Two of the most important virtues that a Christian apologist can exhibit are the qualities of intellectual honesty and charity.
In part one of this series I discussed the biblical ethical principle known as the “Golden Rule.” In [Matthew 7:12], Jesus states:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
While no one keeps the Golden Rule perfectly in life, Christians who are saved by grace (Titus 3:5) nevertheless need to strive toward this critical moral ideal. And since the Golden Rule applies to every action, it includes the critical enterprise of Christian apologetics (the defense of the faith, 1 Peter 3:15).
In an apologetic context, believers ought to treat nonbelievers or fellow believers the way they want to be treated. This includes treating other people’s beliefs, viewpoints, and arguments the way you want yours to be treated. Since we want our beliefs to be handled fairly and respectfully, we owe the same to our apologetic opponents.
The Golden Rule’s application means that Christians should operate according to the highest standards of intellectual integrity. As I stated in Part 1, our enterprise of defending the faith should be characterized by honesty, fairness, civility, and charity.
The Writings of Others
Christian apologists should take care not to misrepresent the arguments of others. Those who distort an opponent’s argument engage in the informal logical fallacy known as the “straw man”. All criticisms uttered against a misrepresented argument are logically irrelevant.
One specific application of this rule relates to how we treat what others have written. Apologists should avoid misquoting the works of others. Similarly, taking others’ arguments out of their original and intended written context shows a lack of respect and honesty. Sloppy scholarship severely damages intellectual integrity.
On top of intellectual honesty, we should also endeavor to be charitable to others and state their arguments in the strongest form possible. We may be tempted to interpret what our opponents have written in the worst light possible, but that goes against our fundamental value of fairness. Certainly we would not want our writings treated in this manner. For example, if a critic of Christianity states his argument in a weak or questionable way, give him the benefit of the doubt and respond to the stronger argument.
It isn’t always easy to regard another person’s view with the same care and respect that you want afforded to your own. But it is critical that Christian apologists strive for these invaluable intellectual virtues. When non-Christians become convinced that believers in Christ prize truth and honesty highly, then the power of the Christian apologetic witness will be greatly strengthened.
In ensuing articles I will address some other practical ways in which the Golden Rule of Apologetics can be appropriately applied.
For more on building intellectual virtue in the area of apologetics, see chapters 3 and 4 of my book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.