Last time we met up, I showed you some serious problems with an evangelism technique I labeled as confrontational. A funny thing happens when Christians learn that their favorite tactics backfire hard when trotted out on actual prospects. One large group of Christians drops the failed strategy with relief. Another group, however, drills down harder on it. I’m going to show you one of the folks in that second group, and we’ll take a close look at his reasons for clinging to the technique he likes best.
Wading Into the Evangelism Sewer.
CrossExamined.org, the source of today’s essay, has nothing whatsoever to do with Bob Seidensticker’s excellent blog Cross Examined. Instead, it’s a hardcore apologetics site. Its owners concentrate on those childish apologetics techniques so beloved of the amateur evangelists and keyboard warriors we see all too often these days.
The site contains an extensive directory of all-male speakers who will be happy to come give apologetics talks to your group. (You’ll perhaps recognize one of those names, R.C. Metcalf). Their favorite seminar series is called “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist.” And they adore the work of apologists like Frank Turek and J. Warner Wallace.
My impression: its owners want to feel like they’re accomplishing something for the kingdom. They want to feel like they’re helping roll back some of the devastating losses Christianity has seen in the past ten years. Without a doubt, they also want to promote themselves and maybe make a living doing it.
At this site, you can find every logical fallacy and piss-poor apologetics argument under the sun. I’m serious. It’s all here. From essays about how “meaningless” and “absurd” atheists’ lives must be1 to the usual Arguments from X trying to support the supposed historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,2 this site is a treasure trove of fundagelical irrationality.
Anatomy of an Apologetics Huckster.
The essay we’re looking at today is from their site: “‘People Do Not Come to Faith from Arguments!’ 4 Objections to Apologetics.”
Its author, Brian Chilton, is a Liberty University-trained small-town Baptist pastor who’s never met a logical fallacy he didn’t like. He claims that he totally became an agnostic when he was 16 because of doubts about literalism and Bad Christians™, but in his 20s he reconverted after reading Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. Right around that time, he thinks his god totally saved him from an otherwise inescapable lightning strike. As a result of doing the research and experiencing a TOTALLY REAL MEERKUL YAWL, he relented and decided to become Christian again and go into ministry. He’s trying very, very hard to make the catchphrase “Bellator Christi” happen.
So Brian Chilton himself is a standard-issue apologist. He comes complete and fully-assembled, right down to the miraculous r/ThatHappened testimony, hypermasculine hobbies, and name-dropping of current super-popular apologists’ work. He even boasts a past that includes a period of disbelief.
I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more opportunistic testimony generally. This guy’s ambitious.
So what does a modern-day ambitious fundagelical pastor think about apologetics as an evangelism tactic?
Think he’ll be questioning its success at its stated goals of persuasion and recruitment?
Or that he’ll at least find reality-based reasons to like this tactic?
Yeah, me either.
He Was SHOCKED, YES SHOCKED!
Chilton opens his essay by describing a meeting he had with other pastors about “a potential ministry opportunity.” He has no real reason for giving us the reason for this meeting, nor will he ever reveal what the “ministry opportunity” was. I suspect he just wants us to know that people value his opinion. In the very next sentence, he wrings his little handsies about the culture wars he loves so much:
I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices.
I see no real reason for apologetics to enter into the discussion, but remember, Chilton is an apologist at heart. When all you have is a power drill, the whole world looks like drywall. To his utter shock, one of the other leaders at this meeting pushed back against his assertion about the importance of apologetics: he said that “in his experience,” people weren’t persuaded to become Christians through apologetics arguments.
SAY IT AIN’T SO!
He was “surprised” and “even more bewildered” when other leaders present agreed with the heretic!
(Did you catch his passive-aggressive Christianese there?)
In His Dreams, He Is Free Indeed.
ZOMG! He simply had to strap on his “Armor of God” and do battle over this horrific provocation. Here’s how he did it, and I just love that he can’t even come close to making even the words themselves in text form sound anything but smug and smarmy:
I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.
