Friday, March 21, 2014

Am I an Apologist? Apologetics and the Formation of the Soul

Most apologists I know are good, decent, loving people.  Still, it has come to be unpopular to describe oneself as an apologist for one reason or another. First of all, many people don't know what an apologist is. Well, a Christian apologist is one who defends the truth claims of Christianity in order to remove intellectual objections to believing Christianity is true. That's a mouthful, and there are even more thorough (and complicated) descriptions of what apologetics is.  Secondly, apologists get a bad rap.  Apologists can have, and have had, a bad reputation for being argumentative jerks.  Apologists are to argue for the truth of Christianity. This statement is true.  That's in the job-description.  Of course, it's also in the job description to show compassion, respect, and gentleness.  We have then, two ideas to tackle: the concept of being and identity that comes from one's job (or, vocation, which is a more holistic term), and the formation of the soul in the one who is an apologist.  So, what does it mean to "be" an apologist?  
Not too long ago, on the back of a pink, sparkly box, posed a doll made after the image of an oh-so-pretty, female human being with proportions and accouterments that would weigh an actual woman down with burdens too heavy to bear.  On the back of the cardboard box marketed to young girls, Barbie asks the question: "What do you want to be?"  Standing in various fashionable poses are other Barbies: there's Lawyer Barbie, Business Mogul Barbie, Doctor (not Nurse) Barbie, etc.  What do you want to be?  (God forbid that a young girl would want to grow up to be a mother.  Mommy Barbie wasn't an option).  

Now, this notion of "being" is applied to our jobs in culture, and it is of course, misguided: we all know that we are more than what we do for a living. I once knew a man in Kalamazoo who, upon being asked the question, "What do you do?" would rattle off a whole host of things he did, including various hobbies and activities, his role as a father, etc.  Humorous, but kind of a conversation stopper. It's like saying, "Your question is rather droll (remember when Fred Flintstone used to say that?), as you are obviously held captive by the thought-patterns of society.  Allow me to enlighten your dulled mind."  Even so, it's much easier to say, "I'm an electrician" and "I'm a teacher," rather than describing the job and adding that this is what you do for money.  It's just a simple use of language.  When I worked in a warehouse, my job was "cutter."  (This was my primary job.  I did other stuff, too).  But I didn't like telling people I was a cutter.  Ew.  Serial killer!  So I said, "I work in a warehouse."   

For many people, if they take pride in the work they do, or, if their work can be easily described with one word, they can use the concept of being in describing their work and their selves as one and the same.  "I'm a doctor."  That works.  But, "I work in a factory" works much easier than, "I'm a solderer."  You get the idea.  Now, the question is, Can we safely use the concept of "being" and apply it to our work as apologists?  "I am an apologist."  Yes, we can; but there are some cautions to this.  We've discussed the concept of being as applied to work and identity.  For an apologist, the same rule applies.  We also need to talk about some of the requirements of being an apologist, along with some of the dangers that come along with the apologist's task.  First, the danger.

One of the dangers of apologetics is that it often attracts men who think they have "life figured out" (this is a cliche, but it's true): if they have a certain set of arguments memorized, they are ready to tear anyone to shreds upon any chance meeting in order to proclaim the truth of Christ.  (There is a growing population of female apologists, and for this we rejoice.  The feminine component to the apologetic task will no doubt bring some much-needed balance to this testosterone-heavy enterprise.  Viva la difference).  We should all shudder at the idea of having the right arguments in place, having the right zeal to bring them, but having no discernment or compassion for those with whom we disagree. (Something about loving your enemies.  It says that somewhere.)  While apologists debate with skeptics and non-Christians, they are to do so with gentleness and respect.  Too often, it is the case that, especially among the young guns in the fold, pride and arrogance leap from the springs of zeal and ruin any semblance of the compassion of God in Christ. Some older saints wreak havoc in the Church and abroad with their arrogance as well.  That's part of the human condition, which brings us to our second point, our point of concern. 

After much soul-searching, and speaking with counselors, pastors, and other men who are deeply flawed and broken--and being restored (as I am), it seems to me that many people in apologetics are just like everyone else.  So, take a breathe-easy--this isn't a screed against anyone who wants to do apologetics, or against the apologetic enterprise.  After all, I do earn (somewhat of) a living at this also. My concern is this: you might all know the person who majors in Psychology because she herself is messed up, broken, flawed, and hurt, and she thinks majoring in Psych will help her heal.  The same goes for those who enter the pastoral ministry, or for those who enter into apologetics. 

