25 April 2007

Apologize sincerely

by Frank Turk

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.

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.
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.

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 [1] bringing men to Christ, and [2] 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.


James Scott Bell said...

I was with you until that graphic of the head in the Pyro ring. Scary. Will have nightmares.

Phil Johnson said...

Yeah, am I the only one who noticed that the Schweinhund in the top picture and Hillary are wearing exactly the same expression?

I'm not implying anything specific by pointing that out.

I'm just sayin' . . .

Pastor Rod said...


Again, you are spot on with the attitude thing.

This is good:

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.

And this is outstanding:
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

The Good News should be good news.

(I hope I didn't ruin your day by agreeing with you.)


DJP said...

I'm just so jealous that you used the Hillary! icon before I found a way to do it. I may not be able to read the post.

David Regier said...

Wow - if we apply scripture to ourselves first, we might become humble in our applications to others? What would that do to blogdom?

Amen to you, today!

Touchstone said...


If Pastor Rod's kudos don't put you in Phil's dog house, maybe mine will, but who cares?

This is an excellent post, and I commend it, not just a post, but as a "meta-apologetic", an apologetic about apologetics that is sorely needed.

I'm sure we will continue to have points of disagreement, but posts like this reveal a kind of thoughtful sincerity that is *enormously* appealing, even from a "mean Calvinist" (your term, not mine!). It's tricky to find the balance between standing your ground and being generous with those you deal with, but you have me thinking you've found the right groove.

Good on ya.


(Rod picked good quotes to highlight, but I liked this:

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. )

Unknown said...

Great post, Frank.

That Hillary graphic looks very similar to the Gollum graphic that was on a few days ago. "My precious power...!!"

FX Turk said...

Before we get all smarmy here about what a good boy I am, this post really does cut both ways.

Yes: on the one hand, it's incredibly important to give a reason for the hope that is within us with gentleness and reverence, but it is still a reason we give. It ought to be clear what we believe, and clear what we are advocating, and clear that there are places we aren't willing to go.

You know: for example, the NTW piece Phil linked to the other day I found valuable in many ways, but still had a lot of questions about. Doug Wilson did a great job of sorting out a very serious detail of that essay which I couldn't even touch because I had never read Chaulke's book (and didn't really want to buy it, and I don't really get all the books I want free because I'm not that big a blogger, apparently).

The issue there is that, somehow, Bishop Wright couldn't see the forest for the trees. Listen: if a guy like him can't identify pomo, how can we invest trust in him to tell us what Paul really said? That kind of mistake comes from trying to walk on the fence about things which we ought to be either in one yard or the other.

So when all you "emergent" or "missional" guys start looking to shake my hand, what hand are you going to shake? Won't you offend me if you try to shake my right hand and I'm left handed? Maybe I'd prefer the European cheek-kiss and a handshake would strike me as too stoggy. Eventually, you yourselves have to admit that if one problem is people coming across like a biker who's beer you just stole, the other prolem is people looking at such a person who's beer was just stolen and responding, "what beer?"

This post is not just about so-called "watchbloggers": this is also about the mirror image of such people who would never be caught dead "arguing" but only "discussing" because, well, does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?


FX Turk said...

Let me say for the record that Phil has been especially brilliant in generating graphics the last few weeks. The Gorilla "all your base" logo is primo; the Hillary one here today is among the top-3 every.

Stunning. We could never do this without him.

Colin Maxwell said...

There used to be an old joke that America had Ronald Regan, Johnny Cash and Bob Hope, while in the UK we had Magaret Thatcher, no cash and no hope. If Hillary gets in for another term, that joke will Rest In Peace in a Sadducee's grave.

Haven't actually read the article yet, so I can't possibly comment on the serious side of it. Why do we remember the funny things quicker than the spiritual?

Pastor Rod said...


I'll take up the challenge.

