“The Bible was written 800 years after Jesus lived, and by no one who knew him!” the comment declared. I squinted at it, mentally typing out a cheerily sarcastic response: “Well, if we drop a zero off that number, and totally ignore the fact that Matthew was an apostle, you’d be almost right!”
Troll comments are easy to find–people who confidently throw out accusations against the Bible, the faith, and the truth. They’re full of assurance–but they’re often flat out wrong. And while the “block” feature is useful online, how often do we unknowingly run against these troll-comments in real life? It could be in a college class, in a conversation with a neighbor, or even in the Tik Toks or movies we see. They may be hidden, or more nuanced, but a troll beneath a bridge is just as dangerous. Just like in the Three Billy Goats Gruff, these attacks attempt to “eat you up whole!”
So how can we guard against these attacks? Here’s three practical ways.
1. Look for the Whole Story
Imagine you had a friend from another planet, and one day he came to you in alarm, “I’ve just seen the most terrible event!” he declares. “Many humans hid in another’s house, and when the owner returned, they sprang up with shouts to startle him into surrendering. Afterwards, they surrounded him, making strange noises with their voice while staring at him, placing before him a fire that he had to try to extinguish by his breath alone!” To your alien friend, this seems terrifying or embarrassing to the owner–but to you it sounds like a surprise birthday party, with singing, and candles on a cake.
Without context, anything can sound wrong.
So, when we’re confronted with arguments that fly in the face of all we’ve learned, our first question should be–is this the whole story? Is this challenge taking into account the whole of Christianity, or is it framing one aspect in a strange light?
One troll response to Christians is, “If you really obeyed your faith, you wouldn’t eat shrimp, or wear clothes made of mixed fabrics! Look it up, your Bible is the one that says it.” They’re right, those verses do exist. But they exist within the ongoing story of God’s relationship with His people–and those laws were for the nation of Israel, not for us today. Paul even says that we are free to eat, as long as we do it in faith! (So, here’s to enjoying some bacon-wrapped shrimp…)
If something is too blatant against the truth, then it probably isn’t true itself.
2. Ask Good Questions
Always be ready to give an answer. The hallmark characteristics of Christian conversations should be courage and winsomeness. There should be kindness in all that we do. Just because an argument may be a troll, doesn’t mean the person sharing it is a troll too. We all are prone to repeat what we’ve heard–and many people don’t think about the arguments they’re sharing. That’s where good questions come in.
In his book Tactics, Greg Koukle shares three questions that can help any conversation:
· What do you mean by that?
· How did you come to that conclusion?
· Have you considered….
Many arguments that culture presents are logically faulty houses–and even a gentle wind of these questions can reveal how weak they are. Consider how these questions could look in a conversation:
Friend: “I can’t believe the Bible, it’s full of contradictions.”
You: “What do you mean by that?”
Friend: “Well, I mean, there’s lots of places where it says totally different things.”
You: “How did you come to that conclusion? Could you show me some examples of those contradictions in the Bible?”
Suddenly, the burden of proof is on your friend–and many people don’t actually have examples. Most of us just repeat what we’ve heard from others, assuming their authority is true. Or, if they have an example, it’s often something like numbers being different in passages mentioning the same thing. The simple response to that is: “have you considered that this may be one author rounding the numbers, or tallies taken at different times throughout the year?” Either way, kind questions like those three keep the conversation going down the road–rather than being nabbed by a troll argument under the bridge.
3. Be Connected to the Community of Faith
It’s dangerous to go alone. While you’ve likely heard many bemoan the discouraging stats about how many teens walk away from the faith, one author, Steven Garber, wanted to investigate the people who stayed. Garber wanted to see those who held on–and not just the ones who survived, but those who thrived, using their faith to make a difference in their communities and world. As he did, he found something intriguing.
