Is Apologetic Posting on Internet Sites a Waste of Time?

Waste of Time by der sich den wolf tanzt

I have been posting apologetic type responses and material on the Internet now going on twenty years (on other types of ‘e-communication’ even before the Internet was popular). I don’t usually hang out in atheistic discussion forums, but instead try to inject some reasoned, and/or ‘salt & light,’ content into secular discussions when relevant. This often leads to discussion which I hope to be more helpful than the back-and-fourth one often finds. I have, however, had many people tell me this is a waste of time!

I’ve never gotten into a serious discussion over it with most of these people though, so I don’t know precisely why they believe this. I have picked up on enough in their responses which would indicate a few possibilities: Some seem to suggest that these ‘Internet people’ are unreachable; kind of like the ‘throw pearls before swine’ argument. I’ve heard responses that are just anti-apologetic in nature; like ‘no one has ever been argued into the Kingdom.’ I have heard arguments that make me believe the person thinks that the only place evangelism will likely work is in the church pew. Frankly, about the only good argument I’ve ever heard has something to do with suggestions for better uses of my time. At least that one is debatable (and sometimes, I’m sure, true). The others simply seem like poor theology. If you disagree, that is what the comments section below is for. :)

Well, for anyone who has ever answered that question ‘yes,’ please listen to the following discussion on Richard Morgan’s conversion to Christianity:
http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2011/03/interview-former-atheist-richard-morgan.html

With all of this in mind (and hopefully agreed upon), there are some things that many apologists, including myself, can learn about HOW we go about our apologetic efforts. This is especially true on the Internet where things are a bit too anonymous and too easy to just walk away from. We end up acting in ways we would never even consider in an in-person interaction.

Richard Morgan, at one point, says of David Robertson’s efforts, “He was always there. He always kept coming back. He remained within the dialog. He kept the communication open… regardless of the insults and abuse that he received, he kept coming back.” I have personally strived to do this, but have often failed. I also tend to spread myself too thin to maintain this kind of commitment. This is something I need to work on, and repent of.

He makes a great point about the communication consisting of both the facts of the communication, and the words of the conversation. The latter part is the human communication and contact. It is far too easy to lose this aspect when on-line. This means we must work especially hard to be sure this part comes through, and that it is Christian in nature! This often means some extra words need to be spent on clarification and intent, etc. Once again, I have often fallen far short in this regard, try as I may.

One aspect which is fundamental to good apologetics, is when he talked about witnessing doing no good if you are not speaking the language of the person you are talking to. As apologists, we must a) understand our faith well, but also, b) understand the culture we are communicating to! How often have we all experienced both sides of a conversation just arguing or speaking past one-another? Term definition and sensitivity to how terms are being used needs to become a major part of our communication effort.

And, ultimately, while I have seen little in the way of swaying the position of those who I’m actually in discussion with (though I pray I will reach them too), I’m more interested, tactically, in the observers of the conversation. These are the thousands of readers who may or may not ever participate in the discussion, are less entrenched in their positions, but who may be influenced by such a conversation. I know this happens because I’ve heard from some of them – sometimes years later.

Please take a careful listen to this great interview. And, thank you, Brian Auten, for the work you do over at Apologetics315 in bringing these kinds of interviews to us!

Image credit: Waste of Time by der sich den wolf tanzt

This article was first published at TilledSoil.org. Copyright © 2013 TilledSoil.org. All rights reserved. (It has been edited for republication.)

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Steve Wilkinson

Steve loves getting people excited about Christian apologetics (case-making); seeing the beauty and rationality of Christianity and the Christian worldview. He is a husband, father, and long-time tech geek. Steve is director/educator at TilledSoil.org and also a designer/consultant at cgWerks. He holds a MA in Theology (Interdisciplinary - Christianity, Church & Culture) from Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. You can follow Steve on Twitter @TilledSoil, connect with him/TilledSoil.org on Facebook, or catch up with him/TilledSoil.org on Google+.

  • Lion_IRC

    They are not unreachable.
    Are they ignoring you or are they bombarding you with dozens of questions and challenges they want answered? Let’s let God decide when a person is unreachable.

    And scripture tells us that He will not do so prematurely.