Now, I don't think it's wrong for a messed up, broken, flawed and hurt person to major in psychology in order to find healing.  God bless her, and pray she finds restoration.  And for those who want to be counselors; well, to be a good counselor, you have to know something about human nature, and that means knowing the junk that's not only inside others, but inside you.  To the point: many hurt people, when they become Christians, or when they get turned on to apologetics, will use apologetics to get out their frustrations against the world abroad, including against fellow Christians.  They want to "be" an apologist, because they find their identity in it.  "I'll show them!"  It could be for many reasons: to find security, comfort, power, or a whole host of things.  For me, the temptation is, "People used to say I was stupid." (This is true, in fact; I used to tell myself that, too).  "I'll show them.  I'll be the best arguer around!" This temptation doesn't manifest itself so glibly or clearly in my own soul, but it's there.  Temptation to pride often works in a much more subtle way.  Oh, it's so much more subtle. Albeit, that's the temptation, and if I unpack it, the aforementioned sentence is the boiled down goods.  The blind subtlety.  That's the insidious nature of human pride!  Apologists get tempted this way, and this is the number one temptation.  Pride.  These questions in the next paragraph, I hope, will be helpful in beginning the diagnostic process of getting real with ones' soul, for pride is tangled in a web of other needs in the soul that only Christ and satisfy.   

Are you an apologist?  Do you, or do you desire to, make a living (even partially) at it?  Why?  How do you handle rejection?  Criticism?  Where do you go for comfort?  What do you do to relieve stress?  Do you have any addictions?  Do you have any addictions?  Unhealthy habits?  Do you have an unhealthy, i.e. sinful "happy place"?  Do you use apologetics to hammer people over the head and to make you feel worthy, praised, or admired?  Do you have a problem with your temper?  Are you a bully? Arrogant?  Angry? Could you use some counseling? (News flash: we all could use counseling, so the answer is yes). None of us are immune to this kind of thing.  Some of us have more issues than others.  Only you can say if this is you.  Or, ask these questions to your spouse, or your pastor, or to a close friend. Often times, arrogant people are hurt people.  When these people want to be Bible scholars, pastors, and apologists, they can then use the Ultimate Authority--with which no one can argue--to bully people into praising them for their intellectual power, obeying them due to their counsel, and serving them because of their expertise.   That's sick, isn't it?

The problem with pride in insecure people who want to be pastors or apologists (or anyone whose task is influencing others by means of information sharing) is that these things will fragment a person so that their words will not match up with their feelings.  What I mean is this: when we tell people about the love of God for them, but we don't really, deep down, believe God loves us, then there will be a lack of congruence in our message, and often times, people who are listening to us will also lack the congruence necessary to entrust themselves to our message.  For example, I met with a couple of men recently who admitted to me that while in ministry or seminary, they had succumbed to years of porn addiction.  This addiction comes from a lack of security that is only found in Christ.  

Addictions are about security, comfort, significance, and dealing with pain--pain that is often decades old and reaches to childhood; often it is childhood trauma: some kind of abuse.  Jesus Christ offers Himself to us as our only comfort (the meaning here is "strength" from the Heidelberg Catechism).  Our fallen human nature resists, in its brokenness, and its rebellion, this strength, consolation, and rest found in Christ and Christ alone.  The reasons for this resistance are too many to flesh out here.  

So then, to be a good apologist means having ones' security in Christ, and having a noble character, and being patient with others when you detect their flaws.  This need is especially notable given the vitriol offered in online forums. Christians should, above all, display the utmost of honor, respect, and patience with non-Christians, and with fellow Christians.  How are we doing so far?  I'll leave you to ponder your own actions in the presence of the Lord.  

Am I an apologist?  Well, I work for a campus ministry called Ratio Christi (Latin for "The Reason for Christ").  So, I can say that I am an apologist, yes. But why is it that I myself shy away from this title?  Pure and simple, it is because I don't want to come off as prideful or "All head, no heart," as the (false) caricature is often libeled against apologists.  Secondly, it is because not many people know what the word "apologist" means.  They think it means saying your sorry for something.  (Well, I've done plenty of that in my life, too.  Ha).  Well, so I'm an apologist.  And strictly speaking, an apologist sets forth arguments to support the truth claims of Christianity.  This is a different calling than say, pastor, counselor, or elder in a church.  Working with college students in training them in apologetics could, for the sake of argument, rest solely in that course of discipline.  Life doesn't really work that way, though, as dealing with people means dealing with the whole person.  Dealing with the whole person means handling issues of the soul, and the stuff we mentioned earlier: messed up, broken, flawed, and hurt people.  Rebellious people.  While is it true that strictly speaking the task of an apologist in training others is in teaching them the facts, arguments, evidences, and so on, it is also true that the apologist is dealing with a whole person, and not just a single category that exists in that person in abstraction from the other things that make a human being whole.  


Z said...


I appreciated this entry a great deal. Thanks!


Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Thanks LB!