What are some realities of the life of the apologist? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Randy Hardman has made some waves lately with an article that can be found here. I read it last night as a friend sent it to me so we could all discuss it. As you can imagine, many of my friends are apologists in the field.
Perhaps I should start with how I got in the field. For me, it was when I was on AOL and doing internet evangelism. Before too long, I realized I needed to have something to say to atheists that came in. I was just useless there.
Now there was a guy I had seen at Bible College one time studying apologetics. I asked him what it was and he told me. I filed it away. That memory came back when I was discussing this with an online friend. He recommended I read More Than A Carpenter. It was a good read, and I got started using it that night. Then I remembered a book I heard about called The Case For Christ.
I consider that the book that lit my fire.
And before too long, I was coming home constantly with books. My mother was in a panic wondering where she was going to put them all. I was playing video games less and reading more and seeking to learn more. Also, the depression and panic attacks I’d struggled with for the past few years were going away.
Now this isn’t to say I wasn’t without problems still. I am an Aspie after all and there will always be limitations because of that. My diet was still incredibly unusual being highly limited and I still had a social awkwardness around me. I often tell people that one of the best parallels you can see for someone like me is Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.
But I had a passion. I had a way I could use my mind and serve God at the same time. Why had no one ever told me about this before? I enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the debates that went on and to this day, I still do.
I want you to keep all of that in mind as we go through this.
This is not to say I am unaware of the danger of pride. In fact, I’ve taken steps to avoid that. One great step I’ve taken really helps, although I cannot say I took this step for the purpose of avoiding pride, but it’s a nice side-effect. It’s called “Getting married.” Allie loves me dearly, something that amazes me, but she does not love a man who is prideful. If I want to be the man who brings a smile to her face, I have to be a humble man.
Another important step I’ve taken is having mentors. One in particular is a man in the field I email every night and share with him how my day has gone, what my struggles are, and that I’ve prayed. To be fair, prayer is not something easy for me. It’s hard for me to focus. I say what I need to say and then go about my day. I start off my morning first by reading a chapter from both testaments and then praying about what I’ve read. I love my wife, but I don’t even kiss her in the morning until I’ve done my time with God. In the evening as I go to bed, I read a few verses from a Psalm now and think about it as I go to bed and ask myself questions about the text and pray some about it too.
If I receive a criticism, I will often pass it on to mentors and say “Do you think there is any truth to this? Do I have something to work on?” These are also people who I know will shoot me straight. They’re not going to sugar coat things for me.
Now to be fair, I do like receiving compliments and personally, who wouldn’t? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We should be thankful when people say good things about us and our work and really mean it. An important step I take however is that many of those compliments, you will never hear about unless they’re made publicly. The only people I tell usually are my wife, my parents, and her parents. These are the people who are already impressed with what I do. In fact, they want me to celebrate such good messages with them.
At the same time, I do realize in this field that you do have to do some work to get yourself out there. That’s why I have a page on my blog with endorsements that I have received. After all, if I hope to speak at churches regularly, I want the people to know that I am someone who has done serious work in this field and why they should be open to having me.
I can say there are areas I struggle with. For instance, Allie and I went to see Son of God recently. It’s a good movie, but honestly, I’m not moved much by Jesus movies. I don’t know why it is. It could be my Aspie personality. I find myself much more moved by a good book on the historical Jesus that brings out to me who Jesus really is. If I get a new insight into how to read the Bible or a theme that Jesus taught, that holds me in far more awe. Yet I do look at my lack of full delight at the movies and think “Is it a lack of love on my part for God?” I won’t deny, of course, as Allie and I have talked about this, that we all do lack some in our love of God. We can all bear to improve and no doubt, none of us realizes really the extent of the forgiveness we have been given.
There are times being an apologist can be hard. It can be difficult when you’re about to go do something that you want to do and here comes someone with a question and you know, you have to help them out at the time. They really need it. You have to learn to put your own desires on the back burner and fulfill your duty to serve others first. (This is a hard lesson to learn in marriage also when it’s easy to think that you can’t always get what you want first or do what you want first.)
One of the worst stigmas to deal with also is the sense of being unappreciated. As an apologist, I know very well how important what I do is. I have a great sorrow when I hear people talk about those who have fallen away from Christ. It’s saddening. It gets worse when you go to so many churches and offer to serve them and speak or do a class and do it free of charge and get told “Nah. We don’t really need that now.”
Because every time you know they do.
