What does it look like to be remarkably respectful while evangelizing?

Hi Mark, we’ve talked at length about why apologists - why Christians - need to be distinctively respectful, while still remaining committed to sharing the truth as it is.

But this seems like something much easier said than done. Perhaps it is easier to learn a new argument than to learn a new approach to conversation?

Can you share with us some practical thoughts about what it looks like to be remarkably respectful? Or by contrast: what behaviors would you encourage us to stop doing?

Further, how can we self-diagnose if we are being respectful?

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Such an important issue, Carson!

The first thing I’d say is that we need to remember that our ultimate goal is not to win arguments, but to win people to Christ. Now, good answers and information are often key components in accomplishing this – but when you care more for the person than you do about winning the debate, that shows in your attitude, your willingness in some cases to back off for the sake of the relationship, etc.

Otherwise we might win the argument and lose the person. They might walk away saying to themselves (and others), “The guy was pretty smart and admittedly made sense – but in light of how he acted toward me I never want to be like him!” When that happens, EVERYBODY LOSES.

The way I often challenge fellow believers is by explaining that we need to do both halves of 1 Peter 3:15:

First Half: Get prepared and give great answers! Second Half: Do this with gentleness and respect!

When we do both halves (mixed with asking the Holy Spirit to guide us while drawing the other person to himself), God can use us in a big way, and many lives will be impacted for eternity.

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Hi @mittelm,

Thanks - that’s really helpful. As a way of digging a little bit deeper, my concern is that a large majority of apologetics books discuss this topic in the introduction or the first chapter, when covering 1 Peter 3:15.

Yet, at the same time, apologists seem to have developed a reputation for triumphing over their foolish, irrational enemies through superior argumentation.

E.g., “Of course I’m caring for my friend by showing him that his arguments are lame and that the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming…”

That leads me to some more questions…

  • What do you think accounts for this gap between one of the more famous verses on apologetics and the reputation of apologists?

  • How do we diagnose self-deception on this point?

  • What are some diagnostics you have for evaluating if an apologist - or anyone, really - is being gentle and respectful?

  • What else can we be doing to more practically and specifically nurture a respectful culture among apologists?

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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.”

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