The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.2

Review and Critique:

"How to do Apologetics, an Outline"
Ryan Turner
https://carm.org/how-to-do-apologetics

[Key: direct quotes from author.]

Mr. Turner introduces his outline:

The following is an outline of a presentation that I delivered at a conference entitled "How to Be an Effective Apologist Right Where You Are" or "How to Integrate Apologetics into Your Personal Ministry."

It is indeed an outline; there is no accompanying text of any kind from his presentation. There are only five Scripture references. I’ll review his use of them here, along with the general tenor of what may be inferred from the outline itself.

[I must assume here that, whatever else he may have stated in the presentation, he did present his outline point with its “supporting” Scripture in at least those five occurrences.]

I need to make a note here regarding his selection of Bible references within the context of the “How to do … Apologetics …”: there are only five, and of them only 2 Tim 2.15 is sometimes used in a discussion of apologetics! [And, if you review my notes here, you’ll see that this text deals only with the study of the Word of God and does not so much as hint at the study of any type of extra-biblical information. This type of biblical carelessness is typical for what I've observed of Evangelistic Apologetics authors and articles: mention a Bible verse without so much as a nod to its true context or content.]

[In a context that purports to be a “how-to” presentation on helping Christians in their “personal ministry”, I find it strikingly lacking that a mere five verses were all that were “for-the-record” marshaled for biblical support. And, as I noted above, only a single verse is sometimes used (and when it is, it is cited out-of-context) to support evangelistic apologetics.

In the form we find here, this outline really has very limited usefulness to convey information on the implementation of apologetics. It's curious why this method was chosen to record this "vital" presentation.]

So what, exactly, did Mr. Turner present?

His outline certainly provides no biblical support regarding that which the CARM site associates with apologetics. (See my review of the CARM Introduction to Apologetics here.) Did he actually present the typical set of out-of-context support verses, or did he simply present his opinions on a topic that (had been decided beforehand, perhaps?) would be accepted as biblical, but without either explicit or implicit Bible support (a sort of “preaching to the choir presentation”)?

[Or, perhaps in an even more frightening scenario, he just assumed that what he presented would be regarded as truth simply because he was a conference speaker and therefore incapable of error? Given the typical arrogance I've observed in their articles, this is a justifiable concern.]

I begin with the top-level 3 points first:

  1. The Foundations and Tools for Effective Apologetics
  2. How and Where You Can Use Apologetics
  3. Conclusion

So, given that we proceed with the premise that apologetics is biblical (a premise that this series biblically refutes), these are reasonable top-level points for a presentation of this nature. Of course, it is a humanistic, not biblical, presentation.

When I drill into point 1 (“The Foundations …”, I find the following second-level outline [note the reset of the point numbers 1-2, 1-2]:

  1. Salvation and Spiritual Maturity
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Sound Theology
  4. Apologetics

[I handle the unusual numbering of these points below.]

Mr. Turner cites some classic texts as support for his point 1 (“Salvation and Spiritual Maturity”), namely 1 Cor 15.3 and Eph 2.8-9. There is nothing to critique here: unless a person really has experienced the “birth from above” he/she has no business attempting to talk to the lost about salvation or, more generally, to attempt any type of Christian “ministry”.

His supporting points make use of 2 Tim 2.15, Gal 5.22-23 and the Bible generally as the genesis and process of Christian maturity. I heartily agree.

Before getting into second-level point 2 (“Critical Thinking”), there is something unusual. Is the second-level numbering reset to 1 a typo, as if “Sound Theology” should be point 3 and “Apologetics” point 4? Or, is there a missing parent-level point?

[This type of error is easy to do with an HTML document.]

So, which of these did Mr. Turner intend?

  1. Salvation and Spiritual Maturity
  2. Critical Thinking

<<missing parent-level point??>>

  1. Sound Theology
  2. Apologetics
  1. Salvation and Spiritual Maturity
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Sound Theology
  4. Apologetics

Whichever of these is correct, I am troubled by the position of “Sound Theology” within either outline. Why does “Sound Theology” follow “Critical Thinking”? From a truly biblical point-of-view, how is it even possible to exercise "critical thinking" within a theological framework without a first foundation of "sound theology"?

I have observed in my reviews that a common characteristic of those who espouse the modern definition of apologetics is that there is a significant tendency toward elevating man’s intellect—both of the apologist and of the lost.

As I have maintained in this series, whatever else you may learn in your studies, make preeminent the study of God’s Word; everything else is truly optional.

The lost can be saved only by the Word of God, but no man has ever been saved by the reasoning and/or presentation of another man (nor ever can be!). The Lord has promised to bless His word and accomplish what He plans (Isa 55.11), but He has made no such promise regarding the strategy and tactics of the modern apologist (nor will He ever do so!).

The one who may reasonably and defensibly be called the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen had this to say about presenting the gospel:

1 Cor 2.1-2
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Nothing of “critical thinking” here.

His second-level point 2, “Critical Thinking” cites Mat 22.37 as the “Foundational Tool”. Let’s look at this verse in context:

Mat 22.34-38
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.

I confess that I was mystified by this reference.

Mr. Turner, how, exactly, is Mat 22.37 the foundational tool of critical thinking? Yes, the Lord did indeed identify this commandment as foremost, but it is foremost in everything in the Christian’s life! To cite Mat 22.37 as the justification for the context of the remaining points ("Advice", "Resources") in his point 2 (“Critical Thinking”) is non-sequitur.

Is Mr. Turner suggesting that in order to obey the premier commandment that we must first apply “critical thinking”? His remaining points of “Advice” and “Resources” implies this is the correct interpretation of that point. If this interpretation is not correct, we get no help from his outline.

But, let’s drill in a little deeper.

If you think about it, how does any “critically-thinking” Christian actually resolve the study of all manner of extra-biblical information (as espoused on the CARM site for the purpose of evangelism) with the fact the Lord (and His Word, since these can’t be separated!) is to be preeminent in every way? Could you really claim

“Lord I love you with all my heart, mind, and soul; I therefore want to study all manner of extra-biblical information, debate tactics and strategies, logic, logical fallacies, critical thinking and Norman Geisler in order to be able to present to the lost, my family, friends, co-students and co-workers the very latest information related to the Bible, and I labor to do so in intellectually-acceptable ways. I realize that this is something that you never commanded, along with the fact that it is to the virtual, practical exclusion of the message You did command me preach.”

Does this really make any sense!?!? Wouldn't this be "humanistic hubris" of the highest degree?

Yet, it is difficult to deny that this is exactly what is being recommended in this outline if we take it at face value.

One of my favorite passages is:

Jer 9.23-24
Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.

If a Christian can make this claim consistently, honestly, and humbly, then he/she will be a very effective witness for the Lord Christ in all places, to all people and at all times. The same cannot be said for knowing what is essentially the recommended language of the apologist of “superiority of speech or of wisdom …” (1 Cor 2.1).

Mr. Turner, please give me an example from the life of Peter—an uneducated fisherman—and how his self-developed powers of “critical thinking” enabled him to deliver a powerful, effective message in Jerusalem shortly after the ascension of the Lord Christ. (He could hardly be considered a “mature, well-educated Christian leader and apologist” at that point in time!)

Rather, Peter was a man who had “been with Jesus” (Act 4.13). His message was powerful and effectual because it was filled with Scripture and he was filled with the Holy Spirit!

The same was demonstrated in the Lord Christ Himself, a man devoted to the Word of God:

Mat 13.54-55a
He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son?

Mr.  Turner, are you not afraid that you are misleading those who genuinely want to be more effective at reaching the lost with this “advice”? How do you justify citing 2 Tim 2.15 to your listeners (which was valid and correct in and of itseslf) but then proceed to spend more outline points to push them to Norm Geisler, et al.?

Really!?!? Why do you pretend to use the Bible at all!?!? Your writings and recommended methodologies suggest that you need nothing of the Lord Christ and His Word.

Whatever the correct order of the [1-2,1-2 or 1-2-3-4] of the second level points, “Sound Theology” doesn’t occur until the third point! I mentioned above that I’ve frequently seen the elevation of human reasoning by those who espouse modern evangelistic apologetics. Was this ordering a Freudian slip? Do you really consider “Critical Thinking” a higher priority than “Sound Theology”? Do you have any Scripture to support this faulty priority? Of course you don’t! That is one of the main points of my entire refutation of modern evangelistic apologetics!

But, let’s look at your supporting outline points for the point of “Sound Theology”:

  1. The Importance of Theology
  2. The foundational doctrines
  3. Advice
  4. Resources
  5. Theology
  6. Bible Survey

You state in point 1 “You need to know what faith you are defending before you start defending the faith.” This sounds a lot like the typical misuse of 1 Pet 3.15. The main issue here is that Peter did not command us to “defend the faith” in any way approaching your distorted view of evangelism.

He commanded us to be “… ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence …”.

These two activities are very different, a simple fact missed by nearly every single apologist I reviewed for this series.

So, while I heartily agree that sound theology is of vital importance, you and other evangelistic apologists I've reviewed have not made the case that the methods by which you implement apologetics is biblical. (In effect, you play the game of evangelism and make up your own rules in the process.)

Your first subpoint under The foundational doctrines troubles me greatly. I have seen some of the truly pathetic attempts to prove the Bible is “authoritative”.

Prove it to whom? The lost? They are spiritually dead and unable to process any spiritual truth. (Eph 2.1,5; Col 2.13; 1 Cor 2.14)

On the other hand, if it needs to be proven to the “Christian” (quotes are deliberate here!), what kind of “Christian” was actually “born from above” by means of a Bible whose authority is in question? In my opinion, your (provocative?) question borders on heresy. We are saved by grace through faith through God’s own work (Eph 2.8-9).

There simply is no meaning in your spectacularly idiotic question “is the Bible authoritative …?”.

Above, I asked “Prove it to whom?” I now ask “How is it even possible for a created being to ‘prove’ the Creator exists?”—given the generally accepted meaning of the word “prove”. Yes, I know (and believe!) that the creation declares “the glory of God” (Psa 19 and Rom 1), but Romans chapter 1 also tells us that no one was ever saved by virtue of observing the created order (and it is a magnificent created order indeed!).

To the contrary: the natural man suppresses the witness of the creation to his own just condemnation. If the vastness, beauty, genius, scope, intricacy, interrelatedness, integration, power, mystery, etc. of the creation fails to inexorably force the lost to a saving knowledge of the Lord Christ (and this is the case!), then how it is even possible that you speak of proving the “authority and inspiration” of the only record of God’s creative activity?

This is the both the foundation and pinnacle of a humanistic Babel!

The remaining subpoints, Advice, Resources, Theology, Bible Survey are a mishmash of good and bad advice. Study the Bible seriously and Talk with Christians who … are really about the only two points that are valid. The bulk of what remains essentially directs the Christian to human works: Systematic theologies; websites (Paltalk, CARM); well-known people (Geisler, Grudem, Archer, Carson, Gutherie, Craig).

And, not to put too fine a point on it: when the relatively immature Christian begins studying human authors maximally and the Bible minimally (a common error!), he/she does not yet have the Bible exposure and experience needed to evaluate what is being studied.

Young students (particularly seminary students) typically emerge from the institution not realizing that they have been essentially indoctrinated (yes, I use this word deliberately) with a theological framework that they don’t even realize and, unfortunately, may never realize. This process breeds more of the same “less-than-priority” view of the authority and power of the Bible.

[I want to be perfectly clear here: I have a reasonably well-stocked library of theologies; Greek NT grammars and lexicons; some commentaries (many technical); many books by the Puritans and early reformers; many modern “Christian” topical studies; Kittle; books on cosmology, evolution and physics (by Christian and secular authors); and many others.

These all have their place—but a place that is deliberately secondary to the Scriptures. I have the classic works by Calvin, Owen, Berkhof, Ladd, Vos, Ridderbos, Dabney, Bruce, Pool, etc (as only a few of many examples). But I am free to disagree with any of them should I be convinced from the Scripture that any of their analysis and commentary are wrong. (And this happens... they are mere men after all.)

In terms of the time I spend reading, the overwhelming bulk of my study time is the Bible itself; if in the NT, I consult the Greek NT along with the grammars and lexicons (which both are largely free of commentary). For the most part, when I consult a commentary I already have formed the crux of what I believe that text teaches. I consult K&D when I want to know something of the Hebrew grammar behind an OT passage, along with references to other similar grammatical constructions in the OT. But, the Bible is primary and will always be primary. When I teach, it is from the Bible, not from a commentary or other human notes.

(I have, sadly, seen a teacher, about 65 years old, teaching a men’s Sunday School lesson from Scofield’s notes, as one of many other examples!)

We must be guided by Solomon’s inspired words:

Ecc 12.11-14
The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Books have their secondary place, along with all other human contributions. But, too often, I have seen preachers and teachers emphasize human contributions to the (near and practical) exclusion of the Scripture.

This is wrong, but is one of the undeniable hallmarks of our age and its so-called “Christian” culture.]

The last of the top-level points is How and Where You Can Use Apologetics”. Given that the proper definition of biblical apologetics (see here) is the defense of sound doctrine within both the local assembly and the broader Christian community from the biblical distortions promulgated by false teachers within that Christian community, it is impossible to interpret Mr. Turner’s how and where” list in any meaningful or useful way. In short, it is essentially garbage advice.

However, let’s step through his list one by one:

Your Family. His comments here are peculiar. The OT, in particular, is very explicit about both the parents’ roles in the life of their children. But nowhere is this called apologetics; it is called teaching. So, unless the mother (for example) is teaching biblical error to her children, which in turn must be corrected by the father, this “how and where” is non-sequitur.

Your Church. This is the true, biblical venue of apologetics—when false teachers are present and actively teaching error. However, there is nothing in the subpoints (“Importance of the Church”, “Pastors”, “Lay People”) that would lead one to believe that there is any problem in that particular assembly; in fact, the opposite is implied. Mr. Turner’s list makes sense only if one accepts the CARM definition of apologetics. One last point: again there is the recommendation of yet more books by more men (in this case, Lee Stroble) and a plug for CARM.

Your School and University. With this point, Mr. Turner is the most abstract and useless. How, exactly, would a concerned Christian introduce classes in apologetics to elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges? In Christian schools this could, in principle, be possible; this is essentially impossible in any public school or college/university of our current day. Yes, there might be some opportunities in student meetings, and semi-formal debates might actually be implemented (something of an “evolution vs. creation” sort of thing). But this type of environment is precisely where the evangelistic apologist tends to lose the gospel in the fog of extra-biblical facts. Remember, the lost person—even an intelligent university major in physics or biology—has no spiritual discernment and is incapable of understanding spiritual truth. The gospel saves those gifted by grace and the “birth from above”; extrabiblical facts have never saved anyone.

Also: “Become a professor or teacher”: Really? Again, within the Christian educational system, you should find a “Bible-friendly” environment (but then, why would you need to defend against false teachers in a biblical church?). In a public university environment, this recommendation is laughable and betrays a stunning naivete. I dare the author to explain how this could possibly be implemented in the typical state or private university.

Your Job. In the first subpoint, I’m assuming that Mr. Turner recommends a faithful, consistent, humble life in full view of the people with whom that Christian works; if this is the case, then I heartily agree. I also think that hosting a Bible study (on personal, not professional, time!) is also a good suggestion. But, ensure that it stays a Bible study and not veer off into a presentation of extra-biblical facts and figures that don’t lead the lost to repentance or help the saved to a better understanding of the Bible itself. (And, that it does not become a study of a book about the Bible!)

 


Summary

At the first read of this article, I initially inferred from “… Personal Ministry” that the implicit context of Mr. Turner’s talk is the use of apologetics in evangelism. However, further into the outline, he appears to apply a much more general context as he refers to the “how and where” of apologetics as taking place

  • within the family,
  • the church, [see my comments above regarding this entry]
  • educational institutions,
  • and your place of employment.

So, Mr. Turner seems to be making the case that, by definition, the Christian’s life/ministry is an apologetic. I wouldn’t quibble over this definition (if applied biblically). However, I don’t find it necessary, or even particularly useful, either. Why should we apply a “special” term to this:

1 Cor 4.1-2
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.

Phi 1.21a
For to me, to live is Christ

Yes, in everything we are bound to faithfulness in all ways and at all times, and to glorify the Lord Christ and His word to every extent. But, none of the type of activity in those places which Mr. Turner suggests is ever found in the context of either ἀπολογία (the noun, defense) and ἀπολογέομαι (the verb, defend). The only possible venue exception is the church, but as I noted above, there is nothing in the context the author presents to indicate that false teachers were present and teaching and, therefore, a true, biblical defense was needed within that assembly.

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