07 July 2011

Apologetic apologetics; or, Asking the wrong question, giving the wrong answer

by Dan Phillips

It's unfortunate that apologetics is called "apologetics" because it makes it sound so, you know... apologetic.

A friend and I used to joke about that. You probably have, too. We pictured an F. F. Bruce-type saying, "I'm sorry, I really do apologize, but it seems that the NT documents really are reliable. Dreadfully sorry. Terrible pity. Wish I could say otherwise. Sorry!"

To my mind, apologetics should always be on offense, even when responding to challenges. (You can see how I try to practice what I'm preaching, right here.) It all boils down to whether we actually believe what we say we believe. If we do, the truth is where everything starts (Prov. 1:7), all other attempts at knowledge or truth or meaning are doomed, and it's the world that has some 'splainin' to do. Not we. In our apologetic, we should make that clear.

The problem (as I see it) is multifold, but in part it is that we don't believe what we should believe, at least not as wholeheartedly as we should nor with the appropriate integrity. That in turn may be the result of a conversion that wasn't as "roots and branches" as it should have been — the very problem I wrote WTG to address.

I also deal with this a bit in the coming book on Proverbs. For instance, feminists and feminoids object to Proverbs as they do to the rest of the Bible, because it doesn't flatter their view of women. They both object because Proverbs portrays women as temptresses or harridans, and because the woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 is idealized and impossible to attain. What do you say to that, huh, Bible boy?

What is customary in such cases is to apologize, maybe to natter on a bit about how anti-woman the ancient world was and how (relatively) better the Bible is, and so on. Tone down offensive words like "subordinate" and "respect" and the like. Scold men severely, make them feel bad about being men, send them to their rooms without supper.

And in all this, the intent is to make the objector like the Bible a bit better, by making it less offensive and less strange, and more like... like... well, more like the world's way of looking at things. Not exactly like that, mind you; but a little less unlike it. You know, so it's easier to swallow. Without having to open too wide.

But you see, we're already off on the wrong foot. The assumption, though unspoken, is, "The world is largely right, of course; or, if not right, it is unchallengeable and we can't really expect it to change... so how can we make the Biblical teaching more palatable to it?" Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here is the question, the one question, that matters: what is true?

Now, if we are actually soundly-converted Christians, it is our conviction that God is true (Rom. 3:4), that Jesus is the truth (Jn. 14:6), that God is incapable of lying (Titus 1:2), and therefore His word altogether affirms only pure truth (Ps. 12:6; Jn. 17:17). So that is where we start (again, Prov. 1:7). It isn't where we might eventually end up after launching our expedition from the world as our starting-point. If the world is our starting-point, the world will be our ending-point as well.

It is a fine thing to clear away misconceptions. That is a valid role of apologetics. But the biggest and most damaging misconception is the misconception that we may approach the Bible as its judge, with God in the defendant's seat and ourselves in the judge's chair. (I have never heard this developed as effectively as it is by Sye Ten Bruggencate on the video Fred Butler links to here.)

The world will reject that positioning of the actors. I expect the world to reject that positioning.

But Christians have been taught better. Our should have been.

Dan Phillips's signature


SandMan said...

An excellent word, Dan. A few years back I read this:

Every Thought Captive: A Study Manual for the Defense of Christian Truth: Jr. Richard L. Pratt

He really does a good job of developing pre-suppositional apologetics. Helped me immensely to stop approaching the world as if I had something to prove for my silly (to their minds) faith. (It's a quick read in simple language, too).

donsands said...

Good post. Edifying. Gracias.

One note: You have John 17:7. Should it be 17:17?

Jesus said, "Man shall live not by bread alone."

Have a great day in our Savior's strength, and in His promise of hope in our future.

Robert said...

When we start trying to make things more palatable for the world, we're saying that the Word of God just isn't good enough to cut it. One has to have a pretty low view of Scripture, and God as well, to think that one needs to water down the language of the Bible in order to make it effective. Instead, we should present the truth of the Bible and stand back in amazement when the Holy Spirit works to change a heart through the use of Scripture. How presumptuous is it for us to think that we can do better by changing the meaning or saying that the Bible has changed with the times?

stratagem said...

