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By Brian Chilton

For the first article after having been named a Senior Contributor for MoralApologetics.com, it is only appropriate to acknowledge the tremendous benefit that moral apologetics has served in my present ministry as a clinical hospice chaplain. In September of 2020, I joined a team of nine other individuals who care for patients and their families at the point of death. Numerous individuals have inquired, “How do you do that? Don’t you stay depressed all the time? Isn’t that a heavy job?” Yes, the job can be intense emotionally and spiritually. A fellow chaplain told me that the average duration of a clinical hospice chaplain is generally 2-3 years because of emotional burnout. Ironically, I have found the job to be a blessing. I have seen God move in powerful ways to change lives and to impact people in ways that I was never prepared to see.

The Benefits of Active Listening and Moral Apologetics to the Chaplaincy Ministry

Two skills have served as a tremendous benefit for helping me help those most in need. By no means am I saying that I have these skills mastered. I am still learning. Nonetheless, I digress. The first is a skill acquired from my chaplaincy training. Fellow chaplain Jason Kline taught me the benefits of a practice known as active listening. Active listening is a technique that carefully listens to what the person is saying and observes non-verbal cues that communicate what the person is feeling and thinking. More on this in a moment.

While active listening is a tremendous tool, it becomes even more powerful when coupled with training in moral apologetics. This writer was highly honored to participate in Dr. David Baggett’s final course at Liberty University before he made his trek to Houston Baptist University. Truly, Liberty’s loss is HBU’s gain. For me, I wanted to take the course because I had already befriended Dr. Baggett but never had him as a professor. Even if Baggett taught a class on the benefits of chocolate ice cream, I would have taken it because I wanted to say that Dr. Baggett was my professor. Nonetheless, it could not have been more appropriate that the class was on moral apologetics. Furthermore, nothing could have prepared me for the enduring benefits that stemmed from this deeply philosophical and apologetic overview of the moral apologetic landscape. The field of moral apologetics prepared me in numerous ways to be able to help patients as a clinical chaplain and deal with the intense situations that I have encountered in my brief time in the profession. As a caveat, HIPAA laws do not permit the use of personal stories and examples in the chaplaincy field. Thus, this article will only speak in generalities as it pertains to the benefits of both active listening and moral apologetics to the task of chaplaincy ministry. As the article will show, the benefits are not only found in chaplaincy.

Benefits of Active Listening

As previously noted, active listening is a technique whereby a counselor actively participates in the conversation by observing both verbal and non-verbal cues that speak to the person’s emotional, spiritual, and physical condition. Healthline.com suggests that active listening requires eight tasks: 1. Give the person your full attention. 2. Use body language (show them you are interested in the person, don’t just say it). 3. Avoid interrupting the person. 4. Don’t fear the power of silence. 5. Reflect on the person’s communication, don’t parrot them. 6. Validate the person’s feelings. 7. Ask thoughtful questions. 8. Avoid passing judgment or offering advice.[1] All of these tips work well within the framework of moral apologetics. The eighth tip may sound counterintuitive to the apologist’s task because the apologist wants to guide the person to a personal relationship with Christ and/or strengthen his/her relationship with Christ. However, strategically asked questions can provide the same result and will allow the client to own the information for oneself. Furthermore, this fits well into the abductive argument for moral apologetics. Marybeth Baggett avers that the abductive approach “relies on and encourages bridge building, which isn’t helped by treated difficult questions as easier than they are.”[2] It just so happens that active listening works well within the abductive approach. From the brief time this writer has served as a clinical chaplain, it has been observed that the practice of active listening brings about four tremendous benefits.

  1. Encourages dialogue. Just as Baggett argued for the abductive moral argument, so also active listening encourages dialogue. There is a distinct difference between dialogue and monologue. Monologues occur when a person gives a lecture. While this is nice in the university setting, it is not preferred for one-on-one communication. If the counselor or apologist only gives the person what-for, enshrouded in the ideology of “telling it like it is,” the listener will quickly turn off his/her ears and will no longer engage in the conversation. The conversation will quickly devolve and end. However, the effective communicator is willing to hear what the other person says and how they feel. Speaking as an apologist, this is something that is missing in many circles these days.
  2. Identifies personal concerns. Active listening encourages the person to speak about their personal issues and concerns. The counselor and apologist will quickly learn why the person believes what they do. More often than not, a person’s experiences help shape one to become who they will be. Recently, an A&E documentary on the life of WWE legend Rowdy Roddy Piper spoke to the tragic events of Roddy Toombe’s early life that led to his self-destructive habits. Active listening helps to identify and detect those issues.
  3. Allows for self-assessment. The best counselors and apologists are those that can lead individuals to own the information for themselves. This is the very tactic that Jesus used. For example, Jesus asked the disciples who others said that he was before asking them poignantly, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15, CSB). Simon Peter owned the information for himself which came from Jesus’s strategic inquiry.
  4. Reveals personal biases and worldviews. In correlation with the second point, active listening reveals what the person believes. Non-verbal communication can serve as a huge help. Does the person wince or squirm when more difficult theological or spiritual questions are asked? What does this say about the person’s beliefs? Did the person have experiences that led them to their current spiritual reservations? Knowing the seven major worldviews is of immense value as it helps one know the foundation upon which the person’s belief system is based.[3]

 

Benefits of Moral Apologetics

As was shown, active listening is a powerful technique used to engage and develop a conversation with others. However, questions cannot be one-sided. Sometimes people want to know why a loving God would allow their loved one to suffer. Why is God allowing them to endure hardship and suffering? Simply answering, “Just believe God and all will be well” is not enough. Furthermore, the counselor and/or apologist needs to have a goal in mind. In the case of the moral apologist, the goal is to teach and move a person to accept the good moral nature of an Anselmian God.[4] The use of active listening within the framework of an abductive moral apologetic makes for a powerful means to assist those suffering from moral doubt for the following reasons.

