My Unique New Year’s Resolution

As we conclude another Christmas season, people will be gearing themselves for the New Year. Many people will set for themselves resolutions for the upcoming year. While I most certainly will, like most Americans, seek to get in more exercise and limit those unnecessary, excess calories, I have set for myself a resolution that I would encourage you to set, as well. This resolution is not like most others that will be made. It is not a resolution that necessarily will earn a person more money. Likewise, it isn’t a resolution that will be provide great career success…although it may benefit both the aforementioned areas. The resolution I am making is quite simple: I am making the resolution to listen more. But why listening?

We live in a busy, busy world. It is a world of sound bites. No one takes the time to carefully reason through the information given to them. If something sounds clever, it is automatically taken to be astute. If something is derogatory, it is celebrated. In the process, gossip has been elevated to Gospel and tall-tales into truth. While all this noise has inundated us, we have since lost the ability to truly listen. The more I think about this resolution, the greater importance it begins to carry. Listening is important for several reasons.

  1. Listening keeps a person from misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.

No one likes to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet, so often, individuals jump to conclusions when another person holds a differing viewpoint. Much of this misunderstanding could be avoided if people would relearn the art of listening. For instance: recently I was on social media discussing a particular issue occurring within my own denomination. A few individuals verbally attacked me, claiming that I would have been against a popular civil rights leader and was an ultra-right-wing nut job. While I am exaggerating some, I am not by much. People so desire to prove their points that they fail to take into account what another person from a differing viewpoint may really be trying to say. I have been guilty of doing the same. By failing to listen, I misunderstood what others have said. In fact, I have found that some opposing views were closer akin to my own when I finally stopped to thoroughly listen. The art of listening helps us avoid misapplying and/or misrepresenting another person’s views.

  1. Listening helps a person see bias.

Everyone holds a bias—everyone. While we do not want to misrepresent another person’s perspective, the art of listening allows a person to see the argument as it is, while observing the bias held by the person offering the argument. The wise communicator will see through the foggy façade and into the heart of the issue at hand. By doing this, the person will be able to have a better grip on why the opposing person holds the view that they do, which, in turn, will help the communicator engage the true, underlying problem—something especially important for apologists.

  1. Listening guards a person in truth.

Listening and observing will help the communicator better find the truth. For instance, I read an article concerning the educational systems in the 48 continental states. The state where I reside held a far lower ranking than other states in the nation. While this was depressing at first, I stopped to truly read and listen to all the data presented. I found the states that held the highest scores only tallied 15% of the state’s system, whereas the schools that were lower-ranked tallied 100% of the schools in those states. Not only did this show a bias in the report, the art of listening and observing truly revealed the truth; the truth that the educational system in my state was not as bad as the report indicated. The same is true in all communication. Simply listening to the information presented helps a person discern the truth from fiction.

  1. Listening drives a conversation.

Listening is vital to communication. Dialogue requires two or more people conversing. If one person does all the speaking, then the form of communication represented is not a dialogue, but rather a monologue—that is, a lecture or sermon. While lectures and sermons hold their place (being a pastor, I would certainly argue that they would), communication requires two people willing to listen to the other. Person A speaks while person B listens. Then, person B speaks while person A listens.

Often in our communication classes, we promote the importance of styles of speech and manners of persuasion. However, an equally important factor is the ability to listen and observe. If society loses its ability to listen, all we have, then, is a group of talking heads with no one to listen to any.

  1. Listening educates a person.

Listening educates. When a person takes a class, he or she will listen and learn the information given to them. Listening trains a person in what is healthy and good from what is unhealthy and bad. If people simply seek to speak, they will fail to truly learn. Jesus’ disciples had to first listen and learn from him before they were ready to preach and teach. In order for one to teach, one must first learn to listen. Before one is ready to lead, one must first learn to follow.

Conclusion

            As a father, I have sought to teach my son the importance of listening. My son is a wonderful boy. He is extremely gregarious, extroverted, personable, and highly intelligent. For me, I am a typical INTJ (introverted, intuitive, a thinker, and judger–a planner, not spontaneous). Some have called my personality one of a reserved strategist or tactician. Perhaps. My son would fit the category of an ESTJ (extroverted, sensory, thinker, and judger), quite a leader’s personality. Being an extrovert, my son finds it more difficult to stop and listen. Thus, I have been focused upon teaching him the value of listening. Yet, if I am to be successful at this endeavor, I must set a good example for him by being a good listener myself. I cannot expect him to be a good listener if I fail at being a good listener. I hope to find added benefits to strengthening my listening skills along the way. While I will certainly set other resolutions for this 2017, becoming a better listener will hold a high spot on that list. Let it be said, the Christian apologist would do well to strengthen his/her listening skills. The benefits noted in this article especially relates to the apologetic enterprise.

© 12/26/2016. Brian Chilton.

