Apologetics ABCs: First Understand, Then Answer

What’s your favorite verse in the Bible? I may be the only person in the history of Christianity who gives this answer, but my favorite is Proverbs 18:13. I’ll quote it in a few different versions:

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it,
it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13 KJV).

“Spouting off before listening to the facts
is both shameful and foolish” (Prov. 18:13 NLT).

“If you criticize something before you understand it
You’ll just look stupid” (Prov. 18:13 BAT).

In case you’re not familiar with that last version, it’s the Bowman Apologetics Translation©.

Proverbs 18:13 has long functioned as the “theme verse” of my ministry as a Christian apologist. I work hard to understand the issues before “spouting off” because I really don’t want to look foolish!

Let me offer some very brief suggestions as to how we can and should apply Proverbs 18:13 in Christian apologetics.

  • If you don’t know, ask or look it up.

Following this simple rule covers a multitude of intellectual sins. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone who would know or go look up the answer. Instead of guessing as to how many Greek New Testament manuscripts are known to exist, find a reliable source that answers that question (the answer is presently somewhat over 5,800).

  • Drill down to the primary sources.

If you run across an article online (especially something linked in social media), search that article for its source or sources. Keep drilling down until you come to the primary sources (the ones that are the actual basis for the claims being made) or as close as you can get to them. For example, rather than just reading about the so-called “Google Manifesto,” search for the actual document that the now-fired Google employee wrote that led to his firing. (And yes, that is an apologetics-related example, since Christians must be prepared to deal with the issue of suppression of unapproved viewpoints in our society.)

  • Treat individuals as individuals.

Don’t assume you know what someone believes, even if that person belongs to a particular religion. People differ from one another in most groups (though there is much more diversity in some groups than in others). For example, some Mormons believe that God has existed from all eternity as God while others do not.

  • Make it your goal to be able to state the other side’s position as well as they could.

This is my “gold standard” for apologetics: I want to be able to express the objection that the non-Christian raises against the Christian position as well as (or even better than) the non-Christian. I want to understand their viewpoint so well that I can present it, even express the arguments for it, well enough that I could pass for someone with that viewpoint. When I first studied the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wrote out lists of biblical citations they used on a particular issue and with each citation summarized the arguments they gave in support of their interpretations of those texts.

What are some other practical applications of Proverbs 18:13 to apologetics, or what are some specific topics where you have seen the value of this principle? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Note: Hopefully this will be the first in a recurring series of posts on this blog entitled “Apologetics ABCs.” If you find this series helpful, please pass the word to others.

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6 Responses to Apologetics ABCs: First Understand, Then Answer

  1. Laura Lynne says:

    Ahhh! This is great! Thanks, Rob.

  2. poco Reese says:

    Have you ever written/commented on Billy Graham, Hillsong Church or Brian Houston or their music. I told one group that I am in that Apologists usually contact individuals with whom they disagree and we can rely on their comments. I told her that it is difficult for the average person to get an interview with Billy or Brian so we usually just wait for the Apologists to do the work. Hmmn… what do you think?

  3. robbowman says:

    No, I haven’t written on those topics. And generally I focus on defending Christianity in relation to the essentials of the faith, not disagreements among Christians. I’m going to ask readers of this blog not to turn this thread into a debate about those individuals and groups you mentioned.

    It isn’t necessary to contact an individual directly if their teaching is a matter of public record. Finding the primary sources where they speak for themselves is the key. Now if the individual is alive and accessible, and if there is some reason for uncertainty about their views, interviewing them is a good idea, but we don’t all need to do that.

  4. Rev. Dr. Mathieu Bukasa MUFIKA says:

    i am grateful for using your books as well as many other books to the completion of my Thesis submitted for the requirement for the degree Philosophiae Doctor in Missiology (Apologetics) at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North West University. April 2017. in South Africa.

  5. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (8-17-2017) – 1 Peter 4:12-16

  6. Very insightful, something that every apologist should practice!

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