Friday, November 4, 2011

The Scandal of Blasphemy in Apologia: The Insult Paradigm of Tekton Apologetics

If a person lives long enough, they are sure to experience a range of phenomena that elicits an assortment of emotions and fascinations. In fact, I have recently encountered a phenomenon that, if you had predicted it just a few weeks ago, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. I would have said there are a number of men in the church not unlike Diotrephes who seek to have preeminence in the community of faith, but no one would argue for the view this man does. I would have been dead wrong. What is this phenomenon? One internet apologist argues that we should include insult rhetoric in our apologetic method. I prefer to call it the “blasphemy paradigm.” Amazingly, this internet personality calls his opponents names in the course of his conversations with them. It does not matter if you are a believer or not. It also does not seem to make a difference if the conversation is private email or a public forum. He calls his detractors such names as “stupid, idiot, moron, bully, hypocrite, bigot, etc.” He is so foul that some have captured a number of his quotes and saved them to reproduce at their convenience.

You heard right. A self-proclaimed Christian apologist has declared that it is appropriate to malign those with whom he disagrees. He has created a number of arguments to defend his behavior. He calls on the social science criticism of men like, Richard Rorhbaugh, Bruce Malina, and John Elliot to support his thesis. However, two of the three men are on record as directly contradicting his understanding of the challenge-riposte game from Mediterranean cultures, and the third, John Elliot, in his commentary on I Peter contradicts the apologist’s understanding in print.

I have interacted with this man on a few occasions now only to discover that he seems to have no limits to which he will go to slander his opponent. I graciously offered to drive to Florida and debate him publicly in his home church regarding the biblical validity of insult. He refused my offer, saying that his pastor, elders, and church would not understand his method. I suppose he is the only one in his church intelligent enough to get it. I offered to debate the subject in “Sharper Iron.” Again, he never showed up because SI has rules that he would be required to abide by or suffer expulsion. In other words, SI promotes a civil, dignified approach to the inquiry of truth and this was just too restrictive. I requested that this apologist provide the name of one credible scholar that would come out publicly in support of the insult paradigm, which I now affectionately called the blasphemy paradigm, and he has yet to provide a single name.

I have read his apologetic for this “insult paradigm.” I have weighed it in light of Scripture, and it has been found wanting. The biggest problem with the method is not that it is unorthodox as far as methods go, even though it is. The biggest problem I have with it is that, as a method, it shows up on the list of vices that we are told to avoid in Scripture. Therefore, this method translates into sinful behavior. Sinful behavior is a serious matter and something the Scripture takes very seriously. In essence, this places us on the trajectory of Church discipline.

Schematic for Biblical Apologia

Every approach for communicating the content of biblical revelation comes under the authority of Scripture itself. There is no such thing as neutrality of method when it comes to teaching, preaching or defending Christian theology. Here I wish to provide a concise proposal for how apologists should carry out the task of defending the Christian worldview as well as refuting views that contradict orthodox Christian doctrine.

First, neutrality is a myth and the sooner Christian apologists recognize this, the better off they will be. No one approaches God, metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics from neutral ground. The Christian worldview must be taken as a whole. It does not come in isolated self-evident arguments or brute facts. [Van Til. Christian Apologetics, 5] The views of the understanding concerning all moral subjects are perverted by the wrong propensions [sic] of the heart, so as to call good evil and evil good. Thus, “blindness of mind” on all moral subjects results. [Dabney, Robert L. Systematic Theology, 323]

I Peter 3:14-16 provides the most concise instructions in all of Scripture on apologetic disposition and method.

Step one – abolish fear. Peter writes this periscope in the face of what appears to be impending persecution. Instead of fearing people, Peter instructs his Christian audience to fear God. [Davids, Peter. I Peter, NICNT, 131]

Step two – set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts. Stiffen your resolve comes into view. Firm up your faith. Focus on Christ as Lord in your heart.

Step three – Be prepared to give a defense of the reason for the hope that is you. The sense is one of urgency. One gets the sense that this pressure is already being applied or they are right on the cusp. The idea is be ready to go into the courtroom of Christian defense now!

Step four – But do so with courtesy and respect. We now come to the “how” of Peter’s instructions. Given the challenge-riposte that was popular in this culture, the Christian might be tempted to render one insult or attack in response to insult and attack as was common in the Mediterranean culture at this time. Peter deals this approach a stunning blow, urging Christians to play the game differently. Now, since the unbelieving crowd isn’t going to be convinced by the power of human reason and sophisticated argument due to his depraved condition, challenge-riposte isn’t going to work to bring people into the Christian group. It would take the power of God through the foolishness of preaching. Peter goes on to say that this responding with courtesy and respect aids in keeping a good conscience toward God and it ends up shaming the antagonists by demonstrating with good works rather than merely rhetorical skill.

In treating this very question in I Peter, John Elliot, head of the Context Group from which social science criticism proceeds, comments, "First, the addressees are warned not to engage in the usual spitting match of riposte and retaliation. They are not to return "injury for injury" or "insult for insult" (3:9; see also the proscription of slander in 2:1), just as Jesus when insulted did not retaliate (2:23, echoing Isa 52:7and details of the passion narrative [Mark 14:61//Matt 26:63; Mark 15:5//Matt 27:12-14; Luke 23:9; John 19:9]). Rather, they are urged to bless their insulters (3:9c) and to disprove their slanderers with honorable and irreproachable modes of behavior within and beyond the community (2:12), for actions speak louder than words (3:1-2)."

The word blaspheme in the Greek is blasphemeo. It appears 34 times in the NT. Blasphemos appears 4 times in the NT. Blasphemia appears 18 times in the NT. When persons are presupposed as objects, it can have the simple meaning, disparage, slander, defame. It also carried the meaning of vile gossip. [EDNT, Vol. I, 220] It shows up in the list of vices in II Tim. 3:2. The range of meaning is abusive language, railing, slander, revile, malign, spoken of as evil, etc. You get the picture. How a person could think that words like “stupid, idiot, moron, bully, bigot, and hypocrite (falsely applied) would not meet this definition is puzzling.

James Patrick Holding, utilizing social science criticism, thinks he has come up with a valid biblical model of insult that he believes is justified by Scripture. Aside from clear biblical condemnation of such behavior, a fuller treatment of this model is unnecessary from my perspective because, although espousing this model for years now, he has failed to convince anyone to sign on. Not only that, he seems to want to keep his method hidden and out of view of some of the reputable ministries that link to his website as a resource for various apologetic subjects. However, I cannot comprehend how anyone could engage in such a controversial method behind the scenes without thinking it proper to disclose his method to those ministries in question. It is simply a matter of courtesy and respect from my perspective. If you know you engage in a controversial behavior that others find highly offensive, it would only seem reasonable that you inform others so that they are at least aware of it.

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