Book Plunge: Doing Apologetics Without The Need For Apology

What do I think of Trevor Ray Slone’s work on winsome apologetics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In today’s culture, most apologists know that it is important to have the right answers to questions related to apologetics. What is also important is how one goes about doing apologetics. There are all different styles and this goes beyond presuppositional, classical, evidential, etc. Some people have a friendship evangelism. Some have a confrontational evangelism. Some will use sarcasm in apologetics. (Self included) Some will absolutely not. This also depends on the purpose of the encounter and what one hopes to accomplish.

Trevor Ray Slone sent me his manuscript on this topic. Slone wants us to know the purpose of apologetics is evangelism and not argumentation or proving that you are smarter than everyone else. In essence, this is true, but yet I have a concern popping up.

Is every apologetic encounter meant to lead the other person to Christ? I would say no. When William Lane Craig does a public debate for instance, he is not really trying to lead the other person to Christ I suspect. He’s doing that for the people in the audience. In the encounters of Christ in the NT, we do not see people like the Pharisees coming up after an exchange with Jesus asking to be forgiven. Jesus did not answer the Pharisees to win them to His side, but to keep them from drawing people over to their side. It was in the ancient world a clash of honor where the victor got the honor and the loser was shamed. This would mean that, yes, Jesus was trying to shame His opponents. (And might I say, He succeeded brilliantly!)

Slone also says the book came about when a student asked how to do apologetics that was winsome. Here, I wonder again. I understand the goal to be winsome. One does not bring offense for the pure sake of bringing offense, but is this a concern in the NT? After all, doesn’t the NT tell us to be concerned when the world speaks well of us?

But let us go on. Slone takes us first to 2 Cor. 10:1-5. Let’s look at the passage.

“By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Slone says some will notice he did not include verse 6. He tells us he did not do so because it is technically the end of the overall thought of this chapter and there are some burdensome (and he says time-consuming in parentheses) aspects involved in tying it in to those five verses.

Naturally, this got me wanting to look up what verse 6 was immediately and what do I see?

“And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”

This would indeed be hard to fit into being winsome, but I consider it a lack that it was not addressed. Would it be time-consuming? Yes. But if you are dealing with an argument, you want to be as thorough as possible. If the next verse could indicate to a reader that the rest of the passage is being read wrong, then what? What will happen later on when students are reading the text and thinking about what they learned in the book and then read the sixth verse?

The sixth verse shows in fact that the entire passage is a passage about spiritual warfare of some sort. Now of course, we condemn any physical violence in the apologetic methodology. (Although it is certainly interesting to know that was an effective method used when evangelizing the Vikings.) The text speaks of demolishing and taking captive and punishing. These are not positive terms.

For instance, the word for demolishing is used of destruction elsewhere in the epistle and in contrast to edification. The word for bringing captive is used in Luke to describe soldiers in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. taking the people captive. The word for punished is used to speak of vengeance. It’s asking people to be brought to justice and that they might be vindicated when they are wronged.

The whole passage then is a warfare passage so at this point, I see a problem already.

Slone speaks about humility in this passage. He says humility is “ultimately remembering and maintaining an active awareness of one’s wholehearted insufficiency apart from Christ, and there is nothing about boldness or any other potentially necessary attribute that negates the true necessity of such a mindset.”

Insofar as it goes, I agree with much of this. One can be bold and humble at the same time, yet I disagree at the start. Naturally, I do hold that we should realize we can do nothing without Christ and that our being relies on Him, but is that what humility is?

Let’s suppose Aristotle was writing hundreds of years before Christ. Could he write about the virtue of humility? Yes. Could he include the above definition? Not at all. One could still have humility without knowing a thing about Christ. True humility is simply recognizing where you are in the universe. It is not lifting yourself above your position, but it is also not lowering oneself below one’s position. One can fit that easily into a Christian paradigm with our relation to Christ, but the Christian paradigm does not define it.

