A Review of Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham Jr.


My Rating: 3/10

This book started out great! In the first 50 pages I kept writing, “I do that too!” Until his last year in college, the author had his sights on practicing law. That was also true of me! One of MY majors in college was Political Science. Cool connection. Voddie Baucham Jr.’s faith became real in college when a Campus Crusade campus minister shared the Gospel with him. In many ways the same is true of me. Once again I wrote, “that happened to me!” Additionally, in his Introduction Voddie Baucham Jr. explains a tendency he has when preaching to:

“Argue with myself during sermons. I would make a point, then immediately say something like, “I know what you’re thinking…” I would then express common objections to the proposition I had just made, then proceed to answer those objections.”

This is a form of what the author calls “expository apologetic preaching.” In the sidebar I wrote, “I do that too when I preach!” Later Baucham describes it as,

“I often…take on a persona of someone who disagrees with what I’m saying and then I answer that objection.”

Yup, been there…I do that a lot!

In the first two chapters I was loving this guy because his personal story was similar to mine. But it got boring quickly (hmm, I wonder what that says about me?) and by the fifth chapter this book didn’t have much for even me – someone whose personal life and preaching style is somewhat similar in at least some ways to the author. As I read the book it began to feel like page after page of justification for why the author is the way he is(!) and less practical help for how pastors, disciples and evangelists can be more expositionally apologetic in their own way via their own unique giftings. Bummer.

In describing his goal – Baucham Jr. makes clear he wants his approach to be received as “accessible and effective” but he doesn’t accomplish that goal. While many people think of apologetics as that professional, highly philosophical, formal process of defense aimed at the academy, Baucham Jr. is aiming at a different context. He wants to remind Christians that they can be apologists too, even if they aren’t professional, philosophical, formal, or academic. This book is meant for “those” people. I picked this book up because I agree with that sentiment!

But he doesn’t end up showing us how. He DOES say that everyone can become expositional apologists if they can learn but 3 simple things: How to be Biblical, how to be memorable, and how to be conversational. These goals are all well and good, but Baucham never gets to showing what that looks like for anyone besides himself.

Thus, the practical application section of the book (Chapters 5-9) were for me, just, “eh.” Almost nothing stuck out as worthwhile. It wasn’t horrible either I guess, it was just, “eh.” I don’t really know what to highlight. In these chapters there were just one too many personal stories of how the author is rather than examples of what we can do. I may be wrong, but this reader gets a hunch that the author is pretty impressed with himself and mostly just wants to talk about how others should be like him. This book is more autobiographical than it should be.

However, there were two reminders that were helpful for me:

  1. While the author loves the way HE preaches (eh…), he also loves Scripture and urges the reader time and time again throughout this book that Scripture is sufficient (!). I appreciate that. This is what Baucham Jr. means by “expository” apologetics. Our apologetic method should be simply expositing (exposing) Scripture. I like his clarification on page 56 where he says,

I frequently receive letters and e-mails that begin with, “I have a friend/parent/child who is extremely intelligent…” What follows is usually an impassioned plea for some kind of special apologetic methodology for the awesomely intelligent. It is as though we believe people who have studied science, philosophy, or mathematics stand on some lonely pedestal where not even the Holy Spirit can reach them.

Suddenly, we believe Hebrews 4:12 reads, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart…unless, of course, the person is really smart! 

This author believes Scripture is THE apologetic method for every audience, including even “extremely intelligent” people. This is a good word. A good reminder. This author is also not simplistic in his rendering of the concept of exposition. Baucham Jr. knows the solution isn’t to just always be ready to quote a Bible book, chapter or verse to someone every time we give an answer. Instead, to be “expository” is to know Scripture and be confident to share the story of Scripture whenever appropriate. Like Paul, we should “start with legitimate questions, answer the questions, and use Scripture to shape and support our answer” (70). This is a good reminder – one that is often missing in apologetic textbooks or manuals.

2. In discussing Romans 1:18-3:20 Baucham Jr. notes Paul says the human problem is not informational, it is that we have a sin problem. This is important and it affects our strategy. If a non-believer’s primary problem is informational – then as Christians we will try to give them more (or better) information. But if our core problem is that we are sinful, then our strategy will be prayer because we will realize people need a miracle of God before God’s Word will even make sense to them.

