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Bodie Hodge, AiG–U.S., takes you behind the scenes to show you how he prepares for and responds to negative emails.
I wanted to do something different: to show you how I break down a hostile email and how to look at it biblically. Hopefully this will give others some pointers as to how to respond to such inquiries in the future, whether in person, email, or on forums.
One of the first things I do is pray for wisdom and discernment in responding. My prayer is that each response I do will honor and glorify God. Then I read the email and try to discern what the person believes.
When reading R.B.’s email, he is very hostile toward the Bible, appearing to be a non-Christian. He is likely an atheist (or unaware of being one variant of atheist called “humanists,” who see humans as the ultimate authority, for instance, on a subject like morality, not God). He has obviously encountered Christians who were not well versed in apologetics—or he is basing his claims on common caricatures of creationists from skeptic sites.
This gives us a head start as to how to handle the response: use the Word of God, but also show why we use it. We may also have to use some philosophy to show that the view the inquirer is using is not well grounded. Remember that each hostile email is an opportunity to share the truth.
i would just like to comment that the only proof of creationism is the bible. the bible was written by men. men can lie. man is capable of the most horribly attrocities on the planet. you ask us not to believe in the word of God, but the word of men who claim that they are speaking for God. most people pick ad choose what they want to believe in the bible. if you believe one part of the bible, you have to believe every single word. you can't take parts word-for-word, and change the rest of it through your own interpritation. all i hear is that science is all wrong because it disputes the bible, but the bible itself is the only evidence of any creationist claims. dinosaur bones were burried by the devil to test our faith. you can just discredit any scientific evidence by saying "it doesn't say that in the bible." it doesn't say anything about chemistry in the bible. does that mean that all chemists are wrong because their explanation is not in the bible?
I would like to thank you for the stand you take on Scripture. While in college I came across your website and found it very useful and encouraging to my Christian walk. I am a certified math/science teacher in North Carolina, and though right now I am teaching only math classes, I find myself, differing greatly with older faculty in the science department at the school in regards to evolution. I have always believed in upholding what God said in throughout His Word, even in the first chapters of Genesis, and the information you continue to provide helps reassure me of the truth in God’s Word and helps me share that truth more confidently with other Christians and non-Christians. I appreciate all the many articles and all those who contribute, but I would like for Dr. Jason Lisle to know that I especially enjoy his comments/articles. The way he responds to feedback is very polite, yet firm on God's word (not that others who respond are not). Thanks again, and my God bless you!
I just wanted to thank you for the resource you have created. You see, I work in the secular scientific world, and as a Christian I am faced with evolutionistic beliefs every day. I have been reading through some of your material and have used it in conversations with my colleagues. I know most of them will never change their ways of thinking, but at least I know what I believe and I can stand for it. Thanks, and God Bless You.
Thanks for the inquiry. I am responding below with both sincerity and respect.
[Note: I like to start many emails like this to show the author of the email that I am not trying to be harsh by any means. It is difficult to read the tone of an email, so be up front and say (and mean!) that it is written with kindness. Even though someone may send a hostile email, we should not treat them as an enemy. The false philosophy and false principalities are the enemy (Ephesians 6:12). We need to keep in mind that all Christians were once enemies of God who were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:8). God first loved us, setting the example for us to pass along love and respect for others created in His image (1 John 4:9; John 15:17). In fact, we are commanded to use gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)]
i would just like to comment that the only proof of creationism is the bible. the bible was written by men.
He has no way of substantiating the validity of his claim except by faith. For someone to truly make this statement, he would have to be transcendent and omnipresent. He would have to be able to “see” into the spiritual realm and verify that God did not influence the writers of the Bible many years ago. Such attributes that this person is inadvertently claiming are attributes of God. So, in essence, R.B. is claiming to be God, or just repeating what he has heard from others, who claim to know more than God.
This is a worldview issue right from the start. One can believe R.B., or any human, is “god” (i.e., humans seen as the ultimate authority), or one can place his faith in the true Creator God and His eyewitness account in His Word, seeing Him as authoritative.
men can lie.
