“How Would Jesus Blog” and Our Responsibility to Answer Our Critics

Cover: "How Would Jesus Blog?"

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.


Your thoughts?

Comments

  1. Rob

    We need our own beachheads. We need to fall back onto these and draw sceptics back to our websites that they would otherwise never visit. We also need really good short videos with the best presentations possible that we can post on their pages. I’m thinking of Bill Craig’s videos, Prague Uni, David Wood…..

  2. John B. Moore

    Don’t worry about whether someone is a critic, a seeker or a doubter. Just focus on the honest questions. Even “critics” might bring up good questions that can give thinking Christians new insights. It’s counter-productive to categorize people.

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, actually, John, it isn’t. I begin with every person by assuming they deserve a direct answer to their questions, but there are some whose behavior tells me that’s not what they need most. It’s more productive to speak to those people’s behavior instead of their questions. I categorize them in my mind that way, until they do something to cause me to see them differently.

  4. scbrown(lhrm)

    John Moore,

    I think Tom was talking about a person who sort of establishes a pattern of … being evasive or X or Y or…. etc. That’s typically well into a developing thread. Not from the get-go.

    That said, I have seen some moderators — at the first open “evasion” or whatever — simply stop with something akin to…. “a kind blessing and wishing you well and now please have the last word…”

    That’s a valid option too. But it isn’t helpful to the seeker in that moment (…sometimes it can be depending…) as it brings him to no introspection nor does it reveal, say, his premise’s proverbial “reduction to absurdity” should his metaphysic house such a thing (…or whatever…).

    Tom is evenhanded afterall as he has done the same with me and for good reason. It’s not like we all don’t need to grow. And if this happens to be the forum in which we meet / interface, well, we’re all still people with both something to learn/improve on and also something to teach/coach.

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