By Eric Johnson
Recently I was made aware of a paper (found in Perichoresis, a publication of Emanuel University of Oradea, Romania (Volume 10, Issue 1 (2012): 23-39), written by a theology professor at the school where I received my Master of Divinity degree in 1991. It was originally titled “Smash-Mouth Apologetics versus Grace-Filled Persuasion” and was later published with the title “Confrontational Apologetics versus Grace-Filled Persuasion.” While I have met Dr. Glen G. Scorgie several times and even taught two seminary classes for him while he was on sabbatical about a decade ago, I do not know him personally. Because the title of his paper intrigued me, I read it on the Internet. Because I was disappointed with his argumentation, I attempted to schedule a meeting with him in late May 2013 through a mutual friend, though he did not respond to my request. I then decided that a written review was in order.
The title introduces the reader to Dr. Scorgie’s presupposition, which is a trail leading to the either/or fallacy. According to this paradigm, there is either “confrontational apologetics” or there is “grace-filled persuasion,” as if there are only two ways to do apologetics. He sets up this dichotomy in his abstract when he writes, in part, “Too often Christian apologetics has been conducted in a confrontational manner that alienates people and undermines apologetic effectiveness . . . The great challenge before Christian apologists is to speak and live in ways that combine uncompromising faithfulness to revealed truth with a generous spirit of loving service and civility. Grace-filled persuasion always trumps smash-mouth apologetics.”
To me, using the term “confrontational apologetics” (his biased creation, along with the companion synonym “smash-mouth apologetics”) paints a picture of a rabid street evangelist, a scowl on his face and a bullhorn in his hands, shouting at those passersby who don’t acknowledge his big sign that says “Turn or burn…y’all going to hell.” It all sounds so very negative. For those practicing “grace-filled apologetics” (again, this is his created term), I imagine someone laughing with a neighbor, speaking softly and gently patting the other person on the back. Partially quoting 2 Timothy 2:24-25 to buttress his model, Dr. Scrogie advocates “grace-filled persuasion” as the proper and civil way to do evangelism.
On the surface, the scenario sounds so nice, as words like kindness, gentleness, sweetness, and camaraderie appear to best describe this situation. Of course, none of us wants to be disliked and be seen as confrontational bigots, filled with hatred and desiring to make other people’s lives miserable. We want to be the good neighbors, characterized by love and compassion for everyone.
While the terms Dr. Scorgie uses make this article sound like an open- and shut-case, there’s much more involved. While I would agree with Dr. Scorgie’s assertion that sensitivity ought to be practiced in apologetics, I’d like to show that having a gentle yet firm manner in sharing truth with other people in a manner he might classify as “confrontational” could very well be the better description of “grace-filled” apologetics.
The Way to do Apologetics
Dr. Scorgie begins his article by telling a story of how his pride got in the way during his university years when he argued with a group of Communists in the student union at the university. He went to the group’s table where he
“promptly got into debate over the existence of God and stuff like that, and I’ll admit that I was performing a bit to impress my Christian friends. . . . I can vaguely recall pounding their little table with my fist, and then things really got out of hand. The situation was rapidly escalating toward a physical fight, with some shoving and pushing. . . . I was guilty of smash-mouth apologetics.”
Indeed, Dr. Scorgie was very much in the wrong because he attempted to practice evangelism in a fleshly manner. It’s true the Bible is clear that we are to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and to “always have an answer for everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Yet our tactics are crucial. Almost getting into a fight, with part of his admitted motivation being to impress friends rather than desiring to compassionately share the truth about God and Truth, cannot be justified biblically.
I agree with the points that he uses to describe proper (what he calls “grace-filled persuasion”) apologetics, including:
- “The substance of our apologetic message is crucially important”
- “Make no mistake—our content matters”
- “There’s no place for muddle-headedness, or spineless compromise”
- “Where it is appropriate we should be able to make our points vigorously and forcefully”
- “Our opponents should be crystal-clear on what we believe, and why we are convinced it is true”
- “. . .how we engage in apologetics—how we related to our conversation partners—also matters a great deal” (p. 24)
I can also agree when he says that “people have always bristled when others have tried to impose their wills on them, or attempted to jam something down their throats.” I say “amen!” No evangelist should force their opinion/view on anyone else. On page 25, he says that “a good segment of the population today have (sic) red alerts go off in their heads whenever a Christian apologist starts speaking or behaving aggressively. . . . The contemporary situation is also characterized by a longing for authentic relationships.” I add, “Hallelujah, brother, preach it!”
