Many new apologists get right to work trying to convince others of the truth of the Christian worldview. When they meet with limited “success,” they often lose heart. A recent email expressed this view; the writer acknowledged that his inability to convince people that his faith was truth caused him to become discouraged. This discouragement often leads to doubt… and eventually to a loss of faith.
There is, of course, a certain logic to this. After all, ideas that are false – that lack persuasive power- are not likely to be accepted by others. That is one of the concepts that the 1st Amendment supports – the notion that in the marketplace of ideas, good ideas prevail while bad ones are eventually weeded out.
But implied in this understanding is the assumption that the listener will give the ideas a fair shake. If the listener has already decided not to accept the claim, even before he considers the evidence and arguments, then all the persuasiveness in the world will not alter the outcome. Moreover, if the listener is motivated by emotion rather than reason, then evidence and arguments are even less likely to have an effect.
One way to test for this is to ask the listener what it would take to get him to change his view. Oftentimes, it’s not so much the person’s answer that you are looking for but the hesitation in answering, which reveals the person’s commitment to persisting in his views despite the evidence. This is especially evident when discussing “hot button” issues such as abortion. When you see hesitation, or a commitment to maintaining one’s position, then your persuasive efforts will likely prove futile.
As a prosecutor, identifying hidden biases is of great importance. The jury that is selected to consider a case must be open to hearing and fairly evaluating the evidence. Otherwise, the verdict will be a reflection of their preexisting biases and not of the truth of the underlying charge. Whether it’s a case of possession of marijuana, or a decision on the death penalty, it’s simply not possible to overcome strongly held biases. For this reason, much effort is devoted to excusing jurors who will not consider the evidence so that the trial itself is not simply a waste of time. The point of the trial is to determine whether the claims as to what occurred are true – that is, whether they conform to reality – and not a referendum on the wisdom or efficacy of the law. Similarly with apologetics efforts,the point is to demonstrate that the Resurrection is an historical event, so that the listener might then consider the claims that Jesus and his disciples made. A listener who already believes that all religions are bad, or that miracles don’t occur, will not consider the evidence from history.
There are, of course, arguments against the existence of God, or against the truth claims of Christianity. But as a “one dollar apologist,” I don’t often encounter these. Most people I have discussed Christianity with are simply apathetic. They are living good lives, lives that are full of relationship and activity. They have been led to believe that this life is all that really matters, so they try to live it fully and with gusto, never thinking about what lies beyond. Trying to get them to consider ultimate things is often times frightening and off-putting.
The other type of person I’ve encountered is not apathetic, but is instead quite opinionated. He might insist that the “telephone game” is a valid description of how the Bible developed, leading him to conclude that the Bible cannot possibly be reliable. Or he will begin with the firm conclusion that miracles are not possible, so that the core belief of Christianity – the miracle of the Resurrection – is simply not a conclusion he will reach.
This is not to say that we should stop trying to convince people that are open to discussion. The Great Commission directs us to engage, as does 1 Peter 3:15, admonishing us to always be ready to provide a reason for our hope. But it does mean that we should have realistic expectations as to what we can accomplish. We may only plant the seed, and may never know what impact our words or deeds will have somewhere down the road.
And, most importantly, we cannot judge the validity of our beliefs based on the reluctance of others to embrace them. To draw conclusions about truth, we need to consider the evidence for and against the claim. A biased jury will not reach the truth. But by the same token, the mistaken “verdict” of the one who refuses to consider the evidence doesn’t alter the truth either.
Posted by Al Serrato