[text, tone=friendly with a slight edge of frustration]
If you think, which you apparently do, that I believe that truth is relative or that we are unable to grasp it with any degree of certainty, then one of us has seriously compromised communication skills.

When it comes to "emergent," "post modern," and "missional," you aren't even using "Art Markers." You are using this.

You offer this as a rebuke: "It ought to be clear what we believe, and clear what we are advocating." I think you are confusing me with Brian McLaren or Jacques Derridera.

Neither do I buy your argument that Wright "can't identify pomo."

Just because someone doesn't say that the Westminster Confession is the "clear teaching of Scripture," that doesn't mean that he doesn't think that there is a clear teaching of Scripture.

Just because someone doesn't think that all the issues of theology have been hammered out, that doesn't mean that he thinks that nothing has been hammered out.

Just because someone says that theology is a human construct, that doesn't mean that he thinks theology is worthless--or that the Bible is a human construct.

So now you have salvaged your street cred with your peeps.

It's still a good post.

Timotheos said...

There's a lesson here.

Don't let your illustration take away from your presentation.


Carla Rolfe said...


you know how, while watching a scary movie someone might cover their eyes just before the really scary part?

Well, that's sorta what I do whenever I see a picture of Hillary. Except on the internet, I have to scroll really fast to make the scary pic go away, instead of covering my eyes.

I'm sure the expression is exactly as you suggested.


Phil Johnson said...

Centuri0n: "Stunning."

Thanks. But I thought the gorilla was a little hackneyed. The pig-and-dog, on the other hand, ranks as one of my all time faves. Thanks for using it.

Did you notice that the logo under the pig and dog uses the "All Your Base" slogan (which has begun to edge out "Apply directly to the forehead" as my go-to slogan)?

Of course you did. You appreciate details like that.

While Frank Turk and I are congratulating one another, let me say that his off-the-cuff word pictures (which are always stellar) have been especially fine lately. The biker-with-the-stolen beer thing is a real gem. It took me some time to think through what he was saying, and for most writers it's a bad idea to force readers to think twice in order to get your point. But Frank makes it fun to figure out what he means, and I love that.

Now I need to make a graphic of an angry biker who looks like his beer got stolen. I'm thinking of using Kevin Johnson for the biker.

philness said...


I'm guilty of not showing the "L" word. Just the other the day the Holy Spirit beat me up with
I Cor.13 1-3. So all this time "I have become a sounding brass or clanging cymbal". Great...well at least I got rhythm.

ba,doomboo, sheee..

Solameanie said...

At the risk of throwing a spanner into the collegiality present here at the moment, let me just throw out this proviso as someone in an apologetics ministry (as an aside, Solameanie is a great nickname for an apologist, doncha think?).

As I said in the earlier meta, I agree with Frank for the most part in what he is saying. Yet while gentleness and respect are a given for the most part, I do think there is ample justification in Scripture to use sharp rebuke in certain circumstances.

It is one thing to "deal gently with the ignorant and wayward," but false teachers are a different matter altogether. Especially false teachers who are shown their error and refuse to repent. I don't think I need to obtain the permission of my pastor to respond to such teaching. (I don't think that's what Frank means, but I have heard that argument made) Such an argument sounds way too close to the Magisterium for my liking.

I don't think the Apostle Paul's fervent desire that the false teachers leading the Galatian church astray would "mutilate themselves" should be repeated by modern apologists in knee-jerk fashion. Some indeed use biblical examples like that wrongly as justification to go nuclear at the drop of a hat. I certainly don't agree with that kind of approach. But sometimes sharp rejoinders are necessary, and the ridiculous often deserves ridicule. Martin Luther's reply to the papal bull excommunicating him was hilarious, although that instance was more polemic than textbook apologetics.

Even So... said...

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.

Who in the world is J.D.Hatfield, and why is he on this list?

Anyway, great post...

My take is that we need both reasoning and seasoning

Conduct yourselves wisely… Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
(Colossians 4:5-6 – ESV)

Reasoning without seasoning =
holier than thou
Seasoning without reasoning =
nice guy, but not taken seriously

FX Turk said...


