Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When it's Wrong to Apologize

Perhaps you’re familiar with the contemporary wisdom in evangelism: “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”? Or “to reach your community you must first serve your community”? The idea that the right way to evangelize is to first build a bridge into the lives of non-believers by giving them things they like. You know, win the right to share the gospel. If you can’t do physical things for your them (say they’re an anonymous blog reader) then at least try to soften them up verbally, be it through flattery, an appeal to vanity, or an apology.

In this way we show an open hand, a good faith demonstration that we mean no harm. We draw them near to the familiar to show them that Christ isn’t other like they think He is so we can share our message with them. “See, I’m a likeable person and I like Jesus, so there's no reason to push Him away.” Something like this for example. Take a look.

“Woah, now wait a minute,” you say, “I know where this is going. You’re getting ready to denounce this whole approach entirely and call the woman who wrote it misguided, aren’t you? You’re going to go full on crotchety Reformed old guy and demand we stop apologizing, stop being attractive, and start shooting at people. Culturally speaking.”
Err, yes. In a polite way. Because believe it or not, there’s a lot wrong with this approach. Just consider what the Bible would look like if the prophets of old used it:

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!”
But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
And Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near unto me.”
And the people came near unto him.
And Elijah said,
“I’m sorry.”
And he wept aloud, and handed them a coffee. “I want you to know I’m just like you—a glorious wreck in progress. I’m not trying to persuade you of anything here except that I’m heartbroken for our own bad behavior that's driven you into your self-distancing from YHWH. I’ve argued against Baalism on the grounds that it doesn’t honor YHWH, all the while forgetting that for years my religion hasn’t honored Him either. My fellow journeyers and I become so complacent hiding in our caves that we’ve completely forgotten to affirm you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me for all the bigotry I’ve shown, for the many instances I’ve failed.

I say this because I want you to come back to YHWH.”

The reason it sounds so wrong (and amusing) is because of how far out it is from the Bible. So let me dissect a few of the minor problems with this approach to evangelism before driving at the heart of the issue.

Minor Problem 1 - It’s Duplicitous

A common tactic people use when they want to talk you into agreeing with them is to make a reasonable statement (I believe women shouldn’t be oppressed), add a conjunction (that's why), and then present the controversial view they want you to accept (we should dismember children we don’t want to give birth to). They hope to hide the wild suggestion under the reasonable one.
 

Remember what the American media said after the Charlie Hebdo massacre? “We support the right to free speech, but, you can’t offend people like that and not expect retaliation.” What they really said was “Muslims have the right to kill people who offend them,” and because they nominally professed to support the first amendment you’re supposed to think that’s not such an extreme position to take. But the trick is evident, the but so obviously indicating you should ignore everything previously said as a duplicitous ploy that nobody’s fooled.

So when you use this method to advance the gospel all you’re really doing is looking down on people and lashing that arrogance to it. Non-believers are aware you’re employing an obvious trick, and as a result they don’t see you coming humbly with the good news, they instead see they were right to be suspicious of you, and were right about the gospel being so weak that it needs to be snuck in to be accepted. They know this trick only works on the very weak minded, yet you’re doing it to them anyway, which means the conclusion they’re right to draw is that you don’t think very much of them.

Smuggling in the gospel under cover of something else is strictly prohibited by 2 Corinthians 4:2-4. We’re not to use bribes, words, or anything else to hide Christ until a good time comes along to unveil Him. Our job is to show Him, stand Him up, and let Him worry about the rest. Anything else is disobedience.

Minor Problem 2 - It’s Unsuccessful

Further, and perhaps worse, the duplicitous apology that smuggles in an opinion has never in the history of mankind worked. Ever. If you don’t believe me then try apologizing to your wife that way and see how far it gets you. “I’m sorry dear, but…” is just a terrible strategy. 
And that’s really worrisome because it’s one thing to ignore the Bible and adopt a strategy that “gets results,” but another altogether to both ignore the Bible and come up empty. The whole point of the pragmatic movement is to do what’s successful, and by any stretch this scheme is a failure. Don’t believe me? Go back to that article and read what the non-believers posted in the comment section in response to her post. Something along the lines of, “You called me lost. And sick. And you seem to imply there’s something wrong with me. You’re a bigot.” The only real effect it had was getting a lot of “Amens” from nominal Christians who thought the approach was a good one. If any of the non-believers go back and think their life over after reading the blog, it will be in spite of the apology, not because of it.