Baucham Jr. reminds us that Scripture shows man’s greatest need is not information, it is illumination. This is another good reminder: Information for information sake isn’t actually all that helpful. People don’t need facts, they need a good, heavenly Father. People don’t need funny stories, they need a Savior. People don’t need moralism, they need a Messiah. Ultimately, our prayer should be that God illuminates those we talk to. Without the work of the Holy spirit, any mere information will just fall to the ground.

I thought those two tidbits were great. Besides those, this book was pretty much a wash. I wish this book was better. I feel like Voddie Baucham Jr. needs a do-over. The author should keep the first four chapters, and then rewrite the last five chapters so that anyone who is by chance different in personality or gifting than the author can find out what expository apologetics can look like for them, too!


Review of Tactics by Gregory Koukl


My rating: 7/10

The author of this book is the founder and president of Stand to Reason which is a Christian Apologetics organization aimed at training Christians to think clearly and defend Christianity in an “intellectually fair, gracious, and incisive” way. Here Koukl offers us what he calls the “Ambassador Model” as a way of teaching us how to be diplomatic about our faith. Koukl believes if we want to represent Christ in the new millennium we need at least 3 skills:

  1. A basic knowledge of the central message of God’s kingdom and how to respond to the obstacles people have. In essence – an accurately informed mind. 
  2. Wisdom – so our message is clear and persuasive. In essence – an artful method. 
  3. Godly character – this can “make or break our mission.” Knowledge and wisdom are packaged in a person. If that person does not embody the virtues of God’s kingdom s/he will undermine it. In essence – an attractive manner.

Since he says almost every other book in the field of Christian Apologetics has to do with #1, Koukl wanted this book to be especially focused on #2. Wisdom and Method: How should we go about this task? As such, the proper genre categorization for this book is Christian Apologetic Methodology. While strategy involves the big picture or the large scale operation, tactics is all about “the art of arranging.” Tactics allow you to know how to arrange your resources in an artful way. In this case, Koukl’s resources are the Bible and especially the Christian worldview – the particulars are how to communicate that effectively to people who aren’t necessarily Christian. Koukl says this method should look like management, not manipulation. Control, not coercion. Finesse, not fight. A lot of people “on the street” so to speak have recommended this one to me so I picked it up to see what all the hubbub was about.

As far as method goes – I’d put this into an even more specific category if there were such a thing: Methods of Christian Apologetic Rhetoric. There must be at least a hundred times Koukl provides the following rubric:

If a non-Christian says A to you, you can respond by saying X, Y, or Z. 

I was surprised that I mostly appreciated it. While these sorts of books can tend towards over-simplifications or cookie-cutter equations for “winning the argument” this one doesn’t come off that way too often. It helps that Koukl has been doing this kind of work for over 30 years. Even though there weren’t a ton of helps in here for people who want to learn how to deeply evaluate the opinions of others, there was a LOT of practical help for identifying main ideas, locating fallacies, and recommending first steps for what to do when you are in the thick of a difficult conversation with someone who believes very differently than you. If I could add one more chapter to this book, I’d want it to be about how to know when its OK NOT to have the answer. Or when it’s more strategic to WITHHOLD the answer. Or when it’s better to just listen, and pray. Wisdom is needed here. Maybe in the revised edition?

I think a prime audience is many high school seniors who are nervous as they are preparing for college. I imagine reading this book could make a lot of them feel more confident and ready for the challenges. While I wish Koukl’s examples were more diverse in nature (at least 1/2 of all the examples revolve around what seem to be some of his pet issues – relativism, abortion, evolution, and sexuality) he does have a knack for quickly locating the “main thing” another person is saying and knowing what question to use as a follow up to keep the conversation going. Ah, if only we Christians knew how to keep the conversation (not the shouting) going… this is a special skill most of us should look to get better at.