However, by providing just one bad specific example to characterize “confrontational apologetics,” Dr. Scorgie poisons the well. Nobody I know endorses the tactic that he used at the university. Yet this negative stereotype sets the tone for the rest of the paper whenever he describes “confrontational apologetics.” In his article, Dr. Scorgie uses an image of a forceful, egotistical evangelist as he attempts to disparage any type of “confrontational” evangelistic methods. The image a reader gets is of sign-waving, mean-spirited evangelists, which I believe are definitely a minority. The preferred model, Dr. Scorgie explains, must be “grace-filled.”
Criticizing the Christian Apologists
Beginning on page 26, Dr. Scorgie disparages most Christian books (and therefore their authors) that focus on apologetics when he writes,
“Browse the important apologetics reference works and you’ll find virtually nothing about an appropriately Christian way of engaging people in apologetic discussion. Take, for example, the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Ethics (1999). Nothing in the entire volume addresses the appropriate relational style or tone of our apologetic efforts. Consider as well the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics (2006). The story is the same there—no reference to attitude or tone of the apologist, even in its extended article on approaches to apologetics.”
The exception, he says, is David Clark’s Dialogical Apologetics: A Person-Centered Approach to Christian Apologetics (2006). (Interestingly enough, David Clark became the dean of Bethel Seminary in February 2013, the mother campus of Bethel Seminary San Diego where Dr. Scorgie teaches.) Because two of the three books he references didn’t discuss “attitude or tone of the apologist,” an unfair generalization is created. The impression is that professional Christian apologists don’t care about people or lack a desire to use loving methods. Apparently these types of practitioners must not have a place for gentle and respectful communication with nonbelievers. Painting with such a broad brush results in inaccuracies.
While I don’t have the three books that are referenced, I happen to have several Christian apologetic volumes on my shelves. Putting them in a pile on my desk, I decided to go through each one and see whether or not if the particular volume included information on the demeanor of the apologist. If this information was to be included, I determined it would (and should) say so in either the introduction or first chapter in order to set the tone. Here is what I found in these volumes, with the quotes by no means complete–and feel free to skip this lengthy section, if you wish–I just want to make sure my point is supported and clear):
Handbook of Christian Apologetics, authored by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli (Intervarsity Press, 1994): “We have said that apologetic arguments are like military hardware. That is a dangerous metaphor, for they are never to be used to hit people over the head. . . .In other words, though arguments are weapons, they are more like swords than bombs. Bombs are rather indiscriminate in their targets. It also matters little who drops a bomb. But it matters enormously who wields a sword, for a sword is the extension of the swordsman. Thus, an argument in apologetics, when actually used in dialogue, is an extension of the arguer. The arguer’s tone, sincerity, care, concern, listening and respect matter as much as his or her logic—probably more. The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity: ‘What you are speaks so loud, I can hardly hear what you say.’” (p. 23, Chapter 1, The Nature, Power, and Limitations of Apologetics)
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, authored by William Lane Craig (Crossway Books, 1994): “Now there is also a danger in all this. There is the danger that we may focus our attention on the argument instead of on the sinner. We must never let apologetics distract us from our primary aim of communicating the gospel. Indeed, I would say that with most people there is no need to use apologetics at all. Only use rational argumentation after sharing the gospel and when the unbeliever still has questions. If you tell him, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ and he says he doesn’t believe in God, don’t get bogged down at the point in trying to prove the existence of God to him. Tell him, ‘Well, at this point I’m not trying to convince you what the Bible says is true; I’m just trying to share with you what the Bible says. After I’ve done that, then perhaps we can come back to whether there are good reasons to believe what it says is true.’ Remember our primary aim is to present Christ.” (p. 47, Chapter 1, Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is true?)
Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith, edited by Norman Geisler and Chad V. Meister (Crossway, 2007): “Providing reasons and evidences for faith, however, is only one aspect of Christian apologetics. The manner in which these reasons are presented is just as important as their content, for the same passage that instructs us to be prepared to give reasons for our hope concludes by admonishing us to do this ‘with gentleness and respect.’ In other words, the gospel of Christ should always be presented and defended in a spirit of love. It is the model of apologetics that Bob and Gretchen (Passatino) [to whom this book was dedicated] continually exemplified, combined with the expansive knowledge and inexorable zeal, which set them apart as paragons of apologetics.” (p. 14, Introduction)
Conviction without Compromise: Standing Strong in the Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith, authored by Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes (Harvest House, 2008): “As noted above, there has been, in many of these controversies, a tendency by many to forget that these are not essential doctrines of the Christian Faith. Hence, many have ignored the second third of the dictum, in nonessentials, liberty. Thus, wise principles such as unity within diversity, diversity without divisiveness, and cooperation without compromise have often been neglected. On the one extreme, orthodoxy has often been expressed without charity. On the other hand, some have shown a propensity to sacrifice orthodoxy for the sake of unity, or they have sacrificed orthodoxy in the name of charity. Still other ecumenically minded proponents have confused uniformity with unity, or diversity with divineness.” (p. 19, Chapter 1, An Overview)
Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics, written by Doug Powell (Holman Reference, 2006): “Two things need to be made clear at this point regarding the use of apologetics. First, the goal of Christian apologetics is not to win an argument at all costs. It is quite possible to win an argument but do it in such a way that it reflects badly on the gracious love of Jesus Christ. Christians are to speak truth in this world, and apologetics is one way believers do that. God could choose to make Himself known by knocking everyone to the ground for a few days as He did Paul. But instead God uses His people as His agents. . . . An apologist is not going to ever argue someone into the kingdom. Christians need to do their job in an informed and gracious way and try not to add any offense or stumbling block to the gospel.” (p. 20, Chapter 1, What is Apologetics?)
The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People About Jesus, authored by Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan, 2009) “You don’t need to have all the answers to every theological question. You don’t have to master a published gospel presentation that you mechanically recite whether people want to hear it or not. You don’t have to pretend you’re the next Billy Graham. All you have to do is authentically follow Christ in your own life and ask him to ambush you with opportunities, then trust that he’s going to use you in spite of (and sometimes even because of) your shortcomings, foibles, and quirks. Simply put, our role is this: to be ready and willing—because God is always able.” (p. 18, Introduction)
Apologetics for a New Generation: A Biblical and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talking About God, edited by Sean McDowell (Harvest House, 2009) “From the beginning, Christian apologists have exemplified the importance of humility in presenting our defense of the faith. There is a reason why 1 Peter 3:15 begins with ‘gentleness and respect.’ Before presenting a case for the Christian faith, one must first submit to the lordship of Christ. The heart of the apologist is the basis of all apologetic training. People still don’t care how much you know if they don’t know you care. The only way we can truly demonstrate the love of Christ to people is by first having our hearts humbled by God. When our hearts are not right, we can do more harm than good.” (p. 24, Introduction)
On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, authored by William Lane Craig (David C. Cook, 2010). “Notice the attitude we’re supposed to have when giving our defense. We should be gentle and respectful. Apologetics is not the art of making somebody else sorry that you’re a Christian! We can present a defense of the Christian faith without becoming defensive. We can present arguments for Christianity without becoming argumentative. When I talk in this book about arguments for the Christian faith, it’s vital to understand that I don’t mean quarreling. We should never quarrel with a nonbeliever about our faith. That only makes people mad and drives them away. . . . Ironically, if you have good arguments in support of your faith, you’re less apt to become quarrelsome or upset. I find the better my arguments, the less argumentative I am. The better my defense, the less defensive I am. If you have good reasons for what you believe and know the answers to the unbeliever’s questions or objections, there’s just no reason to get hot under the collar. Instead, you’ll find yourself calm and confident when you’re under attack, because you know you have the answers.” (p. 14, Chapter 1, What Is Apologetics).
