Why Facebook?

by Brian 24. December 2013 07:37

What good purpose does Facebook serve with respect to its users today? It is questionable as to whether it delivers a net-positive degree of happiness or contentment. Studies seem to indicate Facebook is not helpful to our well-being.  We are deluded if we think by having hundreds of friends we’ve never met, and by engaging in superficial interaction, that somehow we will derive similar benefit to spending face-time with real friends. So what good is it then? I can see two purposes for Facebook that are potentially worthwhile. One is to share with your shortlist of real friends and family. The other is a global forum where we might engage in the Great Conversation.

There are those who keep their friends and family list short. They post pictures of their vacations, pets and kid’s graduations. These posts are received on their friends’ newsfeed with genuine appreciation. No matter how many pictures they upload of pets or plates of food, their friends will probably *like* it. Under this scenario you typically steer clear of controversy. It’s better to avoid politics, philosophy and religion. Share a recipe or funny story and everyone will love it. Get into weightier matters and you might get unfriended. To these folks, a contrary comment might get you labeled as a troll. And of course if your only intention is to irritate those around you, then trolling is a vice. If on the other hand you articulate an idea and those who oppose it are irritated and offended, then trolling merely reveals our culture of reticence and political correctness run amok. That aside, it seems to me this is a legitimate use of Facebook even though I’m less inclined to use it for this purpose.

Then there are those of us in the camp who see Facebook as a global forum to discuss any topic. There was a time when we had speak-outs in the town square where one would stand up and engage the public in discourse. I’ve heard stories of my grandfather who would go down to the local pub and take part in philosophical discussions. The bartender kept a copy of Webster’s dictionary behind the counter to settle disputes over terms. He and his friends would look forward to these engagements over a scotch. No one knew who would wander into the fray on any given night, or how they might be bent. But regardless, there was a general respect for the opinion of others. Listeners were expected to form their own perspective, and if you had the courage, you might even articulate it openly. Tolerance actually meant something positive then. Though today we may have regressed in the practice of rational discourse, Facebook might actually offer some means of revitalization.

Even though Facebook has much to be desired for in-depth discussion, it does have an interesting characteristic. As you pursue weightier matters, conversions on topics considered taboo, your friends-list will inevitably evolve. Those who are intolerant of your views might unfriend you. Other uninterested friends in the first camp might hide your posts on their newsfeed. If you are tolerant in the traditional sense of the word, then you might unfriend those who are vulgar, offensive and incorrigible, but not those who can articulate a contrary view. On the other hand, you might choose to block those who agree entirely with you but add nothing but derision and noise to the conversation. With all of these configuration changes over time, your friends list will evolve to be comprised of those who are suitable for engaging in meaningful discourse on all sorts of topics.

You may be wondering how this applies to apologetics. Well, cordial and thoughtful discourse can improve our understanding of a topic and help us to better articulate a position to others. It also opens up opportunities for third-party observers to learn and grow. There are several people on my friend’s list with significantly different worldviews to mine. Still, I respect and appreciate hearing from them. To be sure, the more substantive and developed one’s worldview becomes, the more unlikely a contrary belief is integrated. A well-developed Christian worldview may find little to no common foundational ground with an atheist, but there may be plenty of possibilities around the periphery. We are certainly better suited to speak to someone with a different perspective after we have taken the time to understand it. If we communicate with each other with clarity and mutual respect, others watching will take note. I have found engaging in the Great Conversation on Facebook to be fruitful, especially as we employ 1-Peter-3:15 gentleness and respect. We inevitably learn more from those we disagree with than from those we already agreed with.

Koukl's Tactics

by Brian 25. July 2011 20:36
I recently finished Tactics by Gregory Koukl - a book I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in improving their skill in articulating the Christian worldview. The primary tactic in the book follows the Socratic Method and is taught through practical application. Though tactics are important, and the author does a fine job teaching you how to use them, it is helpful to have a holistic perspective on apologetics. The book focuses on the how, but only touches on the why, what, who, when and where. In this blog I want to briefly look at these other aspects and recommend the reader delve deeper for a well-rounded perspective.



Why Apologetics?

