I can still remember the look on his face. We had connected at a conference and, upon hearing that I was interested in apologetics, too, his eyes lit up. He eagerly showed me the stack of books he was carrying around and the list of books he had yet to read. He quizzed me on authors and resources I liked, pushing a pen and paper at me so I could write down every word. Then he looked up at me, his voice shaking with sincerity.
“I just want the silver bullet that will stop critics in their tracks.”
I froze, a smile plastered on my face. I’d like to say I opened my mouth to respond, but he was already on to another subject, and sooner than I could—or chose to—react, he was gone, clutching his books and talking animatedly with one of the presenters.
I haven’t seen him since. I couldn’t even tell you his name. What I can tell you is that, with one sentence, he convicted me.
Up until this point, I have started every paragraph in this post with a personal pronoun. It isn’t rocket science to discern where my true concerns lie. That man was far more honest with me, a perfect stranger, than I had been with myself. How often have I treated conversations with loved ones like a werewolf hunt? How often have I viewed questioners as monsters to overcome? How often have I polished my own silver bullet only to find that it turned to dust in my fingers?
We are called to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of the Answer incarnate, Jesus Christ, and in love respond to the questions that inevitably arise against it.
Conceptual apologetics is remarkably easy. I can hide in my ivory tower throwing darts at made-up arguments all day because when you play imaginary games, you always win. Conversing with other human beings is another thing entirely. No longer is the challenger a faceless idea we can dismantle with one well-placed rebuttal.
We dare not treat the apologetical task as an exclusively negative one. Even if I did have the silver bullet to stop the werewolf, what would I do about that unicorn, this fairy, or the orc over there in the corner? Simply because I can refute a claim does not mean that anything Iclaim is, by default, correct. There is an entire bestiary left containing over 10,000 worldviews, so stopping one beastie doesn’t mean that its younger, battle-ready cousin won’t step up to the plate and lead the next charge.
And, of course, critics are not monsters to destroy but human beings who are loved with an everlasting love by the Creator of the universe. While we can and should shoot down beliefs that will lead to someone’s eternal destruction, our goal is not to stop questions.
Our calling is to respond to questions, to direct inquiries toward the truth, not to shame others into silence. Though we do need to point out the fatal flaws in other worldviews, we must also provide positive evidences for the Christian worldview and clarify what it is that we believe. As Pastor John Bombaro says when referring to the crux of our faith:
“A defense of the resurrection consists not only of a response by way of negation (e.g., Christianity is not this), but also through positive affirmations (e.g., this is Christianity)… it is our hope that the final word retained by our readers would be the one that stands for something rather than against something. Together, our words stand for something positive, not negative—namely, the good news that the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and His death and resurrection.”
If I think back over conversations I have had, far too often I’ve been quick to speak when I should have listened, and slow to respond when I should have proclaimed. Even if such a thing existed and I had a silver bullet, I doubt I’d know how to use it. Conversational marksmanship is often as difficult as picking clay pigeons out of the sky.
That’s why solid communication requires sincere listening—and listening to first of all understand someone’s position, not to immediately shoot them down. If we don’t understand the challenges critics present, how could we ever hope to answer them? However, once we understand, we are called to speak boldly, knowing that our success is never dependent on our eloquence or personal charisma.
Thanks be to Jesus that, because of His righteousness credited to us in baptism, the Father does not see our failures when He looks at us. He doesn’t see them not because He patronizingly overlooks our flaws, but because our sins no longer exist. That is the mystery of life as sinner-saints here on this earth: not a silver bullet that makes us the most popular figure with the most wins on our record, but a Savior sold for thirty pieces of silver, held to the cross with dirty nails, and whose blood is more valuable than any precious metal.
The resurrection of Christ assures us that the sacrifice to atone for our sins has been accepted and, because of it, so are we—accepted by the Father and welcomed in to the family of faith through Word and sacrament.
We are not called to convert anyone (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job) or provide the answer to every question. We are called to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of the Answer incarnate, Jesus Christ, and in love respond to the questions that inevitably arise against it. May we eagerly study His Word, willingly listen to honest questioners, and point others to the only true silver bullet against sin, death, and the power of the devil: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.