Early Christian Creeds and Their Importance for Apologetics: Part V – The Structure of the Nicene Creed

In this series of posts, we have been looking at the Nicene Creed in particular. This, for the sake of getting clarity on the core, early historical beliefs of classical, apostolic Christianity.

Here, I want to share two more quotes from J.N.D. Kelly’s seminal work on the subject, and then examine one useful way we can approach the Nicene Creed to see how it can help guide our apologetics.

First Kelly on why concrete expressions of core beliefs were needed in the early church

“Baptism, worship, preaching, catechetical instruction, anti-heretical and anti-pagan polemics, exorcisms- all these provided occasions for giving concrete expression, along lines determined by the needs of the moment, to cardinal articles of Christian belief.” (Early Christian Creeds, 30).

It was the practice of the early church, to include practices that were fundamentally apologetic in nature, i.e. “anti-heretical and anti-pagan polemics” that necessitated the need for such creedal formulas. Thus, these formulas can still be quite useful for us today, in a culture that is now global, and a religious environment that is permeated with pluralism.

Moreover, we can see that creeds and creedal formulas are essentially truth claims- propositional claims of true belief:

In their present form creeds are declaratory, that is to say, they are short statements, couched in the first person, asserting belief in a select group of facts and doctrines regarded as vitally important. (Early Christian Creeds, 31 [emphasis added]).

So, while the Bible mainly tells us stories to show us truth, there are truths from Scripture that can be readily translated into propositional form and shown as claims that carry either a true or false evaluation. The knowing, and defending, of these truth claims was what distinguished apostolic Christians from other kinds of religious believers, or even those who claimed to follow Jesus of Nazareth in some way not consistent with apostolic preaching. These claims became integral, therefore, to the sacramental rite of Baptism:

Whatever other uses they may have been put to in the course of history, the true and original use of creeds, their raison d’etre, was to serve as solemn affirmations of faith in the context of baptismal initiation. (Early Christian Creeds, 31).

“Solemn affirmations of faith:” affirmations that today still demarcate apostolic Christianity from all other belief systems, even ones that appear as Christian. Many questions these days on social media ask about how we can know what is a true expression of Christian faith, versus some false, or deficient, or even heretical version of faith. Without conflating the question of a true Christian belief, with that of a true Christian believer, we can firmly say that true Christian belief must, minimally, stand in a logically coherent relationship to what is laid out in these early creeds; especially the first four ecumenical ones (of which the Nicene is the third in a series).

True Christian belief is going to be intimately related to what the Apostles’ preached prior to the textualization of Scripture, formally related to what the canonical Scriptures impressed upon the early church as necessary, and, therefore related in kind to what the early church, through careful reflection (and heated debate), captured in these creeds.

One way we can look at the structure of the Nicene Creed is to see it in categories of theological doctrine. What does each section of the Creed tell us about 1) who God is, and 2) What God has done.

Again here is the whole Creed, but put into specific sections that make specific claims:

Section I: Theology Proper & Doctrine of Creation- Answers “What is God, and What has He Made?”

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

Section II: Christology – Answers “Who is Christ and What has He Done?

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.

Section III: Soteriology & Eschatology – Answers “What has God done to save us, and what will come at the end of days?”

   For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven;
           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
           and was made human.
           He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
           he suffered and was buried.
           The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
           He ascended to heaven
           and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
           He will come again with glory
           to judge the living and the dead.
           His kingdom will never end
.

Section IV: Pneumatology, Trinitarianism, Bibliology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology – Answers questions like “Who is the Holy Spirit, What is God (i.e. Three Divine Persons), What was spoken about God (the words of the prophets, the written Bible), what is the Church, and, again, what will happen in the last days?”

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.

Again, the creeds can only be seen as the core of the Scriptures, and the simplicity of the statements lend to a deeper analysis of each. Hence, while there is a center target here, that center target is unfilled, like an outline that our own engagement with the words of Scripture must ultimately fill in, engagement that will demand philosophical categories, historical investigation, linguistic skills, and spiritual formation. But, this is a good place to start when getting clarity on what we need to defend as Apologists.

Early Christian Creeds and Their Importance for Apologetics: Part IV – Nicene Creed Line 2

This is the fourth installment in a series on the Nicene Creed. For earlier posts see here, here, and here.

