Jan 20, 2013

Posted by in Apologetics | 13 Comments

Public Apologetics Part 1: Introvert Edition

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that many Christians have a certain sense of performance anxiety from hearing a few too many conversion stories and personal testimonies. Should I have led X number of people to Christ by now? Christians who have been studying apologetics are often particularly gripped by anxiety: shouldn’t I be Doing Something Important to Save Souls with this knowledge?

The answer is that yes, we should share our faith, and yes, we should make use of apologetics knowledge — but there are many ways to do so. One size does not fit all.

In this post series, I’m going to tackle some of the issues regarding apologetics in public, and say what might be somewhat counter-intuitive things. The basic idea is this: there are ways that Christians ‘share the Gospel’ that are, I think, frankly counter-productive, and there are attitudes among Christians that cause needless anxiety and deflect Christians from things that would be genuinely helpful. So here goes.

Public Apologetics Part 1: Introvert Edition

You’ve probably all heard some version of the story. An evangelist explains that he was on a plane, and ended up in a great conversation with the guy sitting next to him, and before the plane landed the guy had given his life to Jesus. Or something like that. Moral of the story (apparently): talk about Jesus to total strangers at any opportunity.

OK, let’s be clear about where I stand on this:

I think I would rather die than turn to someone sitting next to me on an airplane and say “So, have you thought about accepting Jesus as your Savior?”

Now, if I genuinely thought that this kind of conversation was necessary and helpful, I would pray for the grace to become a martyr to social awkwardness. However, I am relieved of this necessity by the simple recognition that before I was a Christian, back when I was an agnostic and later an atheist, I was JUST AS RESERVED as I am now.

When I am on a plane (train, bus, etc) my attention is focused on not interacting with strangers. Eye contact when necessary for politeness, as in, thank you for helping me not drop my suitcase on the nice lady in 22C’s head as I put it in the overhead bin. Otherwise, I have my book or my iPad, and thank you very much for letting me read or write or do whatever introvert thing I am doing.

I like talking to my friends, and to students, and to audiences who have for some reason chosen to listen to me talk about poetry or apologetics or what-have-you. That is in an entirely different category — on a different planet! — than talking to strangers, which makes me anxious and stressed.

So when I was an atheist, I would have responded very badly indeed to a Cheerful Extrovert for Jesus trying to get me into an Important Conversation for My Soul. The thing is, it wasn’t an atheist-Christian thing, but rather an introvert-extrovert thing… but the fact that I’m reserved means that a Christian stranger trying to drag me into conversation, or to foist tracts onto me that I haven’t asked for, is crossing my personal space in a major way. No matter what the message, Christianity or anything else, the Extrovert Stranger’s attempt to engage with me, a highly reserved introvert, would end up with me developing a serious dislike of whatever the message was.

Helpful diagram:

Extrovert Christian + extrovert random stranger = Go for it! Apparently you extrovert types actually like talking to strangers. Wow, that’s weird, but sure, have fun, as long as you’ve picked up on the body-language signals that you are sitting next to someone who actually wants to talk to a stranger.

Extrovert Christian + introvert random stranger = Leave the poor sap alone! You will only inflict misery and cause him or her to be reinforced in the idea that Christians are obnoxious pushy loud irritating horrible people. Why would I want to be like you? If heaven is full of people who won’t let me read my book in peace, why would I want to go there?!?

Introvert Christian + random stranger = Peace. Read your book and don’t worry about it. If you tried to talk to that person, you’d feel awkward and it would show… it would not be a successful conversation, and it’s certainly not worth the amount of distracting stress and churning anxiety that will disrupt your work for the rest of the day. If God really, truly needs you to talk to that person, He will work a minor miracle to circumvent the normal social barriers. Seriously.

Remember that not everyone is an extrovert. If you are more introverted, or more reserved, that is how God made you. You do not need to try to witness like an extrovert. In fact, if you try to witness like an extrovert, you will not only feel horribly awkward and miserable, but you will almost certainly be totally ineffective.

For extroverted Christians… please do not assume that the reserved, quiet types are not sharing their faith. They may be, but in ways that you can’t even recognize.

For introverted Christians… how, then, do we show our faith in public?

Certainly we should show our faith: but the key here is to remember that small things are more visible than we may realize.

