Win the Man, Not the Argument

by Douglas Wilson

When the Lord Jesus called his disciples, he famously said that he was going to transform them into “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

He did not say, as it turns out, that he was going to send them fishing for fallacies. Similarly, the point of apologetics is to win the man, not the argument.

Now of course, arguments can (and should) play a role in this kind of public evangelism. Apologetics needs to consist of more than just smiling at people and being sweet. Argument plays a role, but argumentation is a sharp tool, and a tool is something that a craftsman should—if he wants to keep all his fingers—understand fully in order to wield it properly.

Start with Your Heart

Paul makes a variation of this point in his second letter to Timothy.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24–26

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We can see that argumentation is certainly involved (“correcting his opponents” and “able to teach”), but there is great deal more involved as well. The Lord’s servant is called to have a particular demeanor, one calculated to be used by God to change people’s hearts and minds. The apologist must not be “quarrelsome.” He must be “kind,” and also patient in how he puts up with various forms of “evil.” When he argues, he must know to do it “with gentleness.” In this context, when his character and demeanor line up in debate, we may offer up the prayer that God will give his opponents the great gift of repentance. This is the end game; this is the whole point.

Stop Swinging That Club

The goal of an apologetic encounter is not to put points on an abstract scoreboard. The apologist is not to be a gunslinger, looking for another notch to put in his Bible. The point of argument is to win people or, if any spectators are already won, to encourage them. To the degree that an argument contributes to that end, then God bless it. But in the meantime, it must be frankly stated that a lot of people who are deeply interested in apologetics need to think a lot less about winning, and a lot more about being winsome.

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