My friend Eric Chabot, Ratio Christi director at Ohio State University, emailed me this question about How Would Jesus Blog? It’s a good one, so I obtained permission from him to post it along with my answer.
Eric’s Question: Shouldn’t We Answer Our Critics?
So what are your thoughts on this:
In his book Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment, James Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter when doing evangelism. If anything, if we do evangelism and encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:
1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.
2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.
3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.
In your view, should be not spend much time on the critics?
In my experience, the critics impact the seekers and doubters.
My Answer: Yes, But Not Always the Same Way
There are two kinds of critics. Both should be answered, but the strictly adversarial ones need to be answered with regard to their inconsistent behavior, not their faulty apologetic.
There are usually several rounds of apologetics discussion before you know for sure that’s what kind of critic they are, so even they get some apologetic discussion. Eventually, though, it’s time to discuss their behavior instead of their argument.
Now, in a lot of cases behavioral and apologetic answers intersect. If a commenter who calls himself doctor(Logic) commits identifiable fallacies in nearly every comment he makes, then I will point out his fallacies, and also show how inconsistent his behavior is with his own view of himself.
That really happened, and when I did that, he soon quit commenting on my blog. I was okay with that: no further challenges posed; no further need to answer.
Genuine Questions vs. the Skeptical Merry-Go-Round
There’s also more than one context for answering critics. If Bart Ehrman publishes a book, we have to answer him very conscientiously, point by point. He’s a serious skeptic who needs to be taken seriously. If someone we’ve never met raises a good question online, we should answer as long as it’s an authentic, serious question — or even as long is it might be a serious question. We don’t easily assume it’s not a serious question.
But f some dude who calls himself ImASkeptic shows up on my blog and says he won’t believe anything supernatural no matter what, and if conversation with him goes ‘round and ‘round endlessly without ever getting anywhere, there comes a time when he doesn’t need an apologetic answer any longer. If he’s showing behavior online that’s inconsistent with his own stated values, then I’ll switch to talking about his inconsistency.
My book is more about the second sort of critic, and I hope you’ll read the book to understand how that behavioral-inconsistency approach works.
How This Supports Serious Answers to Genuine Questions
I believe seekers and doubters may be hindered from the faith not only by unanswered questions but also by the fog of fragenblitzen: endless challenges from atheists who have little intention of listening to answers to their questions.
My prayer is that by applying the approach I’ve recommended in the book, we might actually spend less time on fruitless debate with people like doctor(Logic) and ImASkeptic, and more time answering authentic questions from genuinely interested and knowledgeable critics.