I visited a church this morning I used to attend to say goodbye to a pastor who has meant a great deal to me. He has felt the call to a church in a different state, closer to his family, and I wish him the best. What is perhaps most interesting, however, is in years past, I would not have been as impressed by the man. Pastor Davenport is a great preacher, but he is not the type of technical expositor that I tended to gravitate towards in my college years. This is not a criticism of him, it’s a recognition of one of the two chief dangers of apologetics – the development of a dangerously critical spirit.
Sometimes I hear people talk about the book, outside of the Bible, that has most affected them. In my case, one of those would be D A Carson’s book, Exegetical Fallacies, a book about the types of errors Christians make when they interpret the Bible. It taught me the importance of cautious, careful work with the New Testament, and this was further inculcated by several of my professors at Bob Jones. It also led me towards a tendency to criticize chapel speakers, to my shame, and as a result missed the blessing in their declaration of the Word.
This is a common tendency in preacher boys, a phase of sorts, and yet it is a phase not everyone outgrows, as Paul warns us, knowledge puffs up. I see many modern believers who examine previous generations of Christians with a jaundiced eye. We criticize older generations of Fundamentalists for their narrowness, their legalism, etc. While I find modern Fundamentalism has lost its way in many respects, I have a hard time completely rejecting those earlier generations, whatever one might say of Billy Sunday or Bob Jones Senior, I have to admit they were soul-winners who God clearly used to win men to know the Savior. Perhaps this is because they were men of their times, and of course this is part of the answer. Preaching to a generation that largely accepted that the Bible is true is very different from preaching to a generation that does not share this assumption, and yet the boldness of Mordecai Ham was not even always acceptable in his own day, but he still led many men to know Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the question comes full circle to my friend. He was a great pastor, he loves the Lord, is faithful to the task God has given him, and prays over his work. It is the spiritual dimensions of the work that he exemplifies, and this is also what older generations of Christians remembered that we have lost.
Apologists can easily think of our work, discussions of our communication tactics and our accrued knowledge as the key to converting people to Christ somehow apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Knowledge of the New Testament world, logic, the various arguments for the existence of God, and the writings of men like Francis Schaeffer are great tools, they help us speak to our age – but they are still just tools for the service of the Holy Spirit.
As an apologist, my friend reminds me, the battle isn’t mine, it’s the Lord’s. By all means we should do what we can to persuade men, but we must do so remembering that our strength is not our own. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman watches in vein. We must always remember that apologetics is ministry, and should be an art practiced with a pastor’s heart.