Recently a man I deeply respect and have come to love from afar off said the following:
Apologetics is the seasoning, the Gospel is the main course. You do not want too much of the seasoning or it will make the main course insipid.
Apologetics does not dominate our message; it under-girds our message. Argument doesn’t save people, but it certainly clears the obstacles so they can take a direct look at the Cross.
Support the argument justifiably, but recognize it is Jesus Christ who you need to lift up, and it is the Holy Spirit who brings about change within the human heart. An argument may remove doubt, but only the Holy Spirit can convict of truth.
I can certainly see his point but contrast this with the statements by a nationally syndicated television interviewer speaking to a popular professional basketball coach:
I grew up in a Pentecostal [experience] and . . . they can be rather dogmatic.
You started [there] but have found your own . . . path of faith.
Sunday last, in the throes of a digression on the false juxtaposition of love vs. punishment and wrath, a local minister wrestled with the nature of truth and justice. He seemed to view love as incapable of inflicting injury or punishment. He seemed to struggle with the idea that a loving God could love the world and hate an individual. He couldn’t allow God the freedom to discriminate and choose to save the repentant and damn the defiant and the hypocrite. But that means putting on blinders and ignoring Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus came to the Jew primarily and the gentile almost as an afterthought. I say this confidently, because Jesus tells us in Matt, that he was sent exclusively to the lost members of the Israeli descent. His ministry was defined by the dearth of personal contact with gentiles, and one might even say he came not to Jews in general but to the Pharisees in particular for the same reason. But here is the fascinating bit that seems lost on many believers. Jesus ministry was almost exclusively apologetic.
The Pharisees were the orthodoxy in the first century, and they had been the orthodoxy for a while. As such they were apologists in their own right. Arguing for the dogmatically perfect and doctrinally sound was the heart and soul of Jewish sectarianism. Pharisees like Nehemiah and Isaiah had gone on crusade to stamp out heterodox practice and belief. Their ministries had been concerned with preaching the day of destruction for the deviant, the unorthodox and the careless. They brought promises of salvation for a remnant. And famously Isaiah’s promises foretold the coming of Jesus himself.
Jesus was a Melchizedek come to provide a course correction to the body of ostensibly correct believer’s. Like Abraham, they’d come far in pursuit of the dogmatically true and the rejection of the patently pagan. But they were in need of further guidance to be perfect in their understanding and expectation of Isaiah’s Anointed One. He seldom bothered with the Saduccees, the Hellenes, or the Roman Jews and when he did, it was because they came to him. His brief interlude with the Samaritans was an exception worth a great deal of study, but didn’t alter the trend at all. Jesus was a missionary to the Persit, Pharisaic Jews because their error and hypocrisy was built onto the truth of God’s word. He sought to convince them, rather than reject or alienate them.
For this reason we see Jesus engaging in apologetics from the age of twelve. We see him arguing with the pharisees in the streets, in the temples, after large meetings and in the yeshiva or synagogue. Jesus didn’t come like Jonah to the Ninevites or Paul upon Mars hill, to the pagan ignorant of the Torah and its message of hope and salvation for the Human Mind.
Instead, he came to a people steeped in generations of reason and philology, who parsed the scripture with expertise and polemical precision. On the strength of rabbinical pontification, they could take any one position and even merge contractions to ‘prove’ whatever supported their current agenda. Jesus countered this with a singular truth a good news polemic that demanded adherence to a single interpretation, a single morality and a single understanding of man’s relationship to divinity. For this reason he was often rude to the point of obscenity, a point disguised by our use of “sanctified” translation. But there is one point where Jesus actually compares the Taliths of his opponents to used feminine products.
Today we live in a world where 24×7 broadcasts of sermons and song, polemic and apologetic, from every wind of doctrine and indeed every historical analysis of pagan mythology. This constant flood of disparate and contradictory have allowed every person to construct a personal faith that is unique and blended of every sect and religion ever known in history. People approach a veritable smorgasbord of faith and fantasy that allows them to cauterize guilt and feel self-satisfied and proud. Like the rich man they say, “Eat drink and party hearty for tomorrow we die.” And the response of the spirit is the same.
But the effect of this abundance, is ignorance in the pew, instability in the church, and a plurality of Truths. Pluralism is the new religion and those who hold to the orthodox teachings of the Bible are bled at the altar of the new legalism. “Don’t be so dogmatic. Some people don’t agree with you. You should be humble enough to know all truth is God’s truth.” This interfaith eccumen is in total opposition to Jesus’ gospel, but it isn’t confined to the world of the Christian church. Half the world rests confidently on their expert knowledge of the Bible and its covenants. The other half are convinced of its irrelevance but have some working knowledge of the Evangelical cattle call and can parody a Baptist alter-call.
In this environment the meal is certainly, apologetic. Or to correct the metaphor, the people starve on an abundance of non-nutritive fiber. The grinding, baking and salting of sound apologetics is the core of gospel in such an environment. Now more than ever we must emulate not only Jesus life but his argumentative message. Stand firm on the foundation of scripture and cease the habit of picking only those verses that are comfortable to your custom designed faith.