Christian Apologetics demands systematic structure. However, sometimes I just like to wander around in thought. So for irony's sake, today's critique of Christian Apologetics will abandon structure and flow like a wild stream.
“Ladies and gentlemen: Are you ready to rrraaaaaambllllllllllllllllle?”
Here’s a homey Apologetics metaphor I thunk up while watching remodelers in my home last month:
Imagine a contractor comes to redo your kitchen. You watch him work, and you admire his skill. The man is a master with the hammer, never a hesitation, never a bad hit as he drives those nails home into the new window casing. But then you watch as he sets a pane of window glass into the new frame. He aligns it carefully, and instead of reaching for the caulk, he again grabs that trusty hammer, drawing his arm back to nail the glass into place.
“Wait!” you dare to yell at this expert. “Why on Earth are you using a hammer to set the window?”
“I’m a Hammerist,” he explains, sounding quite reasonable. “Hammering is my gift. Since it’s what I do well, I use it for everything.”
“Oh,” you say. “Even for making sandwiches?”
“Now you’re just mocking me,” he says darkly as he raises the hammer toward you.
THE LITTLE TIN GOD
If you’ve ever run into a vehement (“forceful”), virulent (“bitter”), obstinate (“stubborn”) believer in Christ who immediately begins fellowshipping with you by demanding to know your faith credentials, by testing you on a set of key doctrines, by declaring approval or disapproval of your faith almost immediately, and by demanding to know by Scriptural citation whether you can prove you really want him to “have a nice day” as you claim … you have met a follower of the Little Tin God of Apologetics.
The expression “Little Tin God” might come from a Don Henley song or it might be from an Isaac Asimov essay. Whatever its source, its meaning is intriguing. As a “little god,” it is clearly an idol, a false focus of worship trying to call attention to itself. Made of tin, it is not even an impressive idol of precious metals. It is robotic and cold. It is hollow inside, lacking the innards and guts and warmth and stuff of humanity. Like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz,. it has no heart.
Unlike the Tin Man, it is not on a quest to find one.
THE LIMITATIONS OF APOLOGETICS
I have no hard evidence for it, but my anecdotal experience leads me to feel that a high percentage of Virulent Christian Apologists suffer from Asperger Syndrome, a “developmental disorder related to autism characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities.” I’ve only met one Virulent Christian Apologist who shared that he actually had that diagnosis from a physician, but the points of overlap are striking enough to at least justify a comparison by analogy:
Higher than average intellectual ability: Virulent Christian Apologists (let’s just call them VCAs from here on) prove their point by blurting out a Bible verse or the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word from Scripture, and they demand you do the same on the spot. If you cannot, they declare themselves a “winner” of the intellectual argument.
Impaired social skills: VCAs cannot see the difference between fellowship and Apologetic debate. When a group discussion is about a point of dogma, they become animated and even dominant in the conversation; when the discussion focuses on other aspects of life, they either become oddly silent and withdrawn, or they turn inappropriately silly and verbally clumsy. For the VCA, times of prayer and worship and praise and elation and celebration in the Lord are awkward experiences.
Repetitive patterns: For the VCA, use of Scripture as a hammer in all situations is not a moral choice; it is a hardwired pattern. If a truth is needed, there is a Scripture for it. If there’s a Scripture for it, there is a single truth being conveyed. I once conducted an informal experiment (unkindly; I should not have done it without consent) to test the repetitive nature of a brother in Christ. I had noticed a nearly Pavlovian response to certain Scriptures, and I wanted to see if I was imagining the phenomenon.
MY LITTLE EXPERIMENT
With this brother, I noticed that whenever anyone would cite the story where Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery, he would quickly remind the person speaking that Jesus then said, “Go and sin no more.” So I experimented on him over a period of months. Whenever I would mention the story without that line at the end, he would quickly remind me that was how it ended. Whenever I mentioned the story and inserted that ending myself, he would thank me for remembering that was how it ended. It didn’t matter whether or not going forth and sinning no more was part of the point I was making. The ending had to be there. My friend had to put it in. It was in the pattern.
