My wife and I just had an argument. She hung up the phone, mad. I tried to call her back to reason with her, but it had already gotten to that point. You know: where she gives me the silent treatment that no degree of intellectual persuasion on my part can penetrate. It all started when my dad’s back went out. He is in his sixties and this is the first time this has happened. Those of you who know me know that I can sympathize with his condition a great deal. I called today and asked how he was. “I am lying on the couch. It is the only way I can get relief.” The problems with his back are a big deal, since he is my mother’s primary caretaker. My mother (61) had a stroke and ruptured brain aneurysm in 2006. She has been confined, both mentally and physically, since then. Though she requires full-time care for everything (and I mean everything), my dad has kept her at home. She has gained quite a bit of weight, and picking her up is no easy thing. Now that my dad is down, things are not good. Therefore, today, after speaking with my dad, I decided to leave Credo and spend the rest of the day and evening taking care of her (I am here now). Since I already have her on Fridays, I thought I would just stay the night. On the way over, I called my wife to tell her my plans. Kristie immediately responded, “But Katelynn has her recital tonight. You can’t miss that.” I told her I felt me staying with my mom and dad was the right thing to do. She countered it, saying she believed going to my daughter’s recital was the righter thing to do. I immediately got defensive: “But my dad can’t move! I have to go over there. What do you expect him to do? Right now, this is more important than Katelynn’s recital.” “But can’t you just leave and then go back?” she said. Of course I could, but I was already emotionally committed to something different. “No. My dad needs me. I am sorry.” As I hung up the phone, knowing I was in trouble, I continued to rehearse in my mind all the reasons why it was more important for me to go over to my mom’s than to change my position and “give in” to Kristie’s “argument.”

In defensive situations, pride steps in without even knowing it. “Reasons” become “arguments.” “Changing our mind” becomes “giving in.” Listening to the wisdom of another becomes admitting we were “wrong.” Arguments with people often solidify us in positions that we were not so stable in before. Arguments pour quick-drying cement on our feet. Tell me I am wrong about something and, no matter what that something is, my sinfulness will kick in and begin to make counter-arguments that I am right. Once I step up to that pulpit and preach my views, it is very hard for me to change. In fact, it would take an act of God.

Apologetics is, most simply put, defending the faith. And we are all to be apologists. We are all to defend the faith to those who see our perseverance in suffering and say, “Hey, how do you still have hope?” (1Pet 3:15). We have to answer them. But apologetics also extends to ourselves. In fact, this should be the genesis of all apologetics, as we wrestle with our own doubts and insecurities about our faith. Apologetics is both good and necessary. However, it does have problems.

We need to be careful in our apologetics. We need to be tactful. We are not trying to win an argument. We are not simply trying to show we are right. We are not trying to get someone to change their position for the sake of our perceived integrity. And we are not trying to get someone to realize that they are wrong, just for the sake of the realization. We are trying to get people to bow before Christ. Often, our apologetic defense of the faith can be counter-productive. People’s sinfulness will cause them to solidify in positions that they did not really hold before. Why? Because that is what arguments often do.

The Reformation can serve as an illustration of this. Martin Luther made the argument that the institutionalized church of the day was wrong about the instrumental cause of our salvation. Salvation was by faith alone through grace alone. It was not by grace administered through the church by means of works performed (going to Mass, confession, baptism, etc.). The institutionalized church responded defensively (and stepped into cement). The Protestant Reformation strengthened its position against the institution. In turn, the institution strengthened its position. Whether or not this was the Rome’s position before, the cement was poured. All references to the church fathers’ emphasis on grace was ignored as Rome thumbed through the pages of Scripture and history to defend their newly-forming position. The cement dried between 1546 and 1565 at a place called Trent. Rome stood at the pulpit, preached its position, and the Council of Trent was brought to a close.

I am by no means saying that the Reformers did things wrong. In fact, I think the Catholic cement was probably close to being dry anyway. What I am saying is that when we are out looking to demonstrate how people are wrong, we can have counter-productive effects. We are all too prideful and sinful to expect things to easily work out in such a way. Again, demonstrating that someone is wrong is not our goal. Changing their heart is. Making arguments is easy. But tactfully helping a person “save face” and changing their heart should be our goals when defending the faith to sinful people (which includes everyone). What we need to do is prepare people to listen. Outright arguments normally don’t do this.

Kristie did not deal with me tactfully. I am too sinful. Once my argument (I need to go help my dad) was made, any counter-argument (seeing your daughter’s recital is more important) was just going to ignite my pride and pour cement. Oh, and one thing I did not tell you: My dad’s back went out last Saturday. I had not been over to help since then. Today was my first day to make such a move. If I had not helped for the last five days, why was it so important that I do so right now? It wasn’t. Well, not until my integrity was called into question by what I heard in Kristie’s argument (i.e., “you are not being a good dad”). Had Kristie catered to my sinfulness, she might have said, “I am so glad that you are going to help your dad. You really should have done that a long time ago. Katelynn’s recital is tonight. I hate that you have to miss it.” Had she done that, I probably would have responded in a very different way. It would have been a tactful way to stroke my ego (sinfulness) and bring about the right action.

The problem with apologetics is simple: Often we can lack tact, thus solidifying our “opponents” in positions that they did not really hold to before.

And, just to let you know, I am going to Katelynn’s recital. I am going to take my mother with me. I figured I had to do that if I was going to write this blog post!

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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