12 October 2021

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

About three years ago, on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was stopped by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night. Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish. I was just walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time; I walk a lot, and they bike past me, and sometimes they stop and chat. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I have a Buddhist coworker and pick his brain now. I’ve had Wiccan coworkers; same deal.

I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I realize certain Christians are gonna be outraged I dared let work get in the way of this “opportunity.” But with all due respect, there was no opportunity. In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to correction. Certainly not from a gentile; he’s one of God’s chosen people and he doesn’t care that Paul said we Christians are included in God’s choice. To him I’m not, we’re wrong, and that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. Which freaks some Christians out, ’cause they’re afraid they might convince me to turn heretic or apostate. No they won’t; I know Jesus better than that. But I went to journalism school, where we were trained to always go to the original sources, ’cause anything else is hearsay. Fellow Christians haven’t received such training at all, regularly believe the hearsay, and regularly bear false witness.

So I learned—the hard way—it’s a huge mistake to ask fellow Christians about other religions. Or even other denominations within Christianity: Ask a Fundamentalist about Roman Catholics, and he’s never gonna quote a Catholic, unless it’s out of context; he’ll quote other Fundies. Ask a Calvinist about Arminianism, and she’ll just quote other Calvinists. Most Baptists can’t describe Anglicans, nor Methodists describe Presbyterians—nor vice versa—without criticizing their respective theologies. We easily bite and devour one another. Ga 5.15 Stands to reason we’re gonna suck even worse at describing other religions.

There’s nothing wrong with being biased in favor of your own religion. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all the competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. So you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So when I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.

First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. I couldn’t argue with that argument whatsoever. (Though I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)

I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.

Being conversion-proof.

I already have a team. Had experiences with our Lord. Picked a side. I’m immune to any persuasion to change allegiances. Yeah, our churches are full of hypocrites, and they might tempt me to leave a particular church, but never Jesus. I’m Christian ’cause Jesus.

If that’s not true for you too… well it’s no wonder certain Christians fear for my salvation whenever I talk about talking with Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, and Wiccans. They’re convinced I’m tempting fate—to use the pagan saying—whenever I interact with non-Christians. That my mind is too open; that these folks might drop an apologetic argument upon me which I simply have no defense for, so I’ll doubt Jesus and go apostate.

Meh; they’re just projecting their own lack of spiritual maturity upon me. They have doubts. I dealt with my own doubts decades ago. As we’re meant to, but a lot of Christians push those doubts aside instead of confronting them, and the result is unsteady faith. So of course they aren’t ready to interact with people of other religions; they still have to grow up! Learn to trust that armor of God for themselves, instead of cowering behind the front line’s shields.

True, there are plenty of immature Christians who are conversion-proof. But not because they have a solid relationship with Jesus: It’s because they’re dickish know-it-alls. Years ago there was a video going round the internet in which some Christian tells off two Mormons who are trying to share their view of Jesus. His arrogant, mocking, graceless attitude towards them is typical of way too many Christians who lack humility, who take the “We’re right, you’re wrong” tack instead of the proper “We’re wrong, Jesus is right” view. Faith isn’t their shield. Ep 6.16 Arrogance is.

Still, whether we’re coming at non-Christians from a firm foundation or a jerklike one, either way we’re not switching teams. We know what we know, believe what we believe, and aren’t quitting. (Well… barring some serious faith-shattering disappointment with God. Let’s be honest.)

Now here’s the thing: We Christians regularly recognize we’re never gonna switch sides. Yet when it comes to people of other religions, we never seem to remember they feel the very same way.

Yep. When young Mormon elders come to my door to share what the Latter-day Saints believe about Jesus, do you imagine there’s a chance I can talk ’em into adopting what I believe about Jesus? If so, you got another think coming. These elders weren’t trained by morons. Their leaders expect people to try to win their elders away. (’Cause Christians try!) They’ve been steeling the kids’ will against anyone or anything who wishes to change it. They’re prepared. And if the Holy Spirit empowers us to actually slip a doubt into ’em somewhere, they’re ready and willing to turn off that part of their brains, for fear of missing out on Mormon heaven.

