Today I was able to refine an idea that I’ve mulled over for some time that I’m going to call “Compassionate Apologetics.” What is “compassionate apologetics”? It is simply “serving those who have questions and doubts by listening and understanding them well.” Apologetics, unfortunately, often gets a bad rap by being for those that want to be “know-it-alls” who have “all the answers” and are always very eager to share the knowledge they have with anyone and everyone. This is, of course, a stereotype, but sometimes there’s truth in the stereotype because the idea came from somewhere, eh? Now I’ll be the first to admit that I Love to share whatever knowledge I have with anyone and everyone that will listen! In fact, that’s one of the reasons I have this blog is to share information and knowledge in order to assist others in whatever way I can! However, I believe that, especially for those of us that do apologetics, we talk too much, and this may be to the detriment of our apologetics task. What I want to do is make a simple case that we need to listen more as ministers, but specifically as apologists, when dealing with those that are doubting or questioning the Christian faith in any way. Why do I want to make this case? I want to make this case because I believe that we show the love of Jesus and the compassion of Jesus when we listen well.
WHO CAN SAY THEY’VE HAD SOMEONE TRULY LISTEN TO AND UNDERSTAND THEM?
I once heard an idea (don’t remember the source!) that went something like this, “Who can say that they have really had someone truly listen to them and genuinely understand them? Oh to be heard and understood in our day by at least one person!” Oftentimes, whenever someone has questions to be answered, I will argue, the most important step is to diligently listen to the other person and really enter into her concern about the question being asked. Jude 22 says “have mercy on some, who are doubting.” The greek word for “mercy” here can also mean to “have compassion” on another. One way that we can show that we have compassion for one who is doubting is to genuinely listen to what she has to say. Certainly, part of showing compassion for the doubter is to answer her questions, but we will never get to the part of answering her questions well until we actually listen to what she has to say. Think also about the emotional status of the doubter. What would it say to the doubter if she saw that I truly “entered into her concern (or pain!)” by listening not just with my ears, but also with my heart? This means, practically, that we don’t interrupt and that we listen to the person’s entire story without saying a word, or at least very little. We show the love of Jesus in a tangible way by listening to the doubter’s questions and affirming her that it is ok to ask questions. What would it say to the doubting individual that I have listened to her with my heart, and have shown it with my eyes, and even with my tears, if necessary?
PUTTING FEET TO OUR FAITH BY LISTENING WITH OUR HEART
For the apologist or the minister, we are, in a sense, putting feet to our faith by listening with our heart. Listening well is a “good work” that the doubter may see that will be a light to her and she may eventually glorify God for that good work. She will feel cared for, affirmed, and safe due to the compassion we are showing. Is this going to make her more receptive to whatever answers I may have for her? It seems most likely that she would. Is it more likely, or less likely, that if she knows I genuinely care for her, that she’ll ask my advice on other questions and issues? I think the answer is “More likely.” Again, I think that we sabotage the entire apologetic enterprise by not listening well and by not entering into the doubter’s question with compassion first before we begin to state our reasons and evidences. We want to show them that they are not alone in the questions and doubts they have and that most (if not all?) questions have been asked before in some form or another within the history of thought. It’s important to others going through the despair of doubting to know that they are not alone in their struggle to find answers and that she’s in a safe place to ask those questions. Research has shown that, for young people in particular (and I suspect All people that are not so young as well!), they need a place to express their doubts and questions in a safe environment without any fear of condemnation or a frowning face due to those questions (source).
ASKING QUESTIONS AND MAKING SENSE OF OUR WORLD
Another way of showing compassion to the doubter is to show her that asking questions is good and healthy. People need to make sense of our world, and I think that this is an expression of being made in the image of God. God created our brains and the curiosity that we have to ask questions, therefore, we are expressing, at least in part, what it means to be made in God’s image when we are asking questions about the world that we are a part of. When we are asking questions we are showing that we care about what is going on in the world, and this is a good and noble sentiment. If we didn’t care about the world, then we wouldn’t ask questions about it, and that would be a sign of apathy, and that’s not a good sentiment, nor is it a good sign of our emotional or spiritual health. We must ask questions and we must see that it’s ok to ask questions. It is to our emotional and spiritual and spiritual loss to not ask questions.
ASSUMING PURPOSE AND MEANING BY ASKING QUESTIONS
Another way to affirm the doubter in her questions is to show her that we are simply, and naturally, trying to make sense of our world by seeking the purpose and meaning behind the events we are questioning. Whenever we are asking questions, we are actually assuming that the world is supposed to make sense. It seems as though, in one sense, we ask questions because we assume that there are answers somewhere, in some way, to those questions, otherwise, why would we ask them?. We assume purpose and meaning and rationality to this world by asking questions about it. We were born to ask questions, to think, to ponder, and maybe even to doubt, in a positive sense, because we have a drive to make sense of our world, and this was given to us by God. This is, I believe, an evidence for the Christian faith as well.
BOOK RECOMMENDATION ON LISTENING TO OTHERS AND ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS
One of the best books on listening, but also on asking the right questions during a dialogue on spiritual matters, is a book called “Tactics” by Greg Koukl. I believe that this is a book that needs to be in the hands of every Christian today since it takes a modest, yet very doable approach to having effective spiritual conversations with those that question the Christian faith. I could not recommend the book highly enough! I require the “Tactics” book for my BTS Seminary Apologetics class, and it has been very helpful to a lot of people!
I’d love to have your feedback in the “Comment” section below!
YOUR TURN TO RESPOND!
- Why do you think it’s so difficult for many of us to truly listen to and understand another person when they are talking to us about various matters?