People often ask me how they should talk to others about their faith. I consistently try to remind them that one doesn't always need to have all of the answers figured out to make a sound case for something. The approach that one takes often is as important as the matter itself.
Take teaching, for example. One can have all of the right answers, but if one doesn't take an approach that allows the student to hear and absorb what you are teaching, it is likely that they will never learn a thing from you.
In "Apology," the famed work of classical Greek philosopher Plato, we are told of the philosophical approach of Plato's great mentor, Socrates. In the tale, Socrates' comrade Chaerephon goes to the sage Oracle at Delphi to ask if there is anyone in the world who is wiser than Socrates. The oracle responds that there is not. Upon hearing this proclamation, Socrates is confounded by the answer. Seeking clarification, he begins to go door to door to investigate the oracle's claim.
Initially, he approaches a politician who thinks himself wise. When Socrates tries to convince the politician that he isn't wise, the man becomes indignant. After some conversation, Socrates leaves the man thinking to himself, "I am wiser than this man: neither of us knows anything that is really worth knowing, but he thinks that he has knowledge when he has not, while I, having no knowledge, do not think that I have. I seem, at any rate, to be a little wiser than he is at this point: I do not think I know what I do not know."
Over and over in the story Socrates approaches many different people of famed wisdom -- poets and artisans alike -- asking them each how they are wise. In every circumstance though, the same conclusion is reached -- humility proves wiser than hubris every time -- for human wisdom is worth little at all.
Several hundred years later, the Apostle Paul would echo this sentiment as he wrote to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:18). "Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight."
Often times, as human beings, we focus more intently on being "right" instead of simply being humble. We worry far more about what people will think of us in the moment than what we might gain, in the long term, through correction. Systemically, such behavior provides little grace for people to grow as human beings. Instead, we encourage people to act in a way that sets them up for failure and provides them no viable way to gain the tools they need to actually get better. As such, those who actually try to genuinely learn and extend grace to others are often met with criticism, ridicule and -- as in Socrates case -- even death.
Christians, in particular, in my experience, do far more on behalf of the kingdom of God when they drop the pretenses and just tell others about what Jesus has done in their own lives, how they see God moving in the world or how the Lord has blessing them personally. To be sure, such witness may simply be one's perception of an occurrence but sometimes, a faithful and humble perception is far more compelling and true than a proud and pretentious "fact."
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.