It’s hard when you walk around in a public place and you wonder how many people are Christians and think “Do you know how many bullets are being taken for you every day?” I think it could be compared to police officers and military men who can often be portrayed as villains. We in the apologetics community especially can because since we prize knowledge so much, well we just think we’re smarter than everyone else and don’t we all know that we’re just supposed to have faith? What’s with all this talk about facts?
Money makes this even worse. My wife and I have to depend on others so much just to survive and thus, you can imagine the indignation I can feel when I watched the TV earlier this year and saw announcements about Joel and Victoria Osteen coming to Knoxville to speak. I think tickets were $35 a pop. I meanwhile go to the grocery store and know I have to be extra extra stingy because there is so little to be spent on groceries and have to consistently tell my bride that I can’t get her something she’d like as much as I want to.
If you think I’m talking about having wealth like the Osteens, I’m not. I care about having enough that Allie and I can make it easily enough. Perhaps do something special together every now and then as well. I never want to really be wealthy however. The writer of Proverbs reminds us that if we get rich, we might come to deny God. I know there are many Christians who are rich and have not forgotten God. God bless them. May they use their money wisely. I just don’t really want to be like that. In fact, there is very little material wise that I want. I have a hard enough time thinking of things I want for Christmas every year.
I have also tried to be real in my apologetics. I love the life of the mind and reading, but I never want to be one who dwells in the ivory tower. That’s why you’ll also find me playing a game every now and then and be aware of what’s going on in my favorite TV shows and such. I want to enjoy many of the good things God gave us to enjoy.
So now having said all that, let’s look at Hardman’s article some.
Hardman starts with a great account about how he was able to do so much including getting a ministry established that now has an international impact. I find this to be incredible and honestly an account that makes me wonder what I was doing back in the day. I admire greatly his passion and his desire for change.
Now I cannot say that I was ever someone who was an atheist or agnostic but had my faith changed by reading The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. Oh I’ve asked the doubt questions before and I think every Christian should, but I can’t say it would be something that kept me up at night all my life or anything like that.
Hardman does say he would at that time identify himself as an apologist and tell people that God had called Him to do this.
That is where we need to be careful. I understand how it is that God equips us, and I do believe God has given me the gifts and abilities to have the duty of being an apologist. But I’m careful to not say I have been called to do something like this. I think too often we place way too much of an emphasis on calling. That is part of our individualistic culture. Yes, calling did take place in the Bible, but that was to people like Elijah and Jeremiah and Paul.
You and I are not those people.
In fact, when we see ourselves getting to serve in this capacity, it should be a humbling thing. I often tell Allie that when I receive some compliment about how a piece I wrote blessed someone, it’s an honor to receive that and it’s humbling too. One example I shared in the Deeper Waters newsletter, upon the recommendation of my father-in-law, was to share an email I received from a gentleman who was thankful to read a review of a book on Ehrman I wrote and put on Amazon. I will post the letter here. (And I did get his permission to share it.)
“Mr. Peters, As a believer in Christ, the past 24 hours have been interesting and worrisome. I was reading an article in yesterday’s Huffington Post regarding Bill O’Reilly’s new book “Killing Jesus.” Some that left comments posted video’s of scholars who have done much more extensive work into Jesus than Mr. O’Reilly. One of the video’s was a debate that featured Dr. Bart Ehrman (who I had never heard of until yesterday) regarding textural criticisms with the NT. I found it fascinating and disturbing as being a Church attendee for over 40+ years, studying the Bible with the Bible Study Fellowship organization, hearing countless pastors, etc. NONE of what he was saying was ever spoken in Church or class. I went to Amazon to see what the reviews were for his book, before I purchased it, and I came across your enlightening one. I then found your website and do plan to look deeper into the Poached Egg and other links you shared. My question to you is, would you be able to recommend some readings for someone that had no idea this material existed? I need to know as much as I can absorb so the next time someone says to me “the Bible is just full of lies”, I will have some knowledgeable way to respond instead of the typical one that many Christians use – prove it. Thank you so very much and God bless! Phillip”
This review was a blessing to receive in many ways. Allie and I were at the card shop on a Saturday night for some gaming together when I got the email and I shared it with her. We joined some friends at a restaurant afterwards, but as I was driving home, I was angry. The letter had humbled me as well thinking how incredible it is to get to serve in this capacity, but I was angry at a church that had failed this man. There are too many like him who will never read such a review on Amazon and never be able to hold onto their faith.
When we’re reminded of what we do in the Kingdom, we should receive it as an honoring testimony, but we should also receive it as a humble reminder. None of us are essential to the Kingdom. God can do without any one of us. Yet He has chosen to allow us to serve and that ought to amaze us.
