Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How to Respond When Your Faith Gets Blindsided

So, what do we say when we get that “out of the blue” factoid that claims to slam-dunk our faith? Here are three things you can do to minimize panic and conflict.

I got a call from a friend the other day.  He’d encountered a challenge to the deity of Jesus.  It was something about if you knew Greek and were familiar with the Septuagint then it was obvious Jesus was not God.  It was bothering a friend of his and this was a new assertion to him so he wanted my take on it.

Well, this was a new one to me too, so I went with my go-to reply when I don’t have an immediate answer: “Let me do some research and get back to you.”
 Craziness is easy to produce but harder to support. 
But it got me thinking.  After all, in this day of information chaos, fake news, new 'truth' and having to debunk the debunkers, what does a discerning, wise, even biblical response to claims that blindside our beliefs look like?

Here are three elements to a discerning, redemptive response.

1) Don’t directly engage the controversy. We are under no obligation to immediately answer random jabs at our faith. So it might be best to ignore the main point of the attack, resist the urge to counter with your favorite Bible verses on the subject, and don’t debate. Why?  The apostle Paul wrote “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel" (2 Tim. 2:24). Immediately countering a claim without understanding why it’s being brought up is akin to trying to kill a weed by pulling off one of its leaves; it is fairly ineffective.  The issue is way deeper. To eliminate bad fruit, kill the root. But first you have to find the root. Here’s how.

2) Listen and ask clarifying questions.  You can greatly diminish the intended shock factor by minimizing your reaction.  A one-word response like “Fascinating” or “Intriguing” followed by questions that show you are open to hear more minimizes the chance for debate.  Again, Paul is instructive, “… must not quarrel, but be kind to everyone, able to teach" (v. 24). Immediate debate only creates a scenario where no one is heard and no one wins.  Instead, use questions like: “Is this really important to you?” “What do you think about that?” or “Have you been thinking about this a lot?” Such questions divert the energy and focus of the conversation back to the questioner without tension or defensiveness and give us an opportunity to learn more about them, and why this has impacted their thinking and beliefs.

3) Ask for sources. There are very few unique or new ideas (Solomon would say there is nothing new) so it’s good to find out where this particular idea came from.  Place the burden of proof and validity for the idea back on them.  Can they tell you where this theory or claim originated? Did they look into it themselves? Has anyone provided a critical evaluation of the idea or assertion? After all, the bolder and more radical the claim, the greater the need for it to have come from a credible, reliable source, and the more important it is that it be backed by sound reason and documentation.  Craziness is easy to produce but harder to support. So when someone challenges Christian teachings and beliefs that have thousands of years of historical validity and attestation – such as the deity of Jesus – they need to earn the right to have the idea be granted serious consideration. 

Often we’ll find the claim had no more weight than tissue paper.  In some cases the person presenting the problem has already rejected the belief being attacked by the claim. They accepted the assertion not because it was well-documented or logical but because it validated an already-held point of view. When we refrain from reacting strongly or defensively we invite the person into a deeper consideration of the issue, and maybe a critical evaluation of the evidence that exposes falsehood and points them toward truth.

This is turn may open the door for us to encourage the person to evaluate the weighty and extensive biblical and historical evidence for the veracity of the point they were attacking.

At the very least, incorporating these three elements into our response can help defuse a potentially conflictive situation and keep us out of spiritual panic and drama. None of us have all the answers and we all have limited emotional and social strength. This way we can conserve it for engaging redemptively in the issues and relationships that matter most.

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