Thinking back to my college ministry days, I was so trained in using apologetics and clever arguments in my efforts to “win” people over to Jesus. It was like memorizing lines for a play: you learn your cue (“How can God be ‘good’ when there’s so much evil in the world?”), and recite your line (“Because free will, that’s why”). I portrayed myself as having all the answers, but if the conversation went much deeper, I’d find myself in serious trouble.
I strategically planned my memoir workshop class just when I finished the first draft of my next book. I turned in about twenty pages for critique last week, and of all the things I expected my classmates to find interesting, I didn’t think it would be my reasons for being attracted to Jesus in the first place: “The God of the Old Testament seemed distant and intimidating. I was drawn to the notion of a God dwelling in the sweaty, overworked body of a human, capable of feeling pain and distress. And all so we could know him.” One student said, “I have never heard God described that way before. It really made me think.”
I’ve been so immersed in Christian culture over the last eight years; I assumed this incarnation rhetoric was old hat for anyone who grew up that way. I’m certainly not the first person to describe an affinity for the Incarnation like that. But even the professor said that was one of her favorite passages in the manuscript. If I were still a member of Campus Crusade (“Cru”), I’d have been praised for “planting seeds” in their hearts. The funny thing is, this time I wasn’t even trying to.
C.S. Lewis famously remarked that the study of apologetics can be the most dangerous threat to one’s faith, and I’m starting to agree with him. I certainly find apologetics interesting, but I’ve long given up on using clever arguments to try and win people to my faith. I have two shelves full of theology books spanning from the early twentieth century until present day, but I can’t say that every one of them contains unique and original arguments. The only thing that has the potential to be completely original is one’s own life story, and I’ve had far more success gaining people’s interest by telling how I was Bat Mitzvah’d in a church over the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?” dichotomy, or asking people where they think they’ll go when they die.
Apologetics can be an interesting hobby, and I doubt I’ll stop collecting those books any time soon, but I’ve learned that few “tactics” inspire people more than raw, authentic honesty. Next on my reading list is How to Defend the Christian Faith: advice from an atheist. It’s scheduled to arrive on my doorstep this Wednesday, and I already have a feeling it might be one of the more productive books I’ll read on the subject. Maybe one day I’ll get around to writing a book on how not to defend the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective – I have plenty of crash-and-burn examples to pull from my childhood that could fill a book quite easily!