The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.7

Review and Critique:

"Christian Evangelism: Apologetics and Evangelism"
James P. Holding
http://www.equip.org/article/christian-evangelism-apologetics-and-evangelism/

[Key: direct quotes from author.]

It appears that Mr. Holding is concerned about the use of the personal testimony during a Christian’s witness to the lost:

“The next time you have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ, think about this: There is no example in the New Testament of a “personal testimony” being used in an evangelistic setting. Does that seem surprising? The personal testimony has become such an integral part of evangelistic training that it is assumed to be explicitly described, even mandated, in the Bible; but it isn’t.“

There are two, essentially unrelated issues here.

Let’s handle the second one first: it is the inference that the personal testimony has become, in many quarters, the de facto approach to a Christian witness to the lost. In this point, I tend to agree with Mr. Holding. The vast majority of the records of the witness of the gospel in the NT are straightforward calls to repentance and faith. Paul’s sermon in Athens (Act 17.22+) is a good example.

The remainder of Mr. Holding’s article is a defense of his first claim: “There is no example in the New Testament of a ‘personal testimony’ being used in an evangelistic setting.” His first example is the recounting of Paul’s life as a Pharisee in Phi 3. Again, I agree with Mr. Holding that this is not an evangelistic setting; it was his instruction to the church at Philippi.

However, things begin to get a little more “mushy” as we proceed. (Sorry for the pedestrian term, but it really does accurately describe the somewhat slanted/biased/undisciplined approach to Scripture that follows in Mr. Holding's article.)

Mr. Holding makes this statement:

What we call ‘apologetics’ was, in fact, what the apostolic church would have called ‘evangelism.’ Early missionary preaching testified to the historical realities upon which the Christian faith was grounded and called for repentance on those grounds. Consider Peter’s speech to the crowd in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–25)”

I heartily agree with Mr. Holding’s choice of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 as an excellent example of the preaching of the gospel of faith and repentance. And, to his point, there is no personal testimony by Peter.

The issue I have is with his lead statement:

What we call ‘apologetics’ was, in fact, what the apostolic church would have called ‘evangelism.

For this to be valid, there must be some reason, some necessity, that we “modern” Christians should take it upon ourselves to arbitrarily rename the biblical commission from “evangelism” to “apologetics”.

Why?

As I showed in an earlier article, the only biblically defined and sanctioned “apologetic” activity is that which defends the Christian community generally and the local assembly specifically from the distortions and destructive infections of false teachers within them. The term is never used in an evangelistic setting or of any activity involving the lost.

So, why would Mr. Holding feel obliged to rename “evangelism” to “apologetics”? Why assign a name that has no meaning or use in evangelism (within the text of the NT) as a noun "placeholder" for evangelism, then essentially eliminate the original term? Mr. Holding gives no reason for this extraordinary disposition and provides no biblical proof beyond with his irresponsible assertion.

Mr. Holding continues:

“The apostles’ example, however, shows that evangelism and apologetics are not mutually exclusive. We need to be familiar with the factual basis for our faith in order to “be ready always to give an answer” to any person who asks (1 Pet. 3:15). A basic familiarity with fundamental apologetics is essential to following the apostles’ example.

Here, Mr. Holding falls into the same, tired, unbiblical interpretation of 1 Pet 3.15.

This text does not deal with the “factual basis for our faith” as I detail here.

Mr. Holding’s statement regarding “following the apostles’ example” is presented without biblical support. (I detail texts typically used and typically ignored by the modern evangelistic apologist in previous articles. They present solid biblical evidence that the apostles engaged in no evangelistic apologetic activities in any NT record.)

I know that many Christians today believe that presenting and maintaining a Christian witness today is much harder that it was for the early disciples. Here is Mr. Holding’s statement about midway through his article:

“The spirit of our age admittedly makes our task more difficult.”

Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit observed roughly 3000 years ago that “there is nothing new under the sun.” With that biblical principle in mind, remember that the gospel, when preached and taught correctly, is both an initial and consistent irritant to the lost.

“Appealing to the miracles of Jesus as evidence will not be as straightforward today as it was to those who themselves had seen, or heard eyewitness testimony to, the miracles.”

Was it really “straightforward” to the Jews of Christ’s day? If the Lord’s miracles were better received then in contrast to now, then why did the vast majority of the Jews of Christ’s day demand his crucifixion after being the direct and immeidate beneficiaries of more than 3 years of extraordinary and gracious miracles? Why, during and after the powerful works of power by the Apostles were there only several thousand conversions? (This would have been a very tiny percentage of the Jewish population of that time.)

No, Mr. Holding’s inference that we, in the 21st century America, somehow have a more difficult task than they did is clearly misguided and myopic, a “Christian pity-party” (an oxymoronic phrase, if ever there was one!). When is the last time you saw a Christian in America put to death strictly and solely because he was a Christian?

When is the last time you saw Christians persecuted en masse by their families and neighbors here in the states? Mr. Holding, where have these taken place in our culture, with the same breadth and scope that they did in NT Jerusalem:

Act 4.3
And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.

Act 4.18
And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

Act 5.17-18
But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

Act 5.40
They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

Act 7.57-58
But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at [Stephen] with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him …

Act 8.1
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Act 9.1-2
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Act 12.1-3
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Act 13.44-45
The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.

Act 13.50
But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.

Act 14.2
But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.

Act 14.19
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

Act 14.22
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Act 16.2-24
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Perhaps the 2nd letter to the Corinthians is missing from the Bible version Mr. Holding is using:

2 Cor 11.23-28
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

Mr. Holding: do you still contend that “The spirit of our age admittedly makes our task more difficult.”? Have you never read any of the texts above, or even this one:

Heb 12.4
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin …

Mr. Holding, you need to "cease and desist" your pathetic "self-pity party". You embarrass yourself and the name of Christ; no one likes to listen to—or pay any attention to—a whiner.

He continues in the same paragraph:

“Modern arrogance dismisses ancient history (especially religious history and accounts of miracles) as the fabrication of primitive minds. Skeptics may assume that miracles are impossible. Our witness to them may therefore have to begin by addressing the philosophical premises of naturalism (i.e., that there is no supernatural God who can perform miracles).”

It is at this point that the author has jumped into the deep end of the pool of biblical error.

As I detail in my article Preach the Gospel!, there is no NT example of anything like this being done, commanded or even implied. (Other apologetics authors term this activity “pre-evangelism”.)

Nothing can be added to or removed from the gospel or its presentation:

Gal 1.6-9
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Mr. Holding, when you find it necessary to preface the gospel with “philosophical premises of naturalism”, you have distorted the gospel and created “another gospel” in the process. I beg you to seriously review the Holy Spirit’s condemnation of what you espouse:

Gal 1.10
For am I now seeking the favor of men
, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Do you not recognize, Mr. Holding, that this is exactly what you are trying to do—“please men” by “by addressing the philosophical premises of naturalism”? Do you really think that your preface to the gospel honors the Lord Christ, whose message you merely profess to bear to the lost when in reality you "clog it up" with all sorts of intellectual trash?

Mr. Holding proceeds with some examples from history of those critics of the Bible that misuse and misinterpret its contents. It appears to be a lead-up to:

Rampant cynicism, ignorance, and skepticism has made our task more difficult, but that does not mean it has become impossible. Believers who can communicate the basis for their faith can be far more convincing and make a far greater impression with their personal testimony. If we are unable to answer unbelievers’ questions about Christianity, however, we leave ourselves open to the charge of being uncritical and not caring to examine our faith. Paul, in fact, advised the Thessalonians to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bible does not encourage a blind faith.

This is nothing less than a major, unmitigated, illogical mess and useless prattle.

Mr. Holding repeats his claim that, in view of the examples he just cited, somehow our task is more formidable than it was to the early church. As I pointed out above, this simply is not the case.

[What Mr. Holding fails to recognize is that it is his own, defective, twisted, humanistic "gospel" that demonstrates its own powerlessness. He wouldn't be as frustrated by his evangelistic endeavors if he actually presented the true and beautiful gospel of grace. In short, Mr. Holding, you deserve every miserable moment of failure you receive.]

Did you catch the phrase “Believers who can communicate the basis for their faith …”? For the “run-of-the-mill” believer, who knows only enough to take the Lord Christ at His word and came to Him “by grace through faith” (Eph 2.8-9) … well, I guess that he/she will never be able to really communicate the gospel to a lost neighbor or family member—according to the prattle of Mr. Holding.

Yes, Christians are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3.18); ignorance of the  Scriptures is never a valid excuse. The lost will likely always advance a variety of “charges” against the Christian. (It’s their fallen nature; they can't and won't do otherwise.)

Remember what the Jews did to the Lord Christ! Was He somehow incompetent, that if only He had given more “proof” for His claims that somehow that would have turned the tables on the lost Jews of His day? The author forgets this interesting exchange between the Lord Christ and the Jews of His day:

Joh 5.36
But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

Mr. Holding: did the Lord Christ, therefore, actually fail to "communicate the basis for [His] faith"? Were His works of power simply not enough? Your reasoning would have to improve by an order of magnitude to be anything better than utter nonsense!

Would you, Mr. Holding, charge Paul with biblical incompetence before Festus:

Act 26.24
While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”

No, of course not! (At least I hope not. But, after reviewing your article and reasoning I’m not so sure…)

Your following paragraph appears to be an attempt to “walk back” the inference that could be made from the preceding:

“No believer, not even a scholarly believer, can hope to master every conceivable apologetic issue; nor is it necessary. A few basic areas, however, are all that Christians need to study in depth to be more effective witnesses. Materials on life in Bible times can be especially helpful and will often bring more light to passages that seem obscure. Authors who examine and compare social values in the biblical world to those in the modern world can bring an exciting new perspective and understanding to the text. A book on the literary genres and interpretation of the biblical text is also essential. Once the basics are mastered, one may choose to study specialty fields such as archaeology, literature, textual criticism, or eschatology.”

Mr. Holding: you miss a vital point: the only necessity is the study of the Scripture! Everything else is optional. Once a believer has become an expert and knows the Bible thoroughly may he/she spin off significant time to the study of extra-biblical material—but not before!

Your recommendations tend to mitigate true, humble, unfiltered Bible study. Do you not remember this wonderful text:

Act 4.13
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

By no stretch would Peter or John be regarded as “scholarly believers” at that point in their lives. But they had something that, sadly, many so-called Bible scholars/apologists today lack: a thorough love for and personal, daily experience with the Lord Christ and His Word.

Yes, all the resources you mention may be useful in their place. But, if any of them get in the way of the true, solid, unfiltered Bible knowledge and growth, then they should be jettisoned with extreme prejudice.

Remember, 1 Pet 3.15 commands us not to “defend our faith”; it commands us to “defend the hope that is in us with gentleness and meekness …” that have resulted from the experience of trials and persecutions initiated by the lost against believers. There is a huge difference, as I detail here.

The author needs to return to the Gospel 101 and Grace 101 in order to begin to learn what he clearly does not understand.

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