• Caleb Harrelson

Is the Church focusing too much on apologetics and doctrine?




It's very important for Christians to "understand the times" (1 Chronicles 12:32) and respond appropriately in our world, especially to those that are suffering.


However, we don't just respond in any way that culture deems we must. We are called to respond faithfully according to the word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-16).


Scripture gives us the standard and framework for how to respond to those that are hurting:

  • Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19)

  • Encourage confession (James 5:16; 1 John 2:1)

  • Show impartiality (James 3:17)

  • Be kind and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32)

  • Share the gospel and invest in them/disciple them (2Tim. 4; Matt. 28:18-20)

  • Point them to honor and seek wisdom in Christ and his Word (Proverbs 1:7; Col 1:15-16; 1 Peter 5:7; Hebrews 4:12)

  • Point them to the comfort given the Holy Spirit (John 16) and God's care for the humble and broken hearted before him (Ps. 34:18)

  • Pray for them (James 5:16)

  • Offer encouragement (Ephesians 4:29)

  • Refute false ideas that hinder people from trusting the Lord and hurt people (2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Cor. 13:6; Provers 23:23)

  • Refers to those that have special gifting and training in counseling when needed (Proverbs 11:14; 12:18; Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 12)

  • Uphold God's design for the state, under God, to uphold justice and punish evil (Romans 13).


Scripture is very clear on God's standards for caring for one another.


Recently I have seen a quote circling around the internet claiming that the church is focusing too much on doctrine and ignoring those that are hurting. See the quote below to see the exact wording:




Scripture tells us to test all things (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4;1) and thus we should carefully think through claims like the one above.


If the above statement by Your favorite Deretic is true, then we should respond appropriately. However, if it is not completely true, then we should carefully explain why.


After thinking over his statement, I have decided that he is committing several logical fallacies.


What is a logical fallacy? It is when someone has "made a mistake in his or her thinking" (Fallacy Detective, pg 10). Their reasoning is off.


Besides his fallacious assumptions and generalizations, the main fallacy that Deretic makes is the "false-dichotomy fallacy." This is also known as the "either-or" fallacy. This happens "when someone asserts that we must choose between two things, when in fact we have more than two alternatives." Furthermore, when someone tries to use this fallacy, usually one of the options is so absurd that we are forced to choose the other option. This fallacy becomes obvious once we realize that there are often more than two choices" (Fallacy Detective, 125-126).



Now, lets carefully think through the reasoning of Deretic:


My first question is “what does this person mean by religions trauma?”


If by this he means when someone has been constantly berated, manipulated, shamed, gas lighted, relationship withdrawn because you don’t support or attend some ministry activity, then yes, I agree that is horrible spiritual abuse. I have experienced a few of these types of abuse and it’s horrible. I went to counseling in the past to recover from it.


Spiritual abuse is real and we need to make a good apologetic for Biblical Justice and church discipline when spiritual abuse happens.


However, if by this he means “teaching that affirms the Biblical view of marriage, identity, sin, the exclusivity of Christ, and the sober reality of hell” then he is communicating something very different than what may be perceived. If this is the case, then he is seeking to persuade people to his position MORE by appealing to emotion than by careful reasoning with defined terms. The concern with the rhetorically powerful quote above is that it doesn’t unpack exactly how they are defining “religious trauma.” We can be highly offended by something that is taught in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean our offense is justified or that all of the American church is at fault.


Also, it should be noted that sometimes people affirm good doctrine, but then they can still use their platform built on good doctrine, to manipulate others to gain power and influence. Sadly, when that happens many people automatically assume that the doctrine itself is the problem instead of the abuse of the doctrine by said person.


It’s very difficult to discern what this person means or what they are referring to. It sounds like they may be referring to a particular circumstance and church, and really need to go have a Matthew 18 talk with those within that local body of believers.


Regardless, it’s self-refuting to argue against the defense of the faith, when it seems that this person would at least agree that “bad ideas are what led to someone experience religions trauma in the first place.”


Right doctrine and belief should ALWAYS lead to right behavior. In fact this truth is affirmed in Romans 12:1-2 when we are told by the apostle Paul to "renew our minds" and make our lives a "living sacrifice."


Thus, the answer to bad teaching can’t be less good teaching and just more empathy/feelings. Even proper empathy presupposes a standard of objective right and wrong for proper outrage to even be expressed. (I.e. you don’t want to empathize with someone who is upset about not getting to do something wrong and against God’s commands). Michael Kruger affirmed a similar point to this in one of his recent books when he said this:


“….Another issue this….is this dichotomy it creates between behavior and doctrine. The former is simply more important than the latter, we are told. But the problem here is that the two cannot be so easily divided. Indeed, any declaration about right or wrong behavior is a theological declaration! One cannot determine godly behavior in the absence of sound theological categories and concepts, for behavior is only “right” if it fits with God’s law and God’s character. (Michael Kruger, Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity, pg. 23)


Kruger also says this about the healing power of teaching good theology:


“Teaching people good theology is not the problem, but the solution. Teaching people good theology is vital, essential way of caring for them. Rather than viewing theology as something that harms and oppresses people, we should be reminded that good theology actually comforts and liberates people. The Pharisees harmed people precisely by teaching them (and modeling for them) bad theology.” (the Ten Commandments of progressive Christianity, Kruger, pg. 22)


I was spiritually abused in the past by people BECAUSE of false doctrine. Bad theology hurts people and I needed good theology to help me heal. I grew up in a background that was very legalistic and taught I could lose my salvation. I could go on with those details (maybe another post in the future) but THAT teaching gave me religious trauma. What has set me free is seeing the TRUTH of the finished work of Christ to save and eternally preserve my relationship with him forever!


Also, the truth is that most churches in America don't actually focus that much on apologetics. Those classes tend to be much smaller than recovery groups. Statistically (see thestateoftheology.com) churches in America are not focused on theology, doctrine and apologetics as they should. Thus, the original point from the quote above can’t even be supported.


"But what about how much of a emphasis churches have on apologetics and teaching good doctrine compared to trauma recovery and just loving people?"


Since many apologetics ministries have a very visible presence online and at conferences, it’s easy for it to be perceived as if "everyone in the American church is focused on apologetics." That’s honestly not the case. In fact, I spend a large chunk of my time trying to show other Christians why scriptures supports apologetics in the first place!


We are all putting out a lot of content publicly because we love the church and we love lost people and want them to come to know Christ! In fact, if you have followed the work of the One Minