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How do we love our neighbor?

It’s often a judgment call as to how we deal with antagonists, but the Bible gives us guidance.

by , and

Published: 24 July 2014 (GMT+10)
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The creation movement has a reputation, in the eyes of some, of being too harsh in our interactions with evolutionists (theistic or otherwise) and old-earth creationists. Of course, there is biblical precedent for direct speech, rebukes, etc. For example, when other Christian leaders are compromising the clear message of Scripture and even undermining the Gospel, strong words may be appropriate, as in the case where Paul rebuked even the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11–14). Jesus reserved some of His harshest words for the theologically educated Pharisees, who were leading people astray with false teaching, when they should have known better.

Sometimes we biblical creationists are accused of being divisive, but, in reality, it is actually those who compromise Scripture who are being divisive. Genesis clearly teaches a six-day creation that happened around 6,000 years ago, and this is reinforced throughout both the Old and New Testaments. In addition, the early church fathers and Christians up until the ‘Enlightenment’ believed that God created in this way. So it is those who are arguing for a new interpretation of Scripture who are being divisive.

But we have to remember that we can’t expect unbelievers who don’t know better to act or believe like Christians—so our approach to atheistic evolutionists should always be evangelistic, not just trying to win an argument. And there are also many Christians who have adopted compromising views on creation out of ignorance or poor teaching; they simply have not thought through the issues. With each of these groups of people, the way in which we communicate is as important as what we communicate.

When evolutionists challenge the creation position, they are attacking the Christian’s foundation for belief. So, sometimes, with the aim of evangelism in mind, a robust response is appropriate to challenge the thought processes of the critic. This is intended to turn it back on them to hopefully make them realize the falsity of their argument. By challenging the foundations of their belief, it is hoped that the worldview built upon those foundations would also topple. But we should never attack the person. Of course, when a person’s views or beliefs are challenged, they can feel personally threatened, because beliefs are part of the package that makes ‘a person’.

Creation Ministries International, as a global federation of ministries (CMI-Worldwide), has consciously taken the position that we want to be less involved in fiery rhetoric and inflammatory arguments, while continuing to focus on being a source for quality information for all audiences.

Of course, some Christians love to see their favourite ministries and leaders ‘machine gun’ evolutionists. And being fallible and emotional beings ourselves, we might also occasionally fall short of our desire to honour Scripture. But we should strive to be faithful to the whole command in 1 Peter 3:15 (italics ours): “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”. There are three phrases in this verse. Usually it is shortened to “be ready to give an answer”, but in leaving off the last part, we risk losing some of the focus that we’re meant to have.

Honour Christ the Lord as holy

The motivation for giving an answer should always be to honour Jesus Christ. If we are intellectually precise, but fail to be a good witness by being Gospel-focused and communicating in a way that is glorifying to God, then we dishonour the Lord. Instead, we should always aim to have interactions that point people to Jesus. Having this attitude helps to take the focus away from our own emotional responses to offensive remarks, helping us to reflect a Christ-honouring attitude when we respond.

Peter gave this command in the context of the church being persecuted. Rather than fearing their persecutors, Peter is telling the church to rather revere Jesus. How much more should we do this when we are only facing mere ridicule, and not serious life-threatening persecution!

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Be ready to give an answer

We give answers to literally dozens of people every week at CMI, and many of these have been published on our website as feedback articles or responses to comments at the bottom of our web articles. It is simply not possible to fight every person’s battle for them, or respond to every web article or YouTube video we are sent (something we are constantly asked to do). A major focus of our ministry is providing information to people to help them give an answer. Our content is scientifically and theologically reviewed to make sure that, as much as possible, we always have up-to-date and accurate information.

People often emphasize the scientific aspects of apologetics, and that is important (or we would not employ so many Ph.D. scientists!). However, what Peter has in mind here, and what our foundation has to be, is knowing the Bible’s teaching such that we’re able to answer from Scripture when people ask us questions about what we believe. Sometimes science will be an important part of our answer, but the foundation always ultimately has to go back to what the Bible teaches. This is why stronger criticism may be appropriate for those who profess to have a high view of Scripture, yet undermine it by deferring to the man-made interpretations of secular science that are so clearly contrary to the Bible.

A couple of recent examples

Often, CMI comments in areas of popular culture like movies and books because such things tend to drive popular opinion on a range of issues. And Christians often get very excited when something of a Christian nature is going to appear on the big screen. Recently, we critiqued a well-publicized Christian movie. It unfairly caricatured Muslims, atheists and other non-Christian positions, and it also used theistic evolutionary arguments to try to support a Christian creation position. We attempted to review the movie in a loving tone because we presumed that the producers were simply ignorant of the wealth of creation information that could have helped them. A few thought that it was wrong to criticize a ‘Christian’ movie no matter how incorrect it was, and that the good in it might outweigh the bad and lead people to Christ anyway. However, this ‘end justifies the means’ approach falls somewhat short on integrity. That is, we are being asked to turn a ‘blind eye’ when Christians attempt to use false information to reach people with the Gospel—particularly when it opposes everything our ministry stands for—biblical creation. There is no precedent in Scripture for Christ doing this, and as Christians, we are actually commanded to do the opposite.

Then when we reviewed a secular Hollywood movie (although it had a biblical theme, it was made by an atheist director), we received a handful of comments saying we were too soft in our review. However, the review actually had some strong criticisms. We called it unbiblical, said it had very few elements of the true story or the Gospel in it, and had few redeeming features for Christians to have any satisfaction from it. Some thought we were not critical enough because, unlike other leaders and ministries, we did not use inflammatory language to condemn it. As we said in the review, ‘What does one expect from Hollywood?’ The real problem was the unrealistic expectations Christians had for a secular movie.

We knew that mainly non-Christians would be seeing this movie and our hope was that Christians would forward our calm, fact-driven review so that non-believers would not be led astray by getting their ‘biblical information’ from such a fantasy-driven movie. Non-Christians were less likely to listen if we engaged in over-the-top bad-mouthing of the movie. Such a response would also just make us look like naysayers (as if we are against everything).

With gentleness and respect

It is easy to get caught up in name-calling and rhetoric, especially when hostile critics attack us. But we’re called to be above that sort of ‘spleen-venting’. Part of our witness is supposed to be the respectful tone we take with even the rudest and most unfair attacks. We should remember the principle in Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” For many of us, a good example might be to recall our unsaved or pre-salvation days. How would we, for instance, have responded to a Christian calling us names or commenting aggressively about how inappropriate our ideas were in light of the Bible, before we really knew Scripture or much about the Gospel to start with?

There is a threefold reason for this: we should do it out of love for and obedience to Christ (looking back to “honour Christ the Lord as holy”), and as verse 16 goes on to explain, so that we have a clear conscience in our dealings with others, and so that our opponents might be ashamed of themselves and their slander when faced with our gentle response.

What about harshness in Jesus’ and Paul’s statements?

Some people who promote a harsher response point to Jesus’ statements to the Pharisees, or Paul’s statements about the Judaizers, as a precedent for how we are to engage opponents. It has been said that this isn’t something the average Christian can do, because Jesus is God (and therefore knew the hearts of His opponents and knew when a harsh response was appropriate) and Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, Paul does say, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The Christian can and should emulate Paul and Jesus in how they interacted. Yet, we should note again that their harsh responses were only to one group of people in a particular sort of circumstance.

Jesus, Paul, and other biblical figures were only harsh to opponents who were religious leaders, and then only when they were promoting grave errors or heresies that were perverting the Gospel. So that’s why we are more critical of groups like BioLogos who teach a different Gospel, and in cases like the chaplain of a Christian school who refused to have creation ministry even when the parents of the students wanted it. The motivation of this harshness to this sort of person is actually love—love for the people who are being misled and kept from the truth. In fact, one might call it a form of discipline by trying to call the believer, and in this case, leaders, back to their first love (Revelation 2).

Giving a loving response

It isn’t always easy to respond to critics with the sort of loving response that God commands us to give. With the sort of venom we receive so often, sometimes our instinct is to respond at least partly in kind. But part of our witness is to surprise even our harshest critics with a gentle response that not only plainly states the truth, but makes that truth look attractive by the language and tone we use to describe it. Thus, by dealing with the arguments instead of the person, it avoids giving them a valid reason to sidestep the arguments, and also decreases the likelihood of an emotional reaction that might cause them to miss the arguments.

Our supporters might be surprised at some of the very hateful, abusive and even threatening comments that our staffers receive, and not just from non-Christians. But sometimes responding with a respectful tone combined with good information makes all the difference. For instance, on one occasion someone wrote in to us with a series of hostile questions. Instead of responding with sarcasm, we responded respectfully with information to answer his questions, and we did the same thing when he came back once more. The third time he wrote to us, he said:

“When I first contacted you I did not expect a reply, but now I have had two replies. I am humbled by your courtesy. I must also admit that I had assumed that deeply religious people were not keen to discuss their religion and did not have a clear idea what they believed in. You obviously are neither. The open honesty and breadth of your comments has humbled me.”

Christians who stand on God’s word should not be surprised when unbelievers are hostile and hateful to us—unbelievers were hostile and hateful to Jesus, even to the point of killing Him, and “a servant is not above his master” (John 15:20). But when we obey the commandment to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), we can see some remarkable results when He opens hearts to the Gospel.

Readers’ comments

Doug L.
Thanks for another pertinent and thoughtful article. My point is that it's just as easy to err on the side of being too gentle as it is to err on the side of being too fiery and passionate. I know that the key is to always have our hearts centered on love with the goal of building up those who hear us. But sometimes it's appropriate to use strong, passionate words. You are absolutely right that we need to remain humble toward all, treating them with gentleness and respect. I wonder, though, if there isn't too much of that sometimes? I think the difference lies in whether it's a private or public arena, whether we're dealing one on one or whether we're in a public debate. Gentleness and love should be king in personal talks, but doesn't the public arena deserve strong, and sometimes even angry, passion? Too often it seems that passion is lacking in public discussions. The problem is that in public you're not just talking to your opponent. You're talking to everyone listening and they are influenced by not just the words, but the passion and conviction of the speaker. The article presented examples of the Lord and Paul. We might add the example of Stephen (Acts 7) who was harshly critical to the Sanhedrin. There's also Elijah on Mt Carmel who ridiculed the prophets of Baal, humiliated them publicly and then had them all slaughtered. So there is an appropriate time and place for rebuke and ridicule. We do have the proverb that the wicked proliferate when the righteous keep silent. I think If we do not publicly, passionately and strongly cry out against naturalism and evolution then we might as well keep silent. We are TOO soft spoken in public arenas. I don't advocate hateful rhetoric but I do advocate more passion, especially in light of the enormity of the lie.
Lita Cosner
Doug, thanks for these comments, and that's certainly one point of view. However, I think the article explains pretty thoroughly why we choose to usually take a gentler approach.
Matt M.
we must also consider when the Lord said not to give what is holy to dogs and not to cast your pearls before swine , in discussions on the net this is especially true, as the other person may only be trying to find a weakness in your knowledge that he can use against you . At this point further discussion is pointless , hence the words of our Lord
Derek M.
Christopher C.
I'm always respectable at first but as mocking and scoffing grow on the opposing end, I've realized that no amount of proof can remove the scales of unbelief on this generation of science binding deception. So I've discovered this principle in apologetics; Proverbs 26:5 "Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit." But then once he begins his ad hominem, attacking my character instead of subject matter, I've learned this: Proverbs 26:4 "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself." People will tell themselves anything to avoid the guilt of their sin in this life but unfortunately for them that approach won't work in the next.

J. B.
"... sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness." (From Proverbs 16:21), and "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable ..." (From Proverbs 15:2). So it seems incumbent upon us (with God's help) to present truth in such a way - even sweetly - so as to maximize the possibility of that truth being accepted.
We must continue to teach the TRUTH. It will set you FREE. If it doesn't,then it is not the WAY,TRUTH & ETERNAL LIFE. GBY
Tyler B.
Thanks for the excellent article. The thing I find most difficult to handle is being dismissed as ignorant by atheists when it comes to Evolution. I’ve spent a lot of time researching answers to my own questions about Evolution and Creation, so I know why I believe what I believe. Plus, I have a BBA and an M.Ed., so I’m not just some rube who woke up one day and decided to “reject reason.” I find that most atheists, who attack Christians in online discussion forums, are uneducated and don’t know why they believe what they believe, which is why I get irritated when they call me ignorant. I know it’s a pride thing and have prayed about it, but their taunts and insults still make me angry. Anyway, if you can provide examples of emails you’ve received in which you’ve been called “stupid” or “ignorant” or “anti-science,” and show how you’ve responded it would be sincerely appreciated.
Cowboy Bob S.
Thanks for a well-made article. It has points that many wannabe apologists should heed, me included.

Many atheists view gentleness as weakness, and some Christians criticize any show of firmness as being "unchristlike". Those Christians likely have a view of "gentleness" based on a false image of a wimpy Jesus.

I try to keep a balance at The Question Evolution Project between firmness and wimpiness. When someone is in a full-on attack, ridiculing and blaspheming, I do not spend time on them. Some make statements and I point out that they are making assumptions based on a materialistic worldview or thus and so logical fallacies. This is to get their attention and hopefully get them to think. Sometimes a decent discussion develops, but often, the demonic influence manifests itself and they become vituperative and have to go. Others are unable to think rationally due to the noetic effect of sin.

Some people want us to do what the article described as 'machine gun' evolutionists, even to the point of running around the Web and refuting scoffers. Not happening, see 'Can CMI Refute...' We present evidence to edify the believers as well as offer it to unbelievers. To engage in extensive arguments (which often generate far more heat than light) takes time away from presenting evidence.

So, we stand firm, remember that we are representing Christ, never leaving the Bible out of it, and keep on fulfilling our calling. CMI is an example for us all. Personally, I'd like to see the mail you get, I get probably 1/100th of it, but that would not be edifying except for my nosiness.

Thanks again, and keep up the Christ-honoring work.
Jonathan G.
I appreciate the tone in this article. I also appreciate that you do in fact strive to stay gently on point about creation while avoiding the fiery rhetoric.
Peter D.
Needless to say, there's some excellent Biblically based advice within this article – and I hope to call upon it in the future.

If I can just perhaps reluctantly and needlessly caution that we mustn't, I think, ever become "namby-pamby" bland and lame style Christian's either (and we should also perhaps take with a grain of salt any criticism or strategic advice coming from those who have overseen the transition from a Christian Western hemisphere to a post-Christian hemisphere; I.E those who didn't know what the word "apologetics" meant… prior to CMI explaining it to them). (Surely there's room in our efforts for a bit of wit, humour, and even, in exceptional circumstance, skilful mockery of an idea or an argument?)

As I've mentioned before, I was introduced to CMI/AiG in '05 via a Sydney Morning Herald blog – specifically an exchange that took place after you'd wiped the floor with the Australian Skeptics in the formal debate. I very much relished for the first time seeing some Christians "on the front foot". It was a very powerful witness! Certainly within an age and within a context where atheism and secularism have so successfully (and often damagingly) portrayed believers as witless and boring, as unthinking blind-faithers. I’m not suggesting we should be too concerned by what people think of us per se, but, our evangelistic efforts might be hindered by people’s perceptions – certainly as it pertains to our mental agility, passion and vigour. For what it’s worth, I think I'd sooner be accused of assertiveness and effectiveness, than as namby-pamby, “nice” and pushed-over.

Context and circumstance are crucial, too, of course, as you say. And if a “grave errors” scenario arises, I guess a lot depends on the delivery and execution of any rebuke.
Richard L.
Thank you (1) for your emphasis on giving answers in 1 Peter 3:15’s “gentleness and respect”—and modeling it as well, and (2) for your mention of that verse’s, “Honor Christ the Lord as holy” in the context of persecution. Part of this is indeed showing grace under pressure.

Another aspect of that phrase: It parallels Is. 8:12-14: “… do not fear what they fear… the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear… And he will become a sanctuary…” Mental stabilization, under intense pressure, occurs when we fear God more than man.

Failure in this dynamic is characteristic of many Christians who reject CMI’s message:
1. They want intellectual integrity, as we do.
2. They know scientists can (sometimes!) discover God’s objective truth in nature.
3. Under intense pressure—from prestige (2Cor10:5a) and thought-package promoter pressure (the “tradition” in Col2:8c)—they lose the mind-domination game and don’t test all truth claims (1Th5:21). Fearing man more than God causes this failure.
4. Captured-unto-slavery (Col2:8a), they wrongly inform their consciences, believing they have to believe a wrong truth claim in order to keep intellectual integrity.
5. They have blockage of intake of corrective biblical truth.
6. When CMI provides that correction, their wrongly informed consciences wrongly signal them that you are violating integrity.
7. They get (very) angry.

Please pray for them in light of this dynamic, for the liberation of their souls and consciences.
St Ferd III S.
Hi, your article brings up some good points worthy of debate. I am a Catholic and a robust defender of our faith against various cults including the non-science of Darwinism. I do agree that honey is sometimes easier to eat than vinegar. However, as both the OT and NT highlight, being a Christian does not mean you are a limp-wristed patsy who loves to be spanked on both cheeks, will meekly accept name-calling, and will only smile when lies and calumny, not to mention bad behaviour and worse are thrown your way. In fact both books clearly present the opposite as being valid, depending on the circumstance.

The old Hebrew saying was do onto others as they do to you. This was changed in the NT. In my opinion both are apposite depending on the circumstance and that in my opinion is the key missing element. What is the circumstance, what is the history, what is the reality of the situation, confrontation or issue at hand ? That in large part will guide you in your reaction.

An example is Islam. I know that most Christians for some absurd reason view Islam or Submission as a religion. It isn't. It is a cult which is now murdering Christians across Africa and the Near East. What should our response be ? Love ? Charity ? Soft words ? Is that either a responsible or productive use of our time ? Of course not. But too many Christians are too luke-warm and too weak to admit it. Easier to 'bounce along and smile', than actually confront the bully and if need be, pound him.
Dylan O.
Any one who has tried debating the creation evolution topic will understand your position! In my eagerness to tell everyone what seemed obvious and reasonable to me from reading your pages about creation I was surprised how poorly it was received by others! I went into the lions den thinking I was in a cuddly toy shop. The website I first visited was heavy on evolutionists and sparse on creationists. At that time I longed for someone from CMI to join the debate but I now realize that it would make no difference to the people there, they reject the evidence of creation claiming the authority of man and his interpretation of the evidence. I was crushed but wow it got me even more interested in the topic. I have given up the idea of ever being able to 'win' an argument. People are soaked in the evolution dogma day in day out and it is to much for them to bear to be wrong about it.

My approach is now this 1) Argument from design (complexity of biological systems and fine tuning) this tells me the condition of their heart (mind) 2) Young fossil record (conceding for sake of argument age of earth and universe but challenging their long ages ideas) 3) Noahs flood

I watch debates on the uncommon descent website where they concede all sorts of issues and argue only from design and the evolutionists stubbornness is more easily seen here as they deny what is glaringly obvious and give no ground which is encouraging to realize it is not the strength of argument that matters but the principle and power behind it. It costs me (mentally) to engage. I only do it now to sow the seed of hope that all is not what it seems in the world. Evolutionists (I conclude) want the power and glory reserved for God by becoming the 'truth bearers' and a free had to 'do what thy whilst'
murk P.
Is it possible to be: "intellectually precise, but fail to be a good witness by being Gospel-focused and communicating in a way that is glorifying to God, then we dishonour the Lord." ? if this were possible then Jesus Christ is subservient to our intellect - meaning He could not be Lord or put another way the intellect would not be ethical - if we could think correctly without Him would our mind need to be transformed? (Rom 12:2) Could we then discern our own errors? (Psalm 19:12) Would anyone who does not submit to Him then have thinking that is not futile? (Eph 4:17-18)

To be intellectually precise necessitates humility for in Christ "are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge" Since He is sovereign and does whatever He pleases - knowledge - of any type - hinges on revelation. Thus submission and repentance precede knowledge and intellectual precision requires humility - since He died to save us from the destruction of uncertainty / futile thinking since this is part of who we are as made in His image. The intellect cannot be separated from our being as a whole for this is idolatry. Therefore since we are totally depraved apart from Him we must know that His love saves our intellect and therefore "this love surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:19) If anyone is truly intellectually precise they must first be humble and fear the Lord because they know that apart from His love demonstrated in the work on the cross knowledge of whatever variety is impossible.
Samuel A.
I have met some haughty and compromising Christian leaders competing over the religious spotlight. It can be embarrassing to witness. However, standing up against politically correct, science and curriculum endorsed evolution requires real humility and I am blessed to see so many honorable men and women on the front lines.
There are exceptions, but most people really do not want to believe lies.
Keep up the good work.
Douwe T.
Respect is a great thing, and if you want to win someone over it's best to take him or her seriously and provide the best information you can. On this I commend you all at CMI.
And by the way, I used your review of Noah to let a not-yet-Christ-following friend know what to think of the movie.
Thanks for all your well written reviews and articles! Reading them encourages me in my faith in the Bible as a truthful eyewitness account of the history of our not-so-very-old earth.
Chandrasekaran M.
I am glad to see CMI is bold and persistent and patient in giving robust and gentle and with sound logical responses to its harsh criticisers.

I am remained of, having read this article, a primary school story I leant as Hindu. Even though I left Hindu worldview to embrace the Bible worldview, I cherish the story even now. The fox, in the story, without tasting the grapes declared that the unreachable gapes must be sour, which is an example of not attacking the issue. The Bible account of Jesus and Paul responses to their opponents are real history events to real people in this fallen world which we can fallow even today to attack the issue.

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