  1. Provides confidence to handle the most difficult situations. Nothing can prepare someone for the outpouring of emotions when tragedy strikes. Different people mourn in different ways. Some may become loud and boisterous, whereas others become depressed and guarded. Having a moral apologetic background grounds the counselor and apologist with the confidence needed to stand amid the turbulent chaos. Like CPR for the EMS worker, ingrained moral apologetic truths become second nature to the trained moral apologetic counselor and apologist and can be quickly accessed.
  2. Grounds a person’s confusion and doubt. Eventually, the counselor and apologist will face a situation that causes them to wonder about why a certain instance occurred. This is natural. The person suffering through the tumultuous time is asking the same question with sevenfold intensity. Nonetheless, the tools in the moral apologist’s toolbox are readily available to assist both the counselor and client during the most difficult of days. Holding fast to God’s benevolent nature anchors one’s emotional and spiritual state.
  3. Reminds of the loving character of God amid the storms. Moral doubt has led many to dark places. Habermas estimates that 70-80% of doubt comes from emotional doubt.[5] Moral apologetics affords the ability to focus on the benevolent nature of God even in a world full of evil and despair. In the end, God’s moral nature is the best explanation for knowing that moral good exists and the intrinsic moral value held by all people, as they are made imagio Dei. Baggett and Walls word it well, noting that “God’s nature as the best explanation of moral good, and the fact that he has created us in his image, constitute an excellent explanation both of why we cannot avoid making moral judgments about the world and of why we cannot escape seeing evil as a problem if there is indeed a gap between the way the world is and the way it ought to be.”[6] Rather than leading the counselor and client away from God because of their moral plight, moral apologetics equips them to come closer to God during the occasion because of the goodness of God and the necessity of God as the best explanation as to why one can make moral claims in the first place.
  4.  Acknowledges a better day to come. Hope can help a person through the most decadent times. Viktor Frankl reminisces on the power of hope after having survived the torturous Nazi death camps. He recalls, “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”[7] What hope does materialism offer with one’s suffering? Nothing. Moral apologetics acknowledges that a benevolent Anselmian God holds the very best in mind for his children’s future. While things may appear grim at present, a better day is coming. As I hope to show in a book I am currently writing—if God is that than which nothing greater could be perceived, then the final hope for his children is that than which nothing greater could be anticipated. The believer has hope for a perfect world created by a perfect God.

Conclusion

Quite honestly, this article has only skimmed the surface of the great depths that the combination of active listening and moral apologetics extends to the counselor and apologist. However, this combination is not only limited to chaplaincy, but it can also be useful for every field and profession. From the academic professor to the local pastor and everyday Christian, these practices can enrichen one’s life and relationships. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the practice of active listening disarms a person from being on edge from thinking that he/she must prove one’s intellectual prowess. In most cases, the active listener allows the other person to do the most talking. Additionally, the strength from having a moral apologetic background encourages both counselor and client alike that they are not defined by the bad situations endured, but rather they are defined by a God who loves them and cares for them more than one could ever realize. What could be better than that?

References:

[1] Crystal Raypole, “Active Listening: Why it Matters and 8 Tips for Success,” Healthline.com (December 15, 2020), https://www.healthline.com/health/active-listening.

[2] David Baggett and Marybeth Baggett, The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 51.

[3] See Brian G. Chilton, Layman’s Manual on Christian Apologetics: Bridging the Essentials of Apologetics from the Ivory Tower to the Everyday Christian (Eugene, OR: Resource, 2019), 40-43.

[4] That is, “God is the ground of being without whom nothing else can exist.” David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, God & Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), 64.

[5] Habermas in Chilton, LMOCA, 75.

[6] Baggett and Walls, God & Cosmos, 96.

[7] Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston, MS: Beacon, 2006), 74.

Recommended resources related to the topic:

What is God Like? Look to the Heavens by Dr. Frank Turek (DVD and Mp4)

Why Doesn’t God Intervene More? (DVD Set), (MP3 Set), and (mp4 Download Set) by Frank Turek

Two Miracles You Take With You Everywhere You Go by Frank Turek DVD, Mp3 and Mp4

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Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com, the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast, the author of the Layman’s Manual on Christian Apologetics, and a Ph.D. Candidate of the Theology and Apologetics program at Liberty University. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Brian has served in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years and currently serves as a clinical chaplain and a Senior Contributor for MoralApologetics.com.

Original Blog Source: https://bit.ly/3wxX6aL

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