In my online interactions, I have had some occasions where my faith has been challenged.
OK, that’s an understatement. If you have been open about your faith online, and if you have not hidden that faith outside your home team’s enclaves, you have had people make snotty comments about your faith. I’d say the same is true for people living according to their faith commitments in the real world, but that isn’t as recognizable in the real world as it is online. Or perhaps people are less likely to confront you in the real world because they are cowards in the real world, but courageous when hiding behind a disposable screen name. You make the call.
Regardless, there will be people who float some tired, lame excuse for a challenge to the Christian faith from time to time. These are the challenges that you’ve seen over and over, and have seen multiple approaches to disarm them on various online apologetics resources. There isn’t just one method to defeat the challenge. There are many, because these challenges are truly vacuous in thought. But if you don’t say something as quickly as the challenger expects, they act as if you don’t have any answers to offer. As if you had a responsibility to respond to them in the first place!
Let’s talk about that. And let’s begin with the most popular text concerning apologetics. Except this time we’ll look at it in context. Crazy, right?
1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil
For years, I have had this notion that it was my responsibility to interact with every internet troll who confronted the gospel. I thought that was what Christians were called to do! Well, in my years as a Christian I have read the Bible a few times, and have learned a thing or two about what it says. And just as importantly, I have learned some of what it doesn’t say. Am I now an expert? No. Every Christian spends the rest of their lives learning to be more like Jesus. I will continue to find places where I need to conform to the image of the one who rescued me out of a life of darkness. But I do know more than I used to.
First off, this section of Peter’s writing is focused more on the conduct of the Christian than on the Christian’s ability to disarm some Internet troll. So that’s the first thing that the apologist needs to look at. How is your conduct? Look at your profile on that social media site and get a feel for your recent history. Are you snarky? Are you respectful toward others? What’s your tone? If you aren’t sure, let someone else take a peek and ask them for an honest assessment. Yes, I’m serious. Better yet, ask someone to periodically look at your timeline and give them your permission to confront you if your demeanor is trending in a negative way.
Once your conduct is in order, you can now go to the center of Peter’s statement. This letter is not written to the specially trained Christian Green Beret Special Forces Famous Pastor Type. This letter is written to every Christian. Every one of us is called to this. That’s me. That’s you, if you are in Christ. We are to:
- honor Christ the Lord as holy
- always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you
- do it with gentleness and respect
When you honor Jesus as holy, you remember that He is set apart. That is what it means to be holy. He is not like us. He is different than us. That difference is a moral one and I cannot attain His perfection. Jesus relied on the word of God, and so I must rely on the same infallible word. I don’t have any ideas or any information that is greater than the Bible, and to pretend that I do is to disrespect the word of God, which is the word of Jesus. To use extra-biblical methods and to neglect what the Bible says about reality is the opposite of honoring Christ the Lord as holy. Full stop. I can learn about genetics and mineral formations and astrological movement and all that jazz. And then what? Some PhD in those fields will argue with me and my points will mean nothing. Instead, I choose to honor the word of the Lord as my foundation of truth. If someone wants to argue, they are not disagreeing with me. They are disagreeing with the word of God.
Being prepared to make a defense to anyone asking for a reason for the hope within you is the next step. That’s the one that trips up all kinds of people. You see, some rando comes out of nowhere and starts calling you a religious nut for posting a video of someone taking about Jesus. You think that you must respond if you are to be faithful to Jesus, but the expectation that is placed upon you is much less than the expectation you place on yourself. Remember, Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. What is hard and heavy is the burdens you put on yourself.
What causes us to enter into these arguments is, in many cases, our belief that we have a responsibility to defend the faith against those who aren’t even asking us why there is a hope within us! We haven’t even had to demonstrate any hope through adversity. We haven’t had to show our conduct as being one that is willing to suffer mistreatment for righteousness’ sake. Insead we shared something that we found to be inspirational and are now under attack for it.
Let’s be real here. The person who calls you a dim-witted idiot has not asked you about the hope you have. They haven’t inquired about anything at all. They have only slandered you. Nothing more, nothing less. This doesn’t mean that you ought to attack them. Rather, I would say that your best move at this point is probably to ignore them. For you to go down the path they want you to take is to accept the premise that you just may be the sort of idiot who accepts the Bible as true. And as soon as you step into their trap you have given them the satisfaction of finding a Christian who is not as wise as a serpent, though you are as gentle as a dove.
When someone makes a claim like this against you, that is all it is. It is a claim. They say you are a Bible thumping wingnut, or something more spurious. It is not your responsibility to prove that you are not crazy for coco puffs. You do not have any mandate to prove anything at all because you haven’t made any claims. They did! If anyone needs to provide evidence for a claim, it is them! So don’t give them any ammunition. If you respond at all to their charge, which you don’t need to, my advice would be to reject the charge. And if they ask why you reject it, say that you do so because it is untrue. And if they ask why it is untrue, tell them that they have provided no evidence at all to support their claim. They will point to your Christianity as their evidence. That would suffice IF it were illogical to believe in the gospel of Jesus.
Ultimately this is all about gentleness and respect. Your opponent will likely be disrespectful toward you. Expect it. Accept it. Rejoice in it! Do not repay evil for evil. And remember that our Lord Himself demonstrated the value of keeping your mouth shut when He was questioned. He had no obligation to provide a defense against false claims. Neither do you.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.