The word apologetics finds its origin in the Greek apologia which means to give an explanation or defense. It is the same word used in 1-Peter 3:15 where it says “always be prepared to give an answer…” To be able to give an honest and persuasive answer about your worldview is a good thing, whether you are a Christian or not. Being able to think critically about what you believe and why you believe it is essential to living an honest intellectual life. Ironically, as I am writing this morning someone posted this on Facebook:
People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. -- Tim Keller
For the Christian, I would add; a deeper and substantive integration between the life of faith and the life of experience and understanding is rewarding in and of itself. A rich and consistent worldview can be a blessing to those we interact with as well as add greater meaning to our own faith.
When it comes to sharing what we believe as Christians, reason is typically downplayed in the contemporary church. You may have heard it said; you cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom. The usual undercurrent in this comment is love overrides the need for reason. So based on this, why give apologetics any consideration at all? However, Koukl rightly points out in his book, you cannot love someone into the Kingdom either. The bottom line is God can use both love and reason to draw someone to Himself. If you have any doubt of this, all you have to do is look at the life of the apostle Paul in Acts. He reasoned with the Greeks. He reasoned with the Jews. I can tell you where Paul stood on the question of “why.”

What Strategy?

In preemptive discourse where you lead the topic, tactics ought to be guided by an apologetic strategy. This is also true of defensive situations; though probably less so if you are only dealing with a skeptic’s comment or question. As an apologist, you may find certain strategies more appealing than others. A good book covering some of the most common strategies is “Five Views on Apologetics” (Craig, Habermas, Frame, Clark and Feinberg, 2000). The book covers:
  • Classical: start with theism employing natural theology and then move to Christian particulars
  • Evidential: employ specifically Christian arguments using evidence (such as the historicity of the Resurrection) - natural theology may be helpful but not necessary
  • Cumulative Case: employ multiple arguments with the assumption formal proofs are less effective than making a case like a legal brief - each argument adds towards a preponderance
  • Presuppositional: emphasizes the noetic effects of sin and concludes believers and unbelievers are unable through argument to bridge the gap in their worldviews- attempts to show only the Christian worldview can make sense out of life’s experiences
  • Reformed Epistemology: deemphasizes the need for evidence in establishing a warranted belief in Christianity - uses negative apologetics to clear the way for the unbeliever
Having a broad understanding of the most common strategies gives you the flexibility to select the best approach in any given circumstance.[ii]

Who, When and Where to Engage?

In Tactics, most of the scenarios presented are cases where a skeptic or unbeliever makes a false verbal assertion opening the door for discourse. In my experience, this happens fairly infrequently. For example, once unbelieving coworkers know you are an informed Christian with tactical skill, they will usually avoid any confrontation. If they take any stabs at your faith, it will most likely be out of earshot. There was an example in the book where Koukl sparked up a conversation with a Wiccan, but it was triggered by a nonverbal statement (a pentagram necklace.) So unless like Koukl you come into contact with a lot of people, I think the one-on-one verbal confrontation is the exception. Social media however is changing the landscape and I think here one can find greater opportunity.
When you do find yourself confronted by the hardened skeptic, it is time to employ Koukl’s full frontal assault – right? Well, not necessarily. If I had a dollar for every wasted engagement with a skeptic, I would be better off than a $100 for every successful one. There really is wisdom in Matthew 7:6 where it says do not throw pearls to pigs. Heaven forbid you are naïve enough to jump onto your average infidel-freethinking-atheist website and start going head to head. You’ll have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa. Skeptic’s forums and closed-door confrontations with incorrigible atheists are almost always a waste of time. However, Koukl suggests what I think is the best opportunity for such an engagement. It is where there is an audience. If there is the possibility of one or more individuals present who are open-minded, then it may be worthwhile to engage with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3). But if the audience is made up of those solidly in one camp or the other, once again, it may not be worthwhile to engage.
I want to conclude returning to the requirement of love – or charity as C.S. Lewis describes it in The Four Loves. Scripture says we will sound like a resounding gong when we speak without love. Charity is a necessary component of the apologetic enterprise. Unfortunately in our busy and often compassionless day to day struggles, charity may be lacking more than reason. As I was reading Tactics, I kept struggling with Koukl’s use of statements like “Please help me understand your perspective…” even when dealing with ridiculous self-contradictions. I thought: “How disingenuous to ask for help when you don’t need it!” But then it dawned on me. The problem wasn’t with Koukl’s approach – it was with me. With charity, the statement “please help me to understand” really means something like “I’m interested in hearing your perspective even if I’m absolutely certain it’s wrong.” But only by charity is this attitude even possible. Frankly I’ve never been able to muster this up on my own. You probably will not be able to either. We have to recognize the essentiality of charity and ask God for it. Otherwise our apologetic efforts are potentially worse than being ineffective, they can be detrimental.
[ii] If anyone knows of other good books on strategy, email me, I’d like to add them to the endnotes.

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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