I could sit here in my office and complain that my shirt is not Navy but blue, and most people would look at me and say, "that's a pretty bizzare way to object to someone's description -- to say they are too specific."

FX Turk said...


Let's just say that I have always found Isaiah 6 to be an intriguing passage of Scripture.

Somehow, I like the "all your base" slogan, but it needs the theme music.

James Scott Bell said...

Phil, I had no idea what AYB meant, but whattaya know, Wikipedia has the whole story. I am amused.

TeamPyro! For Great Justice!

(I believe I have just gained adrenaline)

Pastor Rod said...


It appears that both of us have "seriously compromised communication skills."


FX Turk said...

I was meaning to ask you, Phil:

Is that actually a Schweinhund, or is it an ol' hound dog?

Phil Johnson said...


Which picture are you asking about? I'm really not clear on the question.

FX Turk said...

I see that your root canal has not depleted your propensity for joke-meistering.

David said...

I went looking for the Hermeneutics book at my local public library. (Hope springs eternal.)

They didn't have it, but offered me this helpful suggestion:
"Hermeneutics -- See also the narrower term Gematria"

--David in Orlando, FL

Coram Deo said...

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.

Assuming one's apologetic is directed toward unbelievers this statement is just about as unscriptural as it gets.

If one is about the work of the Lord and proclaiming the uncompromised gospel then neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can "change people's minds" about that work.

This classically Arminian position is especially perplexing given that it's taken by a self-professed "mean Calvinist" who ostensibly holds to utter depravity.

Matt Gumm said...

I just caught the "all your base" thing. Really top notch.
Perhaps the only thing better is Phil with the angry eyebrow.

Coram: I was a bit confused at first, but I went back and re-read it. Here's what I got from the above.

First, let's understand that, in context, the post speaks to those who aren't actively engaging in apologetics, and trying to address their reasons (read: excuses) for not doing so.

Second, Frank didn't say "change your mind about God," but "change people's minds about you and your work." Now I don't claim to speak Turkish anymore than the average Pyro reader, but I'm pretty confident that what's been said here doesn't conflict with a Calvinistic worldview.

Isn't this what Jesus says in Matthew 5:16? And isn't a part of our testimony about God, well, our testimony? This doesn't downplay the Gospel. Instead, it helps us understand the means with which God accomplishes His task is us, and that God glorifies Himself in part by how he has brought each of us from darkness into light.

That was Paul's testimony. That's why he didn't come with fancy, persuasive words but just the plain, unadulterated gospel.

Part B of the argument is simply this: we don't need to be offensive in our presentation because the Gospel is offensive enough. And if you offend people before you ever get to the Gospel, perhaps you had better examine yourself to see if you fit the mould of one who by virtue of his life earns a hearing for the Gospel. Frank is asking, a bit rhetorically, "what would apologetics look like if I preached the Gospel to myself first?" And the answer, it seems, is that it would look more like Scripture, and less like what he sees out in the world passing itself off as apologetics.

I think he's on to something. My wife & I were discussing this recently, and the discussion went along something like this. Most of us, when we're saved, think of Jesus as spiritual Zest--one or two doses of him, and you'll be Zestfully clean. But as we mature more in our walk, we might realize that no matter how much we scrub, we don't quite get all the dirt off.

Finally, when we get down the road a bit more, we come to the point where we realize that the reason the smell is so bad is that it's coming from the inside, not the outside, and the truly sanctified among us from the outward standpoint are those who see the true vileness on the inside. There's no false humility--just the recognition of the sinfulness of sin, and how pervasive it really is.

To sum up: it's one thing to spout TULIP or Total Depravity; it's another to another to give yourself the sniff test, and smell the stench of sin.

FX Turk said...

I forgot to mention here that I love Gummby. Sorry for the late follow-up, Gumms.