Truth is Truth

"You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me." - Psalm 40:11 This is a sometimes monthly column concerning the truth of Christ Jesus and the issues that face our world as published in various newspapers and journals by Pastor Dave Seaford. You can return to the home page of the church by going to:

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Location: Redway, California, United States

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Applied Apologetics / Pre-Evangelism & Discipleship

Often in Christian apologetics we realize that definitions and the re-defining of words are the cause of great misunderstanding and even the cause of heresies. We have even referred to this reality as an abuse of our theological language. We can point to this error as part of the problem of re-writing history and the cause of much of the problem within many of the cults. Let’s face it, when language is manipulated – doctrine suffers, perspective is twisted and doctrines of the faith are left to be taken out of their true context or they are so perverted as to become abusive of our faith and to people (saved and unsaved).

As a pastor, this has long been a concern of mine as I experienced real people living in real circumstances face extreme difficulties because of having suffered the re-writing of doctrine via the re-defining of both common language and theological terms. It is with this care and concern that I now turn my focus toward modern day apologetics and the apologists we are producing, some of which I pray will go into pulpits.

Some of the greatest modern Christian apologists have called Christian apologetics: “pre-evangelism”. I would go a bit further and add to that definition: that proper Christian apologetics …should also be part and parcel of good discipleship. Christian apologetics should bring believers closer to God and thus add to healthy ongoing discipleship. For too long apologists have been rightly criticized as clinicians that practiced an exercise whose ends were found within the technical pursuits of the exercise itself. That is to say, if we as Christian apologists find our desires and propensities fulfilled at simply correcting someone’s questions (to make them appropriate or structured correctly) or answering the questions without helping the individual make application toward real life change toward Jehovah God, then at best we practice hollow discipleship and at worse, we are displaying our arrogance in an attempt to show off our knowledge. As Hank Hanegraaff stated in a luncheon of pastors (Sept. 22, 2009): “Apologetics was never intended to satisfy the soul by intellectual accent, but for the purpose of reaching people for Christ.”

I have long held that almost any platform can be used to evangelize and/ or disciple people, but that some of those platforms more often than not fall flat because neither evangelism nor discipleship is ever done. Churches and other religious organizations, for example, often send out teams to do clean up after a flood, tornado or hurricane; but if the work done ends with those good works then I contend that we could have done more good by giving the money spent on those works to Habitat for Humanity or other such organizations and let them do what they do best! In the same light if we as Christians do apologetics (whether in conferences or debates or classes) and the only result is a good show and knowledge built for the sake of knowledge, or for the sake of the display of that knowledge; then we can find ourselves in the company of others that are nothing more than clanging bells or ringing cymbals. My question is: “what happens when the sound ends”? In other words: have we really done pre-evangelism or discipleship at all?

If you have been in Sunday morning services lately at CFC, some of these themes may be familiar to you. I am concerned that as trained apologists we often find ourselves satisfied at the point that we have either corrected the question or given an answer that is technically masterful, yet spiritually unfulfilling to the questioner.

When we miss connecting to both the head and the heart of the one asking the questions or challenging our beliefs, then we can win the battle (by our own definitions of victory), yet loose the soul. I fear that far too often I have been so caught up in the theological jousting and the technical manipulating of rooting out fallacies, that in my personal satisfaction, I have left others spiritually cold. When in our efforts to dazzle (because we are so focused on self), we leave other folks dazed in our dust, and all that is accomplished in the eyes of God is the puffing up of an arrogant heart; our own.

I have personally been blessed to have the tools of the studied Christian apologist in the work of reaching those deceived by some of the most perverse cults in this country and others. I genuinely appreciate those tools but have come to appreciate even more how those tools are applied in the most difficult of situations. I have seen the heart ache, the pain and the physical & emotional anguish caused in families torn apart. Perhaps because our ministry has been grass roots, dealing directly with those caught up in the deceit, we know how hollow that simply knocking down arguments can be to the one on the receiving end. Far too often, I have found myself so impressed with the technical precision of my answers only to find the one spoken too, intellectually stunned and emotionally devastated. Take it from me, stunned & devastated people don’t often think clearly and often experience only the consequences of their own knee jerk reaction to the apologetic offered. It is then the relativistic world’s pleasure to assure them of the legitimacy of that reaction, thus rooting the questioner’s false beliefs even deeper than they were prior to the interaction.

