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)