He doesn’t say why the group didn’t engage with him, but part of me seriously thinks that his peers didn’t care to pursue this line of argument with someone they already regard as a gadfly and annoyance. They weren’t there to talk about the value of apologetics; they were there to talk about whatever this mysterious “ministry opportunity” was.3 He doesn’t strike me as someone who can stay on point for long.
So he went home and wrote the Christian ministry equivalent of a LTTE–a Letter to the Editor. Here he could write down all the things he wished his group had let him say in that meeting.
A Quick Aside: An Easy Answer.
Since Brian Chilton is, himself, a huckster of apologetics, naturally he’s going to point to his fellow hucksters’ testimonies regarding apologetics. Christian expertise generally works on precedent and personal revelation/anecdote. Since he himself has a testimony that follows to the letter the standard-issue Cult of “Before” Stories template, naturally he’s going to treat all similar testimonies as totally true and credible.
In case anybody wonders, Chilton’s question has a very easy answer. Here’s what I would say about those three Christians’ testimony:
These men sell apologetics as an evangelism tactic. Of course they are going to say that their product works like gangbusters. They must. However, when we assess claims about a given product, we don’t ask the people making the claims how valid their claims are. They’re the people making the claim, so they can’t also be the validation of those claims. One might as well ask foxes to test the security of our hen-houses. Do we have any credible support for apologists’ assertions about the value of apologetics as an evangelism tactic?
He plays the situation off as people just being so askeeeeered of his Jesus Aura that they couldn’t possibly endure another second of his searing white-hot intellect. But even he can’t stick that landing.
BTW, isn’t it encouraging to hear about Christian pastors who are aware of the failure of apologetics in evangelism?
Chilton sets up the reason for his post after assuring us of his airtight reasoning:
Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary?
See, he’s got an apologetics business called Bellator Christi, and even he realizes that if apologetics is a failed evangelism tactic, then his entire business’ premise becomes undermined. And he SAYS this. In. The. Post. He SAYS this.
What he’s doing is called motivated reasoning. If people really need an assertion to be true, they will find any way possible to talk themselves into that assertion. That’s why the scientific method has become such an important way to determine factual information and explanations–it makes motivated reasoning and other forms of antiprocess into a tangible shape that we can identify and defeat.
Little wonder that fundagelicals despise the scientific method as much as they do.
“Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.”
Brian Chilton shows us his intellectual dishonesty almost immediately:
Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.
But the person who said that “arguments do not really bring people into faith” didn’t present an argument. Instead, he dismissed apologists’ assertions of success. Chilton ducks away from his burden of proof here. He thinks nobody will notice. Well, we noticed. (PS: His actual logic here fails miserably in a few different ways. Wanna take a crack at it?)
He goes on to present Bible verses about people who converted after experiencing apologetics-based evangelism. And again, none of that really matters in the real world. The Bible functions as a series of claims; it cannot also function as the support for those claims.
Tellingly, Chilton doesn’t even bother to try to present any studies or surveys indicating that apologetics works as an evangelism tactic.
“Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.”
Now we’re heading well outside the bounds of his meeting. Chilton gives us the old some people say… attempt at a strawman. He will not name who those people are–and likely can’t. He gives us his strawman [sic]:
If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.
On the face of it, this is a perfectly valid objection. But since the Christians who love confrontational evangelism styles often simply like the permission slip it represents for them to be obnoxious boors, they need to trample it immediately.
So Brian Chilton discounts this objection out of hand by using the same circular reasoning he did up in #1: he presents Bible quotes to support his position, not real observable facts.
Then he goes on to accuse this strawman position of being part of a “spirit of laziness.” YES, REALLY. He feels very sad about the “increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.”
“Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.”
Here, Chilton engages in another bout of strawman-tilting. He doesn’t tell us who said that. He just leans on the idea so he can knock it down. For what it’s worth, I largely agree with this assertion, but it’s very dishonest of him to reduce his opponent to a black-or-white, yes-or-no position like this. Whenever someone tries to say that an opposing view always looks like this or never looks like that, chances are they’re strawmanning.