This is true, but not because R.B. is saying it. It is true because God says it (Romans 3:4). And R.B. apparently believes that lying is morally wrong. In a response, one can point out that for R.B. to say this, he is borrowing morality from the Bible by at least admitting to the concept of truth.
But interestingly, one could ask R.B., “Were you lying when you claimed the Bible was written merely by men?” What this shows is that, logically, by the writer’s own standards, he could be lying. Of course, this should be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
man is capable of the most horribly attrocities on the planet.
Again, this is true, but not because R.B. said it. In fact, I am glad that he recognizes this, because it gives us two ways to respond.
Both of these answers lead into the gospel message.
Another thing that is useful is to show that R.B. is borrowing Christian morality to argue against it. Consider the illustration below:
you ask us not to believe in the word of God, but the word of men who claim that they are speaking for God.
Note the fallacy here. He is assuming that his statement above (that leads to a human claiming to be God) is true; hence, he is building on it. We need to point out the fallacy and then show what this philosophy leads to (the “don’t answer, answer” strategy from Proverbs 26:4–5). One could say:
I don’t accept your proposition that God had nothing to do with His Word, but let’s assume for a moment that you are correct. How do you propose to save yourself from sin and death if salvation has not come through Jesus Christ?
Also, why would you be upset with horrible atrocities and lies? By saying lies and horrible atrocities are wrong, you are borrowing from a biblical worldview. In a worldview that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, why are such things wrong? Such things would be governed by chemical reactions in the brain. Why would anyone be upset about titanium reacting with boron?
most people pick ad choose what they want to believe in the bible.
Sadly, this is true, and it reveals how much humanism has influenced Christians. In essence, what happens is that people (even Christians) use their own ideas to pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible.
So, Christians, take note of what the real authority is in this situation: a person’s own ideas, not God’s Word. The real authority to those who “pick and choose” is a human, not God, i.e. humanism. Sadly, many Christians in today’s culture are mixing Christianity with humanism (recall Exodus 20:3). As Christians, we should always use God’s Word as the authority, not our own sinful, fallible reasoning.
In response to R.B., one could point out that R.B. is doing the same thing. He is opting to believe that lying and horrible atrocities are wrong. He is picking and choosing these things from the Bible to believe, whether he realizes it or not, yet rejecting the rest—including its authority statements.
if you believe one part of the bible, you have to believe every single word.
If R.B. really believed this, then why doesn’t he believe the whole Bible, since he’ already borrowed from its morality and concept of truth?
you can't take parts word-for-word, and change the rest of it through your own interpritation.
Take note of R.B.’s assumption here. He assumes that the entire Bible is written in the same literary style. A remedial look at the Bile reveals poetry, metaphors, literal history, prayers, genealogical data, etc. So, he gives a false assumption and tries to build on it, so his entire argument breaks down.
The issue is letting God interpret His own Word (Scripture interprets Scripture). This is why understanding the context and the complementary nature of Scripture is so important. It has nothing to do with human interpretation. Many, such as R.B., may be assuming “no God,” and therefore that God cannot interpret so people must. But this is not the case.
Proverbs 8:8–9 and 2 Corinthians 4:2 reveal that the Scriptures are to be taken plainly or straightforwardly. I like to put this in simple terms: Metaphors are metaphors; poetry is poetry; literal history is literal history; and so on. So, there should be no reason for outlandish interpretations, unless one does it of their own mind (e.g., mixing it with humanism).
all i hear is that science is all wrong because it disputes the bible,
I wanted to cut this phrase off here and explain two things. First, science is not all wrong. It is a methodology that actually confirms the Bible. And second, R.B. is confusing the term “science” with secular interpretations of science and evolution.
but the bible itself is the only evidence of any creationist claims.
In reality, the Bible is the foundation for creationists’ claims. But all facts can be used by creationists as evidence. For example, dinosaurs are often taught as evidence for evolution and millions of years, but they are used by creationists to teach that God created them on Day 6 and that the bulk of the dinosaurs died in the Flood of Noah’s day.
dinosaur bones were burried by the devil to test our faith.