Great original points, and the points I'd heard before were great reminders. Thank you.

Pierre Saikaley said...

It's a wonder more Christians, (given their approach to truth and knowledge), aren't fully agnostic-even atheist. A god of "probably-maybe-chances-are" is not one to argue for, let alone believe in or convince others of. There's no salvation in that.

Great post, DJP.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dan, well said.

As C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, "When the Author walks on stage, the play is over. ... There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up."

Pilate, like the unbelieving world, said, "What is Truth?"

In another conversation, Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." That is our message.

But the World is blind and refuses to hear the Truth. Romans 1:25

It is not our job to covert them. It is our job to tell them and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

one busy mom said...

Excellent insights.

I'm always amazed when otherwise doctrinally sound pastors can go invertebrate on issues related to women - especially regarding women in ministry or as elders. Apparently we females are mighty scary and ferocious creatures - as those preachers have more fear of us than of a Holy God.

How tragic!

DJP said...

Well, OBM, you totally are, but that's not supposed to be an excuse (Prov. 29:25; 1 Tim. 5:21).

Rachael Starke said...

"....can go totally invertebrate."

Love it.

Love the post. When we have the mindset of David in Psalm 119 - that what God says is not only true, but good (beautiful, delighting to our soul, etc.) there's so much freedom in that.

But the more I understand that, the more frustrating it is when pastor's don't. When did "Thus says the Lord" turn into "Thus suggests the Lord?"??

DJP said...

Well-said, Rachael. Every parent knows the sound of a child's voice with some edge of sarcasm telling a sibling "Well Dad says" or "Well Mom says," as if said statement contains some of the stupidest words ever uttered in the English language.

If that frosts us, given that we actually do occasionally tell our kids stupid things, how does it reflect on God when we come off as if we really have a far, far better idea than He, and we know it and our hearers know it, but we're Required dutifully to say "Well God says...."?

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Coincides with what you twittered a couple of days ago in Prov. 20:12 (how man's problem is too high a view of himself and too low a view of God). The implications are like shattering a windshield with a baseball and how the cracks effect the whole windshield's integrity, not just parts of it.

Mike Westfall said...

I remember seeing a movie a long time ago about Proverbs 31 type women.

I think it was called, "The Stepford Wives."

DJP said...


~Mark said...

One of my favorite ice breakers (some say face breakers) when an unbeliever brings up one of the more "difficult" texts/ideas consists of two words and has been very effective at shattering the wall of offense the unbeliever has approached behind:


People are rarely ready for that because very few Christians (in my experience) are willing to say that. It has often led to surprisingly fruitful dialogue.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I find it interesting how we want to remake God to fit our preconceived notions rather than change our ideas to fit God's. We seem to have a misconception of who is in charge.

Thomas Louw said...

I want to go out on a limb here.

I wonder how much of our apologetics are for the non-believer and how much is for the Christian.

I think sometime the opponents to the Christian faith like Bart Errorman, with their over the top presentation skills and ability to twist facts, scare Christians.

I have listened to many debates and I’m yet to be impressed by the “Christian” guy.
His answers tend to be obscured by the mist of his reasoning. My biggest critic to the man in my corner usually is “Answer the man!”

Martin said...

I'm reminded of "Did you really just say you would be happy to see gays stoned to death? Incredible."

OK, so I didn't say yes but maybe I should have.

Sir Aaron said...


Sir Aaron said...

I just want to say that the Scriptural standards for men are just as impossible as those for women. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be the standard for which we aspire.

trogdor said...

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to submit the eternal word of God to the whims of the grass.

Anonymous said...

Good word! I see this in my own attempts of defense.

In my apologetic I have been guilty of being too, er, "apologetic" as you say. But it is refreshing to turn the tables on the critic. So many times they have failed to do due diligence with their own presuppositions. They hold many of their "scientific" notions with a blind faith.

I have been delving into presupp apologetics a bit deeper the past 1-2 years, other than Bahnsen and the man himself (Van Til) what are some other good introductions?

DJP said...

