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THE UNITY OF APOLOGETICS AND EVANGELISM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
By R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D.
This two-part article is continued from: The Unity of Evangelism and Apologetics in the New Testament - Part One.
V. AN ARTIFICIAL DISJUNCTION
If the preaching or proclamation of the Gospel is so unambiguously conjoined with apologetics in the Bible, how is it that we have traditionally separated them in practice? There seem to be at least four factors at work here; revivalism, the tradition of a protected pulpit, anti-intellectualism, and educational convenience.
The influence of an emotionalistic revivalism has tended to place all the emphasis on the human response of "deciding for Christ," rather than allowing the Gospel time to percolate into the deeper reaches of the mind. The aim of much evangelism is to get a physically visible response out of the hearers, since this is the mark of "success" on the part of the evangelist. This means that no rational interaction with the audience is sought during or after preaching. Some evangelists have insisted that the Mind is actually a hindrance to faith in Christ, and that the Will is the only thing to seek to move in the course of the evangelistic enterprise.
This is an unfortunate development of the original theory that was to convert the original revivals of the Great Awakening into the Revivalism of the following era. It was Charles Grandison Finney who was initially responsible for this transformation. He decided the revival was winding down mainly because it had not been realized that it was what we did rather than what God did that produced revivals.
Finney was an Arminian on soteriology, but a Pelagian on human nature. He held the view that a revival was always God's will, and if only we did what was necessary a revival would always inevitably occur. He explicitly points out that a revival is not a miracle, but simply the inevitable result of the use of the right means to humanly effect it. The only issue remaining therefore, is one of technique, of the use of the appropriate means to guarantee the desired result.
For Finney, the central task of the evangelist was to move the "freewill" of his hearers. He reasoned that the soul was primarily made up of Mind, Emotions, and Will, and that of these three faculties, no one alone could resist the combined pressure of the other two. Therefore, the evangelist should argue with the Mind to convince or convict it of the truth of the Gospel, fire up the Emotions with emotionally-laden stories and examples, and under this onslaught, the Will, being challenged to repent, would sooner or later capitulate, and the soul would be won.
Once the hearers were convicted of their sin and need of Christ, they would be encouraged to physically leave their seats and come down to the front of the meeting to be counseled and prayed with. Later evangelists taught that if there was any lingering doubt or uncertainty about acceptance with God, the seeker was to be encouraged to "pray through" to spiritual victory right then and there in the front of the meeting, until that victory was achieved.
Finney's introduction of novel techniques which could be humanly manipulated was called the "new measures" and caused considerable controversy among the churches of the mid-1800s. Some theologians felt it necessary to write critiques of the new measures, and I have in my library a copy of the Rev. Dr. John Nevin's booklet The Anxious Bench published in 1843 against the humanism and manipulation involved in the new techniques. Eventually the pragmatic fact that "converts" could now be visibly identified overcame the doubts raised against the new methods, and they soon replaced the older, more Calvinistic approach of those men like Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and Asahel Nettleton, under whose ministry the Revival had originally begun and prospered.
Although the voluntarism involved in emphasizing freewill eventually encouraged the notion that God was primarily addressing something called the "heart" rather than the "head" or intellect, this was not really Finney's own view. Whatever his mistakes, Finney was no anti-intellectual himself. His sermons were quite argumentative, and always contained sustained reasoning expressly addressed to the mind of his audience.
Finney was originally trained as a lawyer, and he used this training to good effect. He saw his preaching as that of an advocate arguing God's case with the sinner. As a Pelagian, he saw the sinner as the final Judge, and quite as capable of responding to the Gospel on his own account, as he was of resisting it. But this belief made him more determined to make the case as forcefully as he could. Finney did not hesitate to use apologetics in his gospel messages. It was better to argue the sinner into submission than to let him drift into Hell.
It should also be recalled to his credit, that Finney was personally responsible for the early support of an important College (Oberlin) which was the first to admit women on the same terms as men, and to have an overtly abolitionist stand against slavery. Finney believed the Gospel had important social Implications and should transform the life of society as well as of Individuals He saw clearly that the Gospel of personal salvation had immediate implications for the society around him, and is a good example of an evangelicalism which sees no conflict between the individual and the social elements of the Bible.
2) The Protected Pulpit.
In England, the Anglican pulpit is legally protected from verbal interruption. This is partly a reflection of the Church's privileged status as a state church, and partly a result of the high view of the preaching of the Word derived from the Reformation. In this country also, there are old laws still on the books that formally prevent people from interrupting a preacher. In most Protestant church services it is most unusual for a preacher in a pulpit to actually interact with the people in the pews.
It is rather assumed that the preacher will be allowed to say anything he wants to, and expect to remain unchallenged. The appropriate conclusion to a sermon is therefore for the hearers to sing a closing hymn, rather than to begin then and there to question the preacher about what he has just said. This tradition guarantees that preachers can go for years virtually unchallenged, and never need to be proficient in the apologetics side of evangelism. The coin of the Gospel is spent regularly without ever being turned over to inquire what it is actually worth.
Naturally, when Monday comes, as it seems to do every week, the believer turns to witnessing in the same way he has been taught by his minister's example of evangelism from the pulpit. He simply states the Gospel, and expects (or at least hopes) the hearer will accept it without question, avoiding any attempt at reasoned argument. It is much easier to merely state one's position without offering any supporting reasons, and to depend on pure assertion rather than to engage in a reasoned defense of ones position.
In the meantime, it does not seem to occur to believers that it might be dishonest of an unbeliever to accept the Gospel while believing that there are insuperable objections to it. One cannot honestly believe something unless one is at the same time satisfied that it is true. We might ponder what the Apostle Paul would have said if he was told that he should "avoid arguments and just witness," on the plea that "You can't argue people into the Kingdom." There are parts of 1 and 2 Timothy which seem to be addressed to this kind of attitude.
At the turn of the century the rector of St. Luke's in Portman Square, London, published a rather widely-read apologetic book called The Miracles of Unbelief, (1901), which went into eight printings by 1913, the date of my own copy. Dr. Frank Ballard was an eminent engineer before his call into the ministry. He devoted his pastoral life thereafter, to trying to reach the increasingly disaffected educated classes in the great city of London.
While studying in England, I attended a St. Luke's youth meeting in the crypt after the evening service, where Dr Ballard had so often conducted his apologetics sessions nearly a century earlier. He would shorten the evening liturgy to the minimum, and the sermon would then be given in the crypt afterwards, where questions were encouraged. His apologetically-oriented preaching had a considerable impact on the Christian students of London. London University had been founded in his lifetime, and the new access of the middle classes to education roughly equal to that of Oxford and Cambridge created a strong upswell of intellectual inquiry for which the city became famous.
In the second chapter of the 1901 book, he discusses "The Attitude of The Christian Church." It contains an unsparing critique of those popular methods of gospel preaching which ignore the intellectual needs of serious inquirers, and contrasts them sharply with the testimony of the Apostles throughout the New Testament.
The following observations are pertinent to our present condition. Ballard speaks of, "the proclamation of the gospel" and "the simple gospel."
He then asks:
What, in actual fact, do they come to? They really mean public assertions by professional men from a protected pulpit. Now the very first thing that must strike an acute observer, is the direct and unmistakable contrast between this and the method of both Christ himself and his Apostles. It may indeed be truly said, that neither he nor they ever preached a gospel sermon, as the phrase goes nowadays.
That is, neither the Master nor his earliest witnesses ever... delivered public harangues where no man else was permitted to speak, full of assertions to be received without demur and of assumptions which no one present might question. Yet this is a true and fair description of almost the whole of what is now known as Christian preaching... all assertion, and neither courts nor permits reply from any of its... hearers. But Christ and his apostles always did both.... it was always definite teaching in regard to which after, inquiry was not only allowed, but invited.
Having described the usual preaching, he points out, "Those who deem this method unsatisfactory, have but one alternativeto stay away." Which of course, they are still doing by the millions. Ballard reminds his readers that there were then "in London alone some four millions of human beings unassociated with any Christian Church." He was ignored, and today the figure is over ten million. And the power of traditionalism to obscure the example of Jesus is so great that we still do not interact and ask questions in our church services.
The simplest example must suffice for this: the supposed distinction between thinking with "the head" versus believing with "the heart." This idea is based on two errors, both the product of unregenerate reasoning. The first is the Aristotelian distinction between "believing" and "knowing," or between faith and knowledge. The Bible makes it plain that saving faith involves knowledge of the matter to be believed, assent, or conscious agreement with that content as the Truth, and commitment to acting on the assumption of that Truth. No doubt a fuller understanding of the implications of the Christian worldview comes later, but no one believes in the Gospel savingly "whether it is true or not."
The second error is the time-honored notion of Romanticism, that spiritual things are somehow appropriated by a spiritual organ called the Heart, not by any rational process, but rather through the feelings or intuition. But the Bible teaches that we reason and think with our heart, and that the "heart" is a synonym for the mind, the intellect. The briefest examination of the dozens of OT and NT occurrences of the word Heart will confirm this even to the most incredulous. The regeneration of the mind is a significant theme in the Bible, and to demean the role of the intellect in receiving Christ is simply not a Christian sentiment.
Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, is buried in an out-of-the-way spot underneath the choir of his most famous achievement. Few bother to note the little plaque indicating this fact. Instead, they stand beneath the amazing dome, and at their feet in the marble floor is the famous Latin observation "Si Monumentum Quaeris, Circumspice." Of the evangelical church's neglect of apologetics the same must be said, "If You Seek A Monument, Look Around You!"
4) By Educational Convenience
I refer to the habit of colleges and seminaries of dividing up the material to be taught into subjects which are then often taught so separately as to give the entirely false impression that they have little interconnection. The ministerial students "take Evangelism" one quarter, and (if they are minded to drop in on another elective) they "take Apologetics" a year later when it happens to be offered (if such a subject is offered at all.) The illusion is thereby reinforced that the evangelistic and apologetic tasks can exist separately. So Apologetics remains an optional extra in the educational life of the Church. Then out in the churches, the young minister simply practices what he has unconsciously imbibed, and spends the head of the coin while keeping the tail in his pocket.
It is time to take this absurd situation in hand and return to the unity of Scripture on this topic. As so often with efforts to reform church tradition, only an aggressive reversal will make any difference. The Bible must have the last word.
VI. THE APOLOGETIC MANDATE --- TWO UNANSWERABLE SCRIPTURES
1) 1 Peter 3:15-16 contains the admonition that Christians are not to retreat before intimidations from the heathen, but are to "be ready always to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you." The believer is to be ready to do apologetics at any time.
The condition of having first made Christ Lord in our hearts is mentioned because only a high view of God's sovereign power will sustain the apologetic enterprise, and because the Christian can only challenge the life of unbelief from a position of strength based on personal holiness. Peter also insists that we have an attitude of meekness towards inquirers, and fear towards God and the seriousness of the task. We should also be protected by a good conscience so that persecutors will be shamed by our good deeds.
It is clear from this passage alone that the Apostles considered apologetic activity to be an essential part of the Church's normal witnessing responsibility, and that every believer ought to be involved and prepared. In order for this to be a normal part of the Church's life, the educating leadership must accept responsibility for pushing apologetic content in the regular teaching program. It is clearly not enough to think of Apologetics as a sort of spiritual Band-Aid to patch up situations as they arise.
No Christian should be puzzled by the Jehovah's Witnesses' bizarre treatment of verses on the deity of Christ, in view of their rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet It is quite usual for a Baptist to be unable to prove the deity of Christ from the Bible. It is really no wonder that Baptists make up the largest group of converts to the JWs since they are so ill-prepared by their churches for encounters with committed heretics. We Baptists compare favorably with Catholics in this statistic, much to our shame.
2) Jude 3 states that the writer first intended to write to them "about our common salvation," but that he was constrained by events to encourage them to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." This little epistle is tucked away between the Johannine letters and the much bigger book of the Revelation. Because of its concentration on false teachers it has been dubbed the "Acts of the Apostates."
It is interesting that Jude should see fit to compare the false teachers to unreasoning animals and uses the term alogos which appears in Acts 25:27 in the sense of "irrational." Yet he expressly insists that we should be kind to doubters. It would seem then, that Jude not only had a high view of the believer's intellectual responsibility towards those who were seeking the truth, but also assumed that this responsibility included the active intellectual defense of the truth-content of Christian revelation, coupled with a clear testimony against false doctrine.
Another fifty passages could be presented, but these two make the point clearly enough. Apologetics is simply the intellectual restatement of the Gospel. It is the Christian worldview articulated in such a way as to take objections seriously, and to ground the truth of Christ firmly in the rationality of Revelation itself. This means by implication not only that Apologetics cannot be reasonably taught in isolation from Systematic Theology and Evangelism, but that in practice it must always follow the preaching of the Gospel.
Apologetics is not merely an introduction to the vague possibility that the Gospel might be true. The final challenge of the Christian apologist must be not merely that Christianity might possibly be the "most reasonable" and the "most probable" worldview, but that if Christianity is not true, nothing is intelligible at all, not even the ideas of possibility and probability themselves. The God of the Bible is not just a religious idea we can take or leave, but the presupposition of the very possibility of any truth whatever. He is the origin and foundation of the very meaning of Truth per Se.
VII. WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
1) All evangelical seminaries should have at least four full courses in apologetic theory and practice, in worldview history and analysis, and on how to integrate these things into the educational program. It should be possible to major in Apologetics, and the introductory course should be required, and may not be treated as an elective only. The subject of an apostolic command cannot reasonably be treated as an elective.
2) Churches should combine to support Apologetics Ministries as a necessary educational and missionary part of those evangelistic programs already in place. A Home Missions context would probably be appropriate in many cases, where a denomination would encourage several local churches to provide for such a program.
