If you’ve seen the Princess Bride, you are familiar with the character Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin.  Inigo Montoya was a Spanish swordsman who lived to avenge his father’s death and would eventually encounter the culprit in the story, with his sword drawn and citing that famous phrase ‘my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Now prepare to die’.  He was not interested in explanations or apologies (not that any were offered), but solely to get the guy who did the dastardly deed.

Unfortunately, I think that many Christians treat defense of their faith in the same manner.  Threats to faith result in polemics that draws swords of hostile defenses and uncharitable words.  We are insulted and must retaliate.  Sometimes, in this counteraction to assaults on our faith, there IS no defense only ad hominem attacks on the offenders’ character.

Let’s face it, we Christians take our faith personal.  I think the primary reason this occurs is due to affront of a personal nature.  When someone disputes or attacks the faith, it is the same as attacking us.  Therefore, we must draw the sword.

I’m finding that such defenses are not just relegated to exchanges with non-Christians.  Sadly, it happens with doctrinal deviations ranging from the essential to the insignificant.  I have a friend with whom I have shared much fellowship in my earlier Christian years.  He has now come to believe in some ideas espoused by alternate Christianities and comparative religions.  He informed me that I was the only person who hasn’t treated him with disdain and sought to have a discussion with him regarding the tenets of his faith.  Other Christians have told him he was deceived, called him names and have been downright hostile to him but not one engaged with him concerning the deviations from his new found beliefs.   One Christian said he was stupid.   His recent statement to me was telling ‘if I have been deceived, that is no way to win me back’.

Friends, this is no way to defend the faith.  We may feel hurt or insulted that someone has challenged what we have taken so personally to the point that our buttons are pushed.  But castigating someone who does not believe as you do will not accomplish anything in defense of Christ.   I suspect the primary reason is because of the personal and emotional investment made that challenges have a way of yelling ‘yo stupid, what do believe THAT for?’  I also suspect the reason for the hostility might be insufficient understanding of why belief is found in Christ.  In other words, an inability to defend the faith is due to a lack of critical analysis thereby giving no support to explain our faith.  Josh McDowell has some interesting things to say about that here, Most Christians Cannot Explain Their Faith.

But defense requires that we set our personal affronts aside and deal specifically with the claims that are challenging the faith.  There is no need to be hostile or rude, but to simply make the case for why you believe what you believe.  That means we ourselves have examined our own position of why we believe what we believe and continue to do so.  Lesser examination will result in greater polemics because the only thing we have to rely on is a personal belief.

For more thoughts on civil and effective apologetics, I found this article really interesting, Six Enemies of Apologetic Engagement.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NET)

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    61 replies to "A Theology of Civility: Some Thoughts on Apologetics"

    • Bill

      After wading through all the chatter, TUAD seems to delight in fostering as much discord as possible – maybe to make a point at some spot down the road, not sure, but it is taking him quite a long and laborious time to get to that point. It is a disservice to other people reading this blog, and as well it is disrespectful to the blogger raising a legitimate question.

      The only argument he seemed to raise that had some merit was the references to John the Baptizer, and later Jesus referencing some language that on its face seemed to undermine the view of civility – the brood of vipers references. However, in each instance, you will see the language was directed toward a crowd, as opposed to an individual, and may be understood as a general rebuke as to a life style that was not consistent with the extant Scriptures for the Israelites.

      I am guessing the Jezebel references were some sort of straw man, but a better reference, on a general level, may be to point to the prophets who were harsh in their language condemning the wayward Israelites, but again, I see that not so much as having an uncivil approach to a person, but more of a cry out against a way of life that was diametrically opposed to the extant Scriptures.

      In any event Jesus was civil in his approach to individual Pharisees and those outside the lineage of the Hebrews and there is much in the NT as to speaking civilly – Paul speaks to avoiding being the clanging gong.

    • Ed Kratz

      TUAD, the facts speak for themselves. Your comments are devisive and disrespectful to the conversation that people are trying to have here not to mention a violation of blog rules. Further inappropriate and baiting comments will be deleted.

      Folks, I apologize for the disruption on this thread. Please go back to discussing the post topic as you were. Thanks for your patience.

    • Ed Kratz

      In any event Jesus was civil in his approach to individual Pharisees and those outside the lineage of the Hebrews and there is much in the NT as to speaking civilly – Paul speaks to avoiding being the clanging gong.

      Bill, the reference to Jezebel and Jesus’ polemic engagement with Pharisees is misplaced. The post has to do with defending the faith not correcting false teaching or religious pride.

