The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.14

Review and Critique:

"Apologetic evangelism: an oxymoron?"
Phillip Jensen

[Key: direct quotes from author.]

This is a peculiar article. There are elements in it with which I agree; there are others that are just … peculiar.

The author’s opening paragraph is enigmatic:

“Apologetic evangelism is neither apologetics nor evangelism. Since the language of today is apologetic, and certainty is considered arrogance, how then can we evangelise modern, or post-modern, society?”

It’s that first use of “apologetic” that appears to me to be ambiguous; exactly how it ties in with the following “arrogance” and “evangelise” left me wondering exactly where Mr. Jensen was going.

The second paragraph is good, and I heartily agree:

“Evangelism is the declaration of the great news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the announcement of God’s victory in his Son; the proclamation of the coming of the age of salvation. It calls upon people to repent and tells them to trust Jesus for their salvation. It assures them of the full, complete forgiveness that Jesus has won for them and the new life that his Spirit brings them.”

Of all the reviews of articles on evangelistic apologetics, this is the only one I’ve found that sets forth a statement of the true gospel at all (including the need for repentance), much less with this type of clarity. It is a good summary statement.

It’s this third paragraph where it is not clear if the author is making a play on words (“apologetics” and “apologize”) or actually misunderstands the term “apologetics”.

There is nothing to apologize for in evangelism. It is the most wonderful news that we will ever have to tell anybody. Judgement over, condemnation passed, sins forgiven, new life commenced, eternity awaiting us as we grow in God’s loving grace.”

Following this, the author appears to favor the latter meaning, “apologize”:

“There is nothing to apologize for in evangelism.”

“But today the world accuses those who speak with such confidence, of arrogance.”

So our modern evangelist suggests it with apologies—“I know that it is a view that is old fashioned and caused some considerable strife, dividing communities and even families—but it may be worth pondering.” “I know I can’t prove that it is true, that it’s all a matter of opinion—I am only asking you to ponder the possibility that there may be something in it.””

So, by this point it is obvious that this is not the typical “run of the mill” article on evangelistic apologetics and that I shouldn’t regard it as such.

[Personally, this was somewhat refreshing after the humanistic and unbiblical assault of all the other articles I’ve endured for this series.]

Instead, there definitely is merit in the point which Mr. Jensen makes (in spite of his non-standard use of the term “apologetics”).

Instead, Mr. Jensen makes the solid case that the gospel is something concerning which to be bold and not ashamed by marshaling these well-known texts:

Mar 8.38
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

Rom 1.16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

2 Tim 1.8
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God …

As you read the typical articles on evangelistic apologetics, you’ll find an undercurrent (not stated, but definitely present!) that the modern, evangelistic apologist is indeed ashamed of the true gospel of repentance and grace (and it therefore “needs” their apologetic methods and intellectual magic to overcome the perceived handicap). Mr. Jensen’s appeal to these texts is a refreshing change from their constant, humanistic drone.

The author rightly recognizes the humanistic reaction of the Athenians toward Paul in his very well-known message in Act 17:

“When he went to Athens he was put down by the philosophers of his day calling him a “babbler” and a “preacher of foreign divinities” and when he explained the resurrection, “some mocked” (Acts 17:18, 32). “Babbler” was an insulting term, referring to the way scavenging birds pick up seeds. It was a way of saying that he was stealing scraps of information and peddling them as his own serious thought or argument. But he knew the righteousness of God that the Gospel revealed—and there was no wavering in his faith that would lead him to be ashamed.”

Mr. Jensen has really struck a nerve of the modern, evangelistic apologist. The author here implies what I have observed in this series: they don’t like being called “babblers” and will do anything—including polluting the true gospel with their self-declared intellect—to avoid the intellectual ridicule by the world.

Mr. Jensen is also the first (and, so far, only) author to properly represent the context of Phi 1 and 2 Cor 10: assemblies of God’s people (be it the synagogue or the Christian assemblies) rather than the lost world in general:

“Paul did not apologise for being a Christian but he used apologetics as he preached the gospel. He rejoiced with the Philippians in both the ”defence and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil 1:7). He argued and dialogued with the opponents of the gospel. In Acts, his evangelistic work is described as involving arguing, reasoning and persuading—as for example in Ephesus where “he spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading” in the synagogue and then reasoned daily in the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8f). In his relationship with the Corinthians he speaks of destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” and taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

As Mr. Jensen begins his summary, we find

“Paul’s apologetics was not apologising for the gospel or its effects upon people—there was nothing to apologise about in the gospel. His apologetics were a form of arguing and answering objections as he declared the truth of the gospel, and through this he showed the folly of rejecting it or embracing other views.”

The author’s statement that “[Paul’s] apologetics were a form of …” misses the mark, however. Paul didn’t engage in apologetics, as the term is typically used. He simply preached only the gospel to the lost; additionally, he “defended the faith” within the Christian community (such as what he did in Philippi and Corinth).

Otherwise, within the general context of this article I (mostly) agree with the author. Personally, I would like to see a more definitive statement regarding the contexts of Paul’s (for example) apologetics: the defense of the faith within the Christian community generally or the local assembly specifically against the distortions of God’s truth by false teachers.

At least this article was not the usual, run-of-the-mill arrogant, intellectual and humanistic drivel of the typical modern, evangelistic apologist.