When I was a youth pastor I used to encourage my students to use the TANK principle when deciding how to engage others with their words. This simple acronym is a useful filter that can help us to evaluate the Godly nature of our conversations. Before speaking, simply ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to say Truthful, Absolutely Necessary and Kind?” Godly statements qualify in all three areas. Many of us, as Christians, recognize the important mandate proclaimed by Peter in the New Testament:
“…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” (1 Peter 3:15)
The TANK principle is useful in the context of this directive. We need to make a defense (speak the Truth) to the world around us, and remember to do this with gentleness and reverence (in a spirit of Kindness). Most of us, as Christian Case Makers understand these two important job descriptions. They are easy to comprehend and the apologetics community has written a lot about these topics. We sometimes overlook, however, the importance of the center of the TANK principle. When do we speak out? Who are we to address? When is it “Absolutely Necessary” for us to speak?
I think many of us falter in this middle section of the TANK principle. As a Christian Case Maker, I am committed to speaking the truth in love when it is absolutely necessary. The tricky part is simply deciding when it is absolutely necessary. This is really a matter of deciding what is essential and what is not. What are the essential issues that define Christianity? What are the essential beliefs that must be upheld if we are to call ourselves Christians? Christian Case Makers are called to guard these precious, essential truths in much the same way that Paul encouraged Timothy:
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’— which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20)
The trick is in deciding what is essential to this command. What is “Absolutely Necessary” for us to guard in the first place? Few of us would disagree that the Deity of Jesus is a Christian essential. Few would deny that the triune nature of God is a Christian essential. But what about the age of the earth? What about eschatology? What about apologetics strategies? Are these areas that each of us, as Christian Case Makers ought to defend with our lives as essential doctrines? Must every Christian agree on these issues as essential elements of orthodoxy? Is it Absolutely Necessary that we defend these positions?
I am sometimes embarrassed by the venom I read on blogs and websites when Christian brothers and sisters attack each other on non-essential issues. It’s easy to violate the “Kindness” requirement in the TANK principle when we are passionate about what we believe. But it may be helpful to simply remember the “Absolutely Necessary” section of the Tank principle in order to avoid making statements we will regret later. I’ve decided to speak with Truth and Kindness when I am publicly addressing issues that threaten the orthodoxy of the Christian worldview, but respond with public silence when a brother or sister disagrees with me on some non-essential issue. I haven’t always done that in the past, and I can see now that I’ve often violated the “middle” of the TANK principle. Going forward, I’d like to be more discerning when deciding which battles are “Absolutely Necessary”.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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