Yeah, OK. Where was I? I was talking about how to read the Bible, then I started talking about bad Christian apologists, and some of you are thinking that I simply stopped talking about the Bible topic because I was out of stuff or out of my depths. Unfortunately for you, I am not finished with the first topic and am using this second topic as an excursus about what it means to have read the Bible and then implement it in some way.
Last time, we talked about the problem of people who are too doctrinally sound to belong to a church, and much to my surprise there weren’t a lot of objections to my comments. But that said, we closed with the thought that there are people who belong to churches and are still bad apologists – that somehow belonging to a local church doesn’t solve the problem of having more bite and bark than, um, something else.
I want to be especially careful in talking about this because, as I said last time, we need the good apologists who have a real love for Christ because of who Christ is, and are gifted with wisdom, charity, clarity, and a God-born love for people which makes them affable and (as far as really smart people can be anyway) charismatic. That is, they have to be able to speak the truth in love, and they have to be able to give an account for the hope that lies within us in both gentleness and reverence. If I had to say there’s one guy at the top of this game, I’d point to Dr. R. Albert Mohler who most people don't call “an apologist”; the other person I’d recommend with no qualifications is R. C. Sproul. That’s not to cross anyone else off the list, but these are guys who really set the standard for public, active, Christ-centered, church-minded, soul-saving apologetics.
But it’s their example which really shines a bright light on this topic. For example, if we think about the Good Samaritan as an example of “who is my neighbor” and “what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself”, this is how these guys operate, and I think there’s an apologetic lesson to be learned there.
Let’s start someplace else that is important: what is apologetics? You know: you can’t find that word in the Bible, and when Paul is rattling off the list of spiritual gifts in 1Cor 13, somehow he misses “apologists” (though we can admit he does say “teachers”, which is an important way of putting an arch over this topic). That’s not to say that being an apologist is not a spiritual pursuit, but we have to know what that is before we can go ahead and say here’s how you do that.
m-w.com says this about apologetics: a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity. What I like about this definition is that it’s simple and direct; what I don't like about it is that somehow it has left off one of the necessary indirect objects. Sure: it’s a branch of theology. Yes: “devoted” is the right verb. Its devotion is “to” the defense “of” Christianity, in terms of Christianity’s divine origin and divine authority.
But what is missing is “defense against who or what”? See: that’s the rub – because on the one hand, Protestant apologetics earns its keep by shining a bright light of Reformational principles on the divide between the evangelical faith and Roman Catholicism, and to a large extent from Eastern Orthodoxy. So one important aspect of apologetics is a defense of the faith from internal or derivative errors. That is to say, the Protestant apologist is working to underscore the fundamental truths of the Gospel and compare and contrast those truths to errors that make the divide between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy unable to be crossed.
I think that aspect of apologetics confuses a lot of people – especially people on the outside. It confuses them because they don’t understand the arguments or why they are useful let alone important – and to see a guy like Mitch Pacwa debating a guy like James White about anything – the mass, purgatory, the canon of Scripture, whatever – seems to them like Christians don't know what they are talking about.
That will be a larger post on its own in the future, but let’s try to stay focused for a second. So one aspect of apologetics is the exposition and correction of derivative errors – errors in which people have some of the facts or words which are “Christian” but they line them up in ways which nullify the Gospel. Another aspect of apologetics is the defense against external or inductive errors – like against atheist misrepresentations, or against Muslim arguments or denunciations, or what have you. In that situation, the apologist is not just addressing mistakes, but is also involved in a task of setting up the basis of evangelism – and he may actually engage in evangelism in the process of addressing the non-believer’s objections to the faith. It is an essential clash of worldviews, and often goes to the philosophically-basic issues of where things come from (ontology) and how we can know anything (epistemology).
