Some people might think this post is about learning how to do apologetics on your own, or becoming a better Christian apologist. Unfortunately, that is not the topic of this post. This post is concerned with being a better Christian. You see, too many of us, on too many occasions, are doing apologetics for ourselves. What do I mean by that? I mean that sometimes we aren’t in it for the glory of God—we’re in it for the glory of ourselves.
“Surely not!” you might be thinking. “Who would set out for their own glory?” But it’s true. Of course, the vast majority of us never set out with the explicit goal of furthering our own kingdom. But it happens, nonetheless. The issue lies mostly in our argumentative nature. Almost by definition, we apologists like to argue. We want to show our case, to persuade our listeners or readers that we are not merely justified in our beliefs, but we are right! Slowly, that idea becomes the main idea: we are right. That idea takes root as focusing on the subject and adjective: we are right. And then a funny thing happens. When this idea takes root, and we experience some resistance in our intellectual pursuits, the first person plural becomes the first person singular: I am right.
When that happens, a kind of pride and arrogance sets in. No, I am not saying it is arrogant to think that your view is correct. I am saying that, for a Christian apologist, a misplaced focus on oneself is a reflection of a prideful heart. There are some consequences to this. These consequences may also function as tests for you. Try to ask yourself if these things apply, and if they do, why?
First, you won’t be able to let perceived falsehoods go. This manifests itself in a number of ways. There will be the times you are talking with someone and they say something incorrect—you will jump in to correct it immediately. There will be those times in an internet conversation that you absolutely cannot let the other person have the last word, lest someone perceive that you are wrong. You may even seek to correct people on utterly irrelevant matters. This last one is the most telltale. Someone writes to you that, “When America was founded in 1776, George Washington became the president, and he was the best.” Even though the argument is about being the best president, you snarkily interject, “But Washington didn’t become the president in 1776!” It was totally irrelevant, but in the example, the person just couldn’t wait to correct his opponent, even on trivial matters. Why? Because he himself had become the most important thing; he was doing apologetics for himself, one could say.
Second, you will express your opinion on everything. I’m not saying that having an opinion on everything is necessarily bad (though it can be). I’m saying that expressing every last opinion you have in every intellectual conversation is a sign of a prideful heart. The Bible even says, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards,” (Proverbs 29:11). The word used behind “all his mind” can be translated “spirit,” and indeed the term likely carries this meaning. It’s not purely intellectual: if you’re telling everyone everything you’re thinking on these subjects, you’re probably pretty emotionally invested. In fact, likely, you’ll be more concerned with yourself than anything else. And that is a problem. This leads to the next one:
Third, you will take things personally. Yes, our opponents in apologetics often mean to insult us, and they do mean things personally. All I mean here is that when one is doing apologetics for himself, he will respond to these personal insults. He may be personally insulting in return, or he may become solely concerned with proving the other person wrong.
Fourth, you will do whatever it takes to “win.” Suddenly, and usually without knowing when, evangelism and Gospel-defending are dropped as an aim. In its place, the personal and prideful goal of winning the argument becomes primary. This will involve misinterpreting an opponent’s statements in the worst light possible, feigning incredulity at how silly they could be, and then defeating a strawman of the principle or argument under contention. These shameful and dishonest tactics should never be found from Christian apologists, but they are: because of pride.
Finally, you will treat Christian brothers and sisters badly. This last one is perhaps the most egregious of all. Too many internet gatherings of Christian apologists, meant for encouragement and intellectual resource, turn in to little more than petty arguments over apologetic method, theology, creation, hermeneutics, apologist-heroes, and, ironically, whether or not these criteria for pride apply. There is a sub-test within this category: can you accept that you’re wrong from someone other than yourself? What about from everyone, so long as they are actually correct? Too often, we’re only wrong when we say we are, and at no other time! If I bring it up, then yes, I am wrong. If you bring it up, sorry—you are wrong. If, within our apologetic practice, we are never wrong, or never accept it from others, then there is something off. That something is pride.
Think about your apologetic interactions, especially online. How often have you been harsh? How often have you taken things personally? How often have you expressed your opinions on everything, and never let falsehoods go? How often have you done whatever it takes to win—including treating fellow Christians with a standard below that of John 15 and 17? We need to repent of this sin of pride. I am, and have been many times, guilty of doing apologetics for myself. What’s the worst that could happen if we are doing apologetics for God? Well, I suppose the worst that could happen is that people think I’m wrong. But if I do apologetics for God, it simply doesn’t matter! Only when I do apologetics for myself am I wholly or mostly concerned with how I am perceived.
William Lane Craig has written,
“I'm not always enthusiastic when I meet a student who tells me that he wants to become a Christian apologist. One sometimes detects that what the student really wants is the limelight and the glory. Or there may be a spirit of argumentativeness or arrogance about him. Or perhaps a craving for the affirmation of others to offset a personal sense of inferiority. Of course, we are all broken people, and none of us has motives that are wholly pure. But it is vitally important that, as a public representative of Christ, the Christian apologist be a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit and walking humbly with God.” (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/apologetics-ministry-advice-to-christian-apologists)
Too often I have done the apologetic enterprise for myself; I have been guilty of all of these things at one time or another. Probably, so have you. The question is now this: what will we do with this? Will we stubbornly continue, or will we change? If we change, for whom will we do apologetics? My contention is that we should all stop doing apologetics for ourselves. Instead, we should do apologetics for the glory and praise of God.