The Importance of Relationships in Apologetics and Evangelism

This past week, God has shown me through multiple avenues the importance of relationships. I listened to Garrett DeWeese’s lecture on “Solving the Problem of Evil” and in that lecture DeWeese addresses the importance of relationships. Also, I had a wonderful conversation with Chaplain Jason Kline as he discussed relational apologetics, that is involving relationships in one’s apologetic presentation.[1]

Often times, people think of apologetics as being a “heady, intellectual” pursuit, unconcerned about matters of the heart. While apologetics concerns itself with intellectual matters and the training of the mind, one must understand that apologetics is a branch of a larger spectrum of evangelism. A strong argument could be made that apologetics is part of one’s discipleship effort too as one must be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2).[2]

Seeing that apologetics is often intellectual, it is easy for one to lose sight of the greater challenge and the greater goal: not winning arguments, but winning souls for Christ. For this to take place, the apologist must understand the great value of relationships. These relationships should include three things.

  1. The presence of love must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

          Christian leaders should understand the great damage that has been done by the anti-intellectual movement that invaded the church beginning in the 19th century. Modern heresies that have entered the church are a direct result of the emphasis placed on the heart rather than the head. But on the other hand, the apologist, in one’s quest to emphasize the intellectual pursuits of the faith, must not neglect the heart entirely especially as it relates to love. A strong head and weak heart leads to a sterile, emotionless shell of what the Christian life should be. It is a firepit with the wood and coals properly placed, yet without a flame providing heat. What’s the point of a firepit with no fire?

Paul warns vehemently that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). If I have a strong apologetic with no love, then I am just another “talking head.” Apologist, do you love the person you are conversing with? If not, you may want to step out of the conversation until you have the loving flames of the Holy Spirit burning within your heart.

  1. The presence of listening must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

           In my conversation with Kline as well as DeWeese’s lecture, I was reminded of the great value in listening. DeWeese noted that with Job, “Job’s friends were appalled at the conditions Job faced. They sat with Job silently for 7 days, but it all went downhill from there. Their silence, tears, and ministering to Job helped him more than their words.”[3] As apologists we must use our words to proclaim and defend the faith. But we cannot sacrifice a listening ear in order to do so.

I am from the Southeastern United States. While not as prevalent today, it used to be commonplace to find a group of men gathered around a popular restaurant and/or storefront talking about the issues of the day. My grandpa, Roy Chilton, was a child of the Depression Era and served in World War II. In his time, they had no Facebook, Instagram, or instant messenger. Rather, they had the local gathering place. In my younger years, he took me with him to visit some of his friends at one particular person’s welding shop. The thing to remember about these conversations is that many of the stories become “tall tales;” fun stories based on truth, but exaggerated to make the story sound more appealing. “Conversation” is a loose term to be used in this environment as most of the “conversations” turned into a competition for who could tell the greatest tale. I noticed that Grandpa would not so much listen to what was being said by another as much as he was preparing his next story. Others would do the same.

Apologists should use caution against the use of the same practice. If we are simply preparing our next argument without truly listening to the objections being made, then it is highly likely to miss the objection entirely and leave the seeker more antagonistic in the end. As my grandmother, Eva Chilton, used to say (and it may have been partly directed towards Grandpa), “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason; so that we’ll listen twice as much as we speak.”

  1. The presence of longing must be included in one’s relational apologetic.

What is the apologist’s goal? What is one in apologetics anyhow? Is it the goal of the person to appear smart and intelligent? Is it the person’s goal to show how many books he or she has read? Or is a person in apologetics simply to join a particular community? Intelligence and community are important matters. However, the goal of the apologist if based on relationships must be to clear the path for the Holy Spirit to operate. It is an evangelistic affair. The Westminster Confession of Faith proclaims that “the chief end of man is to glorify God.” To borrow Westminster’s verbiage, the chief end of apologetics is to win souls for Christ. Does the apologist long to see the person with whom they are conversing come to know Christ? Or is the person simply using the arguments as a means of intellectual chess? A strong argument is nothing without the wooing presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that the apologist, if effective, must be a person of prayer, consistently seeking after and desiring God.

Conclusion

Apologetics is a branch of evangelism. Evangelism seeks to persuade people to accept Christ as their Savior. Therefore, apologetics must seek to persuade people to accept Christ as their Savior. If Christ has truly died for the sins of humanity and has truly risen from the dead according to the Scriptures, then the apologist’s intention must be to see others come to know the reality that is Christ and the salvation that comes from a covenant relationship with Him. Let’s be brutally honest. Sometimes we as apologists can become so involved in apologetics that we come off as jerks to those in which we are trying to minister. For me, guilty as charged. The church needs apologetics. The church needs apologists!!! The church is never going to accept the apologist if he/she consistently berates the pastor or those who are not onboard. If this is true of the church, the lost person will certainly not desire to listen to any apologist (regardless of their credentials) if the apologist comes off as obstinate or emotionless. Remember, Jesus was the greatest apologist of all and He spent a great amount of time building relationships. Apologetics without meaningful relationships often becomes valueless.

© June 20, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] The conversation with Chaplain Jason Kline can be found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/06/20/relational-apologetics-with-pastor-apologist-and-chaplain-jason-kline.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Garrett DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil,” Biola University, lecture notes, 10.