In his truly impressive book: “Spiritual Depression” D. Martyn Lloyd Jones gives credence to these thoughts in this way:

“I regard it as a great part of my calling in ministry to emphasize the priority of the mind and intellect in connection with the faith; but though I maintain that, I am equally ready to assert that the feelings, the emotions, the sensibilities …are vitally important. We have been made in such a way that these play a dominant part in our make-up. Indeed, I suppose that one of the greatest problems in our life in this world not only for Christians, but for all people, is the right handling of our feelings and emotions. Oh, the havoc that is wrought and the tragedy, the misery and the wretchedness that are to be found in the world simply because people do not know how to handle their own feelings.”

I am impressed that Jones here not only strikes the head of one of the largest problems in applying apologetics outside the class room or the extended class room which we call: debate, but also one of the most unaddressed problems in the history of the church. We are often bred (educated in such a way) as apologists, to be so busy fighting over the non-essentials and seeking acknowledgement for our perceived victories in those battles, that we are missing the opportunity of connecting with real people harboring emotional pain which is buried deep in the masquerade of intellectual questions.

In the days when I was in seminary I remember the jousting and attempts to score points with the other students and when possible the faculty. I remember a time in an apologetics class, when asking a heartfelt question I was so abused by the professor, who I can only guess thought I was challenging him personally, that in getting an accurate but angry answer, I found myself belittle and left bruised and battered. To be honest, a decade later I cannot remember the question or the answer (they were lost in the emotion of the moment), but I am left with a horrid remembrance of the event, the embarrassment I had before my classmates and the hesitancy I had in asking important questions of that professor from that time forward.

The question for us is: “…of what purpose is apologetics”? I contend that Hank Hanegraaff is correct: it is to reach real people and not just to impress the academic or publishing communities. If that is Paul’s contention (and I believe it is) then rather than the selfish ambitions of a jouster, perhaps we need to be more aware of our propensities, adjust our own minds and hearts, and then focus on our answers being made useful to those on the receiving end. This often requires us knowing their propensities & the purpose of their question; and thus asking them questions & listening to their answers before giving our apologetic. Paul in essence does this on Mars Hill when he answers the un-verbalized (but memorialized) question of the “unknown god”.

Ravi Z., in my opinion, has made an art of this objective over the last several years. His ability to connect with people has thus been elevated to the level of seeing real change in lives as a result of their having encountered him and those he has trained up through his ministry. I highly recommend, if you want to witness this craft perfected, that you listen again and again to his Q&A sessions on college campuses around the world. I would also commend to you the masterful work Ravi did as the first evangelical to take the pulpit at the Mormon Tabernacle since D.L. Moody. I believe that recording is still available through his RZIM web site. We should not only admire the beauty of this masterful work but seek to weave it into our own encounters with all “those who ask”. His work is both peaceable and un-compromising, and genuinely beautiful to witness in its accuracy and artistry.

Recently I began a Sunday morning message by asking the congregation their definition of “failure”. I got all kinds of answers, but the one I stole from Pastor James Merritt (Atlanta, Ga.) I still think is best. He says that “failure is succeeding at the wrong thing.” While I tend to point the finger of failure (as defined here) at many strict Calvinists (my propensity), I think in some cases all those fingers pointed back at apologists might be legit as well. I suspect and fear that it is. Let’s get better at what we do about reaching the lost, equipping the saints, developing disciples, and not just better at winning the jousting matches among the academics in the spotlight, all the while, missing those in the dark that apologetics was intended to lead into deeper relationships with Christ.