In a book that Bill McKeever and I revised titled Answering Mormons’ Questions: Ready Responses for Inquiring Latter-day Saints, Kregel, 2013), we wrote this in our introduction:
“Still, we are responsible to present the gospel message to open and willing minds in a clear, logical manner that honors the text of Scripture. As the apostle Paul explains, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! . . . So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Rom. 10:15, 17). Let it be known that prayer is the vital ingredient in successful evangelism efforts. Without this as the backbone to evangelism, fruit will never be produced. Galatians 4:16 asks, ‘Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?’ Knowing that it is common within our culture to equate disagreement with hatred or bigotry, we wish to make known up front that our work is born out of a genuine love and sincere compassion for the Latter-day Saints, many of whom we personally know. We want only the best for them. Our goal is to provide them the truth through God’s Word, which Jesus said would set a person free (John 8:32; 17:17). Therefore, this book is not to be used as a bludgeon but rather as an aid to assist you in sharing God’s truth. Christian, are you ready to engage in healthy dialogue?” (p. 19)
Remember, it was Dr. Scorgie who wrote, “Browse the important apologetics reference works and you’ll find virtually nothing about an appropriately Christian way of engaging people in apologetic discussion.” I have only listed a few books, all of which are in my personal library; of course, I am not pretending to own every single volume on Christian apologetics. And perhaps what I cite are not what he would classify as “important apologetics works.” Regardless, what do Peter Kreeft, Ronald Tacelli, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, Chad Meister, Ron Rhodes, Doug Powell, Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg, Sean McDowell, and Bill McKeever have in common with me? Each one of these apologists/theologians—most of whom I know or have at least met—possess a passion to share the truth of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers, advocating the use of tactics that Dr. Scorgie would certainly classify as “confrontational.” At the same time, however, I observed that most of these apologists cited the very same verses Dr. Scorgie uses, including 1 Peter 3:16 (“gentleness and respect”) and Ephesians 4:15 (“speak the truth in love”). Based on having read all of the above books, I can attest that they all hold dearly to 2 Timothy 2:24-25, which says that we are to “not be quarrelsome but rather kind, not resentful, gentle.”
Contrasting the types of apologetics
Distinguishing between “smash-mouth” and “grace-filled” apologetic methods, Dr. Scorgie makes it appear that those who promote “smash-mouth” apologetics do whatever is necessary to win, utilizing “a hard-nosed, in-your-face determination to dismantle the positions of unbelievers, expose their illogical or untenable nature, and ensure that truth triumphs. It is relatively indifferent to who gets run over or coerced—who gets shamed or humiliated—in the process” (p. 27). On page 33, he says that he has been deeply influenced by Richard Mouw. (For more on Richard Mouw, see MRM articles here and here).
Quoting Mouw’s Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, Dr. Scrogie writes,
“(Mouw) notes that many disciples seek to defend Christ, and faith in him, in ways and with attitudes that are quite at odds with the spirit of Jesus. The defenders of Christ are all too often glaringly unlike Christ. How do we explain such an irony? Mouw suggests that some contemporary defenders of the faith earn reputations for being mean-spirited and shrill because inside they are running scared. They are afraid that the faith is in decline, and they must save it—even if it requires acting out of character. Their fear and defensiveness makes them behave in unattractive ways, and conduct themselves in a manner that does not commend faith in Christ.”
Mouw provides nothing more than a straw man fallacy. I must ask,
- Who exactly does Mouw feel is mean-spirited?
- Who is shrill?
- Who is running scared?
- How do you know these unnamed people “run” because they are scared?
The specifics are missing, leaving too many unanswered questions, especially for an article published in a scholarly journal. Shouldn’t supporting evidence be emphasized? (Why didn’t the peer review group demand it?) Just like the rest of the article that has a total of just 15 footnotes—this equals fewer than one footnote per page!—very little is offered except one man’s opinion and his quotations of general statements with which he agrees.
He gives other examples of the differences in the following pages. For example:
- He apparently assumes that those who use “confrontational” approaches might quote Ephesians 6:11-13 to support militaristic methods in evangelistic methods. Honestly, I have never heard of this passage being used by any of the authors previously listed; I certainly would not use Ephesians 6 to suggest an aggressive methodology. This is nothing more than a straw man (p. 29).
- The ego and personal insecurities can be exacerbated using “smash-mouth” apologetics, meaning that “when a debate or conversation is not going our way, we get a bit defensive and even testy. Our inward anxiety can bring out the worst in us. . . “ (p. 30).
- The smash-mouth mentality, he says, is seldom our starting point, but rather “we grow into it.” (p. 30)
- He insists that “our natural predisposition is toward high-testosterone aggressiveness in apologetics, toward what we have called smash-mouth apologetics” (p. 34)
Dr. Scorgie explains the other position:
“At the opposite end of the spectrum is what I have called grace-filled persuasion. . . . (which) is grounded in clear-headed, fearless confidence in Christ and the truths of the Christian faith. Its distinctive characteristics are, first of all, that it is people-centered. It proceeds as though people, and not just ideas, matter. It never forgets that persuasion always occurs in a relational context. . . Second, grace-filled persuasion understands that effective apologetic persuasion must address people holistically. . . . And thirdly, grace-filled persuasion is integrated in that it seeks not only to convey truth about Christ and his gospel, but to do so in a manner that echoes the interpersonal example of Christ himself” (pp. 27-28).