Part of Hardman’s concern also is with the concept of “apologist,” and I agree that there is a problem here. Too many apologists think they have to be masters of everything. They need to know how to defend the resurrection, then answer every argument against abortion, then know the ins and outs of each cult out there, then recognize all the problems in other world religions. They have to be masters of science who can answer any question on evolution. Naturally, they also have to have an encyclopedic record of every Bible contradiction out there.
Reality check people. You can’t do that.
If you try to do that, you will burn yourself out, and when you meet people who know an area you don’t really study and you claim you do, it will end badly.
When I say I am an apologist then, I am not able to give the whole story, any more than someone can do so by saying “I’m a doctor.” No doctor can be a specialist in every field. No biologist can be a specialist in every area in biology. There are always going to be limitations to your knowledge no matter what field you go into. In our culture, science is highly prized, but because someone says “I’m a scientist”, it does not mean that they’re a master in every natural science out there.
Hardman writes that he didn’t know God in what he was doing despite knowing all about Him. Now when it comes to something like this I want to again caution that we be careful. Honestly, I am often amazed when some people describe me as a great lover of God. It’s not something I readily see in myself. Interestingly, one of the things that first drew my wife to a nerd like me was that she saw I really loved Jesus, at least in her eyes! I loved Jesus and yet I could talk about games with her on the same level. I was a nerd who was actually taking this stuff seriously. How does that work?
Could it be part of the danger we have today is how we define love? Love is not to be measured by the emotional response you have towards something. You may or may not have that and that could be for a variety of reasons. What love is really defined in is seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other.
We would all be really great in our marriages if we had good feelings all the time about the other person constantly, but would that mean we were genuinely loving? Isn’t the loving person the one who serves not only when the feelings are there, but also when the feelings are absent? The loving person does the good they are to do because they are to do it.
I won’t deny there have been many times I’ve got up in the morning and I’ve been angry with my God. Why is it if He’s a God of love and grace and works all things for the good of those who love Him, that I am in the state that I am in? I am angry with God then, and I’m not justifying it either. What do I do? Serve anyway.
We cannot control our feelings. If we could, we would all make ourselves feel happy all the time. We can control our actions. What if you saw me being unloving to my wife and asked “Why did you do that?” and I said “I just didn’t feel loving at the time”? Would you say “Oh thank you very much. That clears it up!” I hope not! I hope you would say something like “Whether you feel loving or not, that’s no excuse to be a jerk. You’re supposed to do the right thing anyway.”
I also wonder about our talk so much about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is terminology I see nowhere in the New Testament. What it talks about the most in there is that we have peace with God. God’s wrath no longer abides on us. We are in right relationship through the Father by the Son and with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
We soon get in Hardman’s piece to a revealing section.
“I knew “why I believed what I believed” yet I, too, was in that 75%. How ironic! If my private life was exposed–my addiction to porn, my alcohol and pot consumption, my relationship with my girlfriend–I looked like your average college guy, not the model of an upstanding Christian apologist I tried to be in front of others.”
I am reminded of the passage in 1 Tim. 3 about how a recent convert should not hold a place in leadership. Too much success early on can lead to pride. What I see here is that it looks like Hardman was saying one thing in public and being different in private. It also looks like this included something men really struggle with, namely sexual sin.
Unfortunately, the church says very little about sexual sin.
It also brings to mind something about how we are in our society. Everyone has to put their best foot forward in the church. Think about what I said about my Bible reading at the start. You know who would be very unwelcome in our churches today?
The Psalmist would.
Seriously. Go through and look at the Psalms. Look at the way they complain to God. Look at the way they accuse God. Look at the reasons why they say God should help them. It’s not always “So your glory may be known.” It can be “So that I will not suffer.” We would look at the Psalmist today at church and say “Dude. You need to be more spiritual. You need to have the joy of Jesus in your life.”
Reality check again. This was found fit to be put in Scripture. Apparently, God wanted us to see this attitude. Why? Because He condemns it and wants us to avoid it?
No. Because He knows it is us.
Last night, I read part of Psalm 44 where the Psalmist wrote about how God had rejected the people of Israel and let their enemies defeat them. He had gone back on the covenant and yet the Psalmist said “We have not strayed from the path. We have honored your covenant.”
I went to bed thinking about that and thinking “Israel in the Hebrew Bible kept the covenant? Who does this Psalmist think He’s fooling?”
Yet it was not too long before the cold reality hit.
“I am the Psalmist.”
I do not mean I wrote the Psalm of course, but how many times do I say “God, why are you doing this in my life when I have been faithful to you? I have served you with due diligence and done the work required of me. Why have you done this to me?”
