Dedicated to shining the light of Christ into the world of social media, special guest Tim Barnett—the TikTok apologist behind Red Pen Logic with Mr. B—joins Jonathan Youssef to discuss the power of the red pen to encourage critical thinking in a sphere inundated with bad ideas and how Christians can help people overcome obstacles to the Gospel.
This interview is condensed and adapted from episode 168 of Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef. Listen today on your favorite podcast platform or online.
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"When [we] don't know how to respond logically and rationally, that's typically when we default to defensiveness."
Jonathan: I want you to paint a picture of how prevalent and pervasive bad theology is within the social media sphere.
Tim: I tell people TikTok is probably the most ungodly place on the internet. But it's also the most popular social media website, so I responded to a couple videos on there, and to my surprise, some of those videos received millions of views. I think the main reason [the videos went viral] is because there aren't a lot of thoughtful Christian responses on the platform. People know there's something wrong with a tweet or video, but they aren't equipped to put their finger on exactly what the problem is. With Red Pen Logic, we point that thing out [and try to] get you thinking.
For example, there was a video that we responded to not long ago, and it was a woman who had deconstructed her faith, meaning she left her faith. There are many young people scrolling through their feeds who come across a video like this that causes them to question their faith. This video had half a million views of this girl recording five bits of church history that caused her to question her faith.
What was amazing to me was they weren't history at all. It actually caused me to feel the tragedy of this situation. She questioned and left her faith . . . for something that never happened.
Jonathan: It's frightening—and your heart goes out to that individual. You feel the pain of their being lost or misled or misunderstanding. And because you have a teacher's heart, you want to instruct and correct them, and you think about the 500,000 people who are going to consume that. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tim: I was raised in the church, but my faith was really shallow. It wasn't until university where I met really smart people who weren't Christians, and they started asking me, "Why are you a Christian?" And I said, "Well, because my parents are Christians." That's not a good reason. So I went home, and I started looking into it. I found the popular atheists of the time, but I also found [apologists] like William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl, and others—and I started answering questions. I didn't realize I was doing apologetics, but my friends followed up with many more questions, and I would say, "I don't know. But let me find out."
Jonathan: What brought you into the TikTok/YouTube environment?
Tim: I had this idea in my mind to take the red pen out like I used to do when I was grading [as a teacher]. I would correct students' work because I wanted them to see where there was a flaw in their thinking—not because I want to hurt their feelings. Teachers correct because they care. We fill the page with red ink because we want [our students] to do better and learn from their mistakes. And so I had this idea, "What if I did this for a tweet or Instagram post?"
Then the pandemic hit, the world shut down, and I couldn't travel to speak. That's when we launched Red Pen Logic with Mr. B, and it's just been amazing to see how it has grown. I sit in front of this camera, and I do my best to respond to some of the [most] viral videos on these platforms. My hope is that our video gets seen by all the people who watched that really bad video. Lies travel around the world [in a flash]. And it is always harder to get Truth out there, so I'm just grateful that God is using these videos to get Truth all over the world.
Jonathan: What's the format that you use [for your videos]?
Tim: The very first one in the summer of 2019 [was a response to a] pro-choice tweet. It had 100,000 likes, and the logic was horrible. The problem was that the person failed biology. In fact, that's what I told her. I gave her an F in biology. I started grading them, and I stopped doing that because I thought it was too aggressive. It's about ideas, not individuals. Let's just see what the idea is—does this criticism make sense? Does this argument hold up?
When people don't know how to respond logically and rationally, that's typically when we default to defensiveness. I have found that when I understand and can spot the error, it's less offensive. I can talk to people who scream in my face, who call me names, and [I'm calm] because I know that's just an ad hominem [attacking a person instead of an idea], that's just rhetoric [persuasive words with no substance]. I can isolate in my mind what the real challenge is. And when you're trained to do that, it relieves you of defensiveness and aggression.
Jonathan: What do you say to the person who feels like they are not equipped to do apologetics?
Tim: I have two responses. First, the reason we make the videos is so you don't have to necessarily get involved. I can be the middleman. So if you don't want to post something controversial, you could share my video and have an arm's-length approach.
Second, I don't necessarily need to get to the Gospel in every conversation. Now, that may sound strange to some people out there because the reason I do apologetics is to defend the Gospel. I actually think of apologetics as answering what I call gosptacles— obstacles to the Gospel. You don't have to hit home runs. All you need to do is step up to the plate and put a stone in someone's shoe. I find that takes the burden off my shoulders. If I'm in a conversation or I'm making a video, I can't respond to everything. I've only got 2 minutes to respond to a 1-minute video. So I just want to put a stone in the listeners' and the readers' shoe and get them thinking, and maybe that leads them one more step towards Truth. And maybe they discover the Truth, the way, the life: Jesus.
[At the same time,] I know people who have lost friends, and it had nothing to do with the offense of the Gospel. It had everything to do with the offense of the person. They were offensive in their approach.
Jonathan: Which Peter tells us not to do, right?
Tim: Isn't that amazing that right after he says, "Give a reason for the hope that you have," he says how to do it—"with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Paul says the same: "Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of your time." Then he says, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so you will know how to answer each person" (Colossians 4:5-6). The Gospel is offensive enough for people; we don't need to add offense to it. We need to speak with Truth, but also we want to make sure that we're compassionate and understanding. We ought to make it hard for people to walk away from us because they can see the love that we have for them.