Wednesday, April 10, 2013
What Does Jesus Say about Playing Apologetics?
Dogs and Pigs and Snakes: Oh My!
As I continue to refine my views, not on apologetic method per se, but on the overarching question of doing apologetics, it seems clear to me that something is very wrong in this field. Apologetics has become a form of self-entertainment for the intellectual Christian. Some are so enamored with the field that they even leave aside any hint of love or humility as they engage in battles of intellectual one-upmanship. This is no doubt also true of the skeptic and the atheist. There are men who have repeatedly rejected the Christian faith over the years. Jesus has some harsh things to say about them and some specific instructions for us on how we should relate to them.
In Matthew 7:6 Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” These words reflect a divine command from the Lord Jesus. It is one of the commands dispensed by our Lord that, in my opinion, receives only the slightest consideration within the Christian community. We continue to engage in the same debates with the same people on the same subjects incessantly. In addition, we evangelize the same person(s) with the same gospel message repeatedly even though they have rejected our message time and again. The question for the believer is how shall we, in modern times, commit to obeying the divine command issued in Matt. 7:6? It seems to me that Christ is telling us that we do not have unbridled liberty to engage in evangelism and apologetics with those He deems to be dogs and pigs. Now, I realize that such analogies are extraordinarily offensive to the senses of our refined cultures. My aim in writing is not to avoid offense, nor is it actually to satisfy people’s demands that I write with a more sophisticated style. My goal is to please God by accurately and clearly stating that which He has divinely revealed to us on Scripture and in nature. In this post, I aim to make the case that evangelism and especially apologetics have cast aside a command that they are obligated to obey. I am not writing merely to have an interesting or intellectually stimulating conversation. What I am saying is that if my understanding of this text is correct, then Jesus Himself does not approve of much of what passes for evangelism and apologetics in conservative Christianity today. And that should give us reason to pause, reflect, and perhaps repent.
To begin, there are no significant textual variants in the text. The language of our Lord is about as direct as it possibly could be. Jesus Christ, the Lord, Master, and founder of our faith, our God, has issued a clear and express divine mandate that we are not to give the holy things to dogs or throw our costly pearls before swine. The command of our Lord falls within the great Sermon on the Mount. These dogs would have been wild dogs in ancient Palestine. With few exceptions, dogs are spoken of as despicable animals in Scripture. They are described as always hungry and always prowling about. They eat whatever is thrown out, to include garbage and attack whatever is helpless. Interestingly, these wild dogs will eat all sorts of rubbish tossed out, even rotting and decaying garbage, but they will snub their nose at pure things and tear those apart who would dare throw such things their way. It is a perfect picture of the reprobate who has heard the gospel repeatedly or the staunch atheist or skeptic who has heard a sound apologetic argument but continues in their resolve to blaspheme God in new and inventive ways. We throw them the bread of life, the gospel of salvation, and instead, they prefer the rotting decay of irrational autonomy.
The disciples were commanded in Matthew 10:14 to shake the dust off their feet when a particular house or city had outright rejected them and their message. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas, in an outrageous and bold act turn away from the Jews to the Gentiles because the Jews soundly rejected the message. A similar event took place in Acts 18:6 at Corinth. Then again in Acts 19:9, men began speaking evil of the way and Paul took the disciples and walked away. The idea seems to be that outright rejection of the gospel message by a house or a city would classify them as dogs or pigs and we are commanded not to give the holy things to the dogs.
In outright contradiction to this command, we repeatedly give the gospel to the same person who has rejected it repeatedly, thinking that we are justified in doing so. In addition, Christian apologists seem to revel in engaging the same skeptic who has repeatedly insulted Christ and the Christian faith over and over as if there is no harm in it. Let’s take Richard Dawkins as an example. Mr. Dawkins has insulted Christ for years. He has repeatedly belittled the Scripture, God, faith, and anything that has anything to do with Christian theism. Should we continue to provide Mr. Dawkins with entertainment? Every time an apologist gives him something holy, Dawkins tramples it, and then turns to insult the one who gave it to him. Is this what Christ had in mind when He said do not give what is holy to the dogs? If it difficult to imagine what else He could have meant.
Let’s be perfectly clear about what I am arguing here. I am not suggesting that we do not train the Church in the views of skeptics so that they will be able to intelligently interact with such philosophies at some general level. I am also not suggesting that we stop writing about these views. I think the Church needs as much help as she can get in understanding these attacks. We need to help one another see just how foolish they tend to be. I am also not suggesting that we stop publishing books and recording lectures on the topics. What I am suggesting is that we begin obeying our Lord's command by refusing to play the apologetics and debate game with these individuals. They are clearly not seeking truth. They clearly want the entertainment of debate. They like to argue. They revel in intellectual pugilism. The Christian’s goal is obedience. Our goal is to think like God in the sense that we humble submit our intellect to His design, thinking His thoughts after Him. We must avoid the intellectual seduction of debate for the sake of debate. We must refuse to play these games and stop thinking that we have a right to cast the holy things of God to those that God Himself has said must not receive them.
What should we do with men like Dawkins? We should not debate him. We should not interact with him at all in fact, other than in passing and being polite as we would any other stranger. Should Dawkins come with a notably different attitude, sincerely inquiring with a remarkably different spirit, perhaps some engagement would be merited. Perhaps God is bringing him to faith. The point is that our purpose for evangelism and apologetics is not pragmatic. It isn’t for performance or results that we spend our energy. It is for the glory of God in proclamation and defense of the truth.
In summary, I am arguing that most of our evangelism and apologetics is done in blatant contradiction of Matthew 7:6. I am suggesting that we reconsider our approach and become more critical of our own behavior in a humble effort to remember why we do what we do. We give the gospel in humble obedience to God. We seek to accurately hand His truth for His glory in hopes that He will graciously allow us to witness changed hearts and lives. We do not spend the energy to produce something. It is not our purpose to satisfy the unbeliever with dazzling evidence and rational argumentation. Our purpose is to glorify our Father and that means giving the gospel to those whom He has not deemed to be dogs and swine.
But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. [John 10:26-28]The sheep hear the word of their Shepherd.