I’ve been teaching the art of pro-life persuasion for over a decade, training students how to make a case against abortion, debating teachers and audiences at secular universities, and leading pro-life mission trips to equip believers to defend unborn children. I have a lot of experience. That’s why, when I came across a student half my age at UCLA several months ago, I was ready to show him how much I knew and how wrong he was. I unleashed all my knowledge, experience, and clever arguments against his view. But I totally failed. I didn’t convince him of the pro-life view. That’s right. I didn’t change his mind one bit.
Let me be clear. I’m not trying to make myself out to be the best or even one of the best pro-life thinkers out there. I know my view and can defend it, but I’m no scholar. I’m not a professional debater either. Still, I’ve heard just about every defense for abortion and have engaged hundreds of abortion-choice advocates on the subject. I know their reasoning and know many effective responses that have worked in the past.
None of that mattered when I met Kyle (not his real name). Why? Because of reality. In the real world, every time someone uses reason and evidence in a persuasive, yet gracious way, it doesn’t always convince someone.
What does this mean?
- It means you’re not a failure. Chances are you have tried to change someone’s mind and have not succeeded. Your attempt may have failed, but you are not a failure. There’s no one who can always change a person’s mind, so don’t feel bad. Even Jesus—the Son of God—couldn’t convince some people to believe Him. He even performed miracles in front of others and was still unable to persuade people.
- It means people aren’t robots. Robots are computers that, when given a specific input, always produce the same output. Humans, though, have souls and (contrary to materialistic thinking) can reason independently of physical, audible, and visual stimuli. In other words, they have free will. Even if you have a brilliant point, it may not seem brilliant or even matter to the person you’re talking to.
- It means we need to remember that our job is to be faithful, not successful. We’re not commanded to ensure a particular outcome. That’s God’s job. We’re simply called to present the truth in a persuasive, yet gracious manner. We leave the results up to God. Just do your part by being a winsome and gracious ambassador for Christ and let the Holy Spirit do His part. Even if you persuasively and graciously share the truth and the person rejects your point, I’d still say you succeeded 100%. Why? Because you are responsible for your part of the equation—telling people the truth, and God is responsible for His part—changing hearts and minds.
My concern is that some believers have an unrealistic view of theologians, philosophers, or apologists. They see them as extraordinary persuaders and consequently are hesitant to take part in discussions with non-believers because they think the expert could have done better. People often say to me, “Alan, if you were just there, I know you could have said something to change their mind.” The reality is, I often say things that have no positive effect. From a human perspective, I fail all the time.
I’m not trying to dismiss the significance of my preparation. I recognize I’ve studied at universities and have trained for this work. I have experience talking to a lot of people who don’t share my convictions. What I want people to understand is that even though I’m trained in the art of persuasion, I often don’t succeed at persuading others.
That’s why I judge myself on my ability to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), not on the results. I ask myself, How did I do at presenting the truth in a persuasive, winsome, and gracious way? If I’ve succeeded at achieving that goal, I’m happy with what I’ve done. I may not be satisfied with the outcome (if they didn’t change their mind), but at least I was faithful to my Sovereign.