“Over the course of hours of listening to people who still believe in the vision of a coherent faith, one that meaningfully connects personal disciplines with public duties, again and again I saw that they were people (1) Who had formed a worldview sufficient for the challenges of the modern world, (2) Who had found a teacher who incarnated that worldview, (3) Who had forged friendships with folk whose common life was embedded in that worldview. There were no exceptions.” – The Fabric of FaithfulnessIt's dangerous to go alone. A solid worldview, a teacher who embodies that worldview, and a community which lives out that worldview. That’s what we need to thrive. Click To Tweet
A solid worldview, a teacher who embodies that worldview, and a community which lives out that worldview. That’s what we need to thrive.
Too often we have the first two but forget the third. We’re confident in the truth we’ve been taught since we were young, and we’ve had parents or pastors that have taught us well. But if we go off without support, we’ll likely fall. No soldier goes into battle without backup–why would we go into college or life without it?
We must build community. That’s the very reason why God gave us the Church, He knew we needed to build each other up. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Fellow believers help us fight off doubt, shine light on the snares that trouble us, and give us fresh breath to sail out of our doldrums. Sometimes, they can even serve as the biggest Billy Goat Gruff, that knocks the troll back down beneath.We must build community. That’s the very reason why God gave us the Church, He knew we needed to build each other up. Click To Tweet
When I was sixteen, I was in grave danger from trolls. I didn’t know it, but I was poised on the edge of the bridge. I knew my faith–but I didn’t know all the why’s. I had confidence. I had teachers. But I hadn’t really dug deep, nor owned my faith. Garber’s first two points were shaky, and the third nonexistent. Then I attended a camp called Summit Ministries, and spent the next two weeks being challenged, running through a bootcamp that stretched and strengthened every part of my faith.
The first day showed me how precarious my position was. Sean McDowell, a well-known Christian apologist, did an “atheist encounter,” where he donned glasses and with them an atheist persona, who worked to convince us that everything we believed was a lie. I was used to easy attacks–but here were the dangerous troll attacks, the smart ones, that sounded so right. “Atheist McDowell” spoke with confidence, he spoke quickly, and jumped right over any rebuttals I could come up with. Afterwards, when the glasses came off and the pretend atheist went away, I realized my smug security had too.
I realized I needed to know my worldview–and spent the next two weeks digging into the truth. Could we prove the resurrection? Did God really create everything? What does the Bible say about abortion? Sexuality? Finances? Movies and art? Teachers who lived out this worldview spent time with us every day–giving lectures to the classroom, but also answering any question in open forums, and making puns with us over the lunch table.
The final piece then was the community.
I think we all fear being alone. Perhaps even more so being alone in our faith. It’s incredibly discouraging feeling like you’re the only one who cares about the truth. But my time at Summit opened up a whole new world to me. I met dozens of other students who cared–who were artsy or athletic or invented their own games or wanted to go into politics or played the piano–and yet who were all on fire for God. Who wanted to know Him more. Who wanted to stand firm for the truth. Who wanted the Gospel to make a difference in their lives.
I got a glimpse of true community–and with it, a glimpse of what heaven will be like.
A Faith that Thrives
The statistics are true. Four out of five teens walk away from their faith after highschool. But statistics are never your destiny.
Our faith doesn’t have to just survive. It can thrive–and shape everything that we do.
There are many trolls that surround us, pressures and attacks from our friends, our classmates, our phones, and our screens. Jesus told us it would be so. But we don’t need to fear crossing any bridge, for we know that He is the biggest goat coming behind us, that can knock that troll right down in one go. If we keep an eye out for the whole story, arm ourselves with good questions, and surround ourselves with a community of faith, it will help us stand firm in the truth.If we keep an eye out for the whole story, arm ourselves with good questions, and surround ourselves with a community of faith, it will help us stand firm in the truth. Click To Tweet
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21)
Want to learn more about Summit Ministries? You can join us this summer in our Georgia, Colorado, or Online locations! Learn more here, and register before March 31st for a $200 discount!