Hi guys! Love your ministry…I’m wondering what your opinion is about engaging ‘non-believers’ on the internet. – Mary M.
Much like interacting with non-believers face-to-face, the answer to this question really depends on the person, and the context of the situation. The goal of an ambassador for Christ should always be to engage in meaningful, open-minded dialogue. But much as our mothers told us that it “takes two to argue,” it takes two to have a meaningful discussion—if the non-believer isn’t willing to have that dialogue, and only wants to lob attacks at Christians or at Christianity, then we can’t force them to have that dialogue. So to the non-believer willing to have a meaningful discussion, the internet is nothing more than another method through which we can reach more people. To the non-believer who only wants to launch attacks and engage in an angry “Twitterbate,” the discussion is helpful for no one.
Think of it this way: Jesus had two very different approaches for dealing with two very different kinds of people. He would often take time and teach with compassion those whom he perceived as being “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). On the other hand, when he came across those who were only interested in discrediting his message with dishonest attacks and leading the people he was trying to teach astray (such as the Pharisees), he did not treat them as sheep without a shepherd. Rather, he exposed them to the people as hypocrites (see Matthew 23, for example).
However, unlike Jesus, we do not have the supernatural ability to look into someone and see which of these skeptics they are. We must use discernment by looking at what they say and how they say it. If someone starts off with an angry ad hominem attack and inherently refuses everything Christians say as the babbling of idiots and morons, then that person has revealed themselves.
For others it is more difficult. But if we are to err, it would be better for us to err on the side of grace. So until the person has revealed themselves in that manner, I would treat the non-believer as though he or she is willing to have a meaningful discussion, and then come to them where they are at, in the medium of their choice. So whether that be Facebook, Twitter, email, or some other medium, we ought to come to the person where they are at. If the choice is ours, the more private a conversation, the better—that helps keep the discussion from turning into a public debate forum.
In short, the internet is just another tool to do the same thing we have always been tasked with doing—teaching the good message that is Jesus Christ. But as always, we must do so with the intent to engage in meaningful discussion and bring the lost to Christ, not out of some imagined obligation to always be on the winning side of a debate. Jesus has already won the fight, and he certainly doesn’t need our cyberspace screaming matches.