3) All local churches should sponsor regular, fully advertised public lectures on controversial matters of public interest, in which principles of Apologetics can be applied and demonstrated.
4) All local churches should have several times a year a "Week of Teaching" on areas of doctrinal and ethical concern to God's people. Subjects such as Creation vs. Evolution, Public Ethics, the Christian Worldview, or Cults and New Religions, are suitable topics.
5) Pastors must not only educate themselves in areas of Apologetics where they feel unprepared, but they make courses available to their Elders and Deacons to must emphasize the relevance of the apologetic task for the laity.
6) Local churches should establish L'Abri-type ministries for the training of their youth in a retreat setting during the year, with special emphasis on apologetic preparedness for the shift from high school to college and careers. Our young people should hear all the most substantial objections to Christianity in the context of Apologetics and the Christian Worldview, and not for the first time from an unbelieving teacher in a distant college setting where Christian answers are hard to come by. Francis Schaeffer spoke often of our habit of pushing our children out naked into the snow of the secular university after raising them in a protected hot-house, and then wondering why they lose their faith.
1) As Edmund Burke put it, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
2) The status quo constitutes institutionalized sin in our churches. We dare not do nothing. Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" was spoken initially to Pastors, in 1Cor 3:10.
3) Apologetics as the other side of the evangelistic coin is an integral part of the educational task, and of the witness of the local church. It is rooted in the Apologetic Mandate of 1Pet 3:15 and elsewhere, and is therefore a command of our Lord.
APOLOGETICS IS NOT JUST AN OPTIONAL EXTRA IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
As Frank Ballard expressed It some ninety years ago, "what is indifference but unbelief?"
The Apostle Paul has the final word; "I have not drawn back from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27.)
NOTES ON SUGGESTED SOURCES
The links below are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million.
BLAMIRES, Harry. The Christian Mind
Challenging study of the Christian's intellectual responsibility for the cultural issues of the day. From an Anglo-catholic perspective.
BROWN, Donald E. Hierarchy, History, and Human Nature.
Important recent study showing why hierarchical cultures cannot produce real history, but generate mythologies instead of real history.
DOOYEWEERD, Herman. Roots Of Western Culture.
Careful analysis of the rise of modern secularisatlon and of its roots in past philosophies. Very Important source for those who want to know how we got into today's mess. An advanced study, requiring close attention.
GEISLER, Norman. Christian Apologetics
, and LEWIS,
Gordon. Testing Christianity's Truth Claims.
These are the two best summary textbooks on the different methods of apologetics in use today, the first in the Thomistic empirical tradition, the second in the more rationally-oriented tradition of E.J. Carnell. Both have excellent chapters on the different methods of apologetics.
GEISLER, N. and WATKINS, W. D. Worlds Apart, and SIRE,
James W. The Universe Next Door
These two surveys are the best in print right now for supplying descriptions of, and tools for analyzing, the various types of Worldviews.
GUINNESS, Os. The Dust Of Death
Study of the main influences on the modern loss of faith. Good chapters on the drug culture, occultism, humanism, and secularization in the present century. Os presents Biblical Christianity as the only really "radical" force for change and meaning on the modern scene. Ideal for college undergraduates.
JAKI, STANLEY. Science And Creation; From eternal cycles to
an oscillating universe.
The most valuable study in existence on the reason why non-Christian cultures have never been able to produce a real science. Explains why modern science as a self-sustaining enterprise came into existence between 1250 and 1650 in the West and nowhere else. A spectacular example of the importance of worldviews for understanding and interpreting history.
MORRIS, Henry M. Many Infallible Proofs
Twenty short chapters on many of the topics encountered in apologetics, mostly on history and evolution, and the Bible's accuracy, etc.
MORRIS, Henry M. The Biblical Basis For Modern Science
Important survey of the basis of real science in the religious worldview of the Bible. Contains accounts of the views of famous scientists, and of how the doctrine of Creation affects the major sciences.
VAN TIL, Cornelius. Defense of the Faith
This is the classic statement of the thesis of many Calvinistic apologists that our apologetic methodology must be developed without the compromise of support from non-Christian theories of being and knowledge.
VAN TIL, Cornelius. The Intellectual Challenge Of The
Gospel, and VAN TIL, Cornelius. Introduction To Christian
In these two studies Van Til shows how historically, Christians have weakened the intellectual force of their testimony by linking it to false epistemologies.
WOLTERS, Albert M. Creation Regained
Presents the Biblical basis for the reformational worldview in the progression from Creation, through the Fall, to the Redemption found in Christ.
The Unity of Evangelism and Apologetics in the New Testament © 1990 R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D. for Aquila and Priscilla Study Center.
The above article was posted on this Web site September 1, 1999.
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