If you gave me a handful of beans I could prove something to you. I could show, you by careful separation and addition of beans, that two plus two does not equal zero.
I could also show you that two plus two does not equal one. Or two. Or three. Or five. Or six.
Need I continue with this illustration? If anyone came to me with their own proposition for the value of two plus two, I could use my handful of beans to prove them wrong. But as long as people kept coming to me with their different ideas, I would spend all my time proving that they were each wrong.
I would much rather show once that two plus two equals four, and then get on with my life, using the simple proven principles to help me in my daily tasks – shopping, time-keeping, cooking and so on. If anyone suggested to me that two plus two equals twelve, well I’d have my evidence for four, and I could show them, and we could discuss any questions they had about it. If they chose to ignore my evidence and refute my conclusions, that would be their right and they would have to live with the consequences.
I was attending a Christian apologetics course this week, and the subject of the session was different worldviews and religions. Much of the discussion that evening took the form “Islam teaches this…”, “Hindus believe this…”, “Muslims practice this…”, it seemed that we could find an endless list of everything that is wrong with every other worldview.
And I couldn’t help thinking “two plus two does not equal zero”, “two plus two does not equal one”…
Then a wise participant spoke about the danger of telling someone what their faith means, and advised that dialogue should start by asking them what it means to them, and then take the discussion from there.
These ideas have been running around my mind and started me looking at issues of evangelism, apologetics and conversion, maybe in a slightly different way than I did previously.
I don’t like to be told I’m wrong. I don’t even like the idea of people thinking I’m wrong. The idea, or the words, will annoy me, depending on the subject maybe even anger me, and will certainly make me very defensive. It doesn’t matter how sound and logical my reasoning is on the matter, I feel under attack, and my response is emotional and flesh-driven. I will fight back, and because my emotions are taking control, I won’t necessarily use the correct or appropriate tactics. The result may be that I weaken my original position through faulty arguments, or I damage my adversary with an over-zealous counterattack and risk losing my integrity.
I’m sure I’m not unique in this respect. I think it’s part of our human nature. It takes true wisdom to see that we’re wrong, real humility to admit it, and immense strength to repent. Sometimes it’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve any of this.
Whenever we encounter somebody whose beliefs differ from ours, we have to remember this part of our common nature. We have to understand that Newton’s third law of motion can apply to ideas too – to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
And this doesn’t just apply to the difference between a theist and an atheist. It could be between a monotheist and a pantheist, a Christian and a Muslim, a Methodist and a Catholic, or two Baptists who disagree on a single line of scripture. We’re talking about the meaning and purpose of our lives. Nothing could be more important. The most minor criticism could feel like an assault on the very foundations of our faith.
Nobody – no human being – is going to convince me that I’m wrong and they’re right by telling me so. And I’m not going to convince anyone else by that method.
Nobody is going to shatter my faith by explaining how I’m wrong; nor can I achieve the same result in someone else.
It’s not my job to convince anyone, that’s where the Holy Spirit will do His work. My duty is to give an account of my faith, explain the truth of how I’ve come to the understanding that two plus two equals four. And if I live according to my faith, then my hope is that my words and my life will be a testimony, and will open a mind to a possibility, or strengthen the faith of a fellow believer.
It’s valuable to know how other belief systems operate, and it’s definitely worth understanding for yourself how they fail to live up to God’s truth in Christ. For the sake of peace it’s worth talking to anyone who has ears to hear, no matter where they stand on matters of faith.
But I don’t see the value of engaging in a war of words, as if any argument you make will be the one that nobody has formulated in the last two thousand years – will be the one that stops the Muslim, the atheist, the Scientologist, the Hindu or the Jew in their tracks and convinces them of the folly of their ways. No, sorry but it just isn’t going to be that easy.
Focus on what you know and believe. Understand what God has said to you, and keep seeking Him. Let your actions be evidence of His truth. Confront opposition not with hard words, mocking and inflammatory; but gently, compassionately and patiently.
Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.