What’s it like reaching someone with questions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My friend Roger Maxson has written about his experiences of almost losing his faith and then coming back to it. Part one is here and part two is here. You can also hear the story in my interview with him here and watch it on YouTube here. I figure prominently in the story so I figured, and he liked the idea, that I would write about what it was like on the other end. It might be interesting to some of you to see what this process is like from the end of the apologist.
When I was in Bible College, I found out about apologetics and it quickly became a passion of mine. Most people who knew me knew about it. It’s not a shock that when I go to a workplace I’m told one of my co-workers is also a ministry student and goes to another Bible college. I won’t mention it’s name, but this college was fundamentalist to the core. This ministry student was Roger Maxson.
Roger and I had our share of disagreements and kidding, but we had a good friendship. With our third friend Jeremy, we would often go out into town and visit bookstores or things of that sort. Roger would have probably considered me quite a liberal back then. I mean, I read Harry Potter books! How much more liberal can you get?
Roger and I did have other similar interests. We talked about video games quite often, particularly the Legend of Zelda. We also played Smash Brothers regularly together. (REMATCH AVAILABLE FOR YOU ANYTIME!) Our differences didn’t change our friendship and we would talk about faith matters, but he just wasn’t interested in apologetics like I was (And am).
Eventually, I moved to Charlotte to study at Seminary. We kind of lost touch. I don’t know how. I figured wherever Roger was, he was doing fine. He was a strong Christian after all.
So my shock was strong when I got an email from him and he had a lot of questions and was doubting his faith big time. Many of his questions to me looked like they came straight out of Richard Dawkins. Now on my end, these were simple questions, but I knew Roger well and I knew he wasn’t trying to poke holes in Christianity. He was asking honest questions and no doubt, was hurting.
So I answered them. As he says, I didn’t give one-liners, but I also didn’t give complete answers always. Why would I do that? Because I want to see Roger doing some of the work too. I want to guide him in the right direction. I want him to learn what it means to study. People who really want answers will study. People who don’t, won’t. It’s a simple principle.
Sometimes also, it can be tiring. You open up your email in the morning and see that email from someone and think “Here we go again.” Sometimes you can see that message show up on Facebook and think “Okay. Guess I gotta answer a question again.” Still, it’s what you do and you do it because it’s the right thing to do and if you’re going to work on restoring someone, it requires a serious time investment.
I spent my time then pointing Roger to the great scholars that I had read and he could learn from. I chose to avoid pop apologetics books. I pointed him to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Like many, Roger did not understand the arguments well and had misconceptions. I was gentle with him on that end. I also never condemned the questions. We should never condemn someone for questioning Christianity. We can condemn how they do it and their motives if we know them to be bad ones, but questions should be welcomed.
This was not a week long effort or something either. I don’t remember how long, but I am sure it was a few months. Sometimes we’d even talk on the phone. Roger could call me if he needed help and I’d answer. If there ever was something I had to take care of, I’d tell him that I’d get back to him or another time he could call.
I still remember one day very well that I went to my email and I opened it up and I saw an email from him with the subject line “Jesus of Nazareth.” I was getting set to answer a bunch of questions. I opened it up and I only found one that wasn’t a question so much as a statement.
He really did walk out of that grave didn’t He?
When you see something like that, it is one of the happiest moments you can ever have. It was also a good reminder for me. Yes. Yes He did walk right out of that grave.
Today, Roger is highly involved in the apologetics community. He is a strong Christian and he is raising his children to be a strong Christian. We communicate regularly still to this day. There are times I’m struggling with something and I turn to Roger and we just talk together. Like Paul with Onesimus, I was separated for awhile but now we have each other in our lives together better than ever before.
Roger ends his post with some matters of application. I’d like to do the same.
First off, I think it’s important to note that Roger and I lived in different states and yet he chose to contact me. Why? Could it be no one in his area could help him? He had to reach into his distant past to find someone? Surely Roger was surrounded by churches everywhere. Why was it so hard to find help? Could it be because the church has neglected this?
Second, we all can rejoice that this story has a happy ending, but what if someone like me hadn’t been in Roger’s life? The thing is, I can’t be everywhere. No apologist can. All Christians should know someone like this that they can turn to. What happens if someone like me isn’t around when a Christian is in need? Would Roger be a fundamentalist atheist today leading your children away from the faith?
Third, don’t give pat answers please. Don’t give one liners. Don’t post a meme as if that’s an answer to an argument. Really work through. At the same time, help the other person think through it. If you want to teach a child math, you don’t tell them the answers. You help them work through the answers so they can get them on their own. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man an answer and you save his faith today. Teach him how to find them and you save them for a lifetime.
Fourth, it will require personal investment. If you have the time to address crowds and speak to them, but you don’t have the time for one-on-one questions, then you need to rearrange your time. That one person is immensely important. Sometimes it will wear you out, but it needs to be done.
Fifth, keep in mind Roger was in a Bible College and Seminary program and he had his doubts. If someone like this can have their doubts, how much more your children growing up in Sunday School? Apologetics is not optional today. It is essential. Don’t think good moral teaching and knowing how to exegete Scripture will be enough (Never mind most people after years of Sunday School won’t even know what exegesis is). Young people will need to know why. It’s far better to reach them before they have objections than reach them after they get them.
Sixth, you have to be doing the work beforehand. Roger was able to benefit because I’d been reading all this material for years. Roger knowing that I knew this material well and could answer would show him confidence that I had faced the questions he’d asked and in fact was able to question his doubts a lot more.
Seventh, be patient. Sometimes like I said it is exhausting. We all know times we’ve been talking to people and they can’t seem to see something and we wish we could just grab a sledgehammer or something and beat it into them somehow. It’s not going to happen. Give them time to get there.
Eighth, focus on the essentials. So many of us spend time wanting to defend inerrancy or a young Earth or a global flood or something like that. No. Just start with what is essential. The resurrection. Let anything else be secondary. I worked to keep Roger on topic and not going off on these side issues. They are important, but not essential.
Finally, friendship is a wonderful thing. If you have it, use it. I am sure Roger and I would be friends regardless, but it’s even better being friends in Christ. Do we still have our disagreements and such? Yes. Absolutely, but they don’t matter in the end.
You have Roger Maxson’s all around you. Are you going to be the apologist to reach them?