When Your Argument Lacks Impact

The Christian message simply doesn’t make sense to everyone, or it raises questions or counter-examples that make it difficult to even countenance Christianity until those issues are addressed.

I like arguments. Not fights; arguments. They’re different. Fights—angry quarrels, silly squabbles—are not productive. They generate heat, not light.

Arguments—points of view buttressed with reasons—on the other hand, are one of the principal means we use to separate fact from fiction. Jesus used them. Paul used them. Peter used them. We should use them, too.  

When arguments are done well, they honor God (remember, He was the one who said “Come let us reason together”). But arguments have limits; they don’t always work. When that happens, some are tempted to think that arguments themselves are useless.  

This is a mistake. If you’re searching for that perfect line of logic capable of subduing any objection, you’re wasting your time. There is no magic, no silver bullet, no clever turn of thought or phrase that’s guaranteed to compel belief.

Yes, rational reasons can be a barrier to belief. The Christian message simply doesn’t make sense to everyone, or it raises questions or counter-examples that make it difficult to even countenance Christianity until those issues are addressed.

But often rational appeals fail to persuade for other reasons. At least three additional issues may compel the person you’re talking with to head south. And they have nothing to do with clear thinking, even when objections based on reason are the first to surface.

If your thoughtful response fails to have an impact, is not acknowledged or, worse, doesn’t even seem to have been noticed, maybe one of these reasons is lurking in the shadows:

1. Sometimes people have emotional reasons to resist. Many have had annoying experiences with Christians or have suffered at the hands abusive churches. Others realize that to embrace Christianity would be to admit that cherished loved ones now gone entered eternity without forgiveness and are destined to darkness, despair, and suffering forever. Emotionally, this is something they simply cannot bear.  

Others know they would face the rejection of family and friends, suffer financial loss, physical harm, or even death if they considered Christ. These powerful demotivators can make the most cogent argument seem soft and unappealing.

2. Some balk because of prejudice. Their minds are already made up. They have prejudged your view before ever really listening to your reasons. They’re interested in defending their own entrenched position, not considering other options. 

Cultural influences are very powerful, here. Resistance based on prejudice is especially true of religious beliefs and of non-religious beliefs (like naturalism) held with religious intensity. Often, Christians defend their own denominational peculiarities in a prejudicial way. They plow ahead with blinders on spouting the party line with no thought to the merits of the other side.

3. Finally, some people are just plain pig-headed. Their real reason for resistance is no more elegant or sophisticated than simple rebellion. They love darkness and want nothing to do with the light (John 3:19). So they persist in their mutiny, waging their unwinnable battle against God to the bitter end.

As you can see, we have very limited control over how other people respond to us.That’s largely in God’s hands. We can remove some of the negatives or dispel some of the fog—and we ought to try to do both. But at the end of the day, a person’s deep-seated rebellion against God is a problem only a supernatural solution can fix. 

That’s why at STR we always emphasize faithfulness and obedience first, and results second. Ultimately, we must focus on—and depend upon—the Lord for everything. 

Trusting in Him,

Gregory Koukl

Greg Koukl

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