We all know the Bible-thumper stereotype.

You know who I’m talking about. The people with signs in sans-serif all caps about everyone that God supposedly hates and how everyone is going to hell. That’s not to mention the megaphones and the yelling and the . . . you get the point.

The struggle to avoid the label is real, and efforts by Christians to avoid it are manifold. But in so doing, we run the risk of swinging too far in the opposite direction. While the screaming clergyman neglects to “speak the truth in love,” those trying to avoid his vice may come off as ambivalent toward Christian doctrine, trying so hard to be meek that those witnessing the discussion may wonder if the Christian has made any truth claims at all.

The Problem

An example of this particular brand of bad communication might look something like this:

“I can’t believe in the Bible because it’s full of ahistorical nonsense.”

“Yeah, some of those things can be challenging.”

“So why do you believe in it?”

“Well, I think you just have to focus on who God is and who Jesus is – that’s what the Bible is about.”

I see this kind of response a lot, and it is very problematic. Why? Because the believer, while correct that the character of Jesus is central to the gospel, has preached past the skeptic and granted significant ground to her at the same time. Her challenge has not been answered; in fact, it was acknowledged (probably unwittingly by the Christian, who was just trying to express empathy). Second, the Christian spoke not to the need she saw in her friend, but in what spoke to her personally. The skeptic will walk away feeling vindicated in her objection, and most observers would agree with the skeptic.

The Solution

So how do we avoid this problem while also maintaining empathy in our apologetics practice? I believe issues like this most frequently come up because Christians do not have a plan for their conversations. They don’t think about specific needs of their friends, other than the overall need for Jesus.  As a result, they don’t think about how to navigate conversations with both compassion and truth.  They simply have a memorized defense for Christianity that speaks to them, but probably doesn’t speak to their skeptic friend.  So how do we navigate these answers?  The answer is relatively simple – make both compassion and truth relevant to the objection itself.

In our example conversation, it might go more like this:

“I can’t believe in the Bible because it’s full of ahistorical nonsense.”

“Looking at biblical history can be challenging. What sorts of things in the Bible do you find hard to believe?”

“Well, there’s the global flood for example – there’s just no way a flood could fill the entire Earth.”

This is a conversation that’s off to a good start. The believer has acknowledged that looking at the Bible and history can be challenging, but has also asked a question leading the skeptic to unpack their objection. This accomplishes both of our objectives, expressing empathy for potentially difficult obstacles to faith while also encouraging discussion of the objection. Going forward, the Christian can empathize with how difficult that must seem to the nonbeliever, while also addressing the objection itself.  And most importantly, this has been brought to a specific example, which can be quite a challenge.

This principle is especially important when it comes to more personal issues, such as the problem of evil. Without a plan and relevant responses, the Christian will appear to the skeptic to worship a God the Christian knows allows all sorts of evil without a redemptive purpose.

The Takeaway

Put simply, most conversations can be vastly improved with this process:

Determine the core source of the objection
Express compassion for difficult struggles and personal tragedy
Respond in a way that addresses the objection, without belittling the struggle

The application of these three ideas will vary from conversation to conversation. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that we are to speak the truth in love, and both of those elements are important – truth no less so than love.

author-photoLogan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast.  In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels.  He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.


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