July 02, 2017
How to Cure Slow Thinking
Thank you very much for all your work. It is very inspiring, and it has been building up my faith.
I have a question regarding those apologetics-discussions that come up when I am trying to share my Christian faith. Although I was raised in a fervently Christian home where I received a good education in the faith, and although I am currently studying philosophy at an excellent Christian academic institution (which has also been building up my faith, as my professors are doing a good job of relating sound philosophy to Christian faith), I find that I struggle with apologetics-discussions. I often find myself to be unable to formulate a ready reply on the spot - which distresses me, considering that 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts us to "always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you." The problem seems to be that I am a slow thinker. I can usually come up with a good answer AFTER the fact, having given it some prayer and reflection, but I am often stumped for an answer on the spot.
I am of course open to the possibility that this is something that the Lord will heal in me with prayer, or with time, or perhaps with more study. It may simply be a matter of growing in confidence, or of becoming adept in apologetics with practice. But I wonder if you have any suggestions about this, in terms of any practices you have come across in your debates and studies which might help give slow-thinkers like me more of an "edge" when those important conversations come up.
Once again, thank you for everything you are doing, and God bless you!
I can really sympathize with your plight, Daniel! I’m sure that everyone one of us has come away from a conversation with an unbeliever feeling defeated and discouraged and thinking, “Why didn’t I say this?” We admire people who have a mind like a steel trap, ready to spring instantly. I well remember as a young philosopher the awe I felt of George Mavrodes, a professor at the University of Michigan, who, sitting in some session at a philosophy conference and hearing a paper read for the first time, would ask the most penetrating questions from the floor. How I wished to have a mind like his!
Well, there is hope. Such a mind is the product of training and development. It need not come naturally, nor is God apt to heal your slow thinking with prayer apart from diligent study and exercise. But my experience has been that with practice one can improve one’s ability to think acutely and quickly.
You’re already doing the most important thing: after a conversation, you reflect back over it and think of what you might have said differently. This is an invaluable exercise which brings deeper insights. It need not be a source of regret; rather think of it as preparation for the next time. You should write down your better responses so that they’ll stick in your memory. When I hear a new argument or objection in a debate context, I’ll go home and prepare a response to that objection which I keep in my files. My motto is, “I’ll only be surprised once by an objection!”
Since it is difficult “to formulate a ready reply on the spot,” what you want to do is to avoid having to think on the spot. You want to have answers prepared for the objections you’re most likely to encounter. Over time you’ll notice that the same arguments and questions from unbelievers recur, so that by having responses to them you won’t have to do as much thinking on the spot. In my On Guard and Reasonable Faith, I’ve tried to provide answers to a catalogue of the objections you’re likely to hear.
Moreover, what you’ll notice is that as your critical thinking skills develop, you just see fallacies and missteps in arguments as you hear them. It’s really uncanny. It’s not that you’re looking for them, but that they just pop out at you as you listen. I’m sure this is the way it must have been for George Mavrodes. Be sure to include a logic course a part of your college education. Read and think about the work of the many fine Christian philosophers there are today, and notice how they analyze concepts and arguments. As you absorb their methods, you’ll improve in your own thinking ability.