I appreciate Matt’s wisdom and writing style. Our people benefit from both. This is his second article in a series on apologetic conversations.
Engaging Unbelief: How to say it.
Our last article looked at what to say when you find yourself in a position where you are engaged with a friend, family member, or coworker on the topic of unbelief. In this article, we will look at how to engage with someone who has an unbelieving worldview.
First, it is important to remember that you do not interact with unbelievers purely for the sake of arguing. If you realize the conversation is bearing no fruit, and it is turning into a heated argument, it is best to try to reign it in and allow heated passions to cool. You are a representative of the King, so act like it. You can speak truth all day, but if your demeanor is coming across as unloving or “holier-than-thou” then chances are you are damaging your witness. No one likes to be told they are wrong, so it is important to engage the other person with love. Convey to them that you actually, genuinely care for them. Let them know, not only by your words but also by your expression and attitude that you respect and love them as a person, and are only sharing the things you are sharing because you care for them and have a desire to see them come to Christ. Paul stated, in 1 Corinthians 13, that even if he could speak in the tongue of angels, if he did not do it in love then he would be a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Truth must always be married to love in order to be effective.
There may come a time in the conversation where it becomes apparent that they either want nothing more than to argue, or cannot receive anything from you. At that point it may be best to change gears and disengage from the subject. Some people love to argue, and will argue all day if given the opportunity. If you realize the person you are speaking with has this tendency, or they seem completely shut off to any input you might have, graciously bow out of the interaction and direct your efforts elsewhere. It is alright to end an interaction that seems destined for a dead end.
Second, we must always remember that it is God who saves. His Spirit softens hearts to accept the truth or hardens hearts to reject truth. God is a loving and merciful God, and so we can have confidence that when we faithfully stand on His truth and share His word, the Holy Spirit will be working in the heart of the hearer. The same Holy Spirit who was at work in creation (Genesis 1:2), who empowered the craftsmen that built the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11), who came upon Samson so that he might tear apart an attacking lion (Judges 14:6), who came upon John the Baptist to preach the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18), who carried the prophets and Apostles along in speaking His word and penning Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), that same Spirit dwells in you. He has made you His home, for your body is His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Do not be so concerned with whether or not you say the right thing, for we can trust that so long as we are faithful to the task God has appointed for us (to make disciples of all nations by teaching and baptizing per Matthew 28:18-20), He will honor our faithfulness. We know that God’s word does not return to Him void, that it will accomplish the purpose that God has for it (Isaiah 55:11), so we can trust in His sovereign goodness and know that when we use the methods God has appointed, He will be glorified.
Finally, do your best to accurately and faithfully represent your theological opponents. If speaking with a Muslim, do your best to portray their belief system accurately. Do the same if speaking with a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc. You would not like it if they began to mischaracterize you or the Christian faith, so do your best to not do so to them. Few things are more frustrating than talking with someone who constantly assumes what you believe, or makes completely false claims about the Christian faith. As Christians, we belong to the One who owns all truth. Among His many names, the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13). Conversely, we know that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), so we should strive to be honest and forthright in our dealings with others.
Despite modern sentiments, it is perfectly acceptable to say “I do not know much about that subject, so I cannot speak with much insight or authority on it” when confronted with a subject that you are unfamiliar with. Be honest and humble in your interactions, so that others can see the sincerity and genuineness of your belief. Do not pretend to have knowledge that you do not actually possess, as chances are high you may get called out on it sooner or later.
To summarize our main points: speak the truth in love; God is the one who changes hearts, not you; be honest in your interactions. Trust in our Good and Sovereign God, and know that He is at work, even in the words you say.