(This post originally appeared this time last year on Another Ascending Lark. Beach Reach, the trip that I mention in this post, is a trip where 700-ish Christians from colleges all over Texas head down to South Padre Island for spring break to minister and share the Gospel with 40,000+ unbelievers. Our main ministries are via free island transportation and free pancake breakfasts but we also have Christians who do sand art out on Coca Cola Beach, the largest beach party hotspot on this island. It is near the locations of the sand art is where this encounter takes place.)
During Beach Reach, I got to have a conversation with an atheist that allowed me to really put my conversational apologetics training to good use. During the conversation, a teammate joined me, and eventually a third joined us. All three of us were apologists, and all three of us were approaching the conversation with different methods and arguments. I was using Koukl’s “Tactics” to poke holes in the atheist’s claims. One of my teammates was pressing the question about the identity of Christ: liar, lunatic, or lord? I honestly don’t remember much of the third teammate’s approach, as I had to leave the conversation, but I remember it was definitely different than my approach and the second guy’s approach. This experience, combined with what I have been learning in my Intro to Criminal Justice class, has left me with an idea that every Christian has apologetic discretion.
By “apologetic discretion”, I mean that Christians who are engaged with the defense of their faith have the discretion – or have the power to make decisions on issues within certain guidelines – in how they engage nonbelievers about their faith. In the conversation that I mentioned earlier, we all had different ways about engaging the atheist (for clarification sake, the atheist was partially high and drunk, but coherent enough to have a decent conversation. Nevertheless, he was all over the place on a few things) according to our discretion. Every apologist has this discretion when they are engaged in dialog with unbelievers – if they want to take the conversation in a certain way or talk about a specific issue, then that is their call. Each apologist is responsible for the conversations they have, and if an apologist wants to handle a conversation in a certain way, that is their choice.
Of course, having apologetic discretion is not a pass for doing apologetics however you want. You cannot neglect the apologists’ mandate to show “gentleness and respect” in the name of apologetic discretion. Likewise, you also cannot fail to “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts” in the name of apologetic discretion. The goal of every apologist is Christ. Where discretion comes into play is how that goal – Christ – is reached. Whether you are proficient in a particular methodology or specialize in a particular discipline, we are free to choose how we want to handle each encounter knowing that Christ is our goal. If Christ is not your goal, you ought to stop doing apologetics.
This leads to another important point: in the Criminal Justice field, discretion is used to bring about the best result for a given situation (which is an extremely complicated idea, to say the least). For the apologist, apologetic discretion should be used to make the most of each encounter. In the name of apologetic discretion, it is improper to talk about something or approach an issue that makes our encounters unfruitful. Of course there are times that the other person(s) in the conversation makes things go south – they get angry, disinterested, or whatever it may be – but the point is that if an encounter is unfruitful, it should not be because the apologist handled the conversation poorly. Discretion in our approach should be used to handle each situation for the sake of making each encounter productive.
When I left the conversation that I was talking about, I left the atheist with my two teammates. A few hours later I reconnect with one of them. The account of how the conversation ended was…let’s just say, interesting…but before the conversation took it’s unpredictable end, the atheist told my teammate, “You guys are really causing me to think about some things. Thanks for talking with me.” Different apologists, different methods, same target: the Savior of the world.