While I agree it’s important to know “what to say next,” I do wish Koukl reminded us a few more times for good measure that faith conversations aren’t about winning. At all. In my own personal experiences, I don’t recall too many times seeing people come to Jesus as Christians were proving their intellectual superiorities. Unfortunately, this is what a lot of Christian apologetics feels like to non-believers. At this point, we Christians need to acknowledge that, and say it over and over again: This Christianity thing isn’t about winning at all. For us, it’s about becoming the “least of these.” Christianity is about showing you how good, and beautiful, and cool, and life-saving (etc.) Jesus is. In my mind, Christian apologetics is great even if all it does is that – it keeps the conversation going.

To be fair, Koukl does mention that sharing your faith should be more like “getting up to bat” than “hitting a home-run” but many of his examples hint otherwise. But on the other hand, I get it. Koukl knows most people find it difficult to be clever on command – so Koukl encourages us to do a little preparation ahead of time and we won’t be at a loss for words when it’s important we say something. How else are we to, as Scripture says:

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person”? (Colossians 4:6) 

There are surprisingly few other Christian apologetic books quite like this one. Many similar books sport similar-sounding titles but hardly any deliver as much practical, helpful, usable ideas for real-life conversations as this one. This book is chock-full of em. It’s street ready. For that, I’d give it a thumbs up and will recommend this to a few people I know.

The Skeletons in God’s Closet


I can’t remember for sure who I first heard it from, but I think it was Scott McKnight who somewhere recommended this book as the best book in its category. Whoever it was who said it, I’d like to second the opinion. As stated in the foreword, the author of this book has the mind of a theologian, the heart of a poet, and the hands of a missionary. These three gifts make him a very unique and profound voice to speak on these topics. The three topics of this book are:

  1. Hell
  2. Judgment
  3. Holy War

Joshua Ryan Butler spends about 100 pages on each “deep, dark doctrine we’d rather avoid.” In each case the author shows how the Gospel is so much better than the caricature we have in our minds. This is currently the ONLY book on the topic I know of that I’d feel comfortable reading entirely through with someone who was skeptical or curious about these topics. There were a few select pages I thought were theologically insufficient but overall this book is very well researched without feeling academic at all.

The author is able to show how unfamiliar (typically Ancient Near Eastern) concepts can not only be understood by us modern peoples, but can help make sense of some of our most important modern-day questions. Actually, at the end of the book he shows how our questions are Israel’s answers. Picturesque is a good word for his writing. Poetic is another one that fits. This book is very easy to read but is not watered-down. Astute analogies allow the reader to constantly contemporize the information. At the same time, the book feels personal. The author shares many examples from his own life, and you can tell his heart beats for God’s mission and he wants ours to as well.

I appreciate how at the end of each chapter Butler summarizes his arguments with the “key idea” – as seen below. It would be enough in some groups to just list the key ideas from each chapter and talk about them. They are that good.


Since I’d be equally comfortable reading through this book with a Christian or an atheist or anyone in between, I wish the author had included discussion questions at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book. His last chapter titled, “loose ends” is nice though, as he tries to anticipate questions that will come up and he answers each in turn.

This book far surpassed my expectations. This is now the FIRST book (besides the Bible, of course)  I’d turn to as a resource for someone who isn’t just throwing out a blanket accusation but really wants to understand some of the more difficult doctrines of Scripture. Highly recommended.

3 Apologetic Books Summarized in 3ish Paragraphs

Dialogical Apologetics: A Person-Centered Approach to Christian Defense. 1999:

dialogical apologetics

David K. Clark believes “apologetics has too long been disconnected from that multifaceted complex called Real Life.” Apologetics should not be abstracted from the dynamics of personal encounter so Clark sets out to show the importance in apologetic dialogue of developing the right attitudes, hearing the other, defusing emotions, exerting influence, and using evidence appropriately for the proper audience. This author is very skilled at definitions and concise answers in the style of analytic philosophy. For example, What is faith? What is reason? What is philosophy? What is science? What are words? How should our shared history of knowledge affect our apologetic dialogue? Etc. If you are interested in those topics – this book is for you. Clark’s explanations are second-to-none. My favorite chapters in this book were the first three. These chapters comprise a history of “faith” and “reason” (Ch. 1), a history of philosophy and epistemology (Ch.2), and a history of the philosophy of science (Ch.3) – each chapter about 25 pages in length. Some of the best summaries of these important developments I’ve ever come across. This book is written for the serious student. Good at articulating proper intellectual foundations, not as strong in developing practical techniques.

Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. 2002: 


“Humble Apologetics” could more aptly be titled, “Why Christian apologists SHOULD be humble.” The author doesn’t actually get to the topic of humility directly until Chapter 9 or 10ish, or maybe 11. This book is more a prolegomena to understanding the cultural challenges than actually laying out what “humble apologetics” can look like in real life. Much of the book is dedicated to revealing the cultural obstacles to a proper apologetic and is very helpful in that regard. Especially prescient is Chapter 4 titled, “Consumerism.” Written in 2002, explicitly and abundantly true in 2017. For example, the author highlights four convictions of consumerism and then shows four ways this interferes with genuine Christian experience. Simply glossing the main points will highlight the overall helpfulness of a book like this as it shows what gets in the way of a properly humble approach:

The Convictions of Consumerism:

  1. In consumerism, the self considers itself to be sovereign and judge.
  2. What is good is what the market (of individual consumers) says is good.
  3. The self is the arbiter of what matters for that self
  4. Goods (note the pun) can be bought.

Consumerism and Religion:

  1. In consumerism, religion becomes a consumer good – at best.
  2. Religions themselves become segmented into items to be picked and picked over. An “a la carte” approach.
  3. Religion is selected, or even constructed, by the self and for the self. In consumerism, religion becomes both “do-it-yourself” and “do-it-for-yourself.”
  4. Religion is turned into an intensely personal matter.

Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness Respect and Truth. 2015: 


This book is written very simply. Could be used as a group study as it includes questions for each chapter at the back. A good first resource for the lay person who wants to gain a general idea of what it means to be a Godly witness for Christ. The book is divided into four parts: Who You Are, What You Do, What You Know, and Where You Go. Each chapter is about 10 pages long and is written in large font. It sticks to giving a big-picture overview for how the average Jane can witness to others. If you have a friend who has low self esteem and is overwhelmed by the idea of talking to others about Jesus – this book may be helpful. It communicates a simple and valuable message, “Christian, you can do this!” (89)

Popologetics and Christians Needing Not To Embarrass Ourselves


This book was wayyyyy better than I expected. For at least three reasons, I wasn’t expecting too much insightful substance. For one, I hadn’t heard of the author before I bought the book (which isn’t unheard of for me by any means, but it doesn’t happen as often anymore). Two: The book had a cool looking cover – therefore warning bells instinctively began ringing in my ears. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be an unwritten rule in the field of Christian theology: The prettier the cover, the more useless and superficial the information. Three, and to make things even worse, it had a coolish sounding title: “Popologetics”. Really, I thought? They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but really, what do they know? Even though a respected professor recommended I read it, I saw the cover and figured I had better things to read.

So, I purposefully stalled. I bought this book three years ago but hadn’t picked it up until now because I figured I should get to the weightier ones first. By that I mean, the other books on the “to read” list which didn’t have trendy titles or cool looking covers (thank God!), and were written by authors who I already knew were respected. As far as I can tell, I don’t have time for riffraff these days. But what a pleasant surprise! This book functions as a Christian primer for popular cultural exegesis – and while I’ve read quite a few on similar topics, I’ve never encountered another work better suited for this task than this one. At over 300 pages the attention to nuance and detail is crucial and extraordinary. This topic is what the author Ted Turnau does for a living, and it shows.

Turnau’s section on pages 7-18 titled, “Seeing the Tree for the Forest: What is a Worldview?” is the most helpful definition and explanation of “worldview” I have ever encountered. “Worldview” is a favorite topic for evangelicals and has been written about ad neauseum with only recent balances to the pendulum from people such as James KA Smith and others. I was both surprised and delighted to find such fresh delineations and insight on “worldview” so late in the game. In these pages Turneau shows the multiple layers within a worldview: including our presuppositions, the world-story, life-philosophy, applied beliefs, and of course, lived behaviors. Then in the next chapter he shows how popular culture influences that same complex, always in-process “worldview.” Again, just really well done. Turnau is a thoughtful writer. He is easy to read, and his examples are constantly engaging and illuminating.