If you are serious about your Christian faith, then small things that you do or say — or don’t do, or don’t say – will be apparent to the people around you. These things get noticed: the jokes you don’t laugh at, the parties you don’t attend, the films or books you say a good word about, the matter-of-fact references to church commitments. When I was teaching at a secular college, one of the clearest public expressions of my Christian commitment was when, early on, I noted that I would not be able to attend a particular committee meeting because it was scheduled for Good Friday. Nobody said anything… but I know it was noticed.

Apologetics doesn’t have to mean starting conversations.

Apologetics should mean being able to answer a question or give a response when someone who has reason to have confidence in you asks you a question.

***

Read Part 2 here: Introverts, Extroverts, and the Stewardship of Time and Talent

***

Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

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  1. Thank you for this post! I have struggled with wondering how the command to evangelize and disciple as well as my interest in apologetics works out practically since I am an introvert. Your post has given me some things to think about.

  2. Holly Ordway says:

    Thanks, Melinda! This is a good context for discussing ideas about how introverts might practice apologetics. What ideas do you have?

    Others, want to chime in?

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve discovered that I’m a mix of introvert and extrovert. But for years I dreaded those random stranger conversations that I thought I was suppose to have if I really loved Jesus. I’d feel so guilty if I got off a plane without talking to someone. It was such a relief to realize that if I didn’t say anything it didn’t mean I loved God less or that he was frowning down upon me.

  4. Thank you for standing up for the introverts! I’ve always felt so guilty that I can’t start conversations with strangers about anything, much less spiritual matters.

    I am much better one-on-one. I also talk about things on my personal blog, though there aren’t many non-Christians there anymore.

    I’ll have to think of what else I can do. But I know the thought of being that talkative sort always made me sick with fear and guilt. At some point I just stopped trying. But the guilt has never left me. I have friends who talk to people on trains and planes, in stores, wherever. They make it sound so easy. I just can’t seem to force myself to do it, no matter how much I pray and beg for courage.

    ***

    “If heaven is full of people who won’t let me read my book in peace, why would I want to go there?!?”

    I KNOW, RIGHT!

  5. Great stuff. I loved the diagrams, had a good laugh at “leave the poor sap alone!” Hilarious!

    Thank you for the blog.

  6. Chris Payton says:

    In 2007 I heard about a way introverts could be evangelistic without leaving their couch by getting involved as an online missionary with http://www.globalmediaoutreach.com. Once involved an OM can get involved with a specialty community called DTQ (Difficult Theological Questions). It’s an amazing ministry that allows you to talk to people all over the world.

  7. I’m an introvert who enjoys apologetics and evangelism, although I’m not the most outgoing evangelist. I don’t normally approach people asking them if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ into their lives because that’s just not my style. I don’t think I have the charisma needed to make a persuasive case for Christ. I would like to evangelize more but it would need to be an event started by a group of people. I can’t do it alone.

    However, there are several other things that I do as sort of evangelism:
    * Answering questions. Bot in real life and on the Internet, I’ll occasionally run into people who have genuine questions about the faith, and I’m more than happy to answer it, in hopes that it’ll open the path to their salvation.
    * On my YouTube channel I have a short video game series. In the first video I introduce myself by saying I am a Christian, and in the description of the video I provide a link explaining what it means to be Christian, and another video explaining how one is saved. I borrowed this method from another, more popular YouTuber.
    * For this same video game, my character’s skin has a cross on the front and back.
    * My avatar on message boards I’m part of has the cross in it, and often I’ll include a Scripture verse in my signature.
    * I wear a cross pin on my sweater, and sometimes a cross necklace.
    * Usually I won’t take my Bible out of my room except for church-related stuff, but I keep it visible on my desk (usually because I’m too lazy to put it away!) and don’t mind reading it even if there are visitors who aren’t really talking to me.
    * I try not to feel nervous about mentioning any church or campus missions related things I do during the week.
    * I *try* to live a godly life, although over the past few months I haven’t been the best at it. :/

    I’m also considering posting a copy of the Apostles’ Creed on my wall. I do all these things in order to hopefully get someone else curious and open a spiritual conversation that way. If they are interested in discussing these things, great! If not, it’s their choice too.