Then I tried it with another of his stimulus-response lines: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” His unvarying response when hearing that was to state a reminder that the verse was written “in the context of church discipline.” Never mind that the point being made was that God is with His people individually or in a group, small or larger. The pattern demanded that the point be made that the original context of that particular verse was church discipline. One line of Scripture, one required response. I suspect that if he didn’t mention the church discipline context, even when it added nothing to the discussion, he would feel vague unease for the rest of the conversation.
Test number three: Then I tried it with mentions of the human heart. Say anything about following your heart, and my friend had to remind everyone listening that somewhere in the Bible it declares the human heart to be the most wicked of all things. Never mind that a mere seven chapters later, the Lord announces he gives His people a heart that will know Him and follow him. The stimulus-response/one-verse-one-truth mental rule said that if you mention the human heart, my friend had to mention the exact citation of the human heart being most wicked.
WHAT’S YOUR POINT? WHAT’S YOUR SCRIPTURAL POINT?
Oops. Sorry. I just did another mean experiment without consent now. It was this: Instead of mentioning the exact chapters and verses of the last three Biblical references I made, I stayed vague about their locations in the Bible. If you didn’t notice I did that until the very last one, you are definitely not a VCA. If you noticed I did it and filled in for yourself ideas like, “Yes, in John, around chapter 8. Oh, and in Matthew, I think. Yes, yes, that’s in Jeremiah somewhere!” you are probably a well read brother or sister in Christ who is not VCA either, simply very familiar with the Word.
BUT … if you immediately filled in with, “John chapter 8. Ah, Matthew chapter 18. And Jeremiah 17, that’s obvious, why didn’t she say so, why was she so vague and why did she turn sloppy and say 'somewhere in the Bible'?!? What the heck!”… then you, my dear brother or sister, you may be in danger of being VCA, and worshipping before the Little Tin God of Apologetics. If you felt irritated about my nonspecific citations, despite their accuracy, then you are displaying signs of worshipping skilled citation and process of debate above the very essence of truth. To you, the logic flow may be more important than the Father of All Hearts.
And if you just demanded, “What Scripture does the term ‘the Father of All Hearts’ come from? Did you make that up?!?” … then you’ve got it really badly.
AT THE ALTAR OF THE LITTLE TIN GOD
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The gears of the Little Tin God of Apologetics are testing, analysis, dialectic, demand, logic, victory, rightness, and self-congratulation.
Once I spoke with a friend who is caught up in polemical Apologetics. I told him about how I was starting a Bible study with an 8-year-old girl, introducing her to the message of the Gospel. One of his first questions about this beautiful opportunity and blessing was this: “Have you addressed with her the distinction between the concepts of election by God’s foreknowledge and a believer selecting to accept propitiation voluntarily?”
“She’s eight years old,” I said. “We talked about lost lambs.”
“Oh, okay,” said my friend, now sounding vaguely confused. “Maybe not yet, then.”
Yeah. And maybe not ever.
Hey, check this out: At the throne of God or maybe Christ, somewhere in the Bible, that place where Jesus says, “Not all who say Lord, Lord will enter into the Kingdom of God” (or maybe it said Kingdom of Heaven), those who are going to be brought into the Kingdom respond from the heart, astonished that they had actually fed and clothed and comforted the Lord when they fed and clothed and comforted all others. Meanwhile, the rejected "Lord, Lord" sayers immediately want to enter into debate with the Lord, challenging Him to provide verifiable evidence that they had neglected to feed, clothe, and comfort Him!
How cool is that? Heart vs. Brain, compassion vs. calculation, Writ of Scripture Searched vs. Him to Whom They Point.
Somewhere out there in the world, my Apologetics friend just thought, “You know, that passage refers to doing good to other brothers in Christ, not just to random poor people. I felt the need to say that.”
“Lord, when did I see you hungry and not feed you? Huh? When? Tell me, when, huh? And don’t give me that ‘Who is my neighbor?’ line and bring up Samaritans, because that is a different passage of Scripture subject to distinct contextual hermeneutics, and you can't logically grab a citation that …”
“Depart from me.”
YOYO, THAT'S TOO RANDOM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!
Yeah. Sorry. It’s a little trick I learned from the writer Kurt Vonnegut. Sometimes you just have to shake up the fleas by going into a tail chase. Nearly every VCA has already stormed off in disgust at the messy, illogical, and purposely unpatterned flow I’ve built into this post. Which is good, because now I want to talk to those of us who feel beleaguered by them.