My favorite chapter of the book was Chapter 10, where Turnau puts forward his recommendations for how Christians can and should engage popular culture Christianly. And more importantly, how to cultivate in his words, a “Christian-critical imagination” (214). This chapter should be required reading for every youth pastor on the planet. Part of the reason it’s so good is because he offers good questions to ask of popular culture pieces, including (from page 215):

  1. What’s the story?
  2. Where am I (the world of the text)?
  3. What’s good and true and beautiful about it?
  4. What’s false and ugly and perverse about it (and how do I subvert that)?
  5. How does the Gospel apply here?

Additional questions we can ask of popular culture pieces as we seek to exegete them Christianly would be (From pages 229-230):

  1. What counts as “good” in this world? What counts as “evil”? Is evil real, or only apparent?
  2. What is beautiful in this world?
  3. What makes relationships work or fail here?
  4. Where is God? Or is this even an important question? What is worshipped in this world?
  5. What makes life worth living in this world?

Turnau’s review in Chapter 10 of what it means to thoroughly ask these questions of a popular culture work proves his expertise and passion. What a helpful model for what it can look like for Christians to engage with the world as salt and light. Of course, all this work is a lot of work. But Turnau would remind us that we are already doing the work of watching the shows and seeing the art. Why not do it in a consciously Christian way? And what is the alternative? When we Christians engage culture in unchristian ways, we do a disservice to the name of Christ (see Turnau’s part two, Chapters 5-9). Speaking of disservice…

I was recently reminded of why it’s so important for Christians to learn how to engage popular culture well. And thus why a book like Turnau’s is so valuable. Because when we Christians don’t engage culture Christianly, it’s embarrassing! Case in point. On August 8th, Kevin DeYoung posted a short article on thegospelcoalition.org titled, “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones.” Unfortunately, it is an example of the opposite of engaging popular culture in a Christianly way.

While the title is just barely combative and dramatic (and thus cool?) enough to solicit a lot of reads (woohoo!), it got worse when DeYoung admits, ” True, I haven’t seen it. Not an episode. Not a scene. I hardly know anything about the show.” That fact alone should be a big hint to the author of the article. If you haven’t watched show X, you may not want to write an article about show X. (To be fair, this point is addressed in DeYoung’s follow-up article. Unfortunately, DeYoung doesn’t really give any real answer to it).

As well, dude just became the new Senior Pastor of a large church. Like, it just happened. How does DeYoung have time to write condemningly about a show he hasn’t seen to a bunch of people he doesn’t know? And why would he make time for that even if he DID have time for it? Part of me just wants to say, “brother, you are a Pastor, try focusing on just doing that! Is that work not important enough?” Granted, Kevin DeYoung is concerned about all the sex in the show, which, to be fair, IS concerning, from a Christian point of view. But to outright condemn Game of Thrones because of apparent sex scenes is to show an outright lack of expertise in dealing with popular culture in a particularly Christian mode. It is simplistic. judgmental. unhelpful. and just rude. At the least, it is to only ask one question out of the 10 that Turnau would recommend we ask. What would the article have looked like if DeYoung actually watched the show, and took the time it takes to thoroughly exegete it from a Christian perspective, such as how Turnau would recommend? Perhaps there would have been many less “bazillion blogs and Facebook comments later” – which I’m still assuming would be a good thing, right? Or, am I wrong?

Now, I understand what-with-all the American Christian celebrity culture and what-not, that once you write a few books it is a normalized phenomenon for big masses of people to then expect that same author to then (pretend!) to be the authority on everything. But legit Christians should know NOT to buy in to that madness – as tempting as it is. So, for Kevin, who IS a legit dude, to take time to write an article about his exasperation about other people watching a show he’s never seen? Why, but for madness sake?

