It can be frustrating talking about issues of apologetics with someone who does not believe. If not careful, the apologist can feel as if the source of his or her frustration is the person. This can lead to guilt rooted in the sense that the apologist cares more about arguments of apologetics than loving the person. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. However, I don’t think that is often the source of our frustrations.
We, as apologists, are deeply rational people. And, we obviously care about the people we are discussing these important issues with otherwise we wouldn’t exert the energy to do so. I am convinced that the source of our frustration is often less about the person and more about the order of argumentation in the discussion. Take an example: An atheist begins questioning how it is that Jonah could be swallowed by a large fish when that so obviously defies everything we know about the natural world. My gut response is to not waste my time on that question. Why? Because it doesn’t matter? No, it is an important question and does matter. Is it because I don’t care about the person? No, I do care about them and their questions. The reason why is because the order of argumentation is out of whack.
Order of Argumentation
When discussing apologetics, certain concepts or evidences need to be established before we can move forward to questions that would require those more basic questions. In a discussion with a person, my goal is to make a rational case for a relationship with Jesus. What would I need to establish in order to do that? Here is the order I would suggest:
- Knowledge (epistemology) – Approach to how we come about discovering knowledge at all.
- God – Evidence or arguments to establish a rational case for believing in a god (not talking about the Trinitarian God just yet).
- Bible – Evidence for the Biblical manuscripts and thinking that they are actual accounts of God’s activity in the world.
- Jesus – Evidence for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (and perhaps other miracles as well) to establish Him as a credible source of the knowledge of God.
- Religious Experience – Evidence for thinking that Christians have experiential knowledge of God.
This is not the totality of apologetics, of course. It may necessary to address objections to Christianity as well as address competing claims (Islam, Hinduism, Atheism). But, this short order of argumentation should help establish a framework for discussion. Why? If an atheist is asking about Jonah and a big fish, the apologist knows deep down that whatever evidence he/she provides will not be convincing to them. This isn’t because no rational evidence exists, but because it requires more foundational issues to be established: Knowledge/epistemology and the existence of God. If the atheist only accepts scientific evidence (scientism as an epistemology), our discussion will be fruitless. If the atheist rejects the possibility of a god (no sense of the rational arguments for God’s existence), then a miracle such as a large fish swallowing a man will never sound rational. The more foundational issues have to be addressed first. So, when the apologist is frustrated, it is because the arguments are out of order.
The next time you find yourself in a discussion, I would encourage you to consider at which “step” needs to be addressed first. This may save you a whole lot of frustration and help give some framework to love that person more strategically.