    • Ed Kratz

      TaUD, has been banned from the blog due to continual violations of the blog rules listed above.

      Sorry for the trouble folks.

    • Bill


      Thanks. I respectfully do not see the point I made or the references as misplaced – while limiting the issue to apologetic endeavors is one thing – the practice of uncivility, whether in specifically apologetic stances, or the more broadly apologetic stance of defending the faith from false teaching or seeking to undercut false, and misleading, pride, should be avoided. My point about speaking to the crowd was to separate the seemingly “polemic” language from addressing a general way of being as opposed to addressing an individual. I do not recall any specific narratives where Jesus spoke to anyone in a manner that could be deemed uncivil – TUAD brought up the vipers language – so my point was to address his arguments – incivility in addressing an individual is the point I sought to argue is inappropriate – despite TUAD’s efforts to imply that polemic may be appropriate in some circumstances. Contra to TUAD civility is not a false idol, rather it is the display of respect when addressing the other – whether again in a directly apologetic endeavor or otherwise.

    • Ed Kratz

      Bill, no I agree with you. I meant the fact that it was brought up in the first place in reference to this post was misplaced. As I mentioned in one of my earlier comments, I do believe there is a place for forceful rebukes of false teaching. But that is not really what I was attempting to address with the post. And even when addressing false teaching, you can still be civil with the person but quite firm in rebuking the teaching.

    • ScottL

      This not only happens when we speak with non-Christians, but can also take place when Christians speak with Christians in other traditions, denominations, etc.

    • Bill

      @ 57 Scot

      Great point. That was my focus in a recent blog posting as to the incivility within the community – sort of the situation with TUAD here. I liken it to an act of violence which ultimately cripples efforts at apologetics, and dialogue, and of course presents a rather foul smelling appearance to the world.

    • mbaker

      As my husband remarked after reading some of the inappropriate comments here earlier, our defense of the faith as Christians is often ego pure and simple: Edging God Out.

    • John From Down Under

      TUAD –

      Just in case you’re still reading from your exile…one last attempt to break down the simple point (at least I thought it was).

      NO Jesus was NOT concerned about civility with Jezebel, or Peter with Simon the magician or John the Baptizer and Jesus with the Pharisees. All of those rebukes addressed issues of the heart and/or false teaching (mega heresy in Jezebel’s case) that introduced sinful behaviours, pride etc.

      Jezebel’s influence on the congregation was not merely ideological but introduced a lifestyle. This is obvious from Rev 2:20 “teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” Similarly, the Pharisees’ rigor mortis position on the law made them prideful and turned them into scoffers. They also passed on that influence to others.

      Furthermore. Jesus speaks exclusively and sovereignly as GOD to Jezebel, pronouncing judgment. This is hardly a blueprint for how pastors should deal with heretics in their church. A pastor can be firm and stern but can never say “if you don’t repent your kids will die”.

      So…with this context in mind, do you think it is the same (apples and apples) when two Christians exchange views on a blog discussing/debating the difference between monergism and synergism for example? (I know you can’t answer now, but think it over)

      Paul was clearly disturbed by the prolific idolatry in Athens as his “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” Acts 17:16 Yet, he didn’t ‘let them have it’ but made a very convincing case for the gospel in absolute civility.

      In closing, it’s not about being ‘nice’ but about applying graciousness in our interactions and adjusting our tone to our audience as necessary.

      LISA – great point about Luke.

    • Ed Kratz

      Good stuff Lisa (and others),

      I have just had some time (believe it or not) to read through most of the comments and the post.

      I think one thing that we have to realize is that, in most cases, you have to gain the right for your rebuke and polemic to be heard. This is not easy, but normally is accomplished by balance and a genuine ability to engage with others with gentleness and respect.

      We don’t automatically have an audience. The world of the internet, while wonderful in many ways, has really tainted our understanding of this issue. People think they can do “drive by shootings” in their polemics, thinking to themselves “While this might offend some people, there will be someone it touches.” It is lazy conversation.

      I, for example, will periodically write something that is a little more direct and harsh in tone. But I do this hoping that others will listen to me precisely because it is not characteristic of me.

      It is like putting words in italics. If you put all your words in italics, not one cares and it means nothing. But if you carfully choose when and where you place your emphasis, people will take notice with more seriousness.

      There are people on the internet (Christian blogs and websites) who have everything in italics. They end up preaching only to the choir and have no real effect in my opinion.

      The great commission takes a lot of conviction to be sure. But it also takes tact.

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