Shaping the Battlefield Part IV: Tactical Apologetics

In my previous post I wrote about what I call operational apologetics: the second tier in a three-tiered metaphorical framework. The three tiers that I compare the apologetic’s landscape to are: the strategic, the operational and here, the tactical.

At the tactical level in military operations is where the real action takes place. Here small units (i.e. companies, platoons and squads) perform real-time combat missions or intelligence gathering activities. Platoons patrol villages, sweep roads, or go out to find, capture or kill enemy combatants. Platoons and teams deal one-on-one with the locals in their respective areas of operations, talking with villagers, eating meals with local leaders, and coordinating maneuvers with indigenous forces. It is at the tactical level that things happen on the battlefield. This is where the strategic-level vision that was spawned in headquarters by generals, disseminated and made concrete at the operational level, is now executed with precision and effectiveness. Here soldiers are “kitted-up” in all their gear, weapons are held at “low-ready,” and bullets or explosions are too be expected. The tactical level is where plans, procedure, policies, and people all meet in real life. It’s often where hearts and minds are either won…or lost. In physical battle, bodies too.

Applying this metaphor to the realm of Apologetics need not appear so intense though (although every Christian should be prepared to face physical danger for the sake of the Gospel). Still, it is at the tactical level of any endeavor, where the spiritual and emotional battle becomes very real. Here, the apologist interacts with friends, family members, students, colleagues, and just about anyone she might come into real, personal contact with. Relationships are developed at this level as tactical operators (teachers, pastors, bloggers, homemakers, and business women) look to take a limited amount of apologetical knowledge and training, putting it to use in their daily lives. These are the youth pastors, the Sunday school teachers, and those that are learning and studying on their own in the hopes of making a greater evangelistic impact in their communities.

Many tactical apologists don’t have formal training like their PhD counterparts, but some might have something akin to an MA in Apologetics from universities like Biola or Liberty. It is at this level, however, that Apologetics has experienced a tremendous boom in recent years. Obviously technology has made that possible to some degree (YouTube, Social Media, blogging, etc.), but also the epistemological shift that has occurred in our culture, and the more overt rejections of both the Christian worldview and the Western Canon of Classical Studies, have forced churches, seminaries, and laypeople to rediscover the need for good, Christian Apologetics.

One thing that both strategic-level apologetics and tactical-level apologetics have in common, is that most people operating at these levels will not be so well-known. The operational level is usually where the more popular preachers and teachers practice their trade and connect with the larger audiences. However, it is at the tactical level that the most significant and impactful use of Apologetics occurs. Big name speakers, traveling lecturers, and busy professors often do not have the time to personally connect with the average church-goer, the curious non-believer, or the co-religionists in the community. Therefore, the tactical apologist, although she may never make a name for herself, might very well wind up playing the most critical and crucial evangelistic role in the grand schemes of things. Certainly in God’s economy name recognition means very little (well, really nothing). Relationality, and depth of engagement with families and individuals, tends to be the primary means through which Christ works out His love. Thus, at the tactical level, we truly “live out” our Apologetics, just like Peter and Paul were doing in Acts.

Because of this, however, the tactical level of Apologetics, being focused on individuals, is usually filled with all kinds of pitfalls and dangers: high-highs and low-lows. Just like in military operations, where IED’s can go off at anytime, snipers can snipe from hundreds of meters away, and sometime the situation can degrade as low as hand-to-hand combat, so too in spiritual battle there can be real conflict that arises when Christ is offered to close family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It can get emotional, heated, visceral. Souls can either become captivated by God, or they can be further hardened and turned away.

The tactical level operator requires more than just the content of Apologetics, she requires a spiritual maturity and a loving heart that can present Truth in a convicting, yet compassionate way. Engaging people means engaging old hurts, deep wounds, bitter memories, secret guilts, and a heart that is often dead-set upon keeping itself safe. Thus, at this level, arguments alone are not enough because we all feel with our hearts far more than we think with our heads. Scripture also gives us insight into this “head-vs.-heart” battle.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

– Jeremiah 17:9

Every man is stupid and without knowledge…

– Jeremiah 10:14 & 51:17

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools…

– Romans 1:21-22

Why do we abandon reason and knowledge, only to become stupid? Because of the illness of the heart! Therefore, although the tactical operators may not be known to the wider community, it is their gritty work that will ultimately count in swaying the tide of the battle, just like the Platoon Sergeant and his squad of “Joes,” who have to “hump it” on patrols day-in and day-out through desert heat, or through the mud of the swamp, in order to take some seemingly small piece of terrain from enemy control.

The Tactical Apologist must, therefore, toil, sweat, and suffer to see the minor victories that only accumulate slowly over time. This does not mean that those at higher levels don’t do their share of hard work, prayer, and empathetic suffering for the greater glory of God. But still, there is something about being down in the trenches, unnamed, unpaid, and possibly unappreciated, that makes work at this local level especially noble. If any level of the apologetical endeavor that I have mentioned in this series is indispensable, it is likely this one. For even though work at all levels is needed, and desperately so, if good Apologetics never gets down to the man, woman and child in the local church, then we leave the majority of the church in the dark.

Due to the dawn of the internet and blogging, however, some tactical-level apologists have begun to make their mark and draw a following. These people are putting the extra time and effort into their Christian walk in the hopes of reaching out to both the church and the everyday seeker; men and women living in the day-to-day. Those who simply don’t have the time to do the heavy lifting of abstract thinking and scholarly reading can now turn to Tactical Apologists providing good content online. One of the best operators at this level is Natasha Crain, who is translating the practice of Apologetics into a much needed domestic, family centered pursuit.

We’ve now looked at my simple, threefold metaphor for grasping what is out there in the world of Christian apologetics, a flourishing spiritual discipline desperately needed in the church today. We looked at the strategic level of Apologetics, where scholars, philosophers, historians, and scientists perform cutting-edge research. Then we defined and illustrated the operational level of translators and disseminators, men and women who can access and engage with their strategic counterparts, but message the complexities of that work out to the broader masses. Finally, we talked here about the tactical operators, who are working with smaller groups and individuals, reaching out to people both at work and at home. Ultimately, all of these levels of operation are necessary and need to be properly synchronized in order for an effective and robust apologetical ministry to exist in today’s Evangelical church.

There is one field of apologists, however, that we have yet to mention. These are people who have developed specialized areas of knowledge or become experts in very particular areas. We will call them the “Spec-Ops” of apologists in keeping with our military metaphor.





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