There is also a third class of apologetics which sort of hangs between these two categories, and it is counter-cult apologetics. Some would argue that counter-cult apologetics is really a form of the first kind of apologetics, and would support that by noting that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses think that they are Christians – or worse, think they are the only Christians. The problem is that their definition of Christ, and God, and all the theological categories of the Bible are so different than what the Protestant apologist would accept that the issues turn out to be far more like the foundational work one has to do in second-type apologetics. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that one is doing world-view (also called “presuppositional”) apologetics with the cultists.
Phew! Now: what does this have to do with lousy apologists who belong to churches?
It has this to do with that: many of these lousy apologists cannot identify these categories, and therefore they are constantly in the wrong mode of approaching people with their apologies for the faith. And most often, it’s not that they are erring on the side of being too philosophical for people: it’s that they are usually wielding a very big hammer to drive in a finishing nail, and sadly when they do get the nail in, they often have set the molding crooked, or upside down.
I could give examples of this, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me that these people exist. But why is it important to notice this problem in these church-going apologists? And what should be happening to these guys if this is a problem?
I think the first issue is that, even though these people belong to churches, they are not accountable to their churches. Seriously: such a one as these I once was – until my pastor started reading my blog. That changed me. I had (and have) a lot of internet friends who read my blog, but how accountable to them was I really? As long as I wasn’t dismantling the Trinity or denying the T in TULIP, I was (and am) entertaining to read -- and how are they going to discipline me? But today I have a pastor who reads my blog and keeps me face-to-face accountable.
My contention is that most “apologists” don’t have someone like that, but that’s actually the second problem: their pastors or elders don't really care about apologetics. In many ways, that’s why a lot of these people get into apologetics in the first place: they are intellectually-curious people who like to read, and some of them are smart enough to understand what they read, and suddenly they know more about the principles of the Reformation than most third-year seminary students, let alone Bible-college graduates. So they learned on their own about the theology and philosophy of the faith, but they didn’t really get any pastoral guidance about how we now shall live.
Yes: you’re very smart for clawing your way through the major Protestant catechisms, and through the Institutes, and Bondage of the Will, and City of God, and the other fat books on your shelf, but have you looked at the pastoral lives of the men who wrote that stuff? I agree with you that you had to learn the big stuff on your own, but maybe you should have looked at how the Fathers of the Church – Early and Magisterial – lived out this stuff you read which they wrote. They were great defenders of the faith not because they lived in a monastery and built an intellectual fortress, pouring hot oil on all who approached murmuring “sibboleth” instead of “shibboleth”: they were great because they had these astounding insights which they applied pastorally and used to made disciples of men.
If you don't have a pastor or elders who are able to give you a well-rounded view of the great minds of the faith, then you should spend more time reading the pastoral letters of Paul, or maybe you should spend a year reading I Corinthians and get the notion that while the Gospel is central and essential and propositional, it has necessary results, most of which do not involve raised voices except to sing hymns or praise God.
And if you’re a pastor or elder who doesn’t think the regular Joe should be interested in apologetics, re-read Titus 1 and think about the fact that you ought to be doing what Paul instructed Titus to do.
The third (and final) problem I want to uncover today is the problem of objectives. Without the pastoral edge – without the pastoral concern and temperament – we lose sight of the real goal of apologetics: to deliver the Gospel, and tell people that God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world but to save it. Ultimately, our arguments may (as Paul says) have the smell of death to those who are perishing, but we shouldn’t set out on the task intending to stink to high heaven. The idea that men suffer and are sinful but that God Himself has done the work which saves us is a brilliant, beautiful idea, and we ought to present it as the best end – the option in which one can taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Because that’s supposed to be the point, right? I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them – those filthy sinners who need saving, just like me -- in its blessings.
So the worst apologists are those who are too smart to belong to churches, and the ones who are only a little better are “in” church but not actually “of” church in that they think they are above a little pastoral seasoning, or they have a pastor who has an empty seasoning shaker.
There’s more to this, and it gets back to how we read the Bible, but I’m on page 4 here single-spaced, and you have to get back to work. Also, Phil had a phone conversation he's dying to talk about, and I made him not post on "my day" so I could get this out for the three of you who were dying to hear my opinion. More later.