If this is intended as a caricature of our position (or a general creationist position), it’s just a plain strawman argument. As just stated, dinosaurs existed and their bones were buried in the Flood. Interesting that for someone who is arguing against the Bible, R.B. seems to adhere to biblical teaching that the devil exists!
you can just discredit any scientific evidence by saying “it doesn’t say that in the bible.”
Again, take note that R.B. is equating interpretations with “scientific evidence.” We do not dispute dinosaur bones, we dispute the dates given for them, and we have reasonable doubt for those dates. Scientific models and interpretations offer great support for the Bible. However, at AiG we like to point out that scientific models can change with new information, but the Bible is still the inerrant framework within which to interpret scientific facts.
it doesn’t say anything about chemistry in the bible.
When there are absolutes (i.e., “doesn’t say anything”) in a statement, it is good to re-read it and see if that absolute is true. As a side note, in an atheistic worldview, in which absolutes do not exist, it is interesting that absolutes are used quite often!
Regardless, the Bible does touch on chemistry, but the Bible isn’t a chemistry textbook. Consider passages about iron, bronze, and copper. To purify such items and mix alloys requires some chemistry. In fact, materials processing requires considerable amounts of chemistry. Naturally there are some subjects not mentioned in Scripture, but that is not a problem. For example, the Bible doesn't say that using a club (or gun, or rope, etc.) to kill someone is wrong; it says murder is wrong.
does that mean that all chemists are wrong because their explanation is not in the bible?
Note another absolute (all) that tries to set up that creationists think all chemists are wrong. Of course, there are creationists who are chemists, and because of God’s attributes that we know from the Bible (logical, non-contradictory), we know that chemistry is possible. So, it has little to do with this, even though R.B. claims that it does.
Now that we have answered the inquirer, it is good to sum up with the gospel—whether a few lines or even more in-depth. It is always good to close with some encouraging words about what to do next and even an invitation to learn more about Jesus Christ and the Bible. Remember the great commission at the end of Matthew. We want to see people saved. With R.B., I suggest something like this:
I can see that you have a strong moral conscious (lying is wrong, atrocities by man are horrible, etc.), and this is good, since it comes from the Bible. R.B., I hope that this email has challenged you to consider the truth of the Bible, which seems to be your biggest stumbling block. I want to encourage you to study this further and consider the claims of Christ.
Here is a summary of some helpful hints when responding to negative or hostile comments:
First, attempt to determine the stance of the writer of a negative email. Are they a Christian, atheist, compromised Christian, Mormon, Hindu, Muslim, angry, sad, mocking, etc.? This will help dictate how to reply.
If they believe the Bible, then use Scripture. If they don’t, use it, but also make sure you address why it can be trusted.
Also, discern their views on the Bible. If they believe the Bible, then use Scripture. If they don’t, use it, but also make sure you address why it can be trusted. Sometimes you can link to articles to give the inquirer a place to read further. This also keeps you from having to “reinvent the wheel.”
Next, answer the underlying issue. Often we need to read between the lines to realize why they are asking the questions and sending the hostile letter. In the case of R.B., it was the Bible specifically. Often, answering the questions won’t address why they don’t trust the Bible and ultimately Jesus Christ, so it is good to show why the worldview they believe has issues. Once one realizes their foundation is faulty, they may be ready to entertain a new foundation.
Lastly, we need to determine the method of response (usually point-by-point as the case with R.B., or an overview letter). Here is a suggested checklist for responding:
How many times should you respond to someone who refuses to listen or learn? The Bible tells us:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9–11)
If you think the inquirer is sincere, then continue corresponding. But keep in mind that spending weeks and months on one person who is refusing to listen when many others are asking sincere questions is not good stewardship of time. I hope these hints are useful and this response will help Christians leave their comfort zone to engage the lost and provide answers to those who are seeking.
With kindness in Christ,