In those times, I’m saying the exact same thing the Psalmist is saying.
Who do I think I’m fooling?
And yet, that psalm is there for me to read. It is there to remind me someone has been where I have been before. Someone has struggled with what I have struggled before. I took great delight in what the Psalmist said then and realized I was too quick to condemn him. I was just as bad.
Now Hardman has some good points about doubt. Apologetics will not help with every doubt because not every doubt is a factual doubt. A lot of it is emotional doubt. This is where the work of Gary Habermas is so helpful. Habermas has catalogued the three different kinds of doubt and how to deal with them. (Free books on this are available at his web site.)
I know many a person who has struggled with doubt so much, and it’s not intellectual doubt. When I am asked if X is a deal-breaker for Christianity, I now just ask “What do you think I’m going to say?” The answer is the same every time. The person does need knowledge of course, but they also need to deal with unruly emotions, which is the work of a good counselor.
Hardman also says that sometimes we can seek to shut some people down in apologetics which he sees as very un-Christian.
Yet I wonder if that’s not also part of our modernism. We have an emphasis on our feelings and the individual and what the individual thinks of us. Yet Jesus did not hesitate to shut down his opponents. He referred to the Pharisees as blind guides and told his disciples to leave them. He publicly denounced them. Before we say, “Well, that’s Jesus,” let’s keep in mind the fact that this attitude went into the writings of Paul, John, and others in the early church. A passion for the truth led them to be forceful with the enemies of the truth who were coming to devour the flock.
Can some people do such out of pride and evil attitudes? Of course. Does that mean all do? No. Sometimes love means being firm and tough. I tell people that if all you have is a hammer, then yes, everything looks like a nail. If all you have is a hug though, everything looks like a kitten. It’s why I think there is a place for sarcasm and satire in defending the faith.
Did Hardman do this out of pride? If he says so, then he needs to repent of that—and perhaps his writing this article is part of his way of showing that he has. Does that mean everyone does apologetics out of pride? No. That would be just as wrong as saying that because a lot of people preach Christianity out of a love for Jesus, that means that everyone does. Many do not.
Now I will also say that I am certainly one who would describe himself as having a deep love for my field, but I also make sure that that field is secondary to the duties that only I can do and one in particular, loving my wife.
To my fellow men who are apologists and married, I tell them that if you go out and have a successful ministry and answer all the questions and write all the books, but you have failed to be a husband to your wife, then I count you a failure overall.
I realize that when I cannot do the work in the apologetics field for whatever reason, then there are others who can take up the slack for me. No one can take up the slack on being the husband of Allie Peters. No one can fill that in for me. If we ever have children, no one else can take up the slack of being the father to the little ones.
When my anniversary comes about or Allie’s birthday or some event like that, then apologetics is not as pressing a need in that day. Of course, if an emergency came up of some sort, Allie would understand that sometimes, you have to do things. If I receive a call from a friend who’s suicidal for instance on a day like that, Allie will not want me to say “Well it’s our anniversary. Can I call you tomorrow?”
Unless that happens, I love my wife and when I’m with her, I want her to be my focus. No one else can do that for me. I have promised her already that while I am an apologist, I am not married to what I do. She is my spouse and not my work. My work is extremely important, and she knows that and encourages and supports me in it, but it is her that I sleep next to every night.
And since I’ve talked about failure, let’s discuss it a little bit more. I also take what I do seriously because failure is one of my great fears. Allie can tell you that what I want most of all is to enter into eternity and hear God say “Well done good and faithful servant.” I want to know that God is pleased with the work that I have done. I want to have Him smile on me. Some may call that prideful, but what is the alternative? That I care nothing for pleasing Him?
Would I say I always serve God with pure motives? No. But what is the alternative? If I wait until my motives are pure, I will never truly serve God. I must be seeking to serve and be praying that in all of that, God will work on my heart and help me serve as purely as I can, knowing that all I do this side of eternity will always have some of that fallen nature.
As we get down to it in the end, that’s really the problem.
It’s not Christianity.
It’s not apologetics.
It’s not ministry.
It’s not other people.
The problem is us.
We are fallen.
We have met the enemy and it is us.
But as said earlier, we are also ones that God has graciously seen fit to use in this endeavor and we should seek to not lose sight of that. Every blessing we have in our lives comes from Him and we are to serve Him with all we have. We will all fall short. We will all do so imperfectly, but let us make sure that we are all walking together. That way when someone falls, others can pick them up and help them to walk straight again.
We can never give our Lord our best. But let’s give Him what we can.