Jun 27, 2013

Witnessing: Knowing When to Stop

When doing online apologetics witnessing, have you ever wondered, "How do you know when to stop with any particular debate or discussion? Do you ever question whether to keep pursuing or just walk away? When witnessing, how do you know when you're done?"

Well, here is my "answer": Christians often ask themselves this question, "when is enough enough?" Often they speak of "casting pearls before swine" or "shaking off the dust" but I am not 100% sure those fit the context. You may eventually stop going back and forth with any given non-Christian ... but I know one thing: it is never good to leave in anger, bitterness, or hostility.

True, many of these encounters may end unpleasant (look at Paul's ministry) but as far as it is on us, we can't become un-Christ-like at that "break up point" or even after, whether in public or in private. I see lots of people who get mad at the non-Christian when the unbeliever starts acting snarky or whatever ... and then the Christian just dumps Bible verse on them about hell in a sanctimonious manner and then says, "I've warned you and now I'm through with you." (There may be a time for that; possibly maybe, but still rarely - and only done in a precise and surgical manner). but sometimes the attitude behind it seems more vengeful than anything and we just use our Christianity as our justification for being rude to that person and that is never okay. Neither is using Scripture in a way it wasn't mean to be used - to "get" people while still having the appearance of being holy. Yes, I've been guilty of this - God, forgive me!

We have to really ask ourselves, "What is going on in my heart right now? Is it God-glorifying? Or is it sinful?" We've gotta be honest about this. I've apologized to quite a few atheists in my day - as they tend to be the ones who are the most "grating". Still, we must be like Jesus now matter how they act. Yes, they hardly ever listen. Yes, they are often mean, unfair, and even cold-hearted. But they are sinners. They are made in God's image. They are like us outside of Christ - and still we are like them when we neglect to put on the new man.

My point is that it's not so much about when to quit per se as it is how you quit. Now let me say a few things more on the practical tip: if a guy is not responding but you feel you need to respond to him, then maybe you can write a more general piece about what he is saying.Then post it and say, "here is a response to this charge". Then let the guy know. But that way it will benefit a broader audience. And you have created a new resource while still being a faithful witness to the unbeliever and whoever else online reads what you wrote. Or you can even record something audio or video-wise that does this. Again, this can help others as well (if you make it general enough while still dealing with the non-Christians objections).

This brings up the point that we are not only speaking with our unsaved dialogue partner but also to  a watching world. Who? Young Christians. Naive Christians. Unbelievers who are actually listening. Hardened unbelievers who need their pride damaged a bit, or their gears to get to turning more (maybe you can help them think better is what I mean). And, if the Christian is doing this in a beautiful and Christ-honoring way, then they are giving glory to their Creator and Savior as they speak the truth about him - let our apologetic be a form or praise and worship!

Not only can it build up the saints but the Lord can use it for our own sanctification. We will not only learn about his truth (such as why logic is based upon God's nature or how beauty is rooted in his person) but we can also practice his truth (how to have patience, how to give a gentle answer, how to love and pray for our enemies, etc.).

I am more speaking of an online context but many of these points can be applied in real-life situations as well ... how many times do I invite the Mormon or JW back to my house? How many times do I talk to this Muslim man on the phone? Etc.? I say go until they pull the plug - why not? I say keep going until the Lord puts someone else in your path - you will know when that time is. And every now and then, you'll get that guy you have been witnessing to for years with no fruit who will one day ask you to pray with him. Or to help his marriage. Or how to become a disciple of Jesus - this happens!

So, don't beat yourself up either way. At the same time, don't neglect your personal intimacy with the Lord, your relationship with your church community or your time with your family. But it's more than fine if you have to cut away some time from a hobby ... or if it helps to keep you out of trouble LOL =)


1 comment:

  1. One more misc. note:

    Please know that I don't desire to simply ignore any dissent, I just try to be selective in what I can respond to. I am trying to go after the big ideas, more often than not (not saying I always succeed).

    I notice I usually have more time commitments than most of my interlocutors on the Internet. Please excuse my frankness (I try to speak in accordance with 1 Peter 3:15 and Colossians 4:5-6).

    And to me, in person is a bit different, I think there are different social rules. For example, a random friend most likely won't butt in in the middle of a deep philosophical dialogue when two people are talking at a coffee shop! But on the web, not so much. It's the nature of the medium, for better and for mostly worse.

    I am not afraid of any question. I think my setting up shop at first Fridays for nearly 5 years running is evidence of that. Note, I've never deleted a comment (by design) or banned anyone.

    Lastly, just because someone online is not happy with any given reply does not necessarily mean I avoided it - it just means my idea of a reply for this forum has been satisfied as I act within my time constraint.

    To be honest, I hardly ever feel any of my questions or points are adequately dealt with on here. People either move the goal post, attempt to shift their burden of proof, delay, ignore, name call or bring up a myriad of irrelevant rabbit trails. But I don't sweat it for the most part, I just hope folks reading can learn from the interactions nonetheless.


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