Christian Theology

February 6, 2013

The three contemporary errors in Christian apologetic methodology

For those of you that are into Christian apologetics and wonder why so few are convinced when our arguments are so good and the evidence so convincing, the main problems today seem to be three:

1st, though anyone can repeat learned arguments, Christians are generally very poor at living out their faith in practice, and so even when skilled argumentation is presented, the test behind the test that the hearer is weighing is the test of character and practical believability.  Remember, however true something might seem  according to reason, if it is counter-intuitive according to common sense and human experience, people will not believe it.

It’s the same as when the materialists say we are reducible to the accidental relationships of molecules in motion, or that the universe just burst into being one day from nothing and for no reason; even if it were more probable than not according to the available scientific information, most folks aren’t buying, not because the arguments are bad but because it’s irreconcilable with common reason.

When professing Christians live and speak and do politics in ways irreconcilable with the life and walk of Jesus, people see through that.  The level of crime, anger, unloving dispositions, gossip, rumor, innuendo, divorce, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, pride, lust for power, greed, etc. in the churches speaks for itself, and so we always need to speak back.

Plainly, one should not engage in apologetics if one is not both willing and able to live a life worthy of the gospel?  One might be the most skilled debater and arguer in the world, have great gifts and intellect, and even the passion to engage, but should remain silent when it comes to publicly representing Christ and his church, because people will see what you do more than hear what you say.

One failure in ethics will speak more loudly than a thousand words of philosophy, however true or reasonable.  One’s entire ministerial life will stand or fall by the ability to stand in the face of temptations, especially to pride, because apologists are always smart, which makes being smart of little consequence.  Being smart or even super smart once one passes graduate level education is so common as to make it a gift of minor significance when compared with the more rare gifts of compassion, fidelity and sacred honor.

2nd, the apologist thinks that convincing argumentation is sufficient cause for regeneration and faith.

The mastery of apologetic methodology is not a replacement for the gospel, and can often convince the unregenerate, simply because truth is available to common reason.  If anything, apologetics is a field preparatory to evangelism, or posterior to evangelism in the support and defense of the faith, but not identical.

It is pretty common for intelligent, passionate souls to be converted to the magnetic power of the apologetic enterprise but not to the Christian faith itself; apologetics appeals to the highest interests of man but also many of the most carnal appetites.  As sad as it is, these kinds of people will eventually make some of the most effective atheists and anti-christians once their wandering through the church has reached its resolution.  They’ve read the Bible, learned your arguments, studied the philosophy and theology, heard the sermons ad infinitum, but failed to combine that mere knowledge with faith.  Even if there was a temporary psychological state of self deception of “faith” (they said and even thought they believed), a true faith is more than just accepting true facts about matters of religion.  Eventually the absence of the intimate communion with the Spirit of God in the soul becomes a doubt, and then an irritation, and then a conscious conflict in their own mind, and then an outward battle that consumes them wholly.

Do you remember Saul?  How he was found among the Prophets?  And how powerfully he resisted God when he found that for all of his attempts to secure God’s favor, he had been rejected on the basis of his own infidelity.  The anger that former Christians have for the God that they say does not exists is challenged only by the that of those that stay in the church for the purpose of destabilizing the faith of the faithful, especially pastors and teachers of religion that have long since lost their first love, but not their profession.

The background problem, is that the churches are too large and evangelism, generally being oriented toward the mere accumulation of warm bodies, has been too successful.  What I mean by that is that the church, instead of being successful at gathering in sincere believers has often adopted ways and means from advertising methodology and corporate systematization (business leadership modeling) and this can result in very organized and successful managerial growth programming that fills churches with practically skilled, morally motivated, but unregenerate persons.

3rd, the abandonment of a Christian psychology and anthropology.

Previous generations of apologists like Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Gresham Machen, Gordon Clark, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. O. Buswell, Jonathan Edwards, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and of course Augustine and Aquinas, were incredibly interested in having a Christian analysis of the condition of fallen man and how his mind works as the prerequisite to evangelism and apologetics.

If, as all of them seemed to agree, man does have an innate and conscious knowledge of God, and his problems in belief are moral as much as intellectual, and he has not only an intellectual impediment but an internal disposition against belief (bias), then how and what we do will be more complicated than the simple throwing of arguments against a blank slate in search of knowledge, and a healthy skepticism about the distance between a lack of knowledge and a lack of desire, will be taken into account.

Neiswonger

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13 Comments »

  1. Paraphrasing one of your points, from a religious song : “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Agree, living a good example is just as important as the best debating point, sometimes better.

