Archive | February, 2015

Apologizing with Style: When Things Get Awkward

27 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time examining the rules which govern informal religious dialogue.  We’ve taken a look at the importance of keeping a conversation on task in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate” and considered a few “Duh Rules” that can be useful in keeping a debate on friendly terms.  This week, we’re going to conclude our list with a brief discussion of the rules which govern those “awkward” situations that will inevitably occur if you ever try to share the Gospel with… well, just about anyone.  Don’t panic – if the conversation is on-task and friendly, these situations aren’t nearly as fear inducing as they might be otherwise!

Rule 5 – If You Don’t Know, Just Admit It

Next to Rule 1, this might be the most important.  There are a lot of people with legitimate questions about Christianity.  While we’d all like to be “Super Christian” and have the answers to every objection a skeptic can pose… we don’t.  When someone fields a question that you can’t answer, the best thing you can do is to admit it.  Then, volunteer to find an answer.  When someone is legitimately interested in your faith, they’ll be willing to let you check your sources and give them a response.

On the flip side, if you ask a question and the person you’re debating doesn’t immediately have an answer, be gracious enough to let them do some research as well.  When you are respectful of others, the chances are, they will be respectful of you.

It’s also important to maintain a level of understanding for doctrines which simply can’t be defended in a “logical” fashion.  The “trinity” is a fine example.  Go ahead.  Ask me how there can only be one God, but three distinct persons!  The truth is, I simply don’t know. At the risk of sounding trite, “The Bible says it, so I believe it.”  Interestingly enough, more than a few of my friends have been willing to accept this as a legitimate reply, if only because most recognized that there were many similar cases in their own religions.  I didn’t make a point of pushing them around for embracing something they weren’t capable of explaining and they returned the favor.  Being honest about my own ignorance ended up furthering the relationship more than faking my way through an answer ever would have!

Rule 6 – Don’t Be Afraid to Admit When You Are Wrong

On the same note, never be afraid to admit that you were wrong!  It can be easy to misunderstand the beliefs and teachings of other faiths.  Since you’re not a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or an “Enter religious preference here”, it’s not shameful to lack a complete understanding of someone else’s beliefs.  If you make a statement and find yourself getting corrected, take it in stride and thank your friend for caring enough to correct you.

By the same token, God did not call us to be Bible experts either.  At some point or another, someone is going to point out that your knowledge of your “sacred book” is deficient.  Your ability to both admit that you were wrong and to alter your views to match the Bible’s teachings can go a long way towards adding legitimacy to the dialogue.  Through this, people see that the point of the debate really is the discovery of truth, not your proving yourself right and them wrong!  Try to be consistent in what you present.  Check your facts and double check them.  But don’t panic if you’re wrong, because God can use that too!

Rule 7 – Just Present the Truth

Last, but not least, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we lose a debate.  Keep in mind that the only job God has given us is to present the truth as clearly as we are able.  Sure, sometimes we say something really stupid (or even just plain ignorant), but God knows our hearts and He will make sure that what He wants to accomplish gets accomplished.

And yes, sometimes we think of the things that we should have said long after the discussion is over.  While you may use those ideas in future discussions, you needn’t kick yourself for not using them in the last one.  If God had needed you to say that, you’d have thought of it at the time.

So there you have it, seven rules to help you keep your religious dialogues on track, friendly, and honest.  Follow them and, even when you “lose”, you’ll wind up a winner.

One final word: once you’ve found the high ground, hold it.  Others may not treat you with courtesy or respect and they may even be downright rude, but that’s no excuse for you to return “in kind”.  We are ambassadors for Christ and we represent Him in all situations, even the unpleasant ones!

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Apologizing with Style: The “Duh” Rules

20 Feb

Last week, in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate”, we discussed the importance of keeping a religious discussion focused and “on task”.  This week, we’re going to look at a few more rules that will help us keep that discussion friendly.  I call these rules the “Duh” rules because most of us would like others to treat us with the same courtesy they outline… but we sometimes struggle to return the favor.  As you read through the list, take a moment to ask yourself which of the rules you follow and where you could do with some improvement.

Rule 2 – Don’t Present Arguments You Wouldn’t Accept, Yourself

While this may seem obvious, often, in the heat of discussion, it simply isn’t.  That’s why I’m taking a moment to state it here.  Before making an argument against someone’s beliefs, make sure that if the same argument were reversed, you’d be willing to accept it as valid.

A perfect example of such a weak argument is the frequent appeal to the lack of archeological evidence for the “Book of Mormon”.*  While, initially, the argument may seem solid, a closer investigation proves otherwise.  For years, there was no archeological evidence for the Hittite civilization mentioned in the Old Testament.  Then, in 1906, Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered over 10,000 clay tablets confirming their existence.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone will ever find evidence to support Joseph Smith’s teachings, but what I am saying is that this is a dead-end argument that’s likely to end in a shouting match and not a discussion about Christ.  The same goes for arguments based upon emotion.  It just feels/doesn’t feel right is subjective, not objective and leads to the idea that truth is based upon my feelings, not God’s Word.  Sure, emotion comes into it, but this doesn’t form a solid basis for arguments about eternity.  The basic rule of thumb is, “If you wouldn’t accept a similar argument against Christianity, then don’t use it against other religions.”

Rule 3 – Don’t Debate Someone Who Just Wants to Fight

This can be a really difficult rule to observe both because it requires the ability to control one’s own emotions while discerning the motives of another equally erratic human being.  The truth of the matter is that some people ask us questions about our faith, not because they’re interested, but because they want a fight.  Most of these discussions are worthless and only end in frustration and ought, in general, to be avoided.

