I have a new standard for engaging with people. This standard is designed to help move the conversation somewhere, instead of having it lie stagnant in the hopeless back and forth of two people with entrenched positions. There are several types of conversations that go on concerning Christian apologetics. There are appropriate times/places and formats for all of these types. There is a type that engages every anti-Christian argument, and that will try to answer any and every objection that comes from every skeptic. I have certainly done plenty of that in the last few years.
However, I am to the point in my life where I no longer find these conversations satisfying, intellectually or spiritually. I am more concerned with two types of apologetic conversations: helping believers understand and defend the faith, and removing intellectual barriers for skeptics to come to Christ. Now wait a minute, you might think, how is this latter category any different than the original category you say you’ve moved beyond? Good question. This type of discussion seeks only to help people who are genuinely interested in becoming Christians. Essentially, I will ask some variant of the question, “If your intellectual obstacles were removed, would you become a Christian?” and “What would it take for you to become a Christian?”
Assuming the answer to the first question is “yes,” I would seek to understand their answer to the second. Perhaps it is something like “I need good evidence that Jesus is who Christians claim him to be.” I would then attempt to reach the heart of the matter (in this case, what constitutes evidence, and then what constitutes good evidence). If the skeptic doesn’t or won’t capitulate on these fundamental issues, then I just won’t engage him anymore. Why? Because if he doesn’t understand these issues, then he won’t understand anything that follows which relies on these issues. If he does understand but won’t admit it, then he’s not really an honest skeptic after all. It’s a simple, mental flowchart that I have developed for helping me discern which conversations to enter and when to end the ones I do.
I am simply tired of so much wasted energy on people who literally will never change their minds, no matter what was said or done. I’m also secure enough in my beliefs that I don’t think they’ll have anything new to add that’s also weighty enough for me to consider. I’d rather invest time in training believers in how to defend the Gospel, or in strengthening believers in their understanding in Christian theology.
Now what about the Gospel itself? What about evangelism? Well I certainly won’t give up on that. We should never give up on the power of the Gospel. While it may be a waste of time to intellectually discuss issues that someone will not fairly hear out, it’s not usually a waste of time to evangelize and pray. Let the Gospel have its work; we cannot forget that there are so many non-intellectual factors at work in both conversion and de-conversion. I’m also not claiming that everyone do exactly what I have done. Sometimes, there’s value to be gained, especially by beginners, to discuss weightier or popular level issues, to hone their apologetic skills. You should just evaluate where you are, and where you’d like to be. Then, take the steps to get there!