Slone also tells us that Paul says that he was humble in face to face encounters. Yet here, I wondered about a passage that never shows up in Slone’s book. What about Galatians 2 where Paul opposes Peter to his face because he was clearly in the wrong? Paul gave a public shaming to Peter in this regards. Now I agree that Paul was humble in this, but would Slone’s readers know Paul was humble? How would that be explained beyond just saying Paul was humble?

At this point, we’ll move on to the next section which is 2 Tim. 2:23-26.

“23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

Slone rightfully says at the start that this passage is intended for church leadership, but since the principles are moral in nature, then they can be seen as universal in scope.

I am again troubled because knowing this is church leadership could change the whole of the situation. Morality does not change to be sure, but some principles of ethics can differ based on the situation. Paul deals with some in 1 Cor. 8-10. He thinks it’s fine to eat meat offered to idols, but says that under some circumstances, it should not be done for the sake of others.

What is going on in the passage is in fact speaking about leaders in the church and what people to avoid. It is dealing with a private situation and not a public one. It is not talking about those who oppose the faith from without. It is also speaking not about foolish arguments, but THE foolish arguments. In other words, there’s a specific heretical teaching in mind. This is apparent because earlier in the chapter Paul has talked about people teaching a heresy that the resurrection has already come and the rest of this is a description of how to respond to teachers like that.

Timothy is in essence being told that he should avoid them and their heresy. It would say nothing about refuting their teaching. That should obviously be done when it is public, but in the private sphere, avoid a relationship with these heretics. That would be giving an endorsement to their teaching.

Unfortunately, I think Slone takes a dangerous stance at this point in the book. I read this passage to my own spouse to ask “Am I reading this wrong?” I am convinced that I am not. Slone says to avoid foolish arguments giving the example of talking about a baby pink unicorn. He says it does not exist, but it is not unbiblical to talk about one provided you are giving an analogy to explain something. I will not quote what Slone says at length.

“However, if you are arguing with someone about how big that unicorn will be when it is six months old for the express purpose of entertainment or just to waste time talking about something interesting, then this is not at all ultimately productive relative to leading people to Christ. So unless there is some higher purpose (actual purpose: not just an excuse/nominal purpose) in mind, such as building rapport to become better friends with so that they might be more open to hearing the gospel message from you in the future, then discussing something for the purpose of entertainment alone is inappropriate and a waste of time at best, and down-right sin at worst.” Slone says he knows this sound harsh, but we must remember that every moment we have is precious and could be a waste of potential time that could be spent leading someone to Christ.

From a pastoral perspective, I can imagine many counselors would be cringing at this statement. This is the kind of statement that I think leads many Christians into a panic about their Christian life and a shut down and much counseling and therapy.

It is hard to imagine that Paul when writing this passage was telling Timothy to never engage in small talk (Which I hate by the way) unless he was leading someone to Christ and that he was condemning any talk about baby pink unicorns.

The reality is we all do things every day that are not directly conducive to the Gospel, but are helpful in having us enjoy our lives and thus be of better service. Even Aquinas years ago said play was an important part of the Christian life. An excellent look at this can be found in Ben Witherington’s “The Rest of Life.”

When I read this I wondered “How long am I allowed to sleep during the day?” Is there a certain time limit whereby I am sinning since time spent sleeping could be spent leading someone to Christ? “How long can my meal times be?” After all, that could be time spent leading someone to Christ. Was I wrong when I was dating my wife and we were just watching a movie together by ourselves? After all, that was time that could be spent leading someone to Christ! We went on our honeymoon for about a week and that was not for the purposes of evangelism. Did we sin in doing that?

Now naturally, if one spent all their time in play, that would be a problem, but God made many good things for our enjoyment. (1 Tim. 6:17) How is it a sin to enjoy them?

Furthermore, am I to be a friend to someone just for the purpose of leading them to Christ? Naturally, if I am a friend to someone I will want to lead them to Christ or get them to grow in Christlikeness, but if they do not, am I to cease to be their friend? Can I not be a friend to someone just because I like their company? This gets me into the problem that too often, we see lost people as simply people to get to Jesus. They in essence become notches on an evangelism tally.

