Sunday, July 31, 2011

Encouragement For Apologists

What's below is a portion of an email I recently sent regarding encouragement for apologists. I'm posting it here in case it would be helpful to other people. Though I was addressing individuals who do apologetic work, my comments are applicable to those doing other work as well:

In some contexts, not getting much of a response is an indication that you're doing something right. Opponents may want to ignore something they can't refute. People may be apathetic about an issue or may not be thinking in depth about it, so they have little or nothing to say in response to those who address the issue in depth. On the other hand, not everybody falls into one of those categories, and it's difficult to understand why those people are also so unresponsive at times....

But you should be encouraged if [your apologetic work] gets ignored in some contexts. That often suggests you've done well.

Something I've found helpful is to break down my potential audience into categories. God is always part of that audience and the most important member of it (2 Corinthians 5:9). And each individual is important (Luke 15:4). Even if something you do only benefits one person, that's significant. And something that doesn't seem to be doing much good now may accomplish more in the future. How I influence people ten years or ten millennia from now is important (Psalm 102:18). I often remind myself of those three aspects of my audience, and I've memorized those three passages of scripture. There are a lot of relevant Biblical passages, but those are the three I chose. Often, we focus on whether our work gets a positive response from a lot of people in the present. But a positive response from God, from a smaller number of people in the present, or from people in the future is significant as well.


  1. Thanks, Jason. Your work is also an encouragement!

  2. Thanks for this Jason. I certainly understand what you're saying in that not getting a large response "often suggests you've done well". The subject matter we deal in is so diverse, that it's hard for everyone to be an "expert" in everything. I've made a personal decision to focus on one thing -- "the nonexistent early papacy," and I've gone to sources that we don't normally see in these discussions.

    At some point, the only response is a very sophisticated one -- and one that most lay people just simply aren't prepared to make. Robert Jewett for example, discusses ancient Rome in tremendous detail, and he draws upon a wide range of resources to provide the kind of detail he does. And he is quite straightforward about what it will take to address his work in a meaningful way. He says, "Since final verification is not possible, the conclusions drawn [in the chapter on Roman culture] call for 'refutations' by other researchers who can examine whether [my conclusions] correlate adequately with the data within the letter [Paul's letter to the Romans] and within the vast arena of cultural, archaeological, and historical studies on Rome."

    This is one of the reasons initially why E.P. Sanders's "Paul and Palestinian Judaism" was so difficult for many Evangelicals to address. The subject matter that Sanders examined was just so broad.

    But D.A. Carson and others showed the proper way to deal with this in their Justification and Variegated Nomism set. They examined the literature of second temple Judaism and also Paul in much greater detail than Sanders had done, and provided the best context I've seen for how to deal with this subject.

    That's the kind of thing I'm trying to do with Jewett and some of the other author's I've been citing on the house churches and households of ancient Rome. Using the best of all possible sources to provide a historical view of a critical aspect of New Testament history -- one that can't be easily dismissed.