I Don’t Like Apologists

Categories: General
by on March 13th, 2008

When I checked my email after the EMNR conference a good friend had sent me a link to Stephen Macasil’s blog article Apostasy Warning: Tim Keller For those who don’t know him Dr. Tim Keller is the founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of the new book The Reason for God. As I read the Macasil’s article the words of my friend and MCOI Advisory Board member, Jahn Moskowitz, began forcing their way into my thinking. Jhan is the North American Director of Jews for Jesus and in his workshop at EMNR this past weekend he said, “I don’t like apologetics.” At which point nearly everyone in the room sat up and paid attention. After all this was an apologetics conference and he is on the Advisory Board for a national apologetics ministry (MCOI). So why would he dislike apologetics?

Jhan followed up with, “apologetics thinks that if we give all the right answers then the unbeliever will believe. But faith is an act of the will not the intellect.” Jhan and I have had this discussion before and is at least one of the reasons he is an MCOI Advisory Board member. He allowed me to respond and I suggested that apologetics doesn’t teach that, but some apologists may at least behave that way and may even think that is true. He conceded the point. He is right, though, that faith is an act of the will not an act of the intellect. I may have all of the right answers and could possibly argue unbelievers into submission on the issues while they still remain unbelievers. The saying that, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” proves to be true more often than not.

Apologetics, or defense of the faith, has two roles I think. Outside the church it is the hand maid of evangelism. It isn’t evangelism itself for it gives a defense of the truth or reasons for faith vs. false claims by other world views. It is used to prepare the ground of the soul or heart of an individual in order for them to be able to hear the gospel and believe as the Holy Spirit is at work in the discussions.

Inside the church apologetics is used to train believers in defense of the faith and to test for false teaching within the church. It is in this setting that I have heard pastors and church leadership say, “I don’t like apologetics.” Apologetics is often viewed as divisive and apologists are regarded as high maintenance. There is unfortunately some truth to that. We fixate on minutia and will argue at the drop of a hat. Often we will drop the hat. That is something we who are involved with this type of ministry have to guard against. Not all battles are worth fighting. Not all issues carry the same level of importance and learning to choose the important battles is difficult. The skill of choosing the battle is as important as the battle itself. Occasionally it appears that the only exercise apologists get is jumping to conclusions and running off at the mouth. I say that as one who has done that myself. Sometimes we may jump into the fray too soon on little solid information and begin a critique of someone that may or may not be true and based on out limited knowledge we are left to resort to playing on emotions. That is why I so highly value those who are close to me who say “Be sure. Be kind. Don’t misrepresent.

That brings me back to Stephen Macasil’s article Apostasy Warning: Tim Keller. I have heard a few of Keller’s talks and been impressed with his teaching ability and clear godly thinking but I haven’t read his book. As it turns out Stephen Macasil hasn’t read the book either. Nevertheless he writes:

This is a warning to all Tim Keller fans to raise their discernment levels and be extra cautious in appraising Keller from here on out. If Billy Graham could fall away before our eyes and deny the Gospel, then it could happen to Keller

The truth is that we should all be discerning of all teachers at all times, including Tim Keller, Stephen Macasil and myself. All of us could possibly wander from orthodoxy. That is where accountability and correctability come in to play. The higher one is in spiritual leadership the more accountable they are to a larger number of people. Leaders live in glass houses and everyone around them has Windex! That also means we need to be correctible. But this is more than a general warning and there is a real sense of urgency as he writes:

I really wish I didn’t have to do this. Many of you will be disappointed, shocked, and angry. I won’t blame you. But in the New Reformation we must be quick to act since the electronic methods of communication these days will always be quicker.

But, I wonder, is this in keeping with James 1:19?

But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger:

Asking this question becomes more important since by Macasil’s own admission he hasn’t read the book. If he hasn’t read the book where would he get the idea that Keller has left orthodoxy and have to quickly speak out? It is based on:

… an interview this week with Anthony Sacramone, managing editor of First Things, Keller was asked several questions regarding his new book.

As we read Mascasil’s article we discover that the sense of urgency is based not on anything in the book or anything heretical that was stated in the interview but rather on what wasn’t stated. Keller didn’t state that Rome has a false gospel or that they are enemies of the gospel. But then his book wasn’t about Rome but about demonstrating the existence of God. The interview wasn’t about Rome but was about the book and the publication is a Roman Catholic publication. There may have been some wisdom in not poking a Roman Catholic interviewer from a Roman Catholic magazine in the eye over a book defending the existence of God. Mascasil seems to realize the precariousness of his warning that Keller may be embracing the RCC when he writes:

It would be too presumptuous to attempt to answer that off of such a small bit of information, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, being Reformed and all, maybe he meant something else.

This comes in a section in which Keller is commenting on evolution. I certainly couldn’t support or endorse the view that God used evolution in the creation process. Darwinian Evolution by definition is the unguided process of chance change over time. For God to guide the unguided process is an oxymoron. I would also suggest that if this implies that God used death and destruction to guide the unguided process of evolution to bring about humans then death is not the result of sin in the garden. If death is not the result of sin, but was integral to God creating, wouldn’t that render Christ’s death on the cross meaningless? I am not saying it does but am just asking the question for in truth this is a different discussion for another day. The warning of apostasy has been issued because of what Keller did not say, Rome is an enemy of the gospel, not for what he did say. The statement by Keller that seems to have raised the concern is:

Oh, it’s a little confusing, but actually I’m just in the same place where the Catholics are, as far as I can tell. The Catholic Church has always been able to hold on to a belief in a historical Fall—it really happened, it’s not just representative of the fact that the human race has kind of gone bad in various ways.

I cannot know what Tim Keller fully intended on that. The discussion was about evolution not the gospel. It was attempting to demonstrate that one could believe in evolution to some degree and believe in the fall. It had no bearing on whether or not Keller believed Rome has or proclaims the true gospel. There has never really been unanimity in the church as to young or old earth. If I recall even in the Fourth Century Augustine argued that the universe may be 175,000 or so years old (I don’t recall exactly). Although I believe this is ill-informed and raises other theological issue it still does not suggest the Keller is aligned or intends to align with Rome or affirms that he believes they are orthodox on the gospel.

Again, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t contacted or attempted to contact Keller. I haven’t contacted or attempted to contact Mascasil. For all I know Keller may be moving to Rome and abandoning his Reformed roots. But none of that can be demonstrated based on what he didn’t say. As a result it does give fodder to pastors to be able to say, “I don’t like apologetics.” I am writing this as much as a reminder for myself as I am for Stephen Macasil. What we write has a profound and far reaching influence on many others. Making personal note of our concerns and talking with a few close confidants is good. But is seems that rather than being “quick to act” the words of James to “be quick to hear, slow to speak” take on greater meaning.

10 responses to “I Don’t Like Apologists ”

  1. Barb says:

    The following is the last sentence of a letter to the editor appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal.

    “The truth will make you free only if you’re interested in hearing it.”

    Tom Mader
    Walnut Creek, Calif.

    Whenever I become frustrated that some people are so willing to believe lies–lies that pretend to free but actually keep in bondage–I remind myself that the Bible says many will not have ears to hear or eyes to see. It is then I rely on prayer, as in Mark 9:28-29, which says, “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’”

  2. Don,

    I’m still trying to figure out who you’ve misread worse – James or me. Since they’re both really bad readings I’ll consider it a tie for now.

    It is sad to see such poor misrepresentation as “The warning of apostasy has been issued because of what Keller did not say,” especially when the article explicitly states otherwise – that it’s because of what he *did* say. All one has to do is read my article and count the number of times that I commented on what he *did* say. One would then need to ask you where on earth you came up with “The warning of apostasy has been issued because of what Keller did not say.”

    Anyhow, I’m sorry Don. You blew it on this one!

  3. Drew says:

    In the First Things interview Keller SAYS that he includes Roman Catholicism as part of the Christian faith. This is indefensible and sounds like he has sold out or at least sold out when talking to an interviewer sympathetic to the RC.

    I’m not following you when you say that Macasil’s warning was about what Keller did not say. I don’t see that in the blog. Macasil quotes Keller and then offers commentary. Macasil did not offer criticism because he believes Keller should have nailed the 95 theses to the interviewers desk. That’s not what Macasil was looking for. However, as Christians involved in the defense of the faith, we should not throw our hats in with Roman Catholics.

    Do you concur with C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity that the most important thing is that Christ’s death works to make us right with God. The actual way that atonement was accomplished doesn’t matter. If you do, then you throw your hat in with Roman Catholics and those hailing from the Crystal Cathedral.

    Why would Keller speak so highly of Mere Christianity?

  4. Travis says:

    I couldnt find anywhere that it stated Keller was an out right apostate, hence the word (warning).

    We can not share the pulpit or church with roman catholics or false teachers.

  5. Travis says:

    Who believes apologetics alone will bring someone to Christ. Scripture doesnt teach that. God calls men out of darkness and gives them to the son to atone for there sins. Apologetics and evagelism go hand in hand.

  6. Reformed Mama says:

    “Be sure, be kind, don’t misrepresent”…ooops…someone forgot thier motto!

  7. Fusion! says:

    Don,
    You really didn’t read the Keller interview (Stephen made sure we all knew it was about statements he made in the interview) or Stephen’s article. He meant it as a warning. Speaking as a reformed Christian who DID read the interview, I can say, I was taken aback at haw many statements he made where the Roman Church and the Protestant church were the same. Hence the warning. It seems someone has violated the spirit of James 1 and it’s not Macasill. For the record, these are public statements made by public individuals who are selling their books. If this is made publically, it shouldbe dealt with publicly– in all fairness of course.

  8. JG says:

    “Asking this question becomes more important since by Macasil’s own admission he hasn’t read the book. If he hasn’t read the book where would he get the idea that Keller has left orthodoxy and have to quickly speak out?”

    Don, the question is for you to answer. Where did YOU get the idea that Macasil is saying Keller left orthodoxy? You should apologize to him for lying about him. This is tabloid style reporting, Don Veinot! What made it so hard for Macasil to do this was that he loves Tim Keller and has learned alot from him. He has not written him off. Macasil viewed CS Lewis as unorthodox, Graham as having left orthodoxy, but is merely warning about Tim because of his association and endorsement of Lewis. You should apologize. Steven Macasil is very loving guy and will forgive quickly.

  9. Don,

    I enjoyed reading this post. Though I discovered this controversy over Keller last week I decided to blog about it as well. Feel free to read it and leave any comments. Macasil just last week did a blog on whether Keller is promoting two gospels, so I will probably write a response to that as well.

    Blessings,
    Daniel F. Wells

    http://cosmicchrist.blogspot.com/2008/06/response-to-stephen-macasils-apostasy.html

  10. Bill Hartley says:

    I didn’t enjoy reading this post. It’s why I don’t like apologetics either.

    Of all the blessings I need this day, someone defending me from Tim Keller’s apostasy is not one of them.

    This kind of chat, and a growing distaste for it, is why Keller is a fruitful man of God, and so many hair-splitters are not.

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