Describing this position, he writes on page 34, “Put simply, effective communication calls for empathy—the power to project one’s personality into the experience and perspective of someone else in order to comprehend it more fully. . . . It would be a very good idea for all of us to cultivate this quality with disciplined intent.”
What Dr. Scorgie has done is stack the deck. All of the good characteristics, amazingly enough, get placed on the side of “grace-filled,” while all of the villainous traits are used to label “confrontational” (aka “smash-mouth”) apologetics. Somebody might argue, “Eric, it sounds like you are being a bit sensitive. After all, maybe he is considering folks like you to be part of the ‘grace-filled’ persuasion.”
This begs the question, who exactly is he referrring to when he uses the term “confrontational”? Somehow he assumes that his readers will be able to recognize who these culprits are when he writes on page 29, “I have been thinking about what it would take for us to move away from smash-mouth apologetics (an approach we recognize and many of us, like me, too often have practiced), and move toward grace-filled persuasion.” At this point of the article (page 6 of the 17 pages), it is not clear for the reader to “recognize” what Dr. Scrogie means. While he wants to sound brave by confronting the issue, specific examples extending beyond his bad example from his university days needed to be given. In fact, I wish he would have just gone ahead and listed names of those who practice apologetics wrongly. Being forthright in this way might almost sound “smash-mouth,” but wouldn’t this be better than forcing the reader to guess what exactly he means?
Getting What I Asked For
On page 31, qualifications for “smash-mouth apologetics” are provided. Referring to a book written by Tim Stafford (Shaking the System, 2006) that referred to such cases as the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, Dr. Scorgie states,
“Almost all of these movements, at one time or another, developed strains of violence. Stafford ponders why the minority of Christian activists eventually chose this option. And he concludes that it grew out of their sense of outrage, frustration and impatience with the direction things were going. It is an understandable human response, and a bit of this can intrude into the spirits of Christian apologists who find themselves up against a hostile and stubbornly-resistant spirit of the times.” (pp. 30-31)
Then he writes this:
“And there is a related factor. Take, for example, someone who has a life-long ministry to cults. Have you noticed how, over time, they can start to sound a bit like a cult members (sic) themselves? Or consider this example. If a soldier has to fight the Taliban at close quarters for long periods of time, the risk is that they will begin to behave more and more like them. The principle is that we tend to absorb something of the tactics and tone of our opponents. In the sphere of apologetics this can be disastrous.” (p. 31)
It is unfair for Dr. Scorgie to lump those who have ministries to the “cults” together with the Taliban in this way. In fact, his method sounds so much more “smash-mouth” than the “grace-filled” persuasive method he is supposedly advocating. What examples does he have? If he has no specific evidence, he owes an apology to everyone who has a ministry to those of other religions!
Using such a broad stroke in this generalization is no more accurate or fair than if I were to say, “Take, for example, someone who has been involved with higher education for all of his or her life. Have you noticed how, over time, they can get so caught up in their writing and pontification in the classroom that they seem quite comfortable in their ivory towers. . . .”
This is an example of a false generalization, as I personally know a number of academic folks who are very active outside of their classrooms and offices. Yes, it’s true that there are some who have become so isolated in their classrooms and studies that they are clueless about the arguments made on the street, whether atheist, liberal, or even Mormon. This is a danger, just as much as it’s a danger to become “smash-mouth” through numerous frustrating encounters with members of “cults.” To insinuate that those involved in layperson apologetics are angry, bitter debaters is nothing less than misleading.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying everyone, including Dr. Scorgie himself, should actively pursue encounters with those from other religions. From his writing, I can see that this is not his gift and he could become easily frustrated. This doesn’t mean that scholars shouldn’t have answers for opposing viewpoints outside their field. I remember a story that Dr. Ronald Youngblood told in 1995 in our Prolegomena (Hermeneutics) class when I attended “Bethel Seminary West” in 1995. While returning from a conference from the East Coast, he sat next to a Mormon on the flight home; his conversation ended up lasting several hours. After he returned, Dr. Youngblood–who was the favorite professor for many students–admitted to our class, “I didn’t know enough about Mormonism to be able to engage him effectively.” However, he added, “But I’m going to do my best to find out the answers so that next time I will be more effective.” This scholar—he was a major player in the NIV and TNIV translations—blew away my presuppositions. He admitted that he was not omniscient and desired to do a better apologetic job the next time such an opportunity arose. My respect for this man increased greatly that day.