In this post I analyze the following lines of the Nicene Creed, which are primarily Christological:

And in One Lord Jesus Christ
The Only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages
God from God,
Light from Light
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

J.N.D. Kelly points out in Chapter VII of his classic Early Christian Creeds that it was primarily these clarifying lines about Christ’s nature that motivated the council, and especially St. Athanasius, in the Church’s response to the Arian view, which claimed Jesus (the Logos) to be a created being, distinct from the Father in substance, and therefore, not fully God, even if god-like.

These lines were formulated to not only clarify the Church’s position, but to exclude the Arian one. This core set of statements about Christ’s nature circumscribe apostolic Christianity, demarcating it from non-apostolic heresy. However, iterating an earlier point, these Nicene fathers saw themselves as drawing out the natural implications of the language found in the New Testament writings themselves. After cataloguing several of the Christological passages and formulae found in the New Testament letters (e.g. Phil 2:5-11) and in the Gospels, (e.g. Mk 8:30) Kelly says this of the Church’s (i.e. most pre-Nicene Christian communities’) very early view of Christ’s nature:

In all of them [the NT Christological passages] there is no trace of fixity so far as their wording is concerned, and none of them constitutes a creed in any ordinary sense of the term. Nevertheless the Trinitarian ground-plan is all the more striking because more often than not there is nothing in the context to necessitate it. The impression inevitably conveyed is that the conception of the threefold manifestation of the Godhead was embedded deeply in Christian thinking from the start, and provided a ready-to-hand mould in which the ideas of the apostolic writers took shape. If Trinitarian creeds are rare, the Trinitarian pattern which was to dominate all later creeds was already part and parcel of the Christian doctrine of tradition.” [emphasis mine]

In short, Trinitarian assumptions are found in the styli of the Apostles themselves (e.g. John), or their companions (e.g. Luke). The Arians tried to find a way around this, because this dual nature of Jesus Christ didn’t fit their philosophical categories. But, others like Athanasius understood what the text itself impressed upon the Church (see Acts 8:36-38; 2 Cor 13:14 and Matt 28:19) and the necessity of knowing Christ as God incarnate.

Now, as to the truth claims we might distill from this core, historical and apostolic assertion about Jesus’ nature, let’s put these lines in propositional form:

  1. I believe that there is one Lord Jesus Christ
    • Here, Lord, carries tremendous weight. Lord (κυριος) can mean master, or earthly lord. But, the Greek Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses this word to translate the Hebrew “adonai” which was the vocalized ersatz term used for the written tetragrammaton (YWHW), the personal name of God which Jews were not permitted to say aloud due to its sacredness. So, to call Jesus Lord is to proclaim Him as identical to YHWH.
  2. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God
    • But, there is a distinction to be made between the persons of God. The Father is not the Son, nor the Son Father. They have unique relations, and unique roles or actions. Yet, from above we see that Jesus is identical to YHWH in some way, but he is the Son, He is distinct from YHWH. Thus, if Jesus’ activities are different than the Father’s, and His relation is different, then the identity equivalence must be in being. We can lay it out like this:
      1. Jesus and YHWH are identical in some way
      2. But, Jesus and YHWH are not identical in their relationship, since Jesus is the Son and YHWH is not the Son
      3. Also, Jesus and YHWH are not identical in their roles or activity, since Jesus dies for sinners and YHWH does not die for sinners
      4. Therefore, if Jesus and YHWH are identical, but not in their relationship (relatio), or in their activity (opera), then they are identical in their substance (ousia).
  3. I believe that Jesus Christ was begotten from the Father before all ages
    • This clause refers to the doctrine of eternal begetting of the Son. This has been a controversial teaching over the centuries, and there has been renewed controversy about it amongst Evangelicals in recent history. This may be a doctrine that is not necessary to defend, if our defense is of a mere Christianity. But, I leave that up to the conscience of the individual apologist.
  4. I believe that He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God
  5. I believe that He existed from eternity, and is, like the Father, uncreated
    • This is crucial, because it claims that Jesus, like the Father, is uncreated. Jesus, the Logos, is a se
  6. I believe that He and the Father are of the same essence
    • In addition to the above arguments, see Colossians 2:9

What each of these statements claim as true, is the most fundamental belief of Christian theism, for if it is true that Jesus bears all of the properties of divinity, i.e. if He shares all of the essential attributes of God (e.g. eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, etc.) then all other religious beliefs that positively claim that God is not triune, but monistic (only one person), are false. This would include Judaism and Islam, although orthodox Judaism would represent a special case.