I see Slone’s statement then that I have quoted at length as a highly dangerous one. It is a kind of legalism that will put a burden on people that they cannot manage especially when it comes to areas of their life that are not evangelistic.

The next passage Slone brings us to is James 3:9-12. I do have a concern with this, but it is because of an overall lack I have seen and I will discuss that at the end of my review.

From here, we go into select passages from Proverbs and one immediately caught my eye and led to a problem. Slone gives us Proverbs 26:4 which reads as follows:

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.”

Slone tells us that according to this verse, to not answer the fool according to his folly means to not answer in a similar manner. We are not to answer as a fool ourselves. We are to respond in a coherent and rational manner. Therefore, in following this advice, to not answer a fool according to his folly means to not answer foolishly and to answer in a coherent and rational manner.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

But what happens if someone reads the very next verse?

“Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

What now? Am I to answer the fool then at this point in a foolish manner? Am I to answer him in an incoherent and irrational manner? If not answering according to his folly means not answering foolishly and answering in a coherent and rational manner, then it would seem answering according to his folly would mean the opposite.

Slone’s work leaves me wondering what am I to do with verse 5? What will happen when a student who reads comes across verse 5? What are they to think?

The reality is the Proverbs do not give us absolute principles but general realities. Some Jews wondered about the Proverbs because some of them seemed to contradict. This passage is an answer. The clash is intended! It all depends on the situation and the fool you are dealing with. Sometimes you are to answer them in a certain way. Sometimes you are to answer them in another. These two passages should teach us there is not one absolute way to answer a fool.

This is a consistent problem I see in Slone’s book which I want to bring up a little bit at this point. There is the sound of one-hand clapping. Slone brings up verses that he thinks support his position, and for the sake of argument they may, but he does not bring up passages that seem to disagree. I used Galatians 2 earlier as an example of this.

Slone later discusses Romans 12:17-19 and says “Rather in the context of Scripture we are to view this passage as commanding us to ultimately do what is right and honorable in the eyes of those who concur with Christ, for those who are in line with Christ and his teachings are ultimately those who are honorable in the first place, and who understand honor to begin with.”

I seriously question the last part of this, that is, the part about those who are in line with Christ understand honor. I daresay that most people I meet would not understand the role of honor in the ancient world. I am skeptical that Slone himself knows how important it was, for if he had, I suspect this book would have turned out a lot differently. If someone wants to understand honor, an excellent place to go is DeSilva’s “Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity.”

So in wrapping it up, while I appreciate Slone’s endeavors, I just think this falls short and the main reason is Slone presents one side of the story. What is to be done with Matthew 23? What about Luke 11? Now some might say Jesus could do that, but we can’t, but what about when Paul says we are to imitate him as he imitates Christ? What is the basis upon which we say that Christ can be confrontational in his approach to outsiders but we cannot be?

We could go and ask also about passages like Galatians 5 where Paul says he wishes the circumcision crowd would go the whole way and emasculate themselves. What about how Polycarp referred to Marcion as the first-born of satan? What about the heavy-handedness used by Irenaeus and Athanasius and Tertullian and in more recent times, the satiric wit of G.K. Chesterton? Has Slone considered a work such as Douglas Wilson’s “The Serrated Edge”?

I suspect Slone has bought into a modernistic approach and has unfortunately read it back into the Scripture. I do not think one can find this approach if one reads Scripture within its ancient social context, which is always the great danger we make. We read our own culture into the Bible.

So while I do appreciate Slone’s desire for evangelism, I think that these are problems in the text that I would have to see worked on before I could give my endorsement, especially the problem with the passage about entertainment purposes and such. I think Slone needs to interact with voices that disagree with and be able to explain passages that seem to go against his viewpoint. For the sake of argument, his position on the passages he cites could be correct, but without addressing the opposition, it is the sound of one-hand clapping.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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