All right -- let's get to this. So about 3 weeks ago we had this brief exchange on Twitter:
And to that point, you and I both know I do not hate apologists or apologetics. But here's the thing: there is nothing worse that bad apologetics, except maybe strident, careless, glib, misguided, overconfident, under-informed, or worst of all self-righteous so-called "apologists".
We reviewed some examples last week of this, right? The anti-calvinists, and the post-theological/post-biblical philosophers? It's easy to point at them and to voice our concerns because let's face it: they are not like us. They will be pleased to say so, in fact: they are nothing like us. That makes the enumeration of their differences -- many of which are their flaws -- not only easy but beneficial. We are not like Ergun Caner, for example. We are not like Dave Hunt. Thank God we are not like Dave Armstrong. Listing the ways we are not like them frankly is a kind of apologetic in and of itself, and it can be educational for the apologetic n00b or the "normal" christian to see the differences and realize that just because someone has a radio show, published a book, or professional alphabet soup after their name, what they put out isn't necessarily good spiritual food.
But what happens, James, when there's someone in our own camp who is off the ranch? And in this case, I don't mean rank doctrinal heterodoxy. How could they be "Reformed" after all and be heterodox? I'm talking about people who are heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. You know: that list strikes pretty close to home in our camp. We get accused of it often because there are many like that in our camp, and I grant the critics that it can be hard to see the difference between careful rebuke and reckless and brutal drive-bys when all one has witnessed is the latter rather than former because the former is really so rare.
In my view, we should take the warning of James the brother of Jesus seriously: Not many of us should become teachers, for we know that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Apologetics is a teaching ministry, part of the office of being an elder. And while one does not have to be an elder to be an apologist, one ought to be able to own the pastoral duties of apologetics to do give a proper defense of the faith.
This is simply not the way it works today, is it? Prior to the internet, it didn't work this way, but it was limited by resource availability. Now with the internet, the proliferation of self-appointed theological sentries looks like a toll road where every household has a booth to collect its own duty. It is now far less likely to find people who think that to defend and contend for the sake of Christ, and therefore for the sake of His people, one needs to be in and among His people -- it is in fact a badge of honor to be churchless. The idea that there is spiritual authority apart from the words one can self-publish is categorically lacking in the so-called apologetics blogosphere; the idea that we can be both humble and certain, have both Truth and Love, both gentleness and reverence, both Scripture and reason, all heart, mind and soul, and above all having both freedom and responsibility when we are militant for truth and the right faith of others cannot be found.
This is a kind of crisis among us, and I think there's something you have taught me over the years which underscores the crisis: what we win people with, you have said, is what we win them to. We can see this clearly in those who are not like us: the real pelagians and semi-pelagians beget social gospel followers either on the left or the right; the softie arminians beget invitation junkies, and the hard arminians beget anti-intellectual zen Christians who think programs are the thing -- opportunities mean more than actual discipleship.
This is where the rubber hits the road for us, I think, because in one sense, we would be right to say, "I am not responsible for what someone else teaches." And we're not. We're not responsible for what some quack with a blog teaches even if he says he's on our team, right? I can't control another person. I'm not his elder in his church. I can't be responsible, I might say, for someone who says he's reformed or orthodox or fundamentalist or "biblical" when he's wrong.
You can hear where I'm going now, I am sure.
If this is true, James, then I think we have to re-evaluate what we think we are doing in the playing field of apologetics. I realized this when I wrote my open letter to Mike Horton -- his response to the question of malfeasance in our own camp was, frankly, "well, that's out of my control." But if we applied that view to all the other issues we address, what exactly would we have left to do all day? Doesn't judgment start in the house of the Lord?
Now, I get it: we have to pick our battles, and neither of us would say anything less than, "the Church is very sick, and doctrine and Biblical wisdom is at bay. There is much to do and no ministry can do it all." There is plenty to do just to get anyone to the minimum of faith literacy who has grown up as a cultural Christian in this post-Christian society. There is plenty of work to do with Mormonism, agnosticism, academic skepticism, JWs, and most importantly about Islam from a Gospel and Christian perspective that one's day fills up pretty fast.
But it seems to me that if we have the time to refute anti-Calvinism -- which is usually a kind of commitment to ignorance -- we can find the time to refute heterodox behavior -- which is usually just a commitment to being awful.
In the end, these letters I have written to you are not about indicting you for anything because I think there's nothing to indict you for. We agree on so much, and I am proud to call you a father in the faith and a brother and fellow (if senior) workman in God's field. But this is a call to consider the state of Christian apologetics inside our own camp. Is there really nothing to be done to remedy the rampant unchristian approach so many take to Christian apologetics?
You have a great mind, and a deep pastoral heart, with which to consider the question, and I leave it to you. May God richly bless you.