By Michael Sherrard
Step one in apologetics is to understand someone’s position. Many skip this step and merely vomit rehearsed arguments as soon as they hear a trigger word like “evolution” or “unreliable”. We like to give textbook answers, but people don’t hold textbook beliefs. Answers are only meaningful when given to relevant questions. So you must know the beliefs of the person across from you as they hold them before you start quoting J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, or Ravi. And you will only know their beliefs by listening.
Many things work against us when we defend our faith. We do not need misunderstanding to be one of them. If you want to defend your faith well, become a good listener. Be patient and hear what others are saying so that you can respond appropriately. Do not dominate conversations. This is not easy. It takes practice. But you need to do it. Let me offer four practical ways to improve your listening.
1. Focus on their words and not your response. Nearly everyone devises clever retorts or responses while the other person is talking, and it is no different in conversations of faith. This isn’t actually a conversation. It’s two people lecturing an audience that isn’t paying attention, and it’s not effective.
You need to practice not thinking about your response when someone else is talking. This is hard. It is a discipline that you can learn, though. When you notice you’re forming a response before they are done speaking, stop and refocus. Witnessing to skeptics is usually a marathon. You must pace yourself. Don’t try to sprint to the end. Don’t worry about jumping in and rebutting everything they say as soon as they say it. Rather, slow down, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to remind you of the truth, and do not worry about winning.
2. Ask questions. If the person you are talking with is long-winded and hard to follow, ask them to restate their belief or position slowly and concisely. Remember, it is vital that you understand what they believe before you respond, so ask a question if you didn’t catch it the first time.
You can do this by asking them to summarize what they just said. What I find effective is…
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