When your friend brings a particularly difficult objection to the table, it can feel deflating and insurmountable. The primary thing to remember is that God is in control, and you are not responsible for this person's salvation. You can, however, speak and act in ways that make your friend more likely to consider the truth of Jesus’ claims. With this as a foundation, I’d like to offer a few overarching ground rules to help in your apologetics conversations.
1. Ask Questions First
Even if you think you have an answer, it’s important to ask questions. Questions can make your friend feel as if their objection is important to you, and they have additional benefits.
A question like “What do you mean by that?” forces your friend to clarify his statements and take a particular stand. You don’t want to respond to an objection that isn’t being made.
A question like “How do you know?” asks your friend to give some reasoning for his objection. This can be especially helpful with folks who tend to make accusations but have little substance behind the bluster.
For more on the importance of askings questions, read Why You Should Ask More Questions in Spiritual Conversations and Answering the Question behind the Question.
2. Tackle One Issue at a Time
Occasionally when speaking about faith and religion, people get animated. Sometimes they will lobby all of their complaints at once, which feels like standing in front of a firing squad and can be rhetorically effective for anyone else listening in.
Instead of waiting until the end of the torrent, politely step in and request that your friend allow you to respond to issues individually. You can even admit that you’re willing to be wrong, just ask for the person to demonstrate this slowly and thoroughly.
3. Don’t Try to “Win”
I’ve not heard of a conversation where a person’s objections were all answered and they immediately came to faith. Instead of playing to win, you should play for the next conversation.
Be gentle, winsome, and reasonable so that speaking with you about matters of faith is something that your friend wants to do. Look for opportunities to make GIG invitations, commitments to study the issue, and have follow-up meetings.
4. Be Prepared to Say “I Don’t Know”
This is often a refreshing answer to hear. Your friend might be surprised by your humility and appreciate the honest response.
With the previous point in mind, ask your friend if she would be willing to meet in a week after you’ve had time to look into her objection.
5. If All Else Fails, Retreat to Your Tribe
Sometimes we simply can’t find common ground. For me, this can happen when speaking about evidence or proof. Often, I’m forced to admit that we simply don’t agree, but this is how Christians have historically understood issue X, and that is also how I understand it. This allows me to speak the truth without implying that my friend must accept what I’m saying because I’m simply proclaiming the Christian point of view on a particular subject.
6. Thank Your Friend for the Conversation
It’s important to remember that conversations about faith are of ultimate significance and touch on deeply rooted beliefs and values. Thank your friend for their honesty in mentioning their concerns to you, and voice your appreciation that they have entered into meaningful dialogue with you. Keep trying to extend the conversation and pray for wisdom from the Spirit as you seek to be an ambassador for the Kingdom.
Which of these ground rules is the easiest/hardest for you to keep in apologetics conversations with your friends? Why? Leave your answer in a comment below.