Apologetics Tip #22 Let Them Lead

13That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?”. . . 28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. . . . 29he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:13-31; ESV)

In the above passage, the risen Jesus demonstrates an apologetics-friendly teaching tactic: Let them lead.

This tip is a subtle one. It’s easy to misinterpret. In apologetics conversations, let the other person lead the conversation. You may offer some steering to help keep the conversation helpful, truthful, and Gospel-oriented, but as a general rule it does little good to force them to talk about topics and issues that aren’t interesting or persuasive to them. A better strategy is to identify the questions arising from their needs and interests, converse about those issues, and show how Christ answers those questions. The goal is to be “salt and light,” not some sermonizing blowhard so busy answering the questions you’ve studied that you don’t even hear what they are asking.

Suppose someone asks you, “How could God allow this?” pointing to some tragedy. All your mental faculties race to the scene, like firemen to a burning building, rushing to spray down the problem of evil with your firehose of knowledge. After all, you’ve studied that problem, you’ve developed responses, perhaps you have a whole book length dissertation ready to drench the topic, proving that God’s goodnesss abides even in the heart-cries of the suffering masses. It’s great to be ready, and in some cases there really is an apologetic fire demanding a quick aggressive response like that. But quite often, we have sacrificed all relability, sensitivy, and personality by overdoing it. People generally don’t like being preached at, or getting a lecture. Many times I’ve found myself talking in monologue when the other person wants a dialogue. I’m lecturing to him like a student when he was, instead, trying to converse with me as a friend. Simply put, let the person give signals for how much they can handle, what they are looking for, and what might be behind their questions. That means listening. That means preferring questions. And here, that means you are trying to identify what their core needs are, and how this question relates to those core needs.

To put it another way, we apologists run a great risk of shifting too quickly into “answer mode.” Once we identify a question we’ve studied, or which intrigues us, we steam roll this person with our answers. That’s not how to do it. I’m not saying we should say nothing, or play dumb. I’m saying we, quite often, really are dumb when it comes to the questioner, his motivations, and his expectations. He may be asking a rhetorical question. He may be venting some of his grief. He may think he’s ready for an answer, but it’s too soon, or the timing isn’t right. When a person seems to be inviting an apologetic conversation, let them lead the conversation, at least a little bit, so that you don’t steam roll them with a 40 minute diatribe on the goodness of God, when all they wanted was to vent some grief.

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