Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

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Is online discussion worth it?

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4 minutes to read How to tell whether anything good might come out of a Facebook debate, and how to make the most of it if the signs are right.

In view of the exchange I posted yesterday about homosexuality, a friend asked:

What do you all think about getting into these sorts of discussions (or about euthanasia etc) on Facebook etc? Or sharing lots of articles about current issues? I’ve seen some posts turn very nasty, horrid name calling, abusive comments…is it “pearls before swine”? Or is it making the most of every opportunity? Will people just turn off? Is it better to have these conversations in person to the exclusion of the internet? When do you get involved in conversations and when do you stay out?

A few thoughts by way of response, though not necessarily in a particular order:


If I chose to only have these conversations in person, I would have nearly none. That seems bad given what an important issue it is. Moreover, most of the people I can speak to on Facebook I cannot speak to in person. So either I speak to them here, or nowhere. Again, given how important the issue is, I think I must try.


In some ways, this is a simple matter of not surrendering ground. For everyone who posts something and is willing to debate, there are dozens who are just watching. Often these people are not well-informed on the issues. Often they make their choices one way or the other for largely emotional reasons. The more people they see supporting SSM, and the more it seems that the Christian position is marginalized and not taken seriously, the more they are inclined to go with the flow. Conversely, the more they see Christians holding their ground, and graciously reasoning with those who shout them down as bigots, the more they are inclined to see that not only is the Christian position reasonable and rational, and not only is it not marginalized like the leftist narrative wants it to be, but the pro-gay position substitutes reason and rationality for anger and hatred. Hypocrisy is very powerful, as many who have been hurt by other Christians know. So exposing the hypocrisy of pro-gay advocates, who almost without exception try to win arguments through bullying, is very powerful for fence-sitters who are afraid to get involved in the discussions directly. As Peter puts it, “when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”


As you can see from the exchange, the church is brimming with people who don’t understand or know God’s word. Not all of those people are unbelievers; many of them are simply untaught and undiscipled. They believe the Bible; they just don’t know what it says because they are being taught by wolves, and befriended by goats. So it is absolutely critical that we who understand the truth teach the truth. We need to take care of the sheep, and “take care of” the wolves. That is a difficult balance to hit on Facebook, but if that’s the medium God has given us, we need to do our best.


This gets to your comment about posts turning nasty. Wolves are nasty when you separate them from their lunch. Protecting the sheep means being unfazed by hatred, unfriending, protests and the like. In the exchange I posted, a lot of people were liking my comments while staying silent. Not every sheep is equipped to become a shepherd, but they certainly appreciate seeing a shepherd give a wolf a good thrashing for their sake. We need to have some faith in the work of the Spirit in those who are truly called. They can discern the truth, and there is nothing more powerful for the building of the church than them witnessing that truth being spoken boldly; in seeing that the world’s narrative is exactly backward, and that quite the contrary to religious ideas crumbling in the face of “progress”, it is the Bible which functions as the rock from which we tear down strongholds.


In that vein, I think we need to be keenly aware that our obligation first and foremost is to our family in Jesus. Not to unbelievers. When I engage unbelievers, it is usually in the hope that believers will be built up. The church in the West is emaciated; many believers are teetering on the edge of spiritual death from starvation. Forget meat—they’re not even getting milk. Sure, I’d like the unbelievers to be saved too, but I’m realistic, and I have my priorities straight. Many of the unbelievers I speak to are hardened apostates. I doubt there is any hope for them at all. The gospel certainly is pearls before those swine. But perhaps God put vessels of wrath there purely to build up believers who watch them get smashed.


A final comment about things turning nasty: you can only do your best. How people respond is not up to you. Your objective is deliver the word. Sometimes you have to stab wolves to death with it, and sometimes you have to trickle it into the mouths of starving sheep. But it’s not our job to make people respond positively. Many people are hardened in sin. They will make any excuse for their unbelief, including using you and your “hate” as a scapegoat. It can be disheartening. But when that happens, it’s helpful to remember that they’re not doing anything new. Some people in Jesus’ day responded to the best preacher who ever walked the earth by vilifying and executing him. So I figure if I get half the hatred coming my way that Jesus got, I’m doing half as good a job as he did.


David White

Very helpful. It’s wonderful if apologetics, including Facebook apologetics, results in conversions. Maybe sometime it does, or at least becomes one of the links in a chain that leads to conversion down the road. But sometimes the proclamation and defense of God’s law is just to help believers (Acts. 27-28) and to silence the mouths of unbelievers. (Rom. 3:19)


After I read the thread you published yesterday I did not think “Is this worth it” i.e. engaging in this way. You showed much grace and patience and this showed how you are prepared and preparing to give an answer to all those who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have and you did this with gentleness and respect.
I believe what you are doing is certainly worth it for all the reasons you have given (and probably more) and I pray that the Lord may equip you to continue in this work.


I think it also depends on whether the discussion is in public or not. When in public you are speaking for the sake of those listening, not solely for those you are speaking against. But if we speak to someone in private, this may attenuate what we say and how we say it.

So if someone is making a impact (for unrighteousness) in a public debate; making that person appear foolish may help onlookers reject them for their stupidity and therefore reject what they say.

But the goal with speaking to a person stating these same talking points in a private conversation is to bring them to the truth.

While there may be some overlap in the things said, there are differences in content and tone.


A lot of very good points. However, I think “giving up” on the atheists because they seem so hard of heart is a bit dangerous. I know of several people who have been so angry because they are afraid of the truth, and have thanked other Christians for not giving in when they’ve been nasty and said horrible things.

Even if one extra person comes to Christ, it’s worth so much more than the time spent and frustration caused.

Just found this blog today and it’s alteady been a blessing. Thank you.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Frodek, passages that speak of throwing your pearls before swine and not answering a fool according to his folly are there to help us prioritize our efforts. I’m not talking about exchanges that occur in the context of long-term friendships, or even long-term relationships that are less than exactly friendly. I’m talking about one-time exchanges online. These can be enormous time-suckers. I know from experience that it can be very bad for one’s spiritual health to ignore the warnings of Scripture about wisely interacting with unbelievers. That’s time that could be better spent in the word, better spent building up the church, or better spent evangelizing people who are not so hostile. Plus, being constantly engaged in aggressive debate carries an emotional toll. It can be very destructive.