In defeating his strawman opponent, Chilton offers up a list of prominent Christian apologists who say they converted through apologetics argumentation. His list represents a classic example of someone mistaking anecdotes for evidence, just as apologists typically mistake arguments themselves for evidence. Even if everyone on his list has an accurate testimony, which I am not conceding in the least because I know how glaringly dishonest most Christian testimonies are, they all have a serious conflict of interest in this matter. We can’t consider them the norm.
Strangely, Chilton has no real support for his assertions here, either.
“Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.”
Again, this objection seems perfectly reasonable–at least as long as someone agrees that people can be argued into real faith. In reality, people convert to Christianity because of emotional appeals of various kinds. That said, Chilton isn’t using a strawman here; I’ve heard this same objection myself.
Chilton has to engage with this objection in a way that allows him to keep his favored style of evangelism and negate the charge that one form of persuasion can undo another.
He accomplishes these goals through both circular reasoning and special pleading.
Yes, this objection would be true (he says) except that
Jesus Power the Holy Spirit makes everything work out just fine. In every other case this objection might be a real concern, but not in Christianity. He provides a great many Bible verses to back himself up here, but as we’ve already seen this is all simply circular reasoning since he only knows what the Holy Spirit even is because of the Bible.
Both of his answers to this objection suffer from fallacious thinking. We therefore discard them.
Because Brian Chilton starts from erroneous assumptions, he really can’t question his conclusions. He flat-out states:
Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake.
Nice house of cards he’s got there, eh?
He goes on to insist once again that not only does apologetics work grandly as an evangelism tactic, but that he is morally obligated to push it at people whenever and wherever possible:
But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake.
No, that doesn’t sound like a category mistake, which is a semantic error committed when someone ascribes a property to a thing that it can’t have or presents a thing as being in the wrong category, like standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square and asking where England is. People also play with this error by making a joke’s punchline hinge upon taking phrases like time crawls literally.
His mistake sounds more like the Oncoming Bus Gambit. He hasn’t demonstrated why people need his product, fundagelical Christianity. Nor has he supported his assertion that his sales technique even works to persuade and recruit new customers. He’s making a comparison here between his religion and insulin, and that comparison is simply invalid (for a couple different reasons!).
Ultimately, this guy is simply so narcissistic and self-important that he views his evangelism efforts as being literally as life-or-death to his sales prospects as insulin is to diabetic people–even if he can’t demonstrate any tangible reasons for such a ludicrous comparison.
What He Never Gets Around to Doing.
Brian Chilton never once actually provides any reason to think that apologetics argumentation functions as a great evangelism tactic. He never once cites any surveys or studies supporting his claims.
I don’t know if he avoids this burden of proof because he knows he can’t meet it, or if he’s simply too cowardly–or lazy–to try.
In reality, though, I can tell you that confrontational evangelism generally doesn’t work. Rosa Rubicondior wrote a great blog post on that topic a few years ago. Nothing’s changed since then in the Christ-o-sphere. Most Christians can’t even come close to squarely looking at this failure; evangelism is so baked into their social system that it’s heresy even to question its validity as a recruiting tool.
As long as the Brian Chiltons of the world cling to failed evangelism tactics, they will never come close to addressing their decline.
My heart bleeds peanut butter for them.
NEXT UP: The second evangelism tactic is Jesus Aura evangelism, which fails just as hard as the more confrontational style. We’ll see just why, next time–see you then!
1Various posts about the meaning of life. Suffice to say, any Christian who thinks that atheists’ lives are inherently meaningless just hasn’t talked to a lot of atheists.
2Various posts about the Bible’s historicity generally, plus a recent look look at the Resurrection itself. Literalism generally seems like a very childish interpretation of the Bible.
3 I hope it was Amway or some other MLM.
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com!
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks!