Generally speaking, when people accuse someone of “being defensive,” they mean that the other person is engaged in emotionally defensive maneuvers designed to ward off an unwanted feeling or admit responsibility of guilt for a particular act. Acting defensively can also indicate that some thing, idea, or person close to you is being threatened. In a recent study, it has been suggested that self-affirmation can minimize defensive reactions towards others.
Psychology aside, how does this play into Christian Apologetics?
In order to answer that question, we must first define “Apologetics” and an “Apologist.”
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry defines the word “apologetics” this way – it is derived from the Greek word “apologia,” which means to make a defense. It has come to mean defense of the faith. Apologetics covers many areas: who Jesus is, the reliability of the Bible, refuting cults, biblical evidences in the history and archeology, answering objections, etc. In short, it deals with giving reasons for Christianity being the true religion. We are called by God to give an apologia, a defense: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence,” (1 Peter 3:15)
Therefore, according to the above definition, an apologist is someone who defends the faith. I have a different take on the the definitions of apologetics, but for now, let’s assume that the above is a working definition.
Being defensive and defending something can manifest themselves or be perceived very differently. One of the greatest challenges for Christians who want to defend their faith is to not be perceived as being defensive. I think we can agree that You when we perceive someone is being defensive, we tend not to lend too much credibility to what they are saying in the moment. It’s suspect. In order for Christians to be genuinely convincing, they have to be perceived as believable. Here’s where it gets messy…
In a quick survey of my facebook friends, I asked the following question: “What behaviors would indicate to you that someone is being “defensive?” To which they responded:
Refusing to listen, Walks away, Defensive body language, Raised voice, Answering questions with questions, Silence, Little eye contact, when a discussion becomes more than a discussion, Anger, The need to be right or prove a point, Becomes prideful, Sarcasm, Blaming, Bitterness, Resentfulness, Easily Offended, Attacking the person and a few others. What would you add to this list?
It’s interesting to not that most of these are subjective conclusions or perceptions. Being prideful, or bitter, or even angry are difficult, if not impossible to pin down in others. We misread body language, voice inflection, and have a tendency to read between the lines of our own making.
That being said, if Christian apologists are to defend the faith, then any of those perceived “defensive” behaviors will be counter productive. I would propose that being a defender of the faith is impossible without becoming defensive or at least being perceived as such by others. It might just be the single greatest distraction ever for the Christian church. More church energy and resources have been misdirected in the area of apologetics by this slight of hand than we are aware of. How can we resolve this crisis?
Let’s go back to the flagship verse in the bible about apologetics. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
We’ve obliterated the application of this verse in the following ways:
1. The tone is set by setting ourselves apart personally first. We do this by acknowledging Christs in our hearts first. Not our doctrine, denomination, or lines of demarcation.
2. Apologetics is about defending the hope within us and giving a reasonable defense of that hope. Apologetics is not about defending the faith.
3. We give these reasons to those that ask. We don’t go out hunting for others to practice our apologetics on.
4. Above all, and when someone asks for reason of our hope, we are to do it with gentleness and respect.
If we redefine apologetics as defending the hope within us, I believe that most of the perceptions of “defensiveness” will disappear on their own. If I am truly hopeful, it will become apparent to those that ask about it. If I begin to understand that most are looking for that hope and not necessarily the answer to a bunch of theological questions, then I might just be able to provide a reasonable defense for it.
Now, I’d like to ask you a few questions:
- What behaviors would indicate to you that someone is being reasonable?
- What behaviors would indicate to you that someone is being gentle?
- What behaviors would indicate to you that someone is being respectful?
If you consider yourself an apologist or someone who “just loves” apologetics, do you exhibit those behaviors?