    Comment by oarubio — February 6, 2013 @ 7:24 pm | Reply

  2. When professing Christians live and speak and do politics in ways irreconcilable with the life and walk of Jesus, people see through that. The level of crime, anger, unloving dispositions, gossip, rumor, innuendo, divorce, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, pride, lust for power, greed, etc. in the churches speaks for itself, and so we always need to speak back.

    So how do we deal with that? It’s one thing for me to be able to say that I am actively working at living up to God’s standards (though occasionally failing despite that effort), and that they should too. But I cannot control what others in (and hanging around) the church do. There are many serious Christians in this world who take God’s Word seriously and work to live up to it. But they don’t get the press.

    In other words, I see this complaint as valid, especially from a “public” point of view, but it’s also a case of “unfortunately, that’s just the way it is”. It would love to see a significant difference between the church and the world, and there is, but it’s often too subtle and buried by the headlines for most people to see it. And I would hate to see someone lost forever just because the church (and pseudo-church) is not healthy.

    evangelism, generally being oriented toward the mere accumulation of warm bodies, has been too successful.

    Every time I see a statement like this, or anything that brings the topic to mind, I’m always reminded that Jesus’ final command was to make disciples, not converts. This is one area where I can also say that the church as a whole has largely failed.

    Comment by Ed Heckman — February 6, 2013 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

    • How does one become a disciple without first becoming a convert?

      Comment by Terry Gentry — February 7, 2013 @ 9:10 am | Reply

      • Yes, becoming a convert is the first step in becoming a disciple. After all, you can’t follow if you don’t first start following.

        My concern is that for far too many churches, that’s as far as their goals go. (“How many converts/decisions did we have this week?”) My point is that a disciple is far more than a simple convert. They are someone who studies, grows, and matures in following Christ. When a church simply hangs out in the dairy section of God’s Word, the result is a congregation full of spiritual babies; not mature men and women of God who are grabbing hold of the Word, mining it deeply for every bit of nourishment it can provide, and as a result bearing fruit in all areas of their lives, which would necessarily include new disciples.

        Put another way, spiritual babies (mere converts) hear nice things in church, but don’t know how to apply them to their daily lives. When faced with a difficult (or even not so difficult) decision at work, or on the ball field, etc., they don’t really know what God has to say on the topic. The result is, as Chris complains, churches filled with divorce, anger, crime, etc., essentially indistinguishable from the world.

        Comment by Ed Heckman — February 8, 2013 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

        • Agreed

          Comment by Terry Gentry — February 9, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

  3. [...] 6.) The three contemporary errors in Christian apologetic methodology [...]

    Pingback by Early February 2013 Presuppositional Apologetics Links « The Domain for Truth — February 7, 2013 @ 12:28 am | Reply

  4. Three salient points! They have motivated me to a greater appreciation of my task as a witness and disciple of Jesus Christ. Thank you!

    Comment by Kent — February 7, 2013 @ 1:44 am | Reply

  5. [...] Thanks to Christian Theology Blog for this one: [...]

    Pingback by The three contemporary errors in Christian apologetic methodology « Ratio Christi- At The Ohio State University — February 7, 2013 @ 5:46 am | Reply

  6. Thank you for this post, it was very edifying. I appreciated the call for holiness and also this quote:

    “Previous generations of apologists like Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Gresham Machen, Gordon Clark, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. O. Buswell, Jonathan Edwards, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and of course Augustine and Aquinas, were incredibly interested in having a Christian analysis of the condition of fallen man and how his mind works as the prerequisite to evangelism and apologetics.”

    We need indeed a biblical view of man informing us as apologist of how to defend the faith!

    Comment by SLIMJIM — February 7, 2013 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  7. Excellent post, Chris- maybe an addendum to your 1st point, I believe that apologists must be “churchmen”- organically connected and accountable to elders, and to a congregation that is mindful of the many pitfalls that await anyone desirous to proclaim the gospel.

    Comment by timbushong — February 14, 2013 @ 7:21 am | Reply

  8. [...] The three contemporary errors in Christian apologetic methodology (christiantheology.wordpress.com) [...]

    Pingback by Arguments « Emmanuel — February 26, 2013 @ 6:20 pm | Reply

  9. Reminds me a lot about Francis Schaeffer’s methodology. Apologetics is not primarily about winning the argument (though it often involves winning the argument), but about speaking the truth in love to a person created in the image of God and tainted by sin.

    Comment by Dallas — March 1, 2013 @ 8:52 pm | Reply

  10. Thank you for all your efforts which you have put in this. really fascinating information.

    Comment by hkCL — July 16, 2013 @ 2:54 pm | Reply


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