Moreover, any religious belief system that says Jesus Christ fails to possess all or any of the essential attributes of divinity is also false (e.g. Mormonism, Jehova’s Witnesses, some Liberal Protestantism). If Jesus and the Father are of the same essence, then only this version, this historical, apostolic Christianity is absolutely true. Perhaps it sounds too harsh to call other monotheisms “false,” but, minimally, we would have to declare them as seriously deficient in their belief about ultimate reality. This has implications for those who want to hold to a kind of religious pluralism, especially when it comes to ultimate salvation.

What would make the creed’s claim true is God’s very nature. What bears that truth to us is the words of Scripture. What helps us to grasp that truth more clearly, is something like this Nicene Creed. Moreover, not only do we believe the claim is true from just the Scriptures (although the Scriptures are sufficient to know that claim to be true), but also from the evidence we have of the testimony of the early church itself (i.e. extra-biblical evidence). The fact that we have extra-biblical evidence that the early followers of Jesus also worshipped him as God provide us with two sources of evidence as to His divinity. And, if Jesus is divine, then the passages relating Jesus and the Holy Spirit, also imply the same divinity of the Spirit.

Trinitarian theology can be hard to explain, because there is obviously going to be mystery when it comes to the very nature of God. There are going to be aspects of God that are inscrutable, that are beyond our capacity to grasp. But, not fully understanding something does not mean that it is incoherent. Physicists don’t really know what gravity is (it is, after all, a “force”), but they can describe it with some degree of accuracy, which makes it coherent and understandable.

That said, here are two books by Fred Sanders on the Trinity that can help one go deeper into this foundational belief. The first is more introductory, the second, more advanced, but both enriching.

Christian Marxism Will Not Solve Our Social Justice Woes

Christianity in the West is becoming Marxist. That is at least my claim.

Of course, “Marxism” carries many connotations, far too many to reflect upon here. But images ranging from Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, to Parisian intellectuals sipping sherry along the Champs-Elysees, can quickly come to mind. Either way, there are examples of Marxist thinking or Marxist activity that seem, on the one hand, to be brutal, bloody, and barbaric, and on the other, charming, sophisticated, and academic. Which version one might find oneself living with, likely depends on various cultural factors.

So, perhaps the statement that Christianity in the West is becoming Marxist is too bold, or at least too generic. Clearly I can’t mean that Christian churches (Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Catholic) are becoming brutal and ruthless in their advocacy for yet another socialism, at least not in the manner of a Che Guevara, someone whose reputation for ruthlessness and brutality has remained tragically obscure. No, on the contrary, such barbarity is neither part nor parcel of current progressive Christian movements. At least, not of any I am aware. Even if some progressive Christian leaders have expressed outrage at, say, the election of Donald Trump, I am entirely ignorant of any calls to overthrow the government through violence or force. At most one might find accusations against traditional Christians, that they are parochial or somehow bigoted, or against conservatives, that they are parochial or somehow bigoted.

Still, in spite of this seemingly peaceful movement, there is clearly an intellectual shift now prevalent in both the Catholic church (even to the highest levels of its hierarchy), and also the Evangelical churches in America. This shift appears to be a Marxist one, and that primarily in the realms of metaphysics and morals.

Marxist Metaphysics and Post-Metaphysical Christianity

As is often said amongst philosophers, “Marx turned Hegel on his head.” But, what does that mean? It’s a difficult statement to analyze, since Hegel’s philosophy itself is extraordinarily abstruse. But, the kind of German Idealism that Hegel cultivated could be broadly construed as a metaphysically (and theologically) rich system of thought where the universe was progressing through history toward a sort of absolute synthesis between the transcendent and the immanent, the objective and the subjective. This so-called “Absolute Spirit” was the inevitable and full actualization of God in the world. However, this grand final cause on Hegel’s view was a product of free human conscious activity, of reason perfected; reason that itself is primary in shaping the natural world in which reasonable agents live, and thereby bringing about the final state of things. In short, it is the activity of human reason that, once fully realized in the progress of history, fully actualizes the final cause of the cosmos. Human thought and the ideas it generates shape and ultimately perfect material reality.

For Marx, however, this is exactly reverse: material realities, and the social institutions that supervene or emerge from them, are what shape thoughts, ideas, and philosophy itself. As such, the Idealism of those that came before is truly flipped on its head. Now, it is not free, rational agents that will, or even can, shape the world to be a better place, it is the world, its environmental and social conditions, that primarily shape “free” moral agents.

With regards to metaphysical realities, therefore, where Hegel thought free human agents were co-agents in actualizing God in the world (a fairly pantheistic worldview), Marx, adapting Feuerbach’s view, sees material forces as providing the fundamental stuff that allows human beings to even have thoughts about God, a God, however, who does not really exist. Therefore, once this is recognized, i.e. that there are only material conditions and that material conditions shape the kinds of thoughts people have, and once those material conditions are altered, so too will thoughts about God be altered, and inevitably done away with.

