Shoot Apologists First

Categories: General
by on November 16th, 2006

Several years ago a friend, Steven “Z”, had a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to his apartment to talk. He had met them through a couple of friends who would also be there and he asked if Joy and I would join them. He and his friends wanted to talk with them and share the gospel. Joy and I don’t typically like large group meetings like this as they can become free-for-alls but we agreed. As the meeting progressed and we interacted with what they believed and asked questions, using their material and comparing it to Scripture when an odd thing occurred. One of Steven’s friends who had brought the JWs shifted his chair closer to one of the young JW women and began apologizing for our “meanness” to them. He had succumbed to what Joy has termed “The Bimbo Factor.” He had become more concerned with not hurting her feelings than he was with proclaiming the truth of the gospel vs. the teachings of a false prophet organization.

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary

I thought about this as I read Richard J. Mouw’s article, “Shoot-First Apologetics: What a dead bluebird taught Walter Martin about defending the faith,” in the November 2006 Christianity Today.

I also thought about the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:1-7:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

The apostle Paul spent a great deal of time correcting the Corinthian Church who were busy making friends and participating with the unbelievers around them. The problem wasn’t that they cared about non-Christians but that they were acting like them and became more concerned about what the pagans thought than what God had said. Paul recognized and reminds those of us who are missionaries to cults and New religious movements, that we carry “this treasure in earthen vessels.” We will do it imperfectly but even though that is the case we should not succumb to the “Bimbo Factor.” We must see ourselves as ambassadors for Christ carrying out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21). In order to be a good and worthy ambassador we must understand the worldview and official position of those that we have been sent to as well as what they may personally believe and how that may differ from the official position. This is the point which brings a separation between Richard Mouw and a few others and the apologetics/discernment ministries in general.

Mouw sets up a false dichotomy in the first paragraph of the article:

I was chided recently by someone who was upset with me because of my extensive talks with Mormon scholars. “How can you engage in friendly conversations with people who believe such terrible things?” he asked me. I tried to explain that in order to criticize Mormonism, it should be on matters that they actually believe, not on what we think they believe. I said the best way to know Mormon beliefs is to actually engage in dialogue with Mormons.

Now while it may be true that there are a few who think that shouting at Mormons through a megaphone that they are serving Satan qualifies as evangelism, this is not generally true of those in apologetics or missions to New Religions. Rather we understand that we are ambassadors and as such have to understand the beliefs of the individual we are talking with and if that is all that Mouw was saying I would agree. However, we also need to understand the official positions of a particular group, in this case Mormonism. Although we need to talk with individual Mormons, especially since salvation is individual, one person at a time, and not organizational, we have to remember that the individuals do not represent the official position where they personally diverge from it.

This is reminiscent of Mouw’s apology to the Mormon Church on November 14, 2004. Where he said:

Our public relations between our two communities have been-to put it mildly-decidedly unfriendly. From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebears hurled angry accusations and vehement denunciations at the Mormon community-a practice that continues from some evangelical quarters even into this present day.

Could it be that our forbears took Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22 and Matthew 7:15- 23 seriously? If that is the case was Mouw bearing false witness ? Does Mouw concur that the church had become truly apostate and God raised up Joseph Smith as a true prophet to restore the true church as he claimed or, was he a false prophet as our forbears concluded? But Mouw continues:

I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you.

The LDS teaching that we are gods in embryo has been the official teaching extending from the days of its founder Joseph Smith. That an individual Mormon, even if they teach at an LDS institution claims that they don’t personally believe or understand this teaching isn’t the same as demonstrating that the church doesn’t believe or teach it. The problem is compounded when one of the “friends” that is being protected, Robert Millet (Mouw wrote the Foreword and After word for his book A Different Jesus?: The Christ of the Later-Day Saints) is shown in a video on YouTube teaching the Mormon misionaries to be something less than honest on these questions. Have Mouw and others become more concerned with protecting their friends in Mormonism from having to defend official and at times embarrasing church positions or is it just easier to shoot apologists first?

4 responses to “Shoot Apologists First ”

  1. Lynn says:

    Don, I linked this page to my blog, and some comments were made:

    http://graceindelible.blogspot.com/2006/11/messengers-shoot-themselves.html

  2. RM is wise in that sometimes leading with rightful and truthful humility of where specific evangelical actions have been overblown. This can build trust and communicate a certain level of teachable-ness that we would love to see reciprocated.

    But the blanket ‘evangelicals’ and the ‘have done’ and the generalized confession of this particular spin strikes me as 1st of all overblown, 2nd of all potentially seen as insincere because it is rather vague, and 3rd of all not particularly helpful or truthful.

    Don, your response is so much more enlightening, revealing, truthful, helpful, honest and frankly engaging as well. Keep up the good word and work on your cool blog.

  3. oops, that was a rush blog post. The first sentence is incomplete and needs this part added at the end of it…”can be helpful when specific and honest.”

    I suppose at the end of the second paragraph I could also add “RM reminds me of the Jimmy Carter sort of blame America first motiff only blaming Christians first.” It gets over used and I think not infrequently the soft soap gets seen through more than the marshmellows know.”

    OK, I’ll try not to self-edit anymore. (-:

  4. animal says:

    Thank for this post. Your site is very informative and useful. – Kristy aka “animal”

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