Here is where I wish a Kevin DeYoung would read a book like one I’ve just read and take it to heart. Because in the book, there is a straightforward format that lays out a much more robust and faithful exegetical formula – and thus if practiced would most often lead to a much more helpful sort of response. While I realize we don’t always have to go through every 10 steps or ask every question Turnau would ask before we can assume we are “properly” speaking Christianly of a cultural piece, I do think people notice when we do. Keller, of course, is a prime example of someone who takes both Biblical and cultural exegesis seriously. And people notice.

I’ve wondered this about other great preachers in the past, and I also wonder it about DeYoung. How can a guy be so thorough in preaching Scripture from the pulpit, and so nonchalant in preaching cultural analysis from the pew? You would wish the level of carefulness in one arena would trickle down to the other. More than that, I wish we Christians weren’t so prone to embarrassing ourselves.

But, praise God, Turnau’s book can help us eliminate some of that embarrassing cultural technique and instead, engage with the world and popular culture in respectful and loving ways. As Turnau says on the last page of his book,  when trying to engage with culture, “Giving in to anger only defeats the purpose of your cultural engagement.”




The Ethics (and Marketing) of Evangelism


Somehow the question of the ethics of evangelism has tended to be avoided both within academia as well as within evangelical communities. One the one hand, there are many religious peoples in the world who see evangelism to be a divine command and therefore would never consider NOT doing it. However, many other peoples see religious proselytism as necessarily annoying, unhelpful, unethical, and even potentially evil. This, partially because in the popular mind persuasion (let alone religious persuasion) is often associated with a wide variety of phenomena including brainwashing, mind control, hypnotic suggestion, mass conformity, coercion and propaganda. But is religious evangelism or persuasion always unethical, necessarily?  In this first-of-its-kind full length book, Elmer John Thiessen addresses this question head-on.

Elmer John Thiessen’s book, The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of Proselytizing and Persuasion is the most extensive ethical analysis of evangelism to date. In it, Thiessen clarifies and answers objections, defends the possibility of ethical proselytizing, elaborates criteria to use to distinguish between ethical and unethical forms of proselytizing, and applies these criteria to actual forms of proselytizing. In Chapters 3-5 Thiessen clarifies and answers particular objections to proselytizing such as, among others:

  • A distrust of persuasion tactics in general because it is seen as an invasion of privacy
  • The seeming arrogance of some proselytizers
  • Relativism, pluralism and skepticism calls into question the idea that any one person could really have access to any capital “T” truth and thus proselytism done in the attitude of religious exclusivism is inappropriate.
  • Religious claims are not entirely rational or verifiable and therefore people should not try to persuade one another of the veracity of their own religious beliefs.
  •  Proselytism is in some way a violation of the freedom and integrity of individuals or societies because:
    • Proselytism is sometimes coercive – physically, psychologically, socially, or emotionally.
  • Proselytism is colonialism
  • We should be tolerant of people of other faiths and leave them alone. Therefore, proselytizing is unethical.
  • Proselytizing leads to social disunity, hatred, and bitterness between peoples.
  • Proselytizing is only done when people are insecure and religious adherents engage in proselytizing as a way of dealing with their own doubts and insecurities.
  • Proselytizing peoples desire to gain power or control of others

After answering those above objections, Thiessen then defends religious proselytizing and gives his version of a positive approach in Chapter 6. Chapters 7-8 are written to distinguish between ethical and unethical proselytizing, and chapter 9 is the conclusion. In appendix A, Thiessen summarizes the 15 Criteria (discussed in Chapters 7-8) to distinguish between ethical and unethical proselytizing. They include:

  1. Dignity criterion
  2. Care criterion
  3. Physical coercion criterion
  4. Psychological coercion criterion
  5. Social coercion criterion
  6. Inducement criterion
  7. Rationality criterion
  8. Truthfulness criterion
  9. Humility criterion
  10. Tolerance criterion
  11. Motivation criterion
  12. Identity criterion
  13. Cultural sensitivity criterion
  14. Results criterion 
  15. Golden Rule

The most intriguing part of the book for me was Thiessen’s constant comparisons between religious proselytism and marketing advertising. He uses these comparisons in some contexts to warn religious proselytizers of what unethical proselytism looks like. But in other contexts in the book, Thiessen makes the comparison to show that religious proselytism is indeed defensible.

