Amy, Tim, Jon, and Robby remind us that treating people with kindness as we’re engaging in apologetics isn’t just about being a nice person, but rather it’s about modeling Christ in how we act.
Amy: If we’re talking specifically about people who are annoying or people who are maybe causing more problems—because a lot of conversations you have are pretty normal conversations, but then there are the people who are uncivil or rude—the thing that I’ve found is that we need to have a commitment to human dignity as we are talking to people, and to treat them with dignity, and also, no matter what happens, not mock them, not even behind their backs. We need to really uphold that human dignity no matter what happens, and that’s not easy to do, and that’s a discipline that I think people need to engage in.
The biggest reason for this is that our whole goal in this enterprise is to show people who Christ is, and they are learning that from how we act. Peter talks about how we’re supposed to respond to people the way Jesus responded to people by not reviling in return. You’re not supposed to respond in kind. And so, when we respond that way, we’re actually making an apologetic for the gospel, and that’s the most important thing. That’s why we’re there in the first place. So, it doesn’t make sense to let that go in order to make some lesser point. That doesn’t make sense. If our highest goal is to show people who Christ is, we need to treat people the way he did when he was harassed and hated.
Tim: What comes to mind is Francis Schaefer’s final apologetic. He’s, of course, known for giving arguments and evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity. He makes what he calls our final apologetic—that is, how we live and how we love others. So, people may not hear the argument. It may not register for them. It may not persuade them, but our lives and how we live is an apologetic in itself. Some have called it a fifth Gospel. People are watching you. Are they going to see Christ? Are you imitating, are you modeling Christ?
Amy: And the important thing is—I don’t want people to miss this—it’s not just that we’re supposed to be nice in some general way. We’re talking about specifically showing the characteristics of Christ that show grace, that show self-sacrificial love, that are the highest glories of Christ that we are showing through our behavior. So, it’s not just, like, I’m just going to be a nice guy and not be mean to people. No. There’s actually a really important, specific reason for doing this.
Jon: We do this, but we don’t do it at the expense of truth. So, truth is, in my estimation, the highest kind of ideal. So, we’re nice, obviously model Christ, but in this culture, Jesus certainly wouldn’t be labeled a nice guy in certain responses.
But talking about applying to people the dignity that they’re due, every morning, when I wake up, I say the same short little prayer. I’m sitting there. My kids are usually jumping all over us, because I’ve got a bunch of little kids, and I pray. I say, “Lord God, this is your day that you’ve made special and unique. It’s yours. Thank you for letting me be part of it. Use me for your glory in it. Allow me the opportunity to see people as you see them. Just for today, allow me the opportunity to see people as you see them.” And I find that really helps me.
When I’m speaking to people, I’m trying to look past their demeanor—even if they’re rude or whatnot—and see them for who they are: made in the image of God, of infinite value and worth, and worthy of dignity for no other reason than that. I find it really helpful.
My wife used to love Black Friday shopping early in the morning. We weren’t married yet. We were just dating. So, she’d call me at two o’clock in the morning, and we had to meet at Target in 45 minutes. We had to stand in line for Target to open, and we do that. And when she got her shopping cart that first year, I saw something I’ve never seen in her. She’s little, but she was ramming, like, old ladies with her shopping cart to save $10 on a mixer or something. I remember standing there thinking, “My goodness!” And that’s a good illustration. Sometimes we forget in the hustle and bustle of life. We forget who people really are. And, in the context of apologetics and what we do for a living, sometimes it’s easy for us to lose the humanity of people in the arguments that we’re presenting. I think that this is a really important point. I’m glad that we’re talking about it.
Robby: One of the things that’s helped me a lot is realizing that people aren’t our enemy, because I think it’s so easy to vilify this group, that group, this ideology, that ideology. Scripture talks about how we’re not fighting against flesh and blood, but we’re fighting against lies and false ideas, and people are victims of believing lies. That’s been one of these things that’s helped me be kinder to people and be respectful of their being made in God’s image—realizing they’re not the enemy. Lies are the enemy. They’re a victim of these false ideologies. That’s not easy to do, because our culture is always pushing people to vilify this group or that group or pick a side, and as Christians, the Lord tells us, “No. You’re all important and special and beautiful to me.” That’s how, as Christians, we’re supposed to treat people—so much, to the point where this guy tells us, “Love our enemies.” Jesus tells us to love our enemies. That is such a crazy idea from a worldly perspective, but from God’s perspective, it makes total sense if every human being is made in his image and has value and worth.