    ”…Where then did the weeds come from?” ”…Do you want us to go and pull them up?’”

    ”….“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

    (See Matthew 13:24)

    • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

      I don’t think anyone is unreachable, but, more to the point is who is doing the reaching (ie: God). We only have so much resources to work with, so I think we have to be prudent. I should probably check the context, but the ‘pearls before swine’ verse comes to mind. So, I guess for me, I’ll only spend so long with someone who is simply presenting hostility and not really interacting with the concepts being put forward in a meaningful way… except, when I’m pretty sure I might have an audience of on-lookers.

      Even then, with limited resources, my personal tendency is to spread much too thin, so I always have to try and keep that in mind.

      • Lion_IRC

        Many dont finally convert until weeks, months, years later as their confidence in atheism is slowly eroded.

        As I said, are they ignoring you or are they bombarding you with dozens of questions and challenges they want answered?

        I think it’s also worth mentioning that OTHER CHRISTIANS benefit from seeing great apologists like —> insert favorite apologist here <— publically defending and evangelizing the Gospel and biblical theism in general. It boosts their morale and lifts their spirit.

        But you are right, time and resources are in short supply. Pray the Lord of the Harvest send out more workers into the field.

        • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

          I agree, but I don’t necessarily chase each person for weeks, months, and years, unless I have that kind of role in our relationship. I trust that God is doing so through the many people and experiences He will bring into their life. I just try to be faithful (and fail often!) with the resources I have. I’ll let God worry about the rest.

          I think generally, we can get some sense of whether people are actually engaging us. Generally, at lot of the Internet based ‘shotgun’ questioning is just a smoke-screen. I’ve often tried to interact with some of these people in an attempt to actually answer all their questions and have only been taken up on it a couple of times (out of hundreds of offers).

          The third-party, I agree is crucial (as noted in the article). But, that’s a good point about it boosting the morale of Christians. I’ve actually gotten more feedback from Christians when I’ve posted on in secular venues (usually through private e-mail) than I’ve gotten any kind of contact with skeptics and atheists.

          Actually, I think we, as apologists, need to point more of our efforts internally given the situation we’re in. It’s kind of J. Warner Wallace’s, “we don’t need more million dollar apologists, but lots more one dollar apologists” (crude paraphrase). He doesn’t literally mean we don’t need more of the highly trained specialists on which the rest of us often depend, but that what is crucial right now is to get more average church-goers trained and out there working one-on-one with those in their circles of influence. There just aren’t enough of us to meet the challenges otherwise.

  • http://jameseo.com/ JameSEO

    The last point you made about the others that may be reading the conversation but aren’t saying anything is who I do it for. Most of the time, the guys I’m debating with are already dishonest doubters set on their thoughts regardless of what you bring them. But I always imagine others not participating in the conversation and the possibilities that it will speak to them. After all, we all like to read comments others made online, rather we comment on not. I actually subscribe to an atheist blog just to drop my (or the Bible’s) 2 cents on various posts. They all know I’m a Christian and hate the fact that I even comment on their website.

    • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

      Yes, I’m imagining that a lot of people read some of the comments for articles… unless I’m just odd in that regard. I usually read an article, and then at least skim a bit to see the reaction. (Of course, then I often end up commenting, where I’m guessing many just read).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=762693870 Nancy Cosgrove

    It sometimes seems that arguing a point with those who profess to be atheists, agnostics or whatever, is fruitless. I don’t really think this is necessarily true. I just read a story from a former abortionist who read a pro-life leaflet and suddenly could not do any more abortions. (LifeNews, March 19.2013.) We plant a seed…. Doing it kindly, scripturally, and gently, will produce fruit. Sometimes when I am discussing a pro-life point, the angry poster suddenly disappears from the conversation without a word. People are basically good and when we appeal in Love, God moves His Hand…. jus saying

    • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

      Good point… no one is beyond the reach of God. It’s just been my experience (and that of many apologists) that the ‘noisy’ people in many Internet discussion forums aren’t even engaged honestly in the dialog. God can still work a miracle, but we’re mostly doing what we do for the sake of the bystander.

      It isn’t uncommon, especially on more controversial topics, to look at many of the responses and think… did they even READ the article?