Do watch that video on Fred's site, to which I linked; and find Ten Van Varfermann, or whatever his name is — okay okay, Ten Bruggencate — on that British show referenced and on his Proof that God Exists site. I think his explanation is one of the best and clearest I've ever heard, after ~30 years around presuppositionism.

Sye TenB said...

Thanks for your kind words Dan (mangling of the name aside :-). All glory goes to God, we are but unworthy servants.

I debated that British fellow for the third time a few weeks ago, (not on the same program), and all 3 debates are going to be made available in a package soon.

This argument has critics in all corners but I cannot help but see that as man being duped by the world into inching ever closer to, if not an outright assualt on, the Judge's chair.

Indeed Christians have much to apologize for, but more and more it should be for our apologetic.

DJP said...

Brother, you and I are not even on the same continent in terms of the patience you showed towards your debate opponent. Why-ever was he chosen? He had not one clue, not one lucid thought, not one honest dealing-with in terms of what was confronting him, only one driving motivator coming through in every response: that he must find an alternative to admitting the Lordship of Christ and the epistemological primacy of the fear of Yahweh, no matter how silly or evasive.

Given that, all one's left with is an extended chase sequence. Except instead of fast cars, one has rivers of verbage.

That professed Christians turned on you in terms of that interchange is just depressing.

Sye TenB said...

I did get some grief from the liberal “Christians” after the first exchange but the Calvinistic terms I mentioned in the second opened the floodgates. Seems people will oppose ANY methodology if the person espousing it is in any way linked to Calvinism.

Paul just happened to be available to debate me, and was likely chosen because he’s as much a nobody as I am :-) With the power of the presuppositional approach, I was actually sorry for Paul before the debate knowing that he would be taking one for the team. I did manage to get one answer from Paul before the dodging and weaving began in this last debate, but if you are prone to throwing things, perhaps you should give number 3 a pass :-)

I have to keep reminding myself that “there, but by the grace of God, go I” when dealing with the likes of Paul, and realize that they cannot know the truth until they repent (2 Timothy 2:25).

Paul likes to Google my name to find anyone who speaks against me in any way, so he can take that as a confirmation of his victory in his encounters with me. I imagine that it won’t be long before he comes for a visit and corrects you on your interpretation of the events. If you have have hip-waders, you might want to get keep them handy.

DJP said...

That would be a mistake since, as I mentioned, I'm not nearly as patient as you.

Witness the second debate, where it was "Yeah, I really kind of muffed the first debate since I really didn't know anything about presuppositionism so I wasn't prepared. But now I Googled it and found some stuff, and I'm loaded for bear!"

Referring, one presumes, to both weaponry and ammunition which never made an appearance in the subsequent discussion.

Likable chap, though. Apart from that whole hopeless-position-tenaciously-clung-to thingie.

RazorsKiss said...

Why is it unfortunate that we use "apologetics", when the word "apology" is the one that's messed up?

Apologia means "defense". If people really prefer to ignore etymology, that's up to them. That's their problem, however, not mine.

Why concede perfectly good words to the world because it might be unpopular, or inconvenient? I find explaining the origin of the term, personally, to be an excellent opener FOR apologetic discourse.

I just don't get this mentality, at all. Don't be "apologetic" for apologetics.

patriciazell said...

I'm going to make a statement that might cause some consternation--not everything in the Bible applies to us today. I am constantly surprised at how many people look at the Bible as a one-dimensional entity and give every statement equal weight. Just like other books, the Bible has multiple layers of meaning, and believe it or not, Paul himself recognized this principle. Listen to II Timothy 2:15--"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

(As a high school English teacher, my job is to help my students rightly divide whatever they are reading. One of the most challenging aspects of this dividing for my students is differentiating between the main ideas and the supporting details.)

Over the years, I have come to look at the Bible as an anthology (don't panic, keep reading) of a sampling of experiences that believers had with God from the beginning of our world through the first generation church. Within its pages is all the information we need to become sons of God and to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil. Because we have the whole Bible, we have access to much more information than the first generation church had.

We are so blessed because Christ is the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Between the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and God's fire, we have everything we need to take our places as sons of God. (And, the term "sons of God" is gender neutral--both males and females have the right to become sons.)