.

There’s a growing number of YouTube channels that have dedicated themselves to apologetics. These channels often answer commonly asked questions about Christianity, they’ll have conversations with atheists/agnostics, and, unfortunately for some, they will mock certain skeptics. The latter isn’t the case for all of them, and there are many good Christian apologetics channels out there. There’s also many good blogs (like this one I hope!) and websites dedicated to the subject of apologetics.

The internet is a phenomenal tool for sharing the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Seriously. The task of evangelism can be made ten times more effective with all of the digital tools and resources that we have at our disposal today. Not that the internet should ever take the place of physical, face-to-face relationships, as we should always try to pursue in the task of evangelism. However, our ability to get the gospel to more people, and to be equipped to do so, has been enhanced tremendously by the internet.

It’s even easier to equip oneself to for the task of apologetics with the internet. You can take free apologetics classes from wonderful resources. You can read apologetics articles written by great apologists. You can order books or access them digitally on Google books or through your local library. It has never been easier to equip oneself for the task.

With the internet now being an integral part of society, hope should be spreading more quickly around the world than a contagious disease. Instead, and in large part because of the contribution of Christians, confusion, fear, and depression have spread that quickly around the world.

Please hear me when I say that Christians are not the only ones responsible for this. We aren’t. There are so many different reasons why this is the case. However, there are many factors outside of our control. What is within our control, however, is what we do. We can change our own behavior, and that will go a long way with making the internet a much more tolerable place to be. Yet, this is not the case on the internet. Over the past few years I have noticed an increase in Christian and apologetics resources where, in terms of beliefs, I often wholeheartedly agree. However, I often avoid these resources just because of how toxic they can be, for lack of a better word.

There are some Christian apologetics YouTubers that, when the pop up in my YouTube recommendations, I want to roll my eyes and and throw up in my mouth a little. Why? It’s because these YouTube channels or these websites/resources are chalk full of anger, pride, arrogance, and mockery. When your “ministry” is radiating those attitudes, believe me when I say that you might look smart to a lot of people, but you will win very few souls to Jesus Christ.

While there are many tips that I can give here, I want to offer just three to help correct for this issue that I’m seeing on the internet these days. I hope that these tips are put to use and therefore make reaching the nations for Christ more effective.

  1. Avoid Intellectual Showmanship

Intellectual stimulation is not a bad thing. It is actually a very good thing. God wants us to love Him with all of our minds. He gave us rational faculties and He wants us to put them to use, as is indicated by the dominion mandate given to us in Genesis 3.

When I speak of intellectual showmanship, however, I mainly mean trying to come off as intelligent instead of actually seeking to be intelligent. This may sound obvious, but the sin is actually more subtle than most realize. I definitely struggle with it. Intellectual humility is a virtue that we all need to cultivate.

Here are a few examples of intellectual showmanship.

“That argument shouldn’t even survive a high school education.” -I hear this a lot and I’ve even made similar statements. It can be especially tempting to resort to this in apologetics because many skeptics habitually speak this way.

“You need to wake up and realize that (insert position here) is not plausible at all. It’s for crazy lefties or crazy right-wingers.” I hear this a lot in response to various positions, including, but not limited to, critical race theory, the age of the earth, young-earth creationism, arminianism and/or Calvinism, and other topics.

Other examples of intellectual showmanship include not speaking to certain topics out of fear that you’ll be scoffed at or not taken seriously by the world, not associating with certain Christian apologists, preachers, speakers, or writers out of being scoffed at or not taken seriously, or even looking down on other Christians, seeing them as less informed than you are or having less to offer in terms of substance. While many may think they aren’t guilty of these, I can guarantee that if more would examine their own hearts against Scripture, they would find more of this sin than they realized.

2. Be Careful How You Communicate to Different People

Most overseas missionaries and evangelists would tell you that how you present the gospel depends on who you’re preaching it to. If you’re preaching it in India, it’s going to look very different than if you’re preaching it in Mexico. Or if you’re preaching it in a Muslim-dominant country, preaching the gospel is going to look very different than if you’re preaching it in Ireland.

We can see this explicitly in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:14-41, Peter is preaching to a primarily Jewish audience. He mainly appeals to what would not only makes sense to them but what would convince them. He appeals primarily to the Old Testament to make the case that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He died and rose again for the atonement of our sins and to bring us back to Himself.

We see Paul later in Acts 17:16-34, however, using quite different language with the Athenians, who would have had a quite different way of thinking than the Jewish people. They cared nothing for the Bible. Paul had to meet them on their own grounds. He had to reason with them in a way that would makes sense to them.

We see this also in the gospel accounts where Matthew primarily addresses a Jewish audience, and thus tells the story of Jesus in a bit of a different style from John, who was probably addressing a Greek audience. This is the task of apologetics. We reason with people in a way that they would understand. This doesn’t make them stupid or unintelligent. We simply recognize that different people think in different ways and will thus need to have the gospel presented to them in a way that will help them to understand it.

When I read or watch many apologetics resources, or even listen to some speakers, I often see them trying to reason with a non-Christian in a way that is completely foreign to them. We need to keep this in mind especially now, when reason is being increasingly depreciated in our secular culture and emotions are increasingly becoming the arbiter of truth. We are seeing the old “reason above all things” form of secularism fade away, and the “I’m just living my truth” form of secularism is coming in. We as Christians need to be prepared to engage both forms, as both camps are full of human beings made in God’s image Who need to be redeemed by the blood of the Savior.

3. Avoid Division

We do more damage than good when we publicly mock or shame those in the family of God who don’t need to be publicly mocked or shamed. Increasingly in the western church we are seeing our brothers and sisters who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ get maligned by those who disagree with them on matters that shouldn’t divide us as much as they have.

An example of this concerns the age of the Earth. It’s a very important issue. More important than I think many realize. However, I see many in the church mocking those who believe the Earth is around six-thousand years old based on Scripture, or that God created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days. People in this camp are often maligned by those who aren’t as stupid or uneducated, not giving them the proper love and respect that those in the family of Christ are entitled to from us.

Another example is politics. Those who are apologists by profession often avoid politics for the most part so as not to distract from their main message. Tim Keller and William Lane Craig do this. However, there are some topics that apologists do and must talk about that touch the political realm.

Other apologetics evangelists and/or resources do talk about politics. Which is good. The problem becomes when we improperly malign our sisters and brothers in Christ for having a different perspective than us.

While there is a place for division over important issues, a majority of the topics that are fought over, such as whether or not evangelicals should vote for Biden or Trump, is not one of them. We may disagree on these kinds of issues, but we do not malign our brothers and sisters. Christians on both sides believe the fact that God created people of all skin colors equally, that all life is sacred, and that God made men and women equally. While there are rare exception, a majority of born-again Christians believe this. There is very little reason for political diviseness in the church. When there is, it’s usually explicit, such as whether or not someone can actively participate in a gay relationship and also be an active member of the church. The biblical action to take is to call that person to repentance and, if they don’t repent, they are to no longer be members of the church, as is the case with all sexual immorality.

We need to more slowly and more thoroughly think through whether or not divisions should take place. When they do, we carry such divisions out in a biblical way. Not in a way that intentionally causes conflict, but “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)

Conclusion

I hope that this was useful in helping you to see that the task of apologetics is a serious one, and we are to take it seriously. It’s a task that every Christian is to carry out faithfully, and, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, with gentleness and respect.

People’s souls are on the line here. Let’s make sure we’re doing this correctly.

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