If apologetics is the discipline of giving “logical defenses and answers for the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:16)…what part does humility play in that? What does humility look like when engaging with people in apologetic and evangelistic discourse?
What does humility look like within the context of practicing Christian apologetics, evangelism, teaching, etc?
I would assume that it would be at the very core of the Christian who is testifying of the hope of their salvation through Christ. The very fact that it was given by grace is humbling, and Christ is the picture of humility when he was being spoken badly of and did not speak back in kind, suffered but did not utter threats (1Pet. 2:23).
Previously in 1 Pet. 3:11, we can find how a Christian ought to be interacting with others:
He must seek peace and pursue it. (NASB)
This quotation from Psalm 34 sets a tone of the active seeking and living at peace with others. Paul similarly says that as far as it is reasonably possible, to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). The urging here is to strive for what is confidently right and honorable not just before God, but also men. We should then humble ourselves and use care not to antagonize or make someone feel attacked even if we have to speak some hard truths.
In giving a defense for what we know is true may not always sit well with everyone. It is of the utmost importance that we do misrepresent God watering down or hiding God’s truth. That is why we are urged to be at peace as far as it is possible and depends on us to do so. Both Peter and Paul were aware that standing for Jesus meant standing at odds with the rest of the world (Mat. 10:34-36). The Bible clarifies the nature of wisdom in this way:
James 3:17 NASB
 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
Purity of truth in God’s terms does not always mean peace, especially if God’s truth is being rejected. However, when we are sharing God’s word while also striving for peace as far as it is possible and dependent on us, we ought to remember that as God’s humble servants we are doing this out of love in the hope that someone who hears us may come to salvation (1 Tim. 4:16), and not simply to be right.
The times that I manage to practice this are when I notice a more humble tempo in my heart. But it’s definitely challenging and I’m sure I manage to get it wrong more often than I realize.
We Christians can sometimes suffer from “Pharisee syndrome” as I fully well know. We certainly can get quite arrogant when we know we hold the truth and forget about love and peace. I remember Ravi Zacharias saying that apologetics without love is like trying to cut someone’s head off (with arguments).
HA! I remember that quote. He says something to the affect of sometimes our apologetics practicing and evangelism and communicating truth can be akin to cutting a man’s nose off and then giving him a rose to smell.
To be % transparent, this question comes out of my own interactions and engagements with people of differing faiths and worldviews than mine or no faith or even the same faith. My objective – as is the objective of most apologists that I respect and glean from – is always to teach and be a light, pointing and bringing people to the revelation of The Light which is Jesus Christ…at least, (if we’re all honest) that’s our aspirational intention…most times. Also, if we’re honest, that aspiration is, at times, challenged by the desire to be right; win an argument; appear knowledgeable or provoked by hurt feelings or legalism, dogmatism or trying to make disciples of ourselves or make them over in our image rather than letting God be their “makeover artist”. Many other challenges can be added to that list. Those are just a handful. Unfortunately, humility can easily be forgotten or altogether done away with.
I was remembering something that Ravi Zacharias told us while we were studying under him and being taught by much of the RZIM staff overseas a few years ago. I only reference him because he is someone with whom many have stated have been a blessing to you. He has, as well, been to me for many reasons. Anyway, we were all there training to be apologists and the question posed to him was, "what’s the most important thing you look for in a prospective staff member… specifically one on the speaking team?" In a style and tone that is signature Ravi, he validated the question and the proceeding answer seemed to be right in his back pocket. He says that the most important thing he looks for in a potential apologist is not competence. It isn’t communication skills or level of education - although all those things are certainly important. The most important quality he looks for is…HUMILITY. He explained that as an apologist, we’re trained to answer questions, ask questions, think deeply and critically, see behind the question and respond accordingly. He even added that because we’re taught a lot of information and even instructed on some of the best ways to defend/debate — if that information and those skills aren’t grounded and founded and couched in humility (as well as love and grace) then it’d be extremely easy to be arrogant, cocky, cold, stubborn, uncompassionate and possibly unwilling to even consider opposing views.
So, with all that said…as aspiring apologists, gospel communicators, Light & image bearers, moms, dads, brothers, sisters and ALL called to engage the marketplace of ideas…what does HUMILITY look like? What are some practical examples of exercising humility as a giver (and/or receiver) of truth?
Warner, awesome discussion. Humility is obviously one of the trickiest virtues to both define and apply. I think we all struggle to know what humility is, but then we seem to recognize it when we see it. However, because we are all different personalities, humility may actually look a bit different depending on the way a person’s life has been shaped, the way their mind has been trained, and the way their soul has been formed.