You can usually tell if someone is merely trying to pick a fight by the way they react to the answers you’re giving.  For example, if they interrupt you mid-sentence or shoot off another six dozen questions before the last word is out of your mouth, they probably care more about demonstrating their own superiority than they do about the truth.  They’re out to show you how wrong you are and, believe it or not, they will win, if only because their voice is the loudest.

While we shouldn’t turn down an opportunity to share Christ, we need to take our cue from Jesus.  When He entered a town, He’d present the Gospel.  He’d dine with those who were interested, but when someone clearly didn’t care, He moved on.  His energies were better devoted to sharing than to arguing.  If you find yourself in this situation, pray for the person and then head on down the road.  Don’t waste your time on worthless debate.

Rule 4 – Don’t Be Someone Who Just Wants To Fight

We all like to be right, but when it comes to evangelism we need to keep our eyes on the goal.  Remember, this is about Jesus and the gift He offers us, not about proving our superiority!

If you ask a question, listen to the answer… the full answer.  Respect for a person and their beliefs, even if they differ from our own, is essential to forming the type of relationship that may eventually lead to a commitment to Christ.  Jesus often disagreed with the people He met, but He never cut them off, made fun of their beliefs, or sought to make them feel stupid.  He heard them out and so should you.

Romans 12:14,16-18 reminds us, “…bless and do not curse… do not be haughty in mind… Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few rules regarding “awkward” situations, but for now, take the time to share a few of your own experiences with the “Duh” rules in the comment box below!

*This type of argument can be used effectively, but in order to do so, you’ll need the opportunity to build a case just like a lawyer does in court, presenting it as part of a “preponderance” of evidence.  Finding someone’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime isn’t enough to convict them of murder, but add in the threatening message on the answering machine and the victim’s blood all over the defendant’s laundry and you have a case.  The same applies to arguing against a given religious view.

Apologizing with Style: An Introduction to the Rules of Debate

13 Feb

Perhaps one of the most important things that I ever learned from my mother was how to have an honest, open, friendly debate.  For years, I watched as she welcomed those of other faiths into our home and engaged them in dialogue, presenting her faith (often while enquiring about theirs) with a gentleness and finesse which left everyone feeling at ease.  Everything I know about apologetics and the rules of debate began with her.

Before I start sharing what she taught me, however, we need to take a moment for some etymology.  (“Etymology” is the study of word origins and should not be confused with “entomology” which is the study of all things creepy crawly.)  Our English word “apology” comes from the Greek “apologia” and no, it doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry.  Instead, to the Greek mind, an apology was a “defense for” something whether it be one’s actions, philosophy, cooking style, or faith.  The best orators, those who held the attention of the masses in the public square were excellent “apologists”, reasoning for their own point of view in such a manner as to convince others to embrace it as well.  It should come as no surprise then that “evangelism” and “apologetics” go hand in hand, helping us to present the Christian faith in a reasonable and ordered fashion for the purpose of bringing others “into the fold”.

In order to make a great defense, however, you’re going need to know the rules of informal debate.  For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at these rules and how they apply in different evangelistic situations.  This week, however, we’re going to present you with just one… and it may be the most important of them all:

Rule 1 – Always Bring it Back to Jesus and the Gospel

The core of Christianity is Christ.  It is Christ Who created and it is Christ Who redeems.  Not surprisingly, this is one doctrine upon which most religions differ.  For this reason, my parents always used to emphasize the importance of keeping our focus on Jesus.  You may wander off into a peripheral issue or take a quick trip down a rabbit trail, but the conversation must always come back to its Core.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree upon mode of baptism or the importance of enforcing laws against theft – according to traditional, Biblical Christianity, those things don’t save you.  You and the Bible can be in perfect agreement upon every issue, but if you don’t stand in the same place regarding what is required to spend eternity in the presence of God, it simply doesn’t matter.  If you want to present your faith clearly, you must present Christ as its center.  Go ahead, answer the questions others have about your faith, but don’t lose sight of what really matters.  If you’re going to be an effective apologist, you’ll need to take your cue from the Apostle Paul, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few more “rules of debate”.  In the meantime, take a moment to share your own experiences with conversations that did (or didn’t) follow “Rule 1” in the comment box below!

 

Boss’ Pet: Avoiding the Tangle

6 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the subject of injustice in the workplace. We’ve talked about what happens when one employee is favored over others. We’ve explored some of the emotional reactions such preference elicits. And we’ve delved into a few of the Scriptural principles that can help a Christian thrive when equity is nowhere to be found.

That said, while most of us don’t like other people being the boss’ pet, most of us do like holding that position, ourselves! A word of caution: while it’s great to have the approval of those in authority, it is far better to live at peace with God and our fellow men.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our very best with ever assignment. It does, however, suggest that when those efforts lead us into a favored position, we shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the situation. Remember that we are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Some special privileges are earned rewards. Others are a sign of favoritism. The best way to tell the difference is to take note of whether those privileges are being extended to other staff members who have performed to the same level you have. If they aren’t, do the right thing and don’t accept them.

Seeking peace requires discernment – an ability to recognize injustice before it becomes injustice. While that can at times be a challenging task, it’s well worth the effort. As believers, we are called to be peacemakers. The Psalmist commands, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) Never let hurt feelings or an inflated ego get in the way of doing what is right!

Whether you’re the least favored employee or the most honored, humility, kindness, and a desire to treat others well will go a long way. Do your best to praise what it good and acknowledge the hard work and positive efforts of others. It’s amazing just how much stress can be relived both in our lives and in the lives of others when we follow Christ and seek peace.

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