What happens then on Marxist thought is metaphysics is denied its place among the pantheon of philosophical pursuits; since if Marx is right, metaphysical speculations are nothing more than supervening mental states on lower-level physical and social realities.  This is not to say that human beings are entirely determined by material conditions, but it gives primacy to material conditions as the main source of human ideas, especially metaphysical ones. If that is the case, then the kinds of things the Bible speaks of (YHWH, the eternal Logos, Angels, Demons, a Jesus that possesses all of the attributes of Divinity, human souls or resurrections) are merely intra-mental constructs of human agents determined by the social and environmental conditions of their times.

Are Progressive Christians Marxists?

Clearly this is a question that can only be answered by someone who self-identifies as a “progressive Christian,” hence, to try and avoid any hasty generalizations about actual people who hold real beliefs, let’s ask the more impersonal form of the question “is progressive Christianity Marxist in the content of its beliefs?”

I think it is.

First, while progressive Christianity is clearly not of the same Marxist stripe as that of Pot or Guevara (i.e. in its unwillingness to desecrate human persons for the sake of its dogma), it does seem to be Marxists in its metaphysical commitments. Progressive Christianity seems to want to untether the words of Scripture from the ontological realities to which those words point. This is first an anachronistic reading of Scripture, for it is beyond unlikely that the prophets and scribes of the Old Testament, or the Apostles and their companions, were metaphysical anti-realists, at least about things like God, angels, demons, souls, etc. So, in this sense, it seems to me that progressive Christianity treats the language of Scripture not as semantic terms referring to immaterial realities, but as metaphorical terms only.

But, why is this specifically Marxist? After all, metaphors can refer to transcendent realities too. The problem is, I think, that progressive Christianity holds that while the ancients perhaps believed that these entities were real, that that very thinking was just a product of their physical, chronological, and social environments. In other words, the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament Apostles (and likely Jesus himself) thought about God in manner “x” not because manner “x” bears any universal, unconditioned Truth about God, but because thinking about God in manner “x” was literally a byproduct of the lower-level realities (socio-economic conditions plus social institutions) in which the prophets, the Apostles, and Jesus lived.

Therefore, if all thought about God, and the religious institutions that emerge from that thought, are subject primarily to the physical and social conditions that help construct thinkers and their institutions, then clearly we can have novel, even contradictory, formulations of God and novel supervening religious institutions, if  we have physical and social conditions quite foreign to those of the authors of the Bible. Not only can we have novel views of God, but we inevitably will have them. In this way, I think progressive Christianity is truly a Marxist Christianity: the words of the Bible are mainly products of immanent physical and cultural forces, not revealed truths about a transcendent reality and its denizens; truths that we discover rather than construct.

On such a view then, if the physical and cultural forces of today are vastly different than those of the 8th century BC, or 1st century AD (which they obviously are), then our concept of God and His work in the world can and should change accordingly. On this count, it seems that Marxist Christianity should be able to better address the social woes of our times, because there is this flexibility to the concept of God and His work that changes as time and culture changes.

Unfortunately, I think this view is woefully inadequate, not only in its relation to truth, but also in addressing the problems that it so desperately seeks to answer.

The Problem with Marxist Christianity in Addressing Social Justice

Social Justice is a moral issue. On that we can all agree. Gross imbalance in social, economic, and political power between individuals and communities tends to result in things like chattel slavery and Holocausts. To not want justice in society, is to be narcissitic at worst, apathetic at best. As members of Christ’s society, the Church, relational justice (i.e. a proper balance or shalom between people and their communities) should be a deep longing for us to cultivate, and communicate.

However, in order to actualize such peace in society, where justice is achieved in light of both human failure and wickedness and human creativity and courage, there must first be moral formation in the individual who lives and acts in a society. But, without a metaphysical or transcendent moral principle or Person to guide the individual in the formation of her own soul, i.e. in personal virtue; without a compass that can point us true North, from where or in what manner do we become the kind of people that have both the knowledge and the character to be on the side of justice when we interact socially? To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, how does the ship that cannot sail properly, become a beneficial member of the fleet?1 see C.S. Lewis “The Three Parts of Morality” in Mere Christianity, Book 3 Chapter1.

Secular responses have tended to place the source of moral knowledge in society itself, either in the forms of “rationally” constructed contracts, or “quantifiable” measures of pleasure for the maximum number of people. But, can society really be the sole source of our own personal moral formation? That seems to place an incredible burden on people; to be the unique source of ethical knowledge and moral modeling for each other. If this is true, if there really is no metaphysical principle to discover, or divine Person who reveals to us something about Goodness, Beauty, and Justice, then to fix society’s woes, we must turn to…society!? But, how can a car engine fix itself, or a heart suffering from congenital disease be healed without a surgeon’s hand?

This is not to say that Progressive Christianity fails to take the moral teachings of the Bible, and especially those of Jesus of Nazareth, seriously. However, if those moral teachings are but byproducts of immanent social and physical realities that generated the thoughts of their professors, then even the words of Jesus are, at best, interesting and provocative, at worst, unhealthy and harmful. But, so are the words of Aristotle and Nietzsche. Thus, the progressive Christian need not feel beholden to the words and teachings of Jesus, any more than they might feel beholden to the words and teachings of Rush Limbaugh or Oprah (I’m assuming, though, that most progressive Christians will prefer the latter).

In sum without any transcendent Reality to guide the formation of one’s own moral life, to right one’s own ship, to communicate with and be communicated to, the individual member of society is left to her own devices to cobble together what society has to offer and take that back to the community she lives in. But, even here, this “cobbling together” of various moral or ethical views, plays, at best, an informative role. It is neither imperative in nature, nor can it have any kind of causal effect on the person’s character, for again it is not ideas that are shaping us or our societies, but primarily material goods and services. It is the stuff we have that is fundamental to shaping our “souls,” not a Holy Spirt, or even a universal Reason. Hence, the further call amongst progressive Christians for a wider distribution of wealth and services, regardless of whether individuals have earned them or not.

Conclusion: Christian Marxism Cannot Solve Our Social Justice Woes

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that when human beings reject God, they begin to immanentize His attributes (or His actions) in things in the world.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g]”>[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 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, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The first thing Paul lists with regard to our placing the glory of God into the world, is “images resembling mortal man.” Certainly more can be meant here than just statuary, even if statues of men and women have often been objects of adoration. Also, even though we have no present-day pharaohs or caesars to rule over us as divinized god-men, we can easily, as Marx I think did, try and imbue society itself with the glory that belongs only to the Creator.  After all, before Octavian became the divine Augustus, there was already the notion of “ROME” in all her glory. And, more recently, we have been told by one political leader in particular that indeed “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Therefore, there are two things that Marxist thinking tries to wrest out of the hands of the Creator, and place in the world: the communion of the saints, and the very Kingdom of God. It is no wonder that Marxism has often been called the “failed religion,” as Elizabeth Scalia warns:

Communism, attempted without the infinite capacity and infinite hope that comes from working with and for the infinite God, becomes a mere movement of man, consistent with the nature of man, which is imperfect, selfish, and self-rewarding.

The failed Marxist experiments involved human schemes to prohibit “anti-social behavior” and enforce codified “kindness” supported by informants and intimidation; they enforced a spirit-killing, drive-killing acquiescence but offered no hope for real communism. Action compelled by government can never transcend itself, because the person has nothing to draw on from within, or look to from without.

Without the Holy Spirit prompting the human soul toward the willing surrender of goods and gifts”not for the good of “the state” or “the party” or for some general idea about feckless and unwieldy humanity, but for the sole use of God and the service of his glory”the compelled surrender of humankind serves only to frighten, to inhibit, to shackle and bind, rather than to loosen or free. It feeds the instinct to hoard, rather than hand out. It creates the Gulag.2 Elizabeth Scalia, “Why Marxism Always Fails” in First ThingsNov. 16, 2010.

Any Christian subculture is susceptible to this desire, the desire to instantiate God’s final plan for the world apart from real belief in or actual relationship to God. For to relate to language about something cannot be the same as relating to an actual something.

The non-Christian culture, however, if Paul is correct, is doing this explicitly all the time, either through the “divine right of kings” or political messianism, or through the secular re-creation of society (and even individual persons) in our own imagination and likeness. As progressive Christians lean further and further into Marxist and neo-Marxist (i.e. Critical Theory) thought, the tendency will be to neglect the vital role of the Holy Spirit in both personal moral formation, and in the ultimate reconciliation of man with God, and man with man.

In conclusion, Marxist Christianity cannot save us from our social justice (man-man) woes. Why? Because it rejects the only two things that can truly change the heart of man and the society he resides in: the ontological reality and causal efficacy of man’s Creator, and the plan of salvation and liberation that the Creator has initiated in His creation.

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.