Emotion and Apologetics

2:57 am | Apologetics

Earlier I posted a discussion about how evangelism and apologetics should work together as partners in a post-modern setting. But I also wanted to discuss another aspect of evangelistic approach that needs to work directly with apologetics and evangelism: Emotional Sensitivity and Empathy in conversation.

After some time of ministry on a secular college campus and interacting with non-Christians, I found that the people who were the most closed to Christianity and even hostile to the Christian message were people who were carrying around years of emotional pain and hurt that were keeping them from looking at Christianity. It wasn’t unusual to find that in my conversations with non-believers that they would throw out a question for discussion. This question would be posed as an intellectual question, and it would have been easy to see it as a intellectual question and respond with an intellectual answer. But, I realized that if I listened carefully, I could have some sense of whether or not the question was being prompted by a genuine intellectual interest, or whether there was a question behind the question prompted by emotional baggage.

An example of this in conversation is when someone asks me about how God can allow so much evil and suffering to happen in the world. In their voice and body language I sense an emotional tension; something isn’t right in the conversation. I can immediately recognize that while the question was about the problem of evil, more than likely there is something specific nagging in this person’s mind. So, instead of addressing the question directly, I ask another question to see if I can get to the root issue of the concern. If possible, I try to get the other person to open up and tell their story. Everybody has a story that they want to tell, though sometimes it is hard because people will only tell their story to someone who has earned their trust. But when I listen to someone’s story and empathize with their position, it is more effective to address their experience and work through the emotional baggage toward a degree of healing.

Sometimes it takes some detective work to find out where the real concerns that people have are, but it is worth the difficulty if it helps break down an obstacle that is keeping someone from the cross. People often have legitimate intellectual concerns that keep them from accepting Christ, and developing responses to these is the task of apologetics. When people have emotional barriers that keep them from Christ, the task of the apologist becomes more like the task of the pastoral counselor. I have found that in many cases, both a pastor’s heart and an apologist’s mind are needed to chip away at the barriers keeping people from accepting the gospel.

This said, however, empathizing and being emotionally sensitive to other people can be emotionally taxing. I struggle with depression quite a bit, and unless I have a regular edifying spiritual fellowship with other believers, it is difficult to have the emotional strength to engage a non-believer in conversation. There have been times when the Holy Spirit has given me an overwhelming measure of grace and compassion for a non-believer even when I have been emotionally weak, to be sure. However in those times when God’s grace is not overflowing in my soul, when I am struggling with emotional wounds of my own, it compromises my ability to be effective in sharing the grace and love of Christ. Having the supernatural grace of Christ is absolutely necessary to being able to withstand the blow and attacks, while responding in meekness and truth. Without the grace of Christ, it is too easy to take attacks personally. Sometimes these attacks do get under my skin, compromising my ability to be an effective witness of Christ. But when I can return and refresh myself with the grace of Christ, and regain a compassion for the lost that allows me to overcome the attacks and love the person, regardless what may come my way.




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