When we are open with those around us about our love for Jesus, we are bound to end up in conversations about faith. At times we might be responding to antagonistic barbs, other times it might be someone who is genuinely interested or we might find ourselves explaining our commitment to someone who is skeptical about Jesus. Whether the conversation excites us or scares us, whether it is with someone who is impolite or gracious, we need to recognize there is more to their questions than simply the words.
It can be easy to get into a debate, utilizing all the apologetic arguments we have accumulated over the years and forget there is a person behind the question. It's like continually treating the symptoms of recurring stomach pain, but never taking the time to figure out the root cause. When we are only focused on winning the argument, we only treat the symptom. In order to deal with the root, we must get to know the person behind the question. Jesus did not come to simply win apologetic arguments, he came to love and save people - real, living and breathing people.
Answer the question
I am not suggesting you do not need to answer their questions, though. It is not enough to only answer the question but we do still need to give an answer. The first step to answering their question is to make sure you have understood what they are asking. Have you actually listened to their objection? Or do you assume you know what they meant and launch into your reply? Take the time to clarify what they are asking through the use of reflective listening skills, repeating their question back to them, ensuring you have a clear understanding so you can respond to their actual question.
Then provide a coherent and thoughtful answer. There are a ton of great resources out there to help answer objections to faith. I have really enjoyed Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God, which is a very helpful read. He has also written a newer book that serves as a prequel of sorts to his first book. I have not read the newest book, Making Sense of God, but I have seen some great reviews. Keller's books are only a couple examples and there are more great ways you can learn how to provide quality answers to their questions.
In the end, don't make something up. If you don't know the answer, then admit you don't know, and then do the hard work to find an answer and follow-up later.
Answer the person
As you engage in the conversation, don't forget there is a person behind the question. You are not simply answering an intellectual appeal, you are answering a person. Every question has a context because every person has a context. No question is asked in a vacuum. Each person brings with them different experiences, fears, hopes, dreams, doubts, hurts and more. We must remember that when we are answering a question, we are actually answering a person.
It is not uncommon that the question they asked is not the true question they want to be answered. Their question is like stomach pain, it is felt and it is surfacy, but it is only a symptom. There is a deeper root that is holding them back from following Jesus. Take the time to ask them some questions and drill down into what are their true objections. These are often deeply personal and unknown to the person asking the question, so be gentle and kind. The goal is not to expose them, it is to introduce them to your savior.
As you begin to answer the person and not only the question, you can find ways to show them how Jesus is the true answer to their deepest pain and fear. Consider how you can provide a Christocentric answer that captures their heart and not a stale answer that, while true, is not beautiful in the least. It can be easy to win an argument even while failing to help them see how the gospel answers their deepest needs. You can give a true answer that actually clouds the gospel rather than illuminates. This can happen when we answer a question, but forget that there is a person behind the question.