Engage Magazine: The Colbert School of Apologetics
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The Colbert School of Apologetics


By now you have probably seen Ricky Gervais and Stephen Colbert debate on the existence of God. People across the Internet are asking how Colbert could have responded to different challenges, especially the science textbooks versus Bible question.

But I think there is a different discussion to be had, and it has little to do with answering challenges and much more to do the attitude with which we approaching them.

First, we have to understand the point of this conversation was not two men discussing the reality of God. The purpose was to entertain the audience inside the studio and at home. This is a late night talk show, not a debate stage.

But in many ways, this is closer to real life than a debate stage. I have had many conversations with agnostic, atheist, and questioning friends that were more akin to this than any serious debate I have ever watched. That is why I think Christians can learn quite a bit from Colbert about presenting a case for our faith.

Recognize your role

Colbert was not trying to evangelize Gervais. I’m not even entirely sure he was trying to offer a defense of the existence of God since he let so many arguments go unchallenged. But he did present a case.

But it was encouraging to me when he stated, “I know I can’t convince you there is a God, nor do I want to convince you there is a God.” Colbert didn’t approach the conversation with an attitude of trying to win an argument, rather to challenge Gervais to defend his beliefs.

I have loved apologetics for years, but I have never seen someone come to faith simply because their mental objections to faith were overcome. That is what apologetics does in a nutshell, answer questions concerning the Christian faith. For someone to see their sin and come to Christ in repentance is a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit. While apologetics can and does plant seeds for the gospel, no one can be debated into the Kingdom of God apart from the inner work of the Holy Spirit.  

When we recognize our role it enables us to enter a conversation with freedom instead of fearing we will say the wrong thing. This does not give us an excuse to be lazy, however. We are called to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In apologetics, we still have the responsibility of plowing up the hearts of unbelievers so the seed of the gospel can take root.

If you are in the market for another video and want to see a great example of apologetics moving into evangelism, check out Tim Keller speaking at Google.

But recognizing our role also frees us from taking challenges to our faith as personal attacks.

Don’t take offense

In many discussions I hear and participate in about faith, it is easy for things to become emotionally charged. Someone will approach a challenge with an attitude of wanting to win or have a “gotcha” moment and then get impatient, frustrated, or even offended that the person they are talking with doesn’t agree with them.

Colbert actually commended Gervais when he made a good point or stated a challenge Colbert had never considered. It was refreshing to see.

When we recognize our role is simply to state the truths of Scripture and answer challenges as best we can, guided by the Holy Spirit, we are free to not take offense at anything someone says.

I think this is a great lesson we can all learn from Colbert. When we free ourselves from taking offense, we are also free to do something rarely seen during apologetic discussions.

Embrace the laughter

When someone makes a joke, even if it is at your expense, laugh with them. Laughter is a useful tool in tearing down walls and disarming tension.

Colbert and Gervais were discussing some pretty heavy ideas and could quickly have gone into a lengthy discussion (if it weren’t for the commercial break coming up). But they kept it light.

Some conversations we have need to be long, deep, and serious; but not all of them. There are times we can answer a question, joke around, and move to another topic. In fact, that is how conversations in real life happen. Speaking of real life, consider that Colbert and Gervais have known each other for years, and I am sure they agreed on this topic before they took the stage. In everyday conversations about these topics, you have to earn the right to speak truth into the lives of your friends. Sometimes that takes days, weeks, or years. Be patient, live the gospel, and speak the gospel when the Spirit shows you the opportunity.

When we don’t see the conversation as a debate and we have already decided nothing will offend us, it is easy to find humor even in a somber conversation.

There is a time to be serious and a time to laugh, but there are some things that should never be made light of.

Don’t diminish hell

There are jokes everywhere about hell. Even cartoons such as Tom and Jerry go to hell. We live in a culture that constantly makes light of God’s just wrath on sin.

When we participate in that levity, we are telling the lost person hell isn’t going to be that bad.

Colbert twice jokes about the hell, once even going so far as to say Satan would rape Gervais. This sends a message that hell is a laughing matter, but nothing could be further from the truth. While I understand the value of humor there are some things that should never be taken lightly, and hell is near the top of the list.

So follow the other traits Colbert laid out, but throw this one out for 1,000 years and hope it never comes back.

So what do you think? Are there other things we can learn from the Colbert/ Gervais conversation? How would you answer some of the challenges from Gervais? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.


Image by Kevin Burkett via Flickr

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