The whims of ungrounded theology are the foundation of everything that opposes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first rule of deception is to make a lie appear true, and this is exactly what is happening in the Church.
Unbiblical morals and “progressive” theologies are rampant. Fewer and fewer hold the Bible as authoritative, resulting in many Christians abandoning their faith. Fewer Church authorities are standing by the veracity of Christian theology. Biblical illiteracy is on the rampage, allowing children to grow up and wander into a world of fragmented belief systems. As we slip away from the Bible, we lose the Truth.
Those gripped by a zeal for the Lord and his Truth have a burden to retain and defend the faith when others don’t. We must promulgate the authority of the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ with confidence and grit, enduring all opposition. Raking through the New Testament, three principles of interfaith dialogue stand out. As Christians in this “post-Christian,” Biblically-illiterate 21st Century, it’s wise to heed them.
1. Know Your Limits
As we list facts, evidence and logic in support of Christianity, its often tempting to stake truth claims on thin ice for the sake of winning an argument. We jump to conclusions on weak facts or biased evidence. We then make fools of ourselves when an expert corrects our faulty, novice conclusions. We must know the limits our knowledge.
Paul says: “don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). This principle is vital for interfaith dialogue, as there will inevitably be times when we simply don’t know enough to answer opponents in a legitimate way. In these instances, we must acknowledge our finiteness and either study-up or refer to someone who’s better equipped for the task. Christian apologetics is not a conquest waged by isolated individuals, but a synergistic mass of minds, readily available for interpersonal support and intellectual backing.
We must abandon the idea that to leave our opponents waiting for an answer invalidates that which we’re defending. It’s OK to let them wait for a good answer. Indeed, bad responses given quickly are more damaging than good responses given slowly, which is why our answers to opponents’ must be crafted with care.
One of the marks of false teaching is their presumptuous knowledge. Paul says they are thirsty for “foolish and ignorant controversies” (2 Tim. 2:23). The language here expresses the idea of “arguments made by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.” Paul instructs Timothy to “avoid these people/arguments,” for they have no place in the life of God’s servants; they distract us from the weightier matters.
We, likewise, must not fall into the trap of either starting or engaging in these pointless debates, no matter how inviting they may be. As servants of the Lord, we must be able to teach (2:24), which implies that those we teach have a heart to learn. There’s a difference between people who ask questions out of contention and those who ask out of a heart to learn; it’s wise to know the difference, and avoid those just thirsty for contention (Prov. 9:7-9).
2. Be Kind
A retired local news anchor in my area used to conclude his nightly broadcasts by saying, “Good evening, and be kind.” He must have known how rare kindness is. Paul said something similar as he sat in prison, awaiting his execution. He wrote this to his “son in the faith,” Timothy, regarding false teachers:
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).”
I have noticed far too many Christians fight fire with fire. When opponents of the Gospel get emotionally hostile, we meet the threat with equal gusto. Now with Internet debates more common via social media, emotions are given an extra dose of freedom. We want victory in theological debates, online or offline, and we’ll smear our own dignity to get it–all for his glory, of course.
Yet the New Testament authors delineate a more seasoned attitude for Christians. Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Peter says something similar: “[be] 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” (1 Pet. 3:15b, emphasis added).
Gentleness, respect, graciousness, speech seasoned with salt…perhaps it can be summed up with what Jesus said: “love your enemies,” (Matt. 5:44). What if we saw more of this filling the comment sections on social media?
Have we forgotten that kindness is what leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4?) This same repentance is why we defend the faith, as Paul expressed to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:25). We must therefore consistently “live out” the worldview we defend by instilling kindness in how we conduct our lives (Eph. 2:10; 4:1; Col. 1:10; 2 Tim. 2:21-22). If we can let kindness spread to every facet of our lifestyle, we remove any reason for our opponents to find blame in us (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16; see also Matt. 5:16). Is this not, after all, the best defense of the Gospel (Phil. 2:15-16)?
3. Acknowledge Spiritual Warfare
Satan knows how to thwart the Lord’s servants. Among other tactics, he often invites us to engage in fruitless, ignorant debates (#1 above) or tempts us to lash out with embittered emotions (#2 above), but we must never let any of his “devices” slide under our radar (see 2 Cor. 2:11). We must acknowledge the level of his power (1 John 5:19; and his limits, Col. 2:15) and remember that our opponents are often swayed by his deceptions (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:26).
Our opponents are not the Enemy. There’s a distinction between faulty beliefs and the people that hold them. Why do we forget this?
And why do we forget that Satan is an expert deceiver, able to ensnare those unrooted in faith (Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:8-9a)?
In our world of science and fact, it’s too common to gloss over the nebulous nature of spiritual warfare, but it’s real. It’s a serious matter that we can’t ignore. We must pray for our opponents (Matt. 5:44), knowing they’re involved in a cosmic conflict whose magnitude outweighs our desire to win an argument with them.
It’s time to think of the big picture; the world is crumbling away from its Creator, and the Truth is what will impede its total atrophy. And yet, sadly, it’s Truth that’s attacked the most.
A soft heart of love, a tough shell of faith and a sound mind are what Christians need. Our words and acts of kindness are conduits through which Christ’s love spills into a world that needs it. Additionally, it’s crucial to remember our own limitations and seek help when defending our faith because apologetics is more than finding personal satisfaction in winning arguments; it’s about stewarding God’s Truth and handling it with honor and humility (2 Tim. 2:15) so that others may pass from darkness into light (2 Cor. 4:4).
Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984, 1988.
Liefeld, Walter L. 1 & 2 Timothy/Titus The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.