The growth of the Internet has allowed people from all around the globe to converse with one another quickly and conveniently. My children have grown up in an online world. They don't have any of the technology anxieties that my wife and I experience as late baby boomers. I'm afraid that pushing the wrong button might cause Western civilization to disappear.
Religion in general, Christianity in particular, is a hot topic on the Web. Opportunities to engage in dialogues and group chats about the truth of historic Christianity abound. But does cyberspace come with helpful guidelines (in terms of apologetics interaction) to follow? Based on my own online interactions, I've put together a few suggestions that I hope will be useful to you in your online discussions.
Rules of Internet Apologetics Engagement
1. Resist Internet Anonymity
Obviously there are times when a person may not want to give their real name while on the Web. Some people should never give out such information. This is especially true for young people whose activity on the Internet needs to be carefully supervised by their parents. Safety is always job one because we live in a world occupied by evil people.
Nevertheless, there are potential drawbacks to not revealing your name or identity when in discussion mode, especially about issues of spiritual truth. Anonymous people have a tendency to act in less responsible ways and to say things they would never say if their identity were known. When someone can't be held personally accountable, there is a strong propensity to dodge the truth and resort to game playing and name-calling.
By being candid about your identity you are encouraging others who are less forthright to engage in an open and honest discussion about matters of truth. Personally, I will not participate in an online discussion without giving my real name. The problem with cyberspace is that it places potential obstacles in the way of candor, transparency, and accountability. And these are important virtues to exhibit when it comes to sharing and defending the Gospel of Christ.
2. Take Them One at a Time
Chat rooms on the Web make it possible to interact with multiple people on a given subject virtually at the same time. However, group discussions often become scattered. It is difficult to make substantive progress on an issue when the topic bounces back and forth like a ping-pong ball.
I recommend, when at all possible, limiting a serious discussion to a one-on-one dialogue. People often act differently when they're part of a group; usually they are more carefree and even cavalier. But a more private conversation even on the Internet allows for a greater opportunity for a meaningful exchange. The power of the gospel is often most evident when it is communicated from one person directly to another.
In the next installment I will discuss a couple more suggestions concerning Internet apologetics.
For more about answering tough apologetics questions, see Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions. For more about the robust Christian worldview, see A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
|Part 1 | Part 2|