Yet whenever Christian apologists encounter resistant pagans, nontheists, and people of other religions, we foolishly imagine there’s a chance.

Well of course there’s a chance. Always is. The Holy Spirit can crack the toughest walnut. But often he won’t. Like us, they picked a side, it’s not ours, and they’re not even remotely tempted in our direction. They’re convinced their religion is right. It works for them. They’re not switching.

And they definitely won’t switch when we decide to be pushy, condescending, mocking, argumentative, or otherwise rude about it. The Muslim and Mormon evangelists I’ve met, knew better than to take this route. Wish some of us Christians did.

It’s why other religions’ apologetics don’t work on us.

In the past when I’ve written on Christian apologetics, I made the mistake of calling it “apologetics” without the “Christian” adjective before it. As if we’re the only apologists.

Obviously other religions and sects have apologists too: They aren’t satisfied with believing as they do without some logic and history behind it all. So their thinkers have constructed arguments as to why their beliefs are reasonable, historical, practical, and logical. This, they argue, is why we oughta give them a try.

And sometimes their arguments work! ’Cause not every human on the planet has a religion. Plenty of pagans are receptive to anything, whether it be the gospel of Christ Jesus… or the fourfold path of the Buddha, the five pillars of Islam, or the e-meters of Scientology. Their way of life isn’t working for them, and they know it, so they’re willing to try something new and better. Or they’re on the fence, and any good argument will push ’em over.

Hopefully we Christians have picked a side, and therefore nothing they say will faze us. We determine nothing they say will faze us. We presume they gotta be wrong somehow. Even when they say something really reasonable, accurate, solid: Doesn’t matter; we picked a side. We’ll just retreat to our corner and figure out a proper counter-punch for later. But concede? Convert? Never.

So why can’t we recognize when others adopt this mindset towards us? Why do we plow forward, even though the other person has clearly indicated they’re never gonna let us win?

Well, it’s arrogance. Pride. Works of the flesh. We’re so fixated on winning, and defeating them… and we forget we’re dealing with illogical human beings. We forget they have motives, wishes, and sensibilities which have bound them to the religions they’re in. We don’t care that argumentativeness and divisiveness runs counter to the Holy Spirit, and alienates them from him far more than drives them to him: We wanna win!

This is why Christian apologetics sucks at evangelism. It’s not what apologetics is for anyway! Apologetics is meant to encourage Christians by showing us our religion has history and solid reasoning behind it, and it’s not just wishful thinking. It’s to uplift the faithful… not beat down the faithless.

So it won’t convince the unconvinced. No more than other religions’ apologetics work on us. You know how certain Christians love to claim Jesus fulfilled a ton of bible prophecies, and how vast the odds are of him successfully doing so? Well, Muslim apologists also love statistics! (Or have you forgotten algebra was invented by Arabs? We still use their numerals.) Muslims claim the Quran is a mathematically perfect book, and the odds of it not being so perfect is 1:6.26×1026. This number might impress their pants off, but it means nothing to a Christian, because we’re gonna doubt anything they tell us. So… how do you imagine our stats are doing on them? Or did you turn to Jesus because of math?

I don’t know about you, but I turned to Jesus because Christians introduced me to him. Not because we have the best archaeology and linguistic study, or logical arguments, or an impressive bible, or invented science and calculus. That stuff impresses Christians, but few else. Because the cornerstone of our faith is Jesus. And had better be Jesus; not logical arguments. Everything but Jesus will crumble. Even math.

So if we wanna win people to Jesus, we can’t just provide them really good reasons for believing in an invisible man in the sky. We gotta show ’em Jesus. We gotta produce good fruit. The intellectual arguments must supplement our relationship with him; never take its place. (That’s the fast track to dead religion, by the way.) We believe in a living God, and if people see he’s alive, that convinces ’em far better than anything we can argue. Share Jesus by showing God. Accept no substitutes.