Hi Carson – here are some thoughts on your follow-up questions:
*** What do you think accounts for this gap between one of the more famous verses on apologetics and the reputation of apologists?**
I do think part of the problem is what I said earlier: being caught up in winning arguments rather than being driven by love and concern for a person we want to reach (and lead to forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life). If the latter is your goal, then you stop and ask yourself how you can best present your evidence in ways that will help win the person and not just make the point.
I suppose there’s also the problem of many young apologists seeing models that take them down a more aggressive track. That’s part of why I love pointing people to the examples of Ravi Zacharias and your growing group of great apologists at RZIM. You guys do a great job of focusing on the person, showing love and empathy, answering the questioner and not just the question, and yet still boldly speaking the truth in love.
*** How do we diagnose self-deception on this point?**
Bob Passantino (one of my apologetics mentors) used to always talk about what he called The Golden Rule of Apologetics – and he modeled it well. This means that we should always be asking ourselves if we’d like to be answered in the way we’re about to answer the other person. If not, alter it! And if you’ve already treated that person in ways you wouldn’t want to be treated, then apologize to them. There’s a place for saying, “I feel strongly about what I was trying to say, but I feel bad about how I said it. I’m really sorry.” I’ve done this – and it can be an important step in our learning how to better interact with people (and God can use it to open up the doors of friendship and conversation once again).
*** What are some diagnostics you have for evaluating if an apologist - or anyone, really - is being gentle and respectful?**
One criterion response of the other person (assuming he or she is a genuine truth-seeker). If they say something like “I’m not convinced, but I really appreciate you explaining your point of view,” then the interaction was probably handled pretty well. But if they get increasingly angry and defensive, and especially if they comment about your negative attitude or approach, then it’s time to reevaluate.
*** What else can we be doing to more practically and specifically nurture a respectful culture among apologists?**
“Two are better than one” we are told in Scripture. Having a teaching partner (or many) – and being active in listening to each other as we speak and later giving honest feedback – is a great way to learn, grow, and improve. Strobel and I have done this for each other for decades (and my son Matthew did it for me not long ago). Often what we bring to the other’s attention is something that we didn’t even mean to convey or sound like, but the mirror of another person’s perspective can really make us more aware of how we’re coming off to people (whether in one-on-one conversations, or when speaking to groups). As the Bible also teaches, “Iron sharpens iron.”