Dear ones, those with faith of children … I ask that you not fret in the presence of the VCAs. Don’t cast aspersions upon yourself for not being able to battle them in their You-Sank-My-DogmaShip! Scripture wars. Neither should you cast aspersions upon them, not right away. They, too, have hearts that seek God. And they are not the little tin gods who demand worship. Rather, it is the field of Christian Apologetics itself that is the Little Tin God. That pursuit focuses on cold content, and cares little for the styles and context and sensitivities and humility required for interacting with the world or with brothers and sisters in Christ. In the field of Apologetics, content is king, context is annoyance, and people are just things you're meant to pour your facts into. And by “context,” I don’t mean the context of a Scripture verse. I mean the timing, the placement, the awareness, and the discernment required to truly interact in love and with a heart of fellowship.
Yes. I’m talking about window pane caulking jobs that replace the Hammerist instinct.
Some random considerations:
- Apologetics study can leave the impression that there is an answer for everything. There isn’t. Our beloved VCA brothers and sisters cannot see that, either due to neurological limitations, learned experience, or immaturity in their growth in Christ.
- Apologists leave the impression they think they’re never wrong. But we must understand that isn’t what they feel. Behind their abrasive arguments, many VCAs are frightened that they may get something wrong, that something will be out of place in their Kingdoms of Tidiness. We must be sensitive to that, and we must model the Love so they can see it, if not feel it at first.
- Apologists do not yet know how to fellowship. Remember, they, for many years, have mistaken debate and argument for acts of fellowship. They don’t understand that faith has a component of simple, kind, human interaction – times of reaching out and embracing. The emotions of faith have more to do with Christian fellowship than any concordance could ever capture. This is why Paul’s letters end with such long passages of greeting people by name and verbally interacting with them on mundane matters. It is also why those sections of the New Testament are of so little interest to VCAs.
- Apologists don’t understand that your perspective is different. They honestly, with all their mind, feel you’re simply missing the Logic. When you say that you feel in your heart something doesn’t mean what they claim, they really do think you are not using your mind, or that you’re stubbornly playing by pretending not to see what is so amazingly clear to them. Mention your heart, and they can simply spout Jeremiah 17:9. They will not spout Matthew 22:37.
- Apologists sometimes can’t even hear your alternate perspective. Polemics and Logic Craft have driven them to build walls around their conclusions. If you say to them, “Couldn’t that also mean …?” you are wasting breath. “Also mean” is not a word pairing they can hear. They have long ago lost the opportunity to derive wisdom from many counselors. Unless those counselors are already speaking within Apologist Logic Craft, they cannot be comprehended.
- Pray for them. We are in danger of losing our Apologists from the Body of Christ. As we refuse to let them dominate us with their cold strictures of thought, they find us less appealing to be around, and actually enjoy the company of unbelievers more. At least among unbelievers, they can feel right about fighting all the time. Fellow believers who reject that style make them feel oddly uneasy. Far better to dwell among the unbelieving (they reason) and to take fellowship there. Then VCAs can stop calling their hostility “teaching” and call it “outreach” instead.
VCAs have elevated “being right” above “being righteous.”
VCAs have replaced submission to the Law of Moses with submission to the Laws of Logic.
VCAs only see the faith of little ones as something embarrassing, something to be matured out of, and not as the very basis of entering the Kingdom.
VCAs still sticking around to read this have already mentally mustered a list of bullet-point Scriptures to contradict the spirit of this blog.
VCAs can justify their rude, tactless, strife-laden social interactions by citing Scripture that presents seemingly approved rude, tactless, and strife-laden speech by their Biblical betters.
VCAs believe defending the faith, fighting the good fight, striving for the Gospel, and many other quippy sayings they have ossified right out of context serve as justification for their antisocial rudeness and unprovoked attacks.
Most VCAs are not even mildly swayed by anything I’ve written here today.
Flashback: Jesus is twelve years old. He’s at the temple. He’s questioning the temple teachers, astounding them with his insights and depth of understanding. His questions are powerful ones. His insights are logically sublime. His progression of thought is polemically dazzling.
And which of those brilliant argument techniques does the Holy Spirit inspire Luke the Evangelist to record in the Bible for our later use?
Not a one. Not a single one.
The Little Tin God of Apologetics demands rational, systematic, polemical purity.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love.