Apologists, for some reason, have a terrible habit of negativity. Perhaps we see ourselves as prophets of old, cutting to the heart of society’s sin problems and calling down judgment. But more often, I think, our negativity springs from a preoccupation with problems. We apologists are trained to identify and diagnose wrongs in the world. We are error detectors, with only occasional interest in fixing things. Yet if we are going to really be about the Lord’s work, in the wider and fuller sense of the phrase, then we should not let our spoken ministry deteriorate into graceless heresy hunting and loveless cult detecting. Paul commands believers to “let [our] conversation be always full of grace.” This can mean literally the grace of God, teaching about Grace, and extending grace in manifold ways. But it can also indicate gracious speech. After all, it’s quite natural to let one’s sincere teaching of grace doctrine shape the very way you treat the other person, namely,grace doctrine naturally leads to gracious behavior. We should be a gracious people in our words and actions, letting the deeper truth about God’s grace transform the very way we interact with people.
Practically, this means that we seek to give people the “benefit of the doubt”–not trying to nitpick and hypercriticize their words. They may have the right idea, but lack the precise verbage to communicate it. Wise apologists treat such efforts as opportunities to agree and affirm as fellow image-bearer. Also, this means that we are seeking positive, good, and true things in the other person. We are being gracious towards them, balancing critique with sincere compliments and friendly demeanor. Also, this grace means we are solution-based people, not problem-based. We are not letting our ministry reduce to chronicalling the decline of American culture. Instead, we are identifying areas where Christ and the Church can shine in redemptive ways in the world.
Of course we need to be informed about the errors out there, and about the negative trends in the world, but we see these through grace-tinted lenses. We are biased towards the Christian hope. It’s like we have a private joke in mind, when everyone else is in despair we are suppressing a giggle because we just can’t forget how Christ wins in the end. His grace saves the day. The whole horrible story of humanity turns out to be a comedy in the end. That’s how grace can change our conversations.