    One of the things I’ve long questioned myself about is why I’m not the kind that has such a happily different outlook on life that it draws people to want what I have, like apparently that’s what it “should” be like with me. I have an ISTJ personality type (look it up) which means that in addition to being introverted, I’m also more of a thinker than a feeler. I express emotions mostly by words. So to be the person who’s always smiling because I’m so glad to be saved… that’s not me. I do smile and laugh, as any person does, but I don’t exude this mystical aura of happiness.

    I think that is another instance of the church being somewhat biased toward extroverts – not only should Christians be wanting to evangelize to everyone, they should also give off such a feeling of gladness that people are inexplicably drawn to it, wanting what they have. I can only really show that kind of compelling draw when I’m able to witness and express my apologetic knowledge.

  8. Holly Ordway says:

    Thanks for the very thoughtful comments!

    I think that one of the most common misconceptions about introverts is that we don’t like people, or necessarily have poor social skills. People are often startled to hear that I am an introvert – after all, I teach, lecture publicly, am a co-host on a podcast, etc. The important distinction is that as an introvert,

    1. I need to have a relational context for engagement. If I am giving a talk or teaching a class, then I know what my role is, and can relate to my listeners accordingly. Talking to strangers means trying to relate without any context to do so — and it also means crossing deep-seated cultural and personal boundaries. I don’t like it when strangers talk to me; thus, it feels completely wrong to do unto others what I profoundly dislike when they do it unto me. Mo, I think you’re like me in that regard. I consider it how God made us, such that we’re called to witness in other ways! (more subtle ones…)

    2. I like people, but they tire me out. Extroverts are energized by engagement with people; introverts (however much they enjoy it) are drained by it, and need quiet and solitude to recharge. After teaching a class or giving a lecture, I NEED to be alone at some point that day to recover my energy, and if I do too much, it takes much longer to recover. A three-day conference, if I don’t carefully budget solitude, could make me mentally, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted and unproductive for a week or more.

    I think the next part of this series will address that idea of stewardship of energy.

    I also want to comment, re: Shawn’s thoughtful comment, that it’s unfortunate that there’s a stereotype among Christians that a real Christian will be this happy bubbly person all the time. I say, STUFF AND NONSENSE! Joy is much deeper and more interesting than that. Peppy cheery happy-happy people can, frankly, be really irritating (especially if they are trying on purpose to be that way). Quiet intellectuals, thoughtful thinkers, serious folks who take you seriously, show Christian joy too – but in a different way. I mean, Gerard Manley Hopkins is a profound witness to me of Christian joy, and he was, I suspect, NOT a super cheerful guy all the time.

  9. Earl Morton says:

    As another ISTJ I have found the Internet, and especially Facebook, to be an excellent way to share my faith. Even though it is very difficult for me to talk about the weather face-to-face with a person, I can say everything I want on FB, and take all the time I need to ensure that my attitude is loving, my logic is sound, and my wording is clear.

  10. Holly,

    This is a good read and for an introvert like myself much needed to read.

    Personal space is a big issue for me and having extroverts crossed its just wrong.

    Marion

  11. Hello Holly and folks,

    I am also introverted and cannot bring myself to just speak to strangers about Christ. I am a pastor and yesterday I was on call as temporary chaplain to the local hospital. I went to the emergency room to check on things and saw a man sitting alone with a cell phone or video game. I walked out of the hospital feeling a little guilty about not speaking with him. However, on other occasions I’ve found evangelism fulfilling when there is that ‘relational engagement’. One time I was at FYE shopping for dvds and found myself in a conversation with a clerk. She wasn’t bothered with my being a pastor. She said, “I want there to be a place for me to go when I die, but I can’t accept Genesis on creation and have a hard time with Jesus being divine.” Our conversation didn’t last long because she was on work time. I told her to read the gospel of John first. Later I had a copy of James Sire’s Universe Next Door that I wanted to give her, but when I returned to the store a few days later she wasn’t there. Haven’t seen her since.

    I can’t initiate conversation with strangers, but I do enjoy providential opportunities like the one mentioned above.

    Grace, Darkhill

  12. I come from a family of people who will shut down if someone tries to talk about Jesus. I would be angry with an extrovert who tried to convert one of them because all it would do (and has done) is push them farther away.

    As an introvert, there are two ways I evangelize: 1) I am happy to talk about Jesus when someone asks me (which they occasionally do) because they see there’s something different about me. 2) My blog, which I hope reaches thinking Christians, and the occasional thinking non-Christian.

    Thanks for a great post

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