December 2, 2018
Or, Running Your Mouth Like the Rabshakeh
After the marriage seminar last February we asked for feedback, including if we should have another seminar, and, if yes, what another seminar should be about. There were a number of good ideas, and when the elders were doing our annual review and planning this past summer, we decided to tackle some of the suggested seminar ideas in a couple Sunday evening series.
Apologetics was one of the recommended topics. And, depending on how one understands what apologetics addresses, it very much fits with our ongoing desire to build up the church body and to equip the body to be salt and light in Marysville. If we are going to avoid being a YAC—Yet Another Church, as Jim reminds us every so often, a proper understanding of apologetics is key.
That said there are a couple things I don’t like about apologetics as typically talked about in Christian circles, starting with how narrow apologetics is often understood. Especially for those who are evidence-based defenders of the faith, it can easily become a head-game, a data-collecting competition, with the feel of a homeschool convention (which is not good). It’s like the outward facing problem of truth-tubers. It’s also been my experience that many of those Christians who love the study of apologetics the most have never actually engaged in a debate about anything with an unbeliever. They defend the faith through a surrogate apologist. They buy books, attend conferences, and even attend debates, but they tend to stay in the stands rather than get in the game. This is apologetics as a hobby that makes you feel more righteous (than say having a favorite sports team) but doesn’t necessarily make you more like Christ.
The other thing I really don’t like about apologetics as typically considered is that it is so defensive. I get that we talk about defending the faith from the Greek word apologia, and Jude did explicitly use that phrasing (Jude 3). But Jude talked about defending the faith in the church not defending it to unbelievers. And Peter’s well-known admonition to be ready with an answer is also, as we’ll see in a moment, not actually a reactive thing. Christians should be throwing the first (figurative) punch.
If Jesus is Lord of every thumb’s-width in the universe, if all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, if He has commissioned us to declare the gospel that requires repentance, faith, and the resultant life of obedience as a disciple, then we are not sweeping water uphill with a leaf rake or trying to push rope through a wall.
The inquisitiveness about the name “Downhill Apologetics” has been interesting. I proposed that name to the other elders back in August as a title for this series of messages and, as it worked out, I’m fourth of four to talk about it, so I didn’t do my usual introductory work. But is it so hard to get the picture? In a battle, which position would you rather face? Would you rather fight uphill or downhill? Of course you’d take the high position if you could get it. When you’re uphill you can stumble downhill.
And, Christian, you have the high position. The world wants us to feel like we’re on our heels, like unbelief and rebellion have the advantage. But we know, because we read our Bibles, that unbelief does not and it cannot win. Rebels against God either lose their pride or they lose their souls. The Lord is patient, but He is not a pushover. He has given us His Word, and it is the very power of God. You need very little training for the best apologetics, you just need to turn around and see where you’re standing.
The emphases that Dave, Jim, and Jonathan gave have been fantastic. Listen or re-listen to their talks about neutrality, man’s foolishness, the existence of evil, the false dichotomy between faith and “science,” and the importance of presuppositions.
Presuppositionalism is everyone’s apologetic approach, though the presuppositions are different; you either presuppose that evidence can win or that lack of evidence was never the problem. But the presupposition I would most like you to have and hold onto is that you are facing downhill in every conversation. To be an effective witness for the Lord you barely have to do anything more than fall down.
Tonight I want to show you four ways to be unavoidable and unbeatable in your representation of the Lord. Three of them are obligatory, one is optional, for the Really Ready(TM). You do not need to memorize any facts about creation or DNA, you do not need to learn any syllogisms or logical arguments; you don’t need any pictures of the earth’s strata or displays of petrified wood. In fact, there are only a few things you even need to have in your head; most of this is about having a certain kind of life.
1 Peter 3:15 is the gold standard, no, it’s the platinum level of apologetics verses. All the other guys mentioned it, and with good reason. But I get to point out that verse 15 isn’t even the start of its own sentence, and it’s in the middle of a paragraph.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
This life of zealousness for doing good started not only in the previous paragraph, but in the Old Testament. Peter had just quoted Psalm 32:12-16:
Whoever desires to love life
And see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
And his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
What Peter took out of that is being “zealous for what is good” (verse 13). “Doing good” (verse 17) is “good behavior” (verse 16) is being “righteous” (verse 12, 14). You want to “see good days” (verse 10) and so you “do good” (verse 11).
And there is one other very important key word: #blessed! Like actually for real, there it is.
If you’re wondering why more people aren’t asking for the hope that is in you, it could be because your life is more boring than blessed, or because you give more effort learning defensive strategy when you have nothing to worth defending behind you. No one ever attacks because you don’t have anything they want, so you don’t actually have to fight.
What does it look like when your life is blessed? In verse 9, you were called to obtain a blessing by being reviled, and not reviling in return. In verse 14 you are blessed when you suffer because you are choosing to do something good.
Thankfully the world is making it super easy to stand out, and it seems as if things are heating up in a good way for us to be blessed in the ways Peter described. I definitely don’t have the definitive list of GoodDoing, but I have some ideas.
Give money to, or give time to, a crisis pregnancy center. Go to a march/rally against abortion; stand outside Planned Parenthood and pray for women not to kill their baby. Post online about it, where your group of “friends” might not appreciate it. Post something positive about adoption, about foster care. Make comfort bags.
But of course good isn’t just about the kids. Start a business, give others jobs, seek to make a profit; you could be called a greedy, capitalistic oppressor. Love the unlovely, maybe the homeless, maybe the neighbor no one else in your cul-de-sac cares for. Invite them over to dinner; serve them.