Minor Problem 3 - It’s Dangerous

Let’s circle back for a moment to “the way to evangelize is to first find out what non-believers want, then give it to them” and ask the question, “what if the thing they most want is to get God out of their lives?” What if getting their attention means giving them proof of your unfaithfulness? What if what the non-believer found really appealing wasn’t the gift, but the spark of rebellion to God? The fact that you’re finally coming around to the right position after all? In short, what if what the Bible says about the hearts of men (Jer 17:9; John 3:19; Rom 8:7 etc) is true? That would mean that not only is this strategy fruitless, but it’s dangerous to the person who wields it. 

It's at best appeasement, a way to get them out of their hiding place and look around, and at worst a total surrender, a giveaway of all the doctrines that ought to be celebrated and have the power to cut away sin. That’s what happened to the emergent churchthey've compromised away the gospel by degrees in an effort to reach the world. It’s gone something like this:
"Hey non-believer, you should come to Christ."
“Why? I believe in a God of Love, not a God who'd send someone to hell because he loves his life-partner.”
“Well I don’t like the doctrine of hell either and I’m still a Christian.”
“It’s not just that I don’t like it though, I flatly don’t believe in it at all.”
“Well neither do I, but I’m still a Christian.”
"You don't seem to like God much, so if that's what a Christian is then I guess I'm one too."

Apologizing and giving ground on doctrine is nothing more than an admission that your doctrine wasn’t essential. It’s to admit the gospel needs help to change lives. So this strategy of bowing and scraping is not only dishonest and ineffectual, it also demands the Christian become less faithful, and distance themselves from the rest of God’s people.
And now it’s time for the real issue I have with this evangelistic strategy.

Major Problem - What’s Really Wrong with Apologizing for Other Christians

It’s idolatry.
To understand why you need to understand the times we live in. Our culture isn’t Christian any longer—the dominant religion is now a form of moral therapeutic deism (and let me lay the stress on therapeutic). We’ve given up the doctrines of original sin and total depravity that have caused us to be skeptical about human nature and embraced instead a pliable optimism birthed out of psychology. The tenants of our new therapy religion is that people have bad feelings and need help becoming fitter, happier, and more productive. That which pleases us is good and pleasing to our god, that which displeases us is bad and makes the god angry. Which means that our self-indulgence is actually mandated religious dogma. 

Want to really offend the adherents of this religion? Tell them Christ is the only way to heaven. Tell them they’re sinners. Tell them something, anything that would make them feel bad. Little Johnny wants cookies for dinner? We must assist him in actualizing his inner desires or else we’ll displease our guiding principles. God wants us to be happy, after all. 
You must always remember this when speaking with the acolytes of Therapy and give them no further ground to go on blaspheming the real God. Remember that seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is their chief end. Remember that their god commands to become happy by satisfying the lusts of their flesh. By heaping what we call sin onto themselves they glorify their master. 

The minor problem with this boneheaded evangelism style is that it doesn’t matter how much you say yes to their idolatry, at the point you start saying no you’ve made them angry and they’ll tune out. The major problem is that as long as you say okay to their lifestyle and joined them in blaming God for their sinfulness you’ve bowed the knee to their god. To affirm their worship, build a bridge, and say "I agree!" before bringing the true message of Jesus is to kneel at their altar with them. As Lewis says, “The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen.” Or idolaters to help the idolaters. Try it out:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, “What will this babbler say?” others, “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods” because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.”
(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very religious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Men and brothers this is good! Commendable even! You’re searchers. Your heart is in the right place.

I can also see you’re passionate about your gods, and that they mean a great deal to you. Me too! Tell you what, in the interests of ecumenical relations I’ll worship your god at your shrine and in return you worship mine with me. Who's ready to make that kind of deal? Show of hands, every head down, every eye closed. Nobody’s watching. If you want to make this deal with me put your hand up. Yes I see hands going up everywhere, yes, fabulous. This is opening a lot of doors.”

The prophets of Baal brought in a system that involved cutting and bleeding for attention. The prophets of Molech demanded children be burned alive. The prophets of therapy demand we embrace  the destruction of the person and never tell them anything they don’t want to hear. The answer to that is No. No. Go away. I won’t compromise an inch. I won’t approve of your destroying yourself. I won't agree that you're on the right track or that you have any right to do so.

The impulse to snatch people out of hell is not seen in the phrase, “You’re sin isn’t so bad, not nearly so bad as those nasty Christians” but in the phrase, “Look what you’re doing to yourself! Stop the sin! Don’t!” The solution is to reject their whole system altogether and turn them right side up. That’s the loving thing to do. Give them the Gospel Jesus told you to give them. Tell them of His death, burial, and resurrection straight up, and trust Him to do the rest.


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