Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re entirely right not to.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 March 2021

Back in 2017 an acquaintance of mine started an “apologetics ministry.” It’s kinda defunct now.

Initially it consisted of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. (You know, like TXAB—except I don’t do apologetics.) Except he also created a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, got some friends to be his board members, and solicited donations. He was hoping to turn it into a full-time job… and got really irritated at me for calling it “getting paid to sit in his pajamas all day and argue with strangers on the internet.” But that is what he was doing.

In his mind, he was doing it for Jesus. He figured apologetics is a vital, necessary ministry, and there simply aren’t enough Christians out there… arguing with strangers on the internet, whether they spend all day in their jammies or not.

Like I said, his “ministry” is defunct now. He’s taken to arguing politics. Political organizations aren’t allowed under the 501(c)3 tax code, so I’m pretty sure he’s either no longer accepting donations, or totally breaking the law. As for apologetics, I guess he’s left that to all the other folks who continue to do the very same thing. Many have actually made a career of it. There’s like an army of pajama-clad Christian warriors, armed with the “sword of the Spirit”—and stabbing away at flesh and blood. Ep 6.12-17

Every so often these “ministries” beg me for money. I don’t sign up for their mailing lists. I get put on them ’cause they figure a Christian blogger should be sympathetic to their “plights,” i.e. a salary so they no longer have to work their day job at Kroger. One group has an office in the back of their church building, and (I kid you not) asked everybody on their mailing list for a donation ’cause they wanted to buy an espresso machine. Nope; no $40 Mr. Coffee device with bonus frothing pitcher; they wanted a commercial machine and a full-on coffee bar. Ostensibly so people could come to the office, have a cappuccino or two with them, and debate Jesus. Really because maybe their readers are suckers generous enough to free them from having to hit the Starbucks drive-thru twice a day. Google Maps revealed their office was in an out-of-the-way office park, so I’m entirely sure the only ones partaking of donor-supported espresso would be them. I unsubscribed from their mailing list with extreme prejudice.

Entitled first-worlders aside, if you’re getting the idea I’m not jazzed about such “ministries,” you’d be so right.

Why? ’Cause argumentativeness is a work of the flesh.

Galatians 4.19-21 NRSV
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“Quarrels,” in verse 20, translates ἐριθεῖαι/eritheíe, “picking fights” or “starting intrigues.” Its root is the word ἔρις/éris, “strife.” In Greek mythology, Eris was the goddess who started a fight between the ruling goddesses over who was the prettiest, and their bickering escalated into the Trojan War. So this word is entirely about picking fights.

But of course argumentative Christians—some of whom translate bibles—have muted this word, or translated it as things they personally don’t think they’re tempted by. The KJV’s “strife” makes it sound like full-on war, and they’re not doing that! The NASB, NIV, and NLT prefer “selfish ambition”—and yeah, we get into pretty heavy denial about how selfish our ambitions are, but that’s still not the best translation. Neither is the ESV’s “rivalries,” nor the MEV and RSV’s simple “selfishness.”

Argumentative Christians wanna fight. And the only fight they can justify to themselves, outside of misbegotten ideas about “spiritual warfare,” is arguing people into God’s kingdom. Not just sharing Jesus like an evangelist; shoving people towards him, like a bully. Proselytism.

In such people’s hands, the gospel is no longer good news. It’s bad. The fruit of such tactics are people who flinch at the gospel, and think all Christians are likewise jerks. If they actually succeed in winning people over, we just wind up with more argumentative Christians: More people who think it’s okay to be a dick to all people, that they might by all means save some.

I’m gonna take a break to throw things, then be right back to rebuke this idea further.

Behavior which alienates. Not draws.

Back when I was a less-than-fruitful Christian, I had much the same mindset. Loved to argue, and had no trouble arguing with people about all sorts of topics. Jesus included. Thing is, I found arguing in favor of Jesus to be really stressful: I imagined if I lost that debate, I might lose a soul. So I had to win. Losing wasn’t an option.