For example, in discussing the nature of conversion as trying to change someone’s belief, behavior, identity or belonging, Thiessen reminds us that this happens to us all the time in America and we the potential consumers don’t hardly ever fight it. Take for example the area of commercial advertising and marketing. What is oftentimes really being attempted in these advertising contexts is to bring about a conversion in us. He points to the commercial success of Amway, which is short for “the American way.” Amway is all about selling a certain lifestyle. McDonalds is another example of propaganda. The examples could be added ad-infinitum.

Naomi Klein’s study shows how many items are marketed through a “branding” process, which tries to associate a product (through its logo), with a lifestyle or worldview, so that the consumer is buying not only a product, but an identity. Marketing brings about not only a change of behavior (buying a product), but also a change of identity (belonging) and of course also a change of beliefs (this product is better than its competition). Yet, we allow for this all day long, every day of our lives. The average American sees thousands of ads per day. In the words of David Loy,

“The aggressive proselytizing of market capitalism, which has already become the most successful religion of all time, winning more converts more quickly than any previous belief system or value-system in human history.”

If all of this is true, then we must admit that we constantly and readily allow marketers to proselytize us. Why then would we not allow religious adherents to do the same thing? Why is it ethical for marketers to proselytize, but not religious people?

On the other hand, Thiessen urges caution, reminding religious proselytizers to not proselytize in the same way as marketers do. In our pluralistic environments, it is tempting for religious peoples to mimic marketing strategies. Peter Berger says it well,

“The religious tradition, which previously could be authoritatively imposed, now has to be marketed. It must be ‘sold’ to a clientele that is no longer constrained to ‘buy.’ The pluralist situation is, above all, a market situation. In it, the religious institutions become marketing agencies and the religious traditions become consumer commodities.” 

But Thiessen argues that it is this dynamic that often leads to the rightful charge of unethical conduct. While such competition can be friendly, it can also lead to a “war for souls.” This kind of marketing-Christianity is unethical because,

“Put through the meat grinder of market analysis, the gospel becomes a ‘product,’ the unchurched become ‘consumers,’ Christians become ‘salesmen’ and the ‘needs’ of the unchurched become a potential tool of manipulation.” 

Very well said. So while marketing and advertising shows us that proselytizing can and often should be “put up with” in our society, it also shows us how proselytizing can go horribly wrong.



Apostle(!) vs. Genius :(

E of A

I just finished reading Myron Bradley Penner’s book, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context. Generally, I’m a fan of Christian apologetics so I knew I would disagree with the author’s main argument right out the gate. However, I’m open to changing my mind, and had heard decent reviews of this book so figured I’d pick it up as a sort of intellectual challenge.

Penner’s argument is that we shouldn’t do Christian apologetics anymore. Or at the very least, we should be doing it very different. He makes a pretty interesting argument on page 59 when quoting Terry Eagleton, Penner points out that,

Christian apologists and the New Atheists are, in fact, mirror images of each other. Faith for either side boils down to a kind of positive scientific knowledge that tends to reduce the substance of faith to an intellectual debate over the reasonableness of a theoretical entity: the proposition ‘God exists.'”

Penner can say this because he believes the overwhelming majority of Christian apologists rely too heavily on the epistemological paradigm of modernity (as do the New Atheists) and thus Christian apologetics is no longer very helpful now that we find ourselves living in a postmodern society. Penner would say in our (modernistic) attempts to justify (and prove!) Christianity to be logical, rational and “true”, we are missing our postmodern audiences. Penner believes we should switch from an epistemological to a hermeneutical strategy. Our Christian witness should be more focused on personal and meaningful appeals vs. debate-style coercions. We should focus more on edification rather than justification. Our witness should be characterized more by the sympathetic, prophetic, and apocalyptic than the logical, scientific, or rational.

