Wednesday snuck up on me this week, but fortunately I'm not finished with the topic of apologetics yet. For those of you who missed it, we're been talking about bad apologists of two stripes -- those who are too good to belong to a local church, and those who have a place in the local church but that doesn't phase them.
Now, after whining about people who are in but not of the local church, let's remember that one of the causes of this problem is a lack of pastoral zeal for the real contenders inside the local body. That is, on the one hand, someone who calls himself an apologist but doesn't have accountability in a local body is probably doing himself and the world a disservice, but on the other hand, if his pastor treats him and his interest/gifting as if it was poison (maybe that's too harsh: maybe this pastor treats it like it was something to avoid), it's somewhat challenging to this self-selected defender of the faith not to see the world as full of enemies even when he's among friends.
So if you're in a church which frowns on, or ignores, or thinks little of the apologetic gifts, what do you do to avoid being in this class of people?
Turns out I have some suggestions, and I'd like to look at the apostle Paul for a second as a role model.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.For those of you who don't know this passage, it's the end of Gal 1 where Paul is making the case that he has preached the Gospel to the Galatians, and it wasn't something he invented but something he received.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.
Now, how does that apply to you, disconnected apologist? Should you go and spend 3 years in Arabia to become a better apologist?
See: you have something Paul didn't have -- everything that Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (not to mention all the other Scripture in the NT). So your first step in becoming a better, more church-centered apologist -- and it seems rather ridiculous to say this, but OK -- is to actually read the Bible. Paul's point here is that God took him and gave him the Gospel personally -- and then, Paul taught that to the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and the Judean churches rejoiced. So whatever it is that Paul wrote, or taught, or sent: it had a two-fold effect of  bringing men to Christ, and  changing the shame or second thoughts the other churches had about him into joy and praise to God.
Think about that -- if your apologetics were good apologetics, it would change people's minds about you and your work -- not alienate them or put them on the defensive.
"Yeah, but cent," says the guy who is feeling a little convicted right now, "my church is one of those marginal churches that doesn't really mix with doctrine at all. They don't like apologetics because they don't like doctrine."
OK: I agree that those churches exist, and that sadly you may be in one of them. You may also not have a lot of choices because there are aren't a lot of Lance Quinns or Tad Thompsons or J.D. Hatfields or even Mark Driscolls or Matt Chandlers in the world. But your problem, really, is not what is expected of them: the problem is what is expected of you. Yes: as they say in the KJV, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" is a decent point -- but the question is really not either/or unless your church is on the verge of kicking you out over your apologetic adventures.
So if you're going to be a decent apologist, you need to be saturated in God's word, and you need to be a credit to your church in the way Paul earned glory for God after being a persecutor of the church. You know: Paul knew that, all things being equal, he was a man of lousy reputation. But his lousy reputation wasn't from doing apologetics: it was from murdering Christians. So his approach to the world was to act like a guy who is well known for killing those who disagree with him, and to have a little humility and self-awareness about his own status as a bad guy.
If all people who were striving to be apologists applied this aspect of Paul's ministry to their own, they'd be different and better people. Another way of thinking about this goes like this: we all know that non-Christians or ex-church people think poorly of Christianity because we are all hypocrites, mean-spirited judgmentalists, fundies in the worst sense, and people who care about money more than we do about anything else. There's no stunner or world-changing revelation in that confession from a non-believer.
And, most of the time, we sort of wear that like a badge of honor. I know I personally get a little bit of a kick out of people calling me a "mean Calvinist" -- mostly because after years of listening to people say that, somehow that's the last battlement for every argument which is falling apart.
But let's imagine something here: what if I approached every apologetic encounter with the personal conviction that I am actually a mean Calvinist. What if, rather than mouthing the words "chief of sinners", I approached apologetics from the standpoint that I was a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips, and since God didn't have an angel touch the hot coal to my lips yet, whatever I am doing I am doing it as a beggar among beggars, a vile man who is actually in desperate need of the thing which I say God is offering in Christ?
That doesn't mean I surrender truth or take an "I'm OK - you're OK" approach to people. It means that when I deal with them, I see both the sinful flesh and the image of God in them, and I appeal to the image of God rather than attack the rebel who has a hard heart.
See: I think that if we study Scripture long enough, and listen to what it teaches us about ourselves, real humility has to be among the convictions we receive. But to do that -- to become decent apologists who can approach people with the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Christ as Peter did at Pentecost as if it was important but not an insult -- we have to have a decent hermeneutic of Scripture.
This really does go back to the question of how we read the Bible. Because if we read it as if it is merely a handbook of apologetics, we're going to miss the other 81.7% of the Bible which is telling us not how we should view other people, but how we, who are called by Him name, should view ourselves -- how we should act, and think, and work, and love.
In another post someplace, Phil said that he wished someone would be more "militant" in his pursuit (or affirmation) of doctrine. I say "fair enough": but does that mean we have to get our own private tank and start shelling, or does "militant" in this context mean something else -- that we should be making the effort, as Paul also says, to be all things to all people in the sense of being a servant to all of them so that we might save some, so that we might share in the riches of the Gospel with them? Shouldn't we be sharing the riches of the Gospel, rather than being stingy either in the sense of being a neighbor or in the sense of being a messenger from God who has something specific to tell people?
You think about that, and we'll get back to the issue of how to read the Bible next week. In the meantime, if you need something to read, buy one of these and read it. It will do more for improving your apologetics than any other book I have read in the last 10 years.