Okay, arguing might’ve been fun to me, because I grew up in a dysfunctional family, went to a dysfunctional church, and was neck-deep in dysfunction. It was my “normal.” I had no idea just how many people absolutely hate getting mixed up in arguments. Don’t let all the YouTube commenters fool you: Most people hate to argue. Hate hate hate. Hate like cats hate baths.

To them, any argument, even a “friendly debate,” feels awful. Some even get nauseous. They’d rather find compromises, or agree to disagree. When it’s something they don’t feel strongly about, they’ll immediately shrug and concede. Anything to avoid the unpleasantness. (Something I catch myself doing from time to time—not to avoid unpleasantness, but just because I really don’t think a particular issue is worth my time.)

The argumentative sort will interpret this concession as a victory. And rejoice!… and be wholly unaware they haven’t actually won. Their opponent didn’t change their mind at all: They’re just saying whatever they have to say to make the argument stop. Pretty good chance you’ll find this out later, when you catch the opponent expressing their same old opinion later. No they didn’t give it up. Not at all.

I’ve pointed this out to apologists. Very few of them are aware this happens. The very idea enrages most of them. Why… those liars! Of course I gotta wonder how much of it is frustration that they didn’t actually change a mind, or frustration they didn’t actually win.

Some of that rage is also over how people can care so little about their favorite subjects. Well, it’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they care more about staying out of a fight. Because that’s what an argument, a debate, is to them: A fight. They don’t wanna fight! They’ll say anything to get out of a fight. Fighting is torture, and you know how torture victims will say anything to stop the torture. So they lie. They figure peace is easily worth a lie.

As a result nearly every apologist has a “success story” and “victory” they happily share with everybody… buta lot of ’em were really concessions. People desperate to get out of an awful situation, who capitulated lest they get beat up any further. The apologists don’t know this; all they know is, “Apologetics works!” Worked awfully quickly, too. It fires ’em up to beat even more people into God’s kingdom!

I’ve told the story elsewhere about a college friend of mine, who cornered a drunk and tried to pound the gospel into him. The drunk was incapable of forming complete sentences, much less making any decision for Christ. But finally the drunk mumbled along to my friend’s version of the sinner’s prayer, and my friend let the guy go, happy he “won a soul for Christ.”

“Won nothing,” was my response. “He’d say anything to get you to go away.”

My friend refused to believe this. Some seed got planted, he insisted. Pearls to pigs, I shrugged. God’s word might never “return void,” but in context this verse means if God declares it, not if we try to mug a drunk with it. When people likewise aren’t receptive to our apologetic arguments, either because they don’t agree or just want us to go away, our arguments have zero effect either way.

Avoid debates.

There is a proper place for Christian apologetics: It’s when fellow Christians wanna know, “Is there some solid ground beneath my faith?” and we can provide ’em some. Apologetics are for believers. Not to convince people who are biased against Christianity anyway. Not for nontheists and antichrists—despite how badly apologists really wanna debate ’em.

Nope; when we find ourselves in an argumentative environment of any sort, we need to shut it down. Because we’re gonna be tempted to win at all costs, using fruitless or sinful tactics. In many cases that’s why we’re in the argumentative environment in the first place: The person who wants to debate us, or Satan itself, wants us to slip up and do something fruitless or evil. Thus they can say, “You claim Christians oughta behave in such a way; you don’t, so you’re a hypocrite and Christianity is hypocrisy.” Doesn’t matter if this is a logical fallacy: They still consider it a win.

If a person’s not interested in what we have to say, drop it. End the conversation immediately. Change the subject. Shake the dust off. Mt 10.14 Jesus is too important to reduce to a mere debate topic, whom they can mock or blaspheme for fun. Neither should we want them to say something they might later regret.

But if they are interested—if they’re truly curious about Jesus, or they have serious questions—that’s when we bust out the apologetics. Share facts and stats and testimonies. Fill ’em in on the soundness of what we believe. It’s not debate rhetoric; it’s evidence that Christianity has someone solid at its core.

For a hostile audience, Jesus has only one instruction: Shake the dust off your feet. Stop disobeying him so you can justify picking a fight. And buy your own bloody espresso machine.