Secret weapons provide special advantages. Imagine the value of a bazooka in the hands of a skillful soldier hiding in the bushes when an enemy tank lumbers by. Or, consider the smug confidence of a machine gunner nested inside a concrete pillbox, until he discovers (in a surprising flash) that a nearby adversary has a flamethrower aimed at his pillbox’s open window. Secret weapons are useful in both small-scale skirmishes and larger-scale battles.
The same can be true when defending the biblical faith, but the Christian’s “weapons” are different (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Providing God’s truth routinely attracts conflicts (2 Timothy 3:8). The reality of spiritual warfare is not in itself surprising, because Scripture informs us that we are tasked with earnestly contending for the faith (Ephesians 6:12-19; Jude 1:3-4). Accordingly, the usefulness of secret weapons is no surprise to those who share and defend the faith. One secret apologetic weapon, that has little to do with fancy academic debate techniques, is a genuine, caring respect for the doubting inquirer.1
Peter identifies this kind of respect as “meekness” (1 Peter 3:15). This means that apologetics-practicing Christians need to impart more than just true information when correcting errors and clarifying confusing controversies. Accurate answers need delivery with special handling so that the truth is accepted more easily: “They will care how much you know if they know how much you care.”2 Furthermore, even if the care and respect go under-appreciated, it is nonetheless a Christian’s obligation to show it anyway, because God has told us to do so (1 Peter 3:15; Galatians 6:1).
For another example, consider the situation of a college student who was unbiblical in his thinking on many topics yet was not a Bible-criticizing scoffer. This student discussed apologetics-related topics with an older student, Carl Fahrner, who attended Virginia Tech. Carl instantly recognized flaws in the inquirer’s worldview but did not use a shotgun-like approach to blast his errors. Rather, he used a kind and careful approach like this:
“I can see you have thought a lot about this—your theory does explain some things, and it makes sense of some facts. However, that explanation doesn’t fit these other facts” (which he would then detail). “Also, as fits the big picture, that explanation cannot be right, because it conflicts with parts of the Bible” (which he would then detail), “which I know is always right. Jesus Himself said that the Bible was right on every ‘jot and tittle’—and He would know! So, although I see why you think that way, I also have good reason for not accepting that explanation.”3
Carl was friendly and diplomatic, yet he stuck with the truth—a true mentor—correcting the younger college student with respect and care. Applying 1 Peter 3:15, Carl was role-modeling meekness in apologetics rooted in the doxological attitude commanded in 1 Peter 3:15a.4 The practice of showing respect and dignity when responding to a sincere inquirer5 might seem like a humble “weapon,” yet what seems “weak” or “foolish” to worldly eyes often contains God’s power, wisdom, and blessing (1 Corinthians 1:25-31). The secret weapon is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
- Jesus Himself role-modeled this caring response to doubting Thomas (John 20:19-29). Another secret weapon for apologetics-related contexts is prayer (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:17-19).
- Quoting Chaplain Bob Webel. Why is the secret weapon of showing genuine respect so effective? Consider this observation from a public schoolteacher who teaches students from rough neighborhoods: “Kids who are loved at home come to school to learn, but kids who don’t get love at home try to find it at school.”
- Carl Fahrner also advised the younger student that Virginia Tech had been blessed a few years prior by a Christian genius—an engineering science professor, Dr. Henry M. Morris—who had proven in many details how accurate the Bible is on scientific matters, especially regarding the hydrology aspects of the Genesis Flood.
- For more about this attitude, see Johnson, J. J. S. 2014. Apologetics: Reactive, Proactive, or Both? Acts & Facts. 43 (4): 19.
- It is needful to distinguish between sincere inquirers and bellicose scoffers. Sincere inquirers have doubts and questions that deserve to be understood and answered with care. However, scoffers resist truth, although they (like King Herod) can pretend to care about it (Matthew 2:7-12). Thus, the challenges, criticisms, and accusations of scoffers deserve succinct refutations but not prolonged investments of time and other resources (Proverbs 26:4-5; Mark 6:11).
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.