For my apologetics and outreach course, I’ve been reading Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church, which is a wonderful study of the evangelistic practices of Christians during our first three centuries of existence (even if it’s got a couple of points I’d question). But in it, there is something deeply troubling. It’s not one of the author’s views; rather, it’s the author’s assessment of the work of the Apologists of the second century.
In the earlier generation, such what we find in the work of Luke, there is a deep desire to persuade people of the truth, and to do so in a way that is “loving, tactful,” and “subtle.” (352). However, Green notes a marked turn in the character of the Apologists. Where once Christian literary evangelism was in the spirit of Luke, something ugly had crept in. And though they desired their readers to come to know Christ, “the tone in which the writing had been couched would have effectively stood in the way of such an outcome” (351-352).
You understand why this is troubling, I hope.
Reading this hurt a little bit, not because I disagree, but because I can see it’s still a problem today. I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into this trap. In less than thoughtful moments, I’ve certainly been guilty of doing so. And I’m tired of that. I’m tired of Christians arrogantly running around as “jerks for Jesus”—being apparently so concerned for the faith, all the while failing to use words that reflect it. I’m tired of it, again, because I recognize how easily I can fall into this pattern of thinking and writing. But when we act in this fashion, it doesn’t win people to Christ—it pushes them away from the truth.
This has been weighing heavily as I consider how to respond to a very serious issue in my home province, one that’s got a lot of people riled up to the point that there’s nothing but angry rhetoric coming from either side. (And for that reason alone I’ve shied away from any public commentary at this point.) However, in watching it both sides have at it, it makes me consider how to best address any controversial issue. Here are a few guidelines that may help:
First, understand the issue firsthand, as best as you are able. Don’t rely on commentary from others.
Second, determine what issues are truly matters of first importance. We should always discuss secondary matters civilly, and likewise we should always affirm whatever is good and true in any circumstance (for if it is true, it belongs to God).
Third, pray for wisdom and clarity. More often than not, we put our feet in our mouths because we are rash with our words, or we overlook an important point in our opposition’s argument. However, God will not leave us in the lurch if we are faithful to ask for his help in communicating well.
Finally, seek to be truly evangelistic in my approach. I’m not interested in winning an argument (as much fun as that may be); I want to win the person reading. Fiery rhetoric and angry polemics won’t do this. Genuine love and compassion for the people involved in any given issue, however, just might.