Have kids, give them frequent baths, train them to obey, and take them out with you. We’re living in a place when having and raising children is a good that’s obnoxious to many people. It could totally make check-out people irritated, or anger other customers, or confuzzle hybrid driving single-lesbians because your plus-size diesel Suburban or family van takes up two parking spots. But is this good? Is this good in the Lord’s name? Is this a potential cause of offense in our crazy context? Yes!
Get zealous for good. Not on the start-a-global-parachurch organization scale, but at the local store, on your preferred social media site. Do so much good that you might suffer for it, then someone may ask you, Why are you doing that? Even if they don’t ask you why, you’ll be blessed and the Lord Jesus glorified (see 1 Peter 2:12).
This is another way to purposefully, positively provoke others to ask us questions. Admittedly, most people don’t think about apologetics as a quiet discipline, but we’re talking about apologetics on the street, on your street, or in your workplace. We’re talking about apologetics in the used car that most people drive, not just the perfect form of apologetics in Plato’s imaginary sky.
Again, thanks to our very special time in history, we have such an abundance of “things” that we don’t have enough time to count them all. When was the last time you were in Walmart? This isn’t about organic or not, big corporations versus the little guy, it’s about how many different napkins there are to choose from. Wow! There’s a lot.
Obviously the one who has a tougher time in the river is the the one fighting against rather than floating with the flow? In the river of God’s common grace, His shared grace of sun and rain and food and wine and houses and cars and colonoscopy cameras and smartphones and apps and Advil, all we have to do is not complain. It’s the complainers who have way more blessings that they have to push out of the way in order to find something they don’t like. Some of them have to use bulldozers to clear a spot to complain about.
Here’s how Paul described it to the Philippians:
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15)
Not complaining may be not noticeable…for a while. But keep not complaining when everyone else around you is, and there’s a little light in the darkness. Jesus wants you as a sunbeam. :)
This goes for not complaining about your boss. Peter told servants, who earned less than today’s minimum wages by comparison, that even when their masters were unjust, as in, crooked, as in, actually in the wrong, to “be subject…with all respect” (1 Peter 2:18). Now this part takes more effort than stumbling downhill, but the not sinning is what takes the effort; the explaining why is easy after that. “My Lord told me to do it that way.”
This behavior is Jesus-like behavior. “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21), which included being quiet. They reviled, they threatened, He kept “entrusting himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Also, don’t speak evil about other people or deceive other people (1 Peter 3:10; quoting Psalm 34). Even bless them: “Do not replay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
This is the other side of the not complaining coin.
If you want, be a Jesus freak and use #blessed in a post. Be the person who writes thank-you notes to other people who haven’t given you anything extra. Have your conversation about the President’s character, but also give God thanks for God’s use of the President to expose the myth of secular tolerance.
I said earlier that we don’t have enough time to give thanks for all we’ve been given, but this doesn’t mean we’ve failed if we forget something, it means we’ve failed if we stop.
See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)
None of this is how the world works. They have a sense of personal justice so that when they get hit they hit back. They are always seeking good for themselves, not for others. They rejoice sometimes, not always. They are rising up early and going late to rest, pulling up their bootstraps, eating the bread of anxious toil, not praying. And if they have circumstances that cause thanks to bubble up, they don’t know who to thank.
The previous three are not optional. Do good, don’t grumble, be grateful.
This fourth apologetic method is not for everyone, and it should not be used toward everyone. When someone is hurting, and they see how we are handling being hurt (physically or figuratively), and they want to know how we can respond the way we are, give your hopeful defense “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16).
There are other times when you should answer a fool according to his folly (see Jonathan’s message and his comments on Proverbs 26:4-5). And for those who are committed to the battle against God and His Christ, don’t be troubled, and don’t be afraid.
I have been imagining what a prophetic Rabshakeh would be like on the Lord’s side.
The Rabshakeh was a government official and functioned as the chief spokesman of the king of Assyria. In 2 Kings 18 (also recorded in Isaiah 36), “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them” (2 Kings 18:13). The Rabshakeh addressed some officials of Hezekiah outside Jerusalem and gave them serious grief. He had all confidence in Sennacherib and the Assyrian army. Why shouldn’t he? They had never been repelled by anyone, let alone defeated.
Do we not have a greater King, with greater resources, with a more authoritative word? What if we had the pluck and guts of the Rabshakeh?
“Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of the homos and the baby-killers and the Socialist thieves: ‘Hear the words of the great King, the King of heaven!’ Thus says the king, ‘Do not let Bernie deceive you for he will not be able to pay you with other people’s money. Do not let Oprah or Tony Robbins make you trust in your willpower by saying, “You can do it if you just believe in yourself.”‘ For thus says the king of heaven: “Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat of his own fig tree, and each of you will drink the water from the living fountain, until I come again and plant you in a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.” Has the gods of the nations delivered out of the hand of the King of heaven?”
Be like Elijah with the prophets of Baal, like Elijah before he pouted. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth, who rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. The burden of proof is not on the Lord.
We might need less apologetic arguments and more apologetic appreciation for the abundant blessings we’ve been given and then apologetic adoration of the giver of all those gifts. Maybe Christians have been studying apologetics like the copyright info on the eye chart while missing the big E of doing good and being grateful.
Also, when you get into a conversation and it goes “wrong,” that isn’t the end, nor is it necessarily a failure. That is simply Stage 2, and Stage 2 might be for another audience entirely. One of the ways someone might ask you for the hope that’s in you is by watching you respond to someone who hates you for the hope that’s in you. You don’t know who the Lord has watching you, and you don’t know how long He wants them to watch.
Jesus is Lord. We win even when we lose. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). This is a Kuyperian Dispensational apologetic. Be bold, servant of the Lord, and be #blessed.