Humble Apologetics: Persuasion with Humility and Respect

by David Horner

Humility does not leap to mind when most of us think of apologetics. An apologist, one who steps into the fray to give a rational defense of the Christian worldview, is hardly a stereotypically humble soul—in C. S. Lewis’s words, “a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.”1 Indeed, many think of apologists as aggressive, arrogant jerks.

But these stereotypes rest on misunderstandings of both humility and apologetics. Recent work by Christian thinkers in The Table and elsewhere shows true humility to be fully compatible with a robust self-confidence and an appropriate appreciation of one’s own value and gifts—undercutting the perceived incompatibility on humility’s side. A case can also be made on the side of apologetics. I suggest that good apologetics and true humility, biblically and strategically, are inseparable. Here are three brief reasons to see good apologetics as humble apologetics.2

Humble Apologetics

The first is a simple, strategic one: Few people want to listen to someone who’s arrogant, even if what they say might be true. The task of apologetics, it is easy to forget, is one of persuasion. The science of apologetics involves mastering evidence that the Christian worldview is true, but the art of apologetics is in tailoring that evidence to listeners in such a way that they may come to see it to be true and believable.

Aristotle observed that effective persuasion requires not only that your listener regard you as credible (logos), but also that they respect your character (êthos) and experience an emotional connection (pathos) with you. A speaker’s lack of humility subverts especially the latter two elements, derailing the persuasive power of even a logically impeccable argument. In fact, arrogance plays a particularly powerful role in eroding both the immediate and the long-term persuasive power of a message. It’s the stink on the skunk; it repulses on first contact and its tainting effect lingers long after…

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Humble Apologetics: Persuasion with Humility and Respect | The Table