Still, all that said, maybe there are some practical suggestions we could make that are a bit more objective with regards to what humility is. Here is a short, but certainly not exhaustive list, of some suggestions on what humility might look like, but doesn’t necessarily have to look like:
Smile when talking to people; unless the conversation you are having is the kind of conversation where smiling would be inappropriate. But minimally, we might think, that a humble person would at least greet someone with a smile. Smiles are outward signs of appreciation for “the other.”
Conversely, after maybe greeting someone with a smile, if that person is coming to you with a serious problem, a tragedy, or a hurt, then do your best to recognize the countenance on their face, their body language, and their words, and try and adjust your own mood, your own countenance, and your words to fit theirs.
When you are talking with someone, try your best to identify one or two points that they make that you can affirm, and let them know that you agree with them on those things. Show them, by affirming the beliefs that you do share, that you enjoy and care about the way they think. I try and tell my kids often, “I love the way you think” and I believe we could do the same with our peers or counterparts.
Actually do acts of service for people you are evangelizing to. Find something concrete you can help them with, something that doesn’t involve words. This could be buying them a drink or something to eat, opening a door for them, whatever. Something that shows that you care about them as a whole person, not just what is going on between their ears.
Of course, perhaps the hardest thing for me, is to listen not only intently to what someone else is saying, but also to just wait until they have actually finished saying it. This, for me at least, requires a lot of discipline, because my mind is always racing, and I tend to cut people off to get a point in (not out of meanness, usually, but just because I am afraid I will forget what I want to say). Of course, a big help here is just learning to ask those very simple clarifying questions; the kind, perhaps, that Greg Koukl talks about in Tactics
But, these are just examples of actions that we might expect to see of someone who is humble. Whether or not someone who does these actually is humble is hard to know. But, that leads to how do we know ourselves that we are humble. Here, I think we have to learn from God more directly. I do think, however, that there are false forms of humility that we need to be aware of. Therefore, I would say that the following are examples of not humility, but of false humility.
Humility is not being self-deprecating, it is not self-affliction or self-humiliation
Humility is not being an introvert for the sake of introversion (that is not to say that its bad to be an introvert, but real humility doesn’t mean you have to act like a wallflower, or never talk, or never share your thoughts and opinions)
True humility is obviously not always deferring to the other person with regards to another person’s beliefs or attitudes. This is evident as evangelists, because being humble does not mean affirming everything someone beliefs, or validating their attitudes or emotions of those attitudes and emotions are toxic, malevolent, or hurtful to themselves or others.
Finally, I would say this, and I imagine this is true. Real humility, like any other virtue, should be recognized as a pure gift from God. So, to be humble we will have to be broken by God, and rebuilt by Him. This will usually happen in the privacy of our own home, in the quiet of our own prayers, and in the smallest thoughts and desires of our heart and mind.
A good example of this kind of humility was Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard (who I never met personally) left behind a legacy that, while lesser known perhaps than Ravi’s, may be comparable in impact. He was the head of philosophy at USC for years, and many, many brilliant Christian philosophers and theologians found wisdom and training in his presence. And everyone that knew him, knew this about him most; he was humble.
Hope that helps. I write this from Founder’s Weekend; so I feel surrounded by many brilliant, yet humble, people.
Wonderful discussion just like to add Phillipians Chapter 2 which describes the Humility of Christ should be our benchmark for reflecting on our own humility.
Dallas Willard had a three-step plan for humility;
That is really fascinating, @WinstonJones; I find Willard to provide some extremely sage advice. I’m wondering if you might be able to elaborate a bit more on what Willard meant by “never push.” I think that the first two are at least somewhat self-evident, and I can see why they would be crucial principles for humility, but I would be very interested to hear more about that final one.
jspare: I am not sure exactly Mr. Willard meant. When I see a quotation that means a lot to me, I copy it in a notebook I titled
“Swords of the Word” and for a while I was not writing down where I read the quote, unfortunately. So I do not know where he wrote that. I thought it was in “The Allure of Gentleness…defending the faith in the manner of Jesus” but I do not see it there. That is the only one of his books I have read; a thought-provoking book appropriate to the topic under discussion here, I feel.
I also read “Dallas Willard Daily Devotional” on the BibleGateway website so I probably read that quote there.
To me “Never Push” means to be careful not to push ones ideas and beliefs onto someone else. I was raised to be quite bigoted; anyone not white, anglo-saxon, protestant, and straight was a target for ridicule. It is still a struggle to keep those ideas out of my head and off my tongue.
To me, “Never Push” should mean different things to different people, just as Never Pretend and Never Presume would. And where I find the real meaning for me is in God’s word and on my knees.
Oral Roberts and Billy Graham two men who’s lives we all can look at