Author Jonathan Noyes
Published on 02/19/2024
Tactics and Tools

Apologetics Roundtable: Who Should Have the Final Word?

Amy, Jon, Robby, and Tim consider how our need to be right can get in the way of productive conversations and how to know when to step away from a conversation.


Amy: One thing that I think is sometimes hard to figure out is when to stop. When do you continue to try to have a conversation, and when do you let it go? How do you discern from the way the person is responding whether or not you should end the conversation? So, what are your thoughts on that, guys?

Jon: When I became a new Christian, apologetics played a very important role in that process. So, right away, I was building up an arsenal of apologetics arguments, but the way I presented them and the way that I spoke to people was not with a gentle spirit. Oftentimes it was like I was a dog with a bone. I just wouldn’t let go of it.

One time, I had my mom over to my house. She’s a relativist. So, I’m offering her all the arguments against relativism. I’m showing her that it’s false, and she paused me. She said, “You know what, Jon? What you’re saying might be true, but how you’re saying it is awful.” I remember thinking, “Ouch! That hurts so bad,” because I just wouldn’t let the issue go. Part of the reason for that was right motivation. I want to see her come to know Jesus. But without cultivating a gentle spirit and learning how to communicate these truths, oftentimes I feel like apologetics can be a misappropriated weapon.

Amy: Well, one of the reasons why I think this happens is that we start to feel like we have to defend our own name. So, there’s kind of a pride, where we have to make sure they know that we’re right, or we have to make sure we sound right, and so there’s a sense where we feel like “I have to defend my own name.” I think that was a huge thing I learned—that I’m not there to defend my name. If I end up looking stupid, that’s okay. I’m only there to defend Christ’s name. And so, if you lose that desire to make sure you end up on top of the conversation and you end up looking good, that made a huge difference to me when I started thinking of it that way.

Robby: That’s a good point, Amy. It’s interesting how Scripture talks about how the world will look at us as weird and a peculiar people and about using the foolish things to shame the wise and all of that. I feel the same way as you. I want people to know I thought through this. This isn’t a crazy idea. And, when people look at you sideways, it’s a little hard to let it go because you want to justify your reasoning and yourself, versus just presenting who the Lord is and what Scripture says. That’s a tough one.

Tim: And, Amy, when you started, the first thing that came to mind was always wanting to have the last word. Right? I think that’s, maybe, a human thing. We all kind of want to have the last word or say at the end, and so if someone says something, I need to respond to that before we end this thing.

I don’t know if I learned this from Greg. It’s in his book Tactics. He writes that if you want to end the discussion, you even tell the person real practically, “You know, I’m going to give you the last word on this, and then we can move on, and maybe we’ll pick this conversation up another time or whatever, but you have the last word.” And I think this is great, not just for in-person, face-to-face discussions, but I found this to be invaluable for online discussions because those things go on forever. So, I might comment, or I might say something, and then the person isn’t there, and so, later that day, they post, and then I’m going to post, and it just goes back and forth. And how does this thing ever end? And one of the things that’s been helpful for me is just to say, “Look. We’ve gone kind of around on this, and I think I understand what you believe. I think you understand what I believe. I’m just going to give you the last word on this.” And then hear from them, and then that’s it. So, that might be a helpful place to go on this one.

Robby: That is such a good tip, but it just goes against my nature because I want to win. I think that’s an aspect of this too. I want to win the argument, and I think all of us want to have people come to know Jesus. So, sometimes there’s something like a used car salesman I’ve-got-to-close-the-deal thing.

I’ll never forget, I was at an apologetics conference years ago, and I’m sitting there, and Greg did his talk on gardening versus harvesting, and, I’m not kidding you, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. My job is not to close the deal every single time. I’m sharing with somebody, but my job is to put a stone in the shoe, to plant a seed, and to trust God with that because he’ll bring along other people into their life, and I’m not the savior, and I’m not the only one who’s going to talk with this person. So, that teaching really transformed even my mentality going into these discussions with people.

Jon: When I’m teaching—especially when I’m teaching college or high school age students—sometimes you can see the reaction on people’s faces. I was at the Master’s Seminary teaching with Greg. Greg was teaching tactics, and they gave me ten minutes just to share my story in front of the whole university, and afterwards I was talking to students. I could see the weight lift off them when I was explaining that you can’t save anybody. It’s not up to you.

So, if we’re offering advice to people who are budding apologists or whatnot, one of the pieces of advice is to be in your proper place and put Christ in his proper place. Christ is Lord of all. Christ is Savior of all. Let him do the work. All we need to do is plant a few seeds. Put a stone in somebody’s shoe so that when they walk away, they’re limping, a little bit annoyed in a good way. I think that’s important to remember because sometimes we get so angsty. Like, “Oh, I just want them to get saved.” Like, “Maybe if I say the right thing, they’ll get saved.” And it’s not up to you or me. We don’t resurrect anything. Only Christ does.