While I agree that the majority of apologists probably (and unwittingly) behold themselves too heavily to a modernistic understanding of reality, I think Penner pushes his argument too far. It’s not as if there aren’t still major echoes of modernity in the hearts and minds of current audiences – even educated ones – whether we like it or not and whether that is a good thing, or not. Additionally, Penner makes it seem that we could pick between a hermeneutical stance and an epistemological one, as if one is NOT reliant on the other. Anyways, in the end I still think Christian apologetics is a worthwhile endeavor and so Penner hasn’t convinced me. But he did open my eyes to one of the strongest critiques of apologetics I’ve ever heard – he does this by pointing to Kierkegaard.

Penner argues Christian apologetics does more harm than good because the apologist debater functions something like an expert witness who is uniquely qualified and highly trained – and therefore especially qualified – to articulate and defend Christian truth in a way the rest of us cannot. Penner believes the apologetic industry buys into the “culture of experts” that in the end hurts us more than helps.

Kierkegaard addresses this modern secular condition by drawing a very careful distinction between a genius and an apostle. For Kierkegaard, a genius is something like our concept of an “expert.” A genius is the highest person on the intellectual totem pole, the first in our pecking order of whom to believe. They are the “leaders in the field.” They know more than the rest of their peers (and us), and their claims carry with them the weight of rational deliberation, insight and brilliance. What separates them from us is that they are MORE brilliant, intelligent, and rational than we are, and this supposedly puts them in a better position to ascertain the truth. They are ahead of the curve, so to speak, so these geniuses seek to speak authoritatively about how the rest of us believe.

Kierkegaard then connects the modern emphasis on genius and the modern concept of reason. At the end of the day, the modern appeal to genius (or expertise) as the final authority for belief and practice directly corresponds to the authority accorded human reason (as objective, universal, and neutral) which is of course, a primarily modern concept – separate from both premodern and postmodern viewpoints, respectively.

The apostle on the other hand, appeals not to reason but to revelation as the basis on which claims are warranted. A genius is born, Kierkegaard points out, while an apostle is called. Whereas genius is a quality that distinguishes a person from other humans comparatively – by being MORE rational or brilliant or intelligent – the apostle’s constitutive identity comes only from the call of God.

Subsequently, the apostle’s message is one that no one else can improve upon or add to because it is dependent on God’s action alone. There is nothing extraordinary about apostles prior to their call to apostleship. Apostleship does not depend on any particular human abilities. In this sense, every human being is equally capable of being an apostle, regardless of their circumstance or natural endowments – because their source is God Himself and God’s revelation. The apostle is authoritative NOT because it is demonstrably rational or exceptionally brilliant, but because it has a word from God.

Notice, God’s word in this context does not come to us as the result of human calculation. It is not particularly brilliant but at the same time it cannot be improved upon, nor will it ever become obsolete. Because it’s God’s Word! Additionally, the apostle doesn’t need to play to the crowd en masse, while the genius must. The genius cannot ground its claims in any way that is final or absolute outside of the rational consensus of “the power-craving crowd”. The genius succeeds (or, is legitimized) when it achieves the widest possible number of adherents. All the while the apostle doesn’t need the crowd because the apostle is already speaking a different message anyways – a word from the divine outside.

Penner believes “the privileging of geniuses means apostles lose their voice.” And he also believes the Christian apologetic industry, with its tours, books, dvds, and degrees perpetuates the climate of geniuses and even encourages it. Another way of saying it is that Penner thinks apologetics is a celebrity-driven enterprise – which ends up more as a unique form of Christian idolatry vs an example of Christian salt and light.

Kierkegaard (and Penner along with him) believes Christians should be fighting AGAINST the modernistic phenomenas, not WITH it. Kierkegaard objects to Christian apologetics partially because it is reliant on the entire modern epistemological paradigm which was never Biblical to begin with! Penner despises the fact that “Christian apologetics” attempts to ground faith in genius or secular reasons. He believes modernity and all modern enterprises empty faith of its Christian content and robs it of its true authority. In this way the genius/apostle distinction suggests modern apologetics is ITSELF a symptom of the incipient nihilism at the core of modern thought. It is not the solution, Christian apologetics is the problem.

So, to summarize: We don’t need more geniuses, we need more apostles!

Now there is an argument of weight – I’ll be working on that one for the next little while. Gotta love Kierkegaard’s constant twists of insight.