For those who are actively dialoguing with others in apologetics, one person’s style might differ from another’s. Dr. William Lane Craig explained, “I recognize that there remains the problem of how to apply the theoretical material learned in this course. I’ve always thought that the problem was best left to each individual to work out according to the type of ministry to which he feels called. . .” (Reasonable Faith: Christian Faith and Apologetics, p. xv) Of course, there are boundaries, and crossing the lines ought to be criticized. And circumstances certainly play a role in how we approach any particular situation. For example, the way that I would share my faith at a family reunion is different than when I stand outside Salt Lake City’s Temple Square and offer Christian tracts or engage strangers in a conversation.
Dr. Scorgie is correct when he writes on page 31, “Every human being possesses such a degree of God-likeness that they are always deserving our respect” (his emphasis). He adds at the bottom of the page, “Besides the work of the Spirit never requires that people be intimidated or belittled.” If he believes this is true, then why does he purposely demonize those who aim their ministry to members of other religions and whom he classifies as practicing “smash-mouth” apologetics? Because they don’t do apologetics according to his standards, somehow he thinks that these apologists are practicing wrong methods. So why does he want to force his methods on others? When he slanders his brothers and sisters in Christ—many of whom have given up so very much in order to present truth to those who would otherwise not have a chance to see what biblical Christianity is all about—it makes him appear to be a hypocrite. After all, where is his respect for those who practice apologetics differently than he?
Perhaps Dr. Scorgie ought to consider his own words on page 32: “Gentleness comes too when we realize how ego-invested we are in the positions we espouse, and how difficult it is for any of us to change something as foundational as our worldview.” Is it possible that Dr. Scrogie is so invested in his position that he cannot accurately view other methods of apologetics?
As someone involved in a ministry aimed to the Latter-day Saint religion, I would like to have Dr. Scorgie meet some of the ex-Mormons affected by our ministry. I would like to have him meet my friend Dave Neeley who became a Christian because someone was willing to engage him while he was a Mormon missionary. I would like to have him read the letters and emails that we receive on a regular basis, many thanking us for sharing with them or making our website available. With this information, perhaps he might like to change the way that he attacks those (like me) who want nothing more than to practice apologetics with gentleness and respect.
What Do Seekers Want?
In Dr. Scorgie’s view, those he calls seekers of Christianity are not interested in reasoning. Instead, he believes they are more interested in how the faith is presented to them. He writes on page 32, “Seekers are on the lookout for people whose message resonates authentically with their manner and way of life. We are designed as psychosomatic unities—complex holistic beings—and we do not find mere arguments or ideas compelling. People are looking for, and respond best to, holistically-compelling witness.”
Certainly such a statement in a scholarly paper ought to be supported. Unfortunately, no statistics or studies are provided. With no documentation, how do we know if this statement is correct? His conclusion is certainly not what I have experienced; when given in the right context, arguments are what gets people thinking about Christianity in the first place.
Responding to the reasoning presented by Dr. Scorgie, apologist Norman Geisler responds:
“The charge is made that no one ever comes to Christ through apologetics. If this implies that the Holy Spirit never uses apologetic evidence to bring people to Christ, this is clearly false. C.S. Lewis noted that ‘nearly everyone I know who has embraced Christianity in adult life has been influenced by what seemed to him to be at least a probably argument for Theism.’ Lewis is an example of an atheist who came to Christ under the influence of apologetics. The skeptic Frank Morbook was refuting the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Augustine tells in his confessions how he was led toward Christianity by hearing a Christian debate an unbeliever. Harvard Law School professor Simon Greenleaf was led to accept the authenticity of the Gospels by applying the rules of legal evidence to the New Testament. God has used evidence and reason in some way to reach virtually all adults who come to Christ.” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 41)
Philosopher William Lane Craig explains the importance of reasoning if Christians hope to have an impact on the culture around them:
“The same goes for philosophy and biblical criticism; what good does it do to preach on, say, Christian values when a larger percentage of people, even Christians, say that they don’t believe in absolute truth, or what good will it do to simply quote the Bible in your evangelistic Bible study when somebody in the group says that the Jesus Seminar has disproved the reliability of the gospels? If we fail to do our homework in these areas, then there will remain a substantial portion of the population—unfortunately, the most intelligent and therefore most influential people in society, such as doctors, educators, journalists, lawyers, business executives, and so forth—who will remain untouched by our ministry.” (Reasonable Faith: Christian Truths and Apologetics, p. xiv)
Apologists Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel became believers when they attempted to refute Christianity. The arguments and ideas they encountered proved to be compelling, as their intellectual presuppositions were challenged with appropriate evidence. Their final conclusion: Jesus is truly God and the resurrection is true. Even most teenagers I have known need more than just authenticity to be able to own this faith called Christianity. For many years, I taught Bible classes to juniors at a Christian high school. Of course, how I presented the truth played an important role; if the students didn’t think I cared about them, they were less likely to take my teaching seriously. When it came to brass tacks, however, the students wanted to see if this religion called Christianity could stand up to the scrutiny given by its opponents.
My friend Sean McDowell tells the story of Lee Strobel:
“During research for The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel was told by a well-known and respected theologian that no one would read his book. Lee was informed, ‘People don’t care about historical evidence for Jesus anymore. They’re more persuaded by experience and community than facts and reason.’ Disappointed and frustrated, Lee returned home and told his wife that his efforts were seemingly in vain. Yet according to Lee, the largest group of readers who became Christians through his book has been 16- to 24-year olds!” (Apologetics for a New Generation, p. 16)
For several years, I used Strobel’s The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith books as required reading in my Bible classes aimed at high school juniors. Yes, I fully understood that these were not the favorite books for some. After all, it required thinking! Yet I have had dozens of students later thank me for challenging them on faith-related issues and presenting information on such topics as the reliability of scripture, the existence of God, and the historicity of the resurrection. So that nobody could claim that I was indoctrinating minds of mush, I made sure students received fair presentations from the “other side” as well. For example, I took students to the computer lab for several classes so they could research and interact with atheist websites; I also sponsored field trips to religious sites such as synagogues, mosques, temples, and the Mormon Battalion Center.
My experience—with believers and nonbelievers as well as adults and teens—has shown me how important facts, evidence, and reasons are when considering the case for Christianity. Dr. Scorgie owes his readers more research and examples to support his hypothesis instead of just using mere opinion to minimize “arguments and ideas.”
A “Gentler” Way of Instruction?
On page 32, Dr. Scorgie quotes 2 Timothy 2:24-25 and explains
“that by his Spirit God is currently active as a revealer of truth—makes us gentler in the way we instruct (and by implication, also in the way we argue, debate and reason with others). The logical link is that we can afford to be gentler because we know that the final outcome is not entirely dependent on what we do and say. Ultimately the burden of convincing another does not rest on our shoulders.”
He says that “we cannot argue anyone into the kingdom. Spiritual illumination is God’s work. It cannot be produced by the cleverest apologist, for only God can change the disposition of the heart.” I agree. As my friend Bill McKeever likes to say, “We’re only in sales, but God is in production.” However, this doesn’t give us a ticket to put our feet up on the ottoman and relax because we will let the character of our life speak for itself. Instead, the Bible seems to be chock-full of examples for going out of our way to share truth, even when others may not like what we have to say.
Take the apostle Paul, for example. When he arrived in a typical city during his first missionary journey, what was his destination? Typically he made a beeline for the local synagogue. Was he always received with open arms? Absolutely not.
We can learn more about Paul’s attitude in 2 Corinthians 10:1-5. He wrote,
“By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Notice the language he uses: waging war, fighting with weapons, and demolishing strongholds, arguments and every pretension setting itself against God’s knowledge! These don’t sound like “grace-filled persuasion” words to me.
In chapter 11, Paul lists his credentials:
“21 Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
His hardships were a result of attempting to share the gospel with people who did not always like what the gospel had to say. Eventually, he began to aim his efforts at the Gentiles. Consider Acts 17 where he shared the truth of God with the pagan Athenians on Mars Hill. Certainly he used wise tactics tailored to his specific audience, refraining from quoting biblical texts and instead utilizing quotes from their own poets and philosophers. He did what he had to in order to present the Gospel in a straightforward manner, and in the last few verses at the end of the chapter, we see that
“some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
If I may use Dr. Scorgie’s two terms that he meant to have opposite meanings, Paul utilized both “confrontational apologetics” and “grace-filled persuasion” when he dealt with Judaism and paganism. This is the same methodology used today by those sharing their faith with those of other religions. We must certainly use confrontational (not “smash-mouth”) methods, because otherwise how will these folks ever hear the Truth?
When it comes to Jesus, Dr. Scorgie writes, “Jesus exemplified a grace-filled approach to persuasion—one that focused on people rather than strictly ideological concepts. As his disciples we are obligated to follow his example. It is a simple matter of obedience” (p. 35). Yet Jesus was good at offending his followers and those to whom He preached. As Matthew 13:57 says, “And they took offense at him [Jesus]” because they did not like his doctrine. In John 6:60ff, His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Verse 61 says, “Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?” Instead of apologizing because He ruffled feathers Jesus provided an apologetic to support his case. If Jesus were into Dr. Scorgie’s type of “grace-filled persuasion,” he probably should have responded, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Let me apologize.” Instead, the result was that “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (v. 66).
I also have to wonder how Dr. Scorgie would interpret the Seven Woes from the second half of Matthew 23. Let me quote just a part:
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
16 Woe to you, blind guides! . . .17 You blind fools! . . . 19 You blind men! . . .23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. . . . 33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
Of course, I am not suggesting that we must go around calling people “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs.” Yet Jesus taught as one who had authority and didn’t mince His words. To look at His life and then choose one of the two definitions made available to us by Dr. Scorgie, I would have to say that Jesus sure seemed to practice “confrontational apologetics.”
Jesus also had very clear-cut ideological concepts. For instance, look what He says in Mark 12:28-31:
28 “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ 29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus never minimized beliefs or doctrine; indeed, He stressed the importance of putting one’s life in line with the true teachings. One of the problems I have with Dr. Scorgie’s reasoning is that many undoubtedly will equate “grace-filled apologetics” with “lifestyle evangelism.” Some people like to quote St. Francis of Assisi who supposedly said, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” (Many scholars don’t believe that St. Francis ever said this.) As it stands, the popular saying is faulty if taken too literally. Of course, faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). Yet how many Christians live moral lives, hoping that somehow their neighbors, friends, and other acquaintances around them will be somehow attracted to Christianity? How is just being a good neighbor, mowing my grass and waving to those who drive by in the cars going to help others see that they need to have a relationship with Christ?
Certainly our good behavior could eventually help initiate a conversation down the road. However, if we never use words, how will my neighbors ever be able to attribute my “goodness” and kind actions as reasons for believing in God? My experience has shown that those who use good behavior as their main evangelism strategy may be liked by the unsaved, who may not even know this person is a dedicated Christian believer. The chance of anyone becoming a Christian requires a believer to share the truth in a verbal manner. This might involve great risk, including a possible loss of reputation, but it’s the only way to communicate truth. Saying “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” Paul said in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
For those who practice “stranger evangelism,” there is great risk involved as well. I have had a number of doors slammed in my face. People to whom I shared truth have called me names or told me how intolerant I was to even suggest there was only one way to God. Words like “bigot,” “anti-Mormon,” or “hater” have been used as well, even though my approach was as grace-filled as possible. On the other hand, I have had countless conversations where the other person thanked me at the end for taking the time to talk to them and my gentle demeanor. The person might not have agreed with my conclusions, but he or she understood that I cared or otherwise I would not have engaged them in conversation. For many, I have been able to provide a message of hope that, unless I was willing to step out of my comfort zone, would have never happened otherwise. In my mind, the risk to offend is worth it for the potential of having the gospel understood by someone who was certainly headed to hell.
According to Dr. Glen Scorgie from San Diego, CA, a Christian has only two options when it comes to apologetics: employing deplorable methods through intentional engagement (“confrontational apologetics”) or focusing on “authentic relationships” and emphasizing love (“grace-filled persuasion”). Is it really necessary to have to pick? In other words, could those who practice “confrontational” apologetics participate in the best of both worlds if their approach is filled with grace? By separating the two methods, not-very-useful stereotypes are created that end up demonizing a whole set of apologists who are guilty of nothing more than having a concern for the spiritual welfare of the lost.
Clear and specific examples combined with scholarly documentation are clearly missing in this article, resulting in a lack of support of the original abstract. Without this proof to support his case, the reader is provided very little besides one man’s personal opinion. In addition, logical fallacies are found throughout to demean those with whom he disagrees, a very unbecoming trait. It is a shame that a professor from a respectable seminary should aim his fire at those brothers and sisters who are practicing evangelism on the front lines as they do their best to share the Christian faith. Because his teaching influences many lives, especially many seminary students who are tomorrow’s pastors and theologians, I can only hope that Dr. Scorgie would reconsider his position that apologetics can only be ethically practiced his way and no other.