by C Michael PattonSeptember 14th, 2012 13 Comments
I was watching a movie tonight called Random Hearts. Older movie. Bad reviews. But as with all movies with bad reviews, I don’t go in expecting much. It was a more touching story than I thought it would be. It had elements of dealing with death, betrayal, and obsession. But what intrigued me most (I suppose this it is because it is political season) was the element of having to save face in potentially embarrassing situations. There was a woman who was running for public office. Her husband had died in a plane wreck. After the plane wreck, she discovered that her spouse was on the plane with another woman. He was having an affair. The husband of this other woman (Harrison Ford) likewise found about about his wife’s betrayal after she was dead. The two surviving widowed spouses began to fall in love. But there was a problem. The woman running for office did not want the public to know either of her husband’s affair or of her subsequent relationship with this man. It was embarrassing. It could hurt her career. It could make her lose the election. However (never fear), she had her public relations experts. They, for me, provided the unintentional comic relief. They were continually trying to figure out how to “handle” the ever-escalating situation. What were they to tell the public? What should they hold back? How could they spin and reinterpret things in such a way that the situation did not leave mud on their faces? And, do you know what? Most of these types of individuals are masters at it. After all, it is their job. They are the public relations (PR) experts who can twist potential embarrassments into good.
I wonder. . . In Christian apologetics (the theological name for “defending the faith”), do we often think that we are God’s PR experts who come and put out the fires that he has created? Does God sometimes embarrass us to the point where we search for ways to “spin” Scripture in order to find possible loopholes to the end that all of us can save face?
One of Charles Spurgeon’s most famous quotes goes something like this: “Defend God? I would sooner defend a lion.”
Sounds good, right? Well, look at what one of Spurgeon’s heroes, John Calvin, said many years before:
“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward, if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
Pithy contradictions? Maybe, but maybe not. Who is right, Calvin or Spurgeon?
In favor of Calvin:
I think there is a sense in which we can defend Calvin and say that God does need PR in the purest sense. In fact, in many ways he has called on us to be his PR here on earth. The Great Commission says that we are to go into all the world and tell them about Jesus. Acts 1:8 says that we are to be his “witnesses” (marturos, from which we get the word “martyrs”) to the furthest ends of the earth. We are also called upon to defend our faith in God, especially when people gawk at our endurance through suffering (1 Pet. 3:15). We are also called to correct people when they teach wrongly about God (2 Tim 2:25). And who could leave out Matthew 25:31-46? At the separation of the sheep and goats, Christ will judge us based on how well we represented him in coming to the aid of those in need. But the point is that in all of these things, God does not come into each situation by supernaturally and personally bridging voids of misunderstanding, pain, and suffering. We are, more often than not,, that bridge. We are his PR. So, Calvin was right, right?
In favor of Spurgeon:
God does not need our PR. Well, let me rephrase: God does not need our PR, if by this we mean that we need to make him look good when he looks bad. He does not need us to straighten his tie before a press conference. He will never send his speech through us to edit. He does not need emergency meetings where we get together and try to figure out how to get mud off his face. If he embarrasses us, there is no spin that we can put on any story that will do anything but produce sinful destruction. In this, God is a lion and he does not need our help.
I love apologetics, but I also hate what it sometimes becomes. Sometimes it looks like nothing other than crafty PR.
Let me put some skin on this. The other day my daughter got into a conversation with someone through one of those iPhone chat things that kids are using today. This girl she was talking to was an atheist. Now, my daughter is very assertive and aggressive, always looking for someone to straighten out. She was not the least bit hesitant to take on this new friend. She began to talk to her about Christianity. My 13 year old baby girl had her apologetics books out in front of her and was typing away on that little phone. I was so proud. The objections were softballs for her. She would type a response and then come read it to me. Her answers were solid, biblical, and focused. She was God’s PR and there was nothing that would stump her. Well, that is, there was nothing that would stump her until something stumped her. The objection? Why is God so silent? Why doesn’t he show up when asked? Why does he play hide and seek? The age old problem of God’s “hiddenness.” She came to me and presented the problem. She said that she could not figure out how to answer. She thought she would get the head PR representative in an emergency meeting to put out this growing fire. The longer she waited to respond, the more embarrassing the situation became. “Dad, what is the answer?” We talked for a bit, but I could tell her fingers were anxious to start typing “the” solution. I told here to write these three words. She looked down at her keyboard to get the drop on the letters. “Are you ready?” I said. “Yes!!” she said with frustrated enthusiasm. “Here they are.” I said. “We. Don’t. Know.” She looked back up at me as if I was joking and then said “Really dad, tell me.” I told her I was serious. Then my wife jumped in as if was was just trying to aggravate her and said, “Michael, just tell her.” “I am serious,” I replied. “We could give this atheist a lot of theories, but she really needs these words right now, “We. Don’t. Know.” Finally, Katelynn wrote those three dreaded words that should never come from a good public relations specialist/apologist. After a long pause to let it sink in, I told Katelynn to write this: “But, our faith is not dependent on whether or not we can give adequate explanation for God’s “hiddenness,” but on whether or not Christ rose from the grave.” This got the conversation back on track and helped us to continue to lower the PR anchor that mattered most.
Let me say something very plainly: I am not responsible for God. Is that okay to say? Spurgeon was right. God can take care of himself. I often think that much of modern apologetics looks more like Houdini spin doctoring, clever as it may be. We see something that people don’t like, something that embarrasses us about God, and we quickly meet with the PR team to see how we can patch things up. If people don’t like the doctrine of eternal punishment, we clean that sucker up by giving the less embarrassing loophole alternatives. When unconditional election seems to be taught, we find a way to make the elect the electors. And when God commands the slaughter of nations in the Old Testament, we say “It looks worse than it really is. Ummm . . . ummm . . . (hey, give me something to type . . . quick . . . oh, that is a good one) . . . God did not really command the slaughter of nations. There is another way to look at this!”
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for finding the right answers and not throwing mud from the puddle of lazy and traditional interpretation in God’s face, but when we feel the need to defend God motivated by our own embarrassment, then we have crossed the line.
I think that Calvin and Spurgeon were both right. Maybe I am acting as their PR here (after all, I love them both!), but depending on the context, I think we are to defend God and we are not to defend God. And, concerning our defense of him, we need to back off when it is time to back off. God can take care of himself. Sometimes this backing off amounts to a simple “I don’t know.” No matter how good an apologist you think you are, no matter how many books you have read, no matter how crafty you can be in battle, when we don’t know, when things look ugly, when we may lose the election if we don’t save face, we just need to back off and trust God. He is pretty big and he knows what he is doing. When God’s ways embarrass us, we need to remember that his PR of himself is much better than anything we can spin. . .because it is the truth. Then we place our hand over our mouth and worship.
- Is this a good illustration of our belief in the truthfulness of Scripture?
- The Problem I Have with Apologists
- Last call!
- Theological Conversation to the Glory Shame of God
- Internet Monk, Coffee Cup Apologetics: Five Limitations of Apologetics