“In the Presence of Hostile Witnesses”

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Apologetics, Guest Blog Posts

The following piece is from Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason Ministries. I shortened it just a little bit, and emphasis is mine; however the link to the full piece is at the end. I hope it’s as encouraging for you as it was for me!

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In the Presence of Hostile Witnesses

“I had every reason to be confident going into the debate. How could I lose? I was defending an irrefutable proposition: Objective truth can be known.

My debate opponent, Dr. Marv Meyers from Chapman University, had happily agreed to defend the opposite view: Objective truth can’t be known. He would be forced to explain how he knows that nothing can be known, how he’s certain there’s nothing absolutely certain…

It seemed a little too easy and that made me nervous. I must be missing something. What did he know that I didn’t know? What flaw in my ideas had alluded me? …

Peer Review

None of us wants his views proven wrong, especially his most cherished ones, regardless of which side of the fence we’re on. But if we want to cultivate a sensible faith, we need to be aware of our own powerful instincts for theological self-preservation.

This instinct is so strong, in fact, that sometimes we are tempted to intellectually circle the wagons and guard against the slightest challenge to our beliefs. This strategy, however, provides a false sense of security. The opposite approach actually provides much more safety.

In Medieval times when a knight threw his gauntlet—an armored glove—into the arena, it was a challenge to fight. This was his signal to the world he was willing to take on a challenger. He was in the game.

In the same way, Christians need to throw down the gauntlet. Instead of digging in behind the trenches to defend against attackers, we should tear down our defenses. We should throw our ideas into the arena and invite attack by hostile witnesses.

In academic circles this is called “peer review.” Philosophers, scientists, and theologians present their ideas in professional forums and solicit critique. They test the merit of their thoughts by offering them to people who are inclined to disagree…

The idea of peer review is based on a very sound notion. If our ideas are easily destroyed by those acquainted with the facts, they ought to be discarded. But if our ideas are good, they will not be upended so easily. In the process, we’ll learn what the other side knows, and may be surprised at how weak their resistance really is.

This lesson was driven home to me quite unexpectedly one day while sitting in my own library minding my own business.

A Knock on the Door

While preparing for a radio show one Sunday afternoon, I heard a knock on my front door. When I answered, two middle-aged women smiled at me pleasantly, bundles of apocalyptic literature in hand. Would I like to see their material?

…Jehovah’s Witnesses go out in pairs, one experienced Witness and one new disciple. The neophyte makes the initial contact, while the mentor waits protectively in the background, ready for a flanking maneuver should the young cadet get into trouble…

“I’m a Christian,” I began. I directed my comments to the younger convert, the one less influenced by the Watchtower organization and hopefully more open to another viewpoint.

“It’s clear we have some differences, including the vital issue of the identity of Jesus. I believe what John teaches in John 1:3, that Jesus is the uncreated Creator. This makes Him God.” (For a persuasive, full biblical argument on this, see “Deity of Christ: Case Closed” and click on the publication file.)

Mention of the deity of Christ was all that was needed to bring the rear guard into action. The person in the shadows spoke up for the first time. I honestly wasn’t prepared for her response.

“You’re entitled to your opinion and we’re entitled to ours,” was all she said. No question, no challenge, no theological rebuttal. This was a dismissal, not a response. She turned on her heel and started for the next house, young cadet in tow, in search of more vulnerable game.

I cast about for something to say that might slow their retreat. “You’re also entitled to be wrong in your opinion,” I blurted out, but the retort had no effect.

I admit it wasn’t a devastating rejoinder, but it was all I could think of in the moment. “Clearly we both can’t be right,” I added, “even though we’re both entitled to our opinions.” I was hoping for some kind of reaction, some kind of engagement, but my challenge went unanswered.

As they marched down the walkway I fired my final salvo, vainly hoping for a response: “Obviously, you’re not interested in hearing any other point of view than your own.” Then they were gone.

Gun Shy

In the moments that followed a host of questions flooded my mind. Did I use the right tactic? Would a different approach have been more effective? Did anything I say leave a good impression? Did I plant even a seed of doubt in their minds?

I’ll probably never know the answer to those questions, but the meeting was still educational. Notice a couple of things about this short exchange…

They bailed out. They ran away.

What’s wrong with this picture? If you were convinced that the medicine you held in your hand would save the life of a dying patient, would you turn on your heel, letting him perish just because he didn’t like the taste of the treatment? In the same way, isn’t it strange that a door-to-door evangelist out to save the world would take flight at the first sign of any of opposition?

Three Revelations

This encounter taught me three things about these missionaries.

First, they weren’t very confident in their message. Why should I take a single moment to consider an alleged message from God that God’s messenger herself wouldn’t lift one finger to defend? Why should I respect the cause of a soldier who retreats at the first sign of resistance?

Second, these missionaries could not have been very interested in my salvation. If they were genuinely concerned about rescuing my lost soul, their first impulse should have been to find out what I believed and why, then correct my errant theology. Isn’t that why they go door to door, to witness to the lost, to give them the truth about Jehovah God and invite them to join the Watchtower organization?

But they didn’t even listen to my point of view, much less try to correct my error. Do you know what that tells me? They didn’t care much about my eternal destiny.

Third, I learned they didn’t take the issue of truth very seriously, either. Religious evangelism is a persuasive enterprise. The evangelist thinks his view is true and opposing views are false. He also thinks the difference matters, which is why he’s trying to change people’s minds. Follow the truth, you win. Follow a lie, you lose—big time.

A commitment to truth (as opposed to a commitment to an organization) means an openness to refining one’s own views. It means increasing the accuracy of one’s understanding and being open to correction in thinking.

A challenger might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, an ally instead of an enemy. An evangelist who’s convinced of his view should want to hear the very best arguments against it.

One of two things would then happen. He may discover that some objections to his view are good ones. The rebuttal helps him make adjustments and corrections in his thinking, refining his knowledge of the truth. Or it may turn out he’s on solid ground after all. Developing answers to the toughest arguments against him strengthens both his witness and his confidence in his religion.

A Lesson Learned

There’s a lesson here for Christians: Don’t be too quick to back down from opposition.

First, as intelligent or aggressive as your opponent might seem, he still is, in fact, perishing without Christ. You don’t know what internal struggles he’s facing that don’t show through his confident or gruff exterior. You don’t know but that God will use your simple, gracious, but direct challenge to his beliefs and begin to melt his rebellious heart. It happens.

Second, you might learn something yourself. Maybe you’re the one mistaken, at least in part. Or maybe your view is right, but the way you defend it is flawed. If your bad arguments are refuted, ditch them. The case for Christianity is too good to be compromised by faulty defenses.

Third, maybe you’re not mistaken. If so, you want to be certain your convictions can stand up to the most rigorous analysis. When it does, the confidence you gain will be worth its weight in gold…

Courage Under Fire

My debate with the likable and learned professor went remarkably smoothly… It taught me a powerful lesson. Don’t retreat in the face of opposition. Too much is at stake. Be the kind of soldier that instills respect in others because of your courage under fire.

Make your case in the presence of hostile witnesses. Throw your gauntlet into the arena and see what the other side has to say. It’s one of the most effective ways to establish your case and help you cultivate sensible faith over time. -Greg Koukl”

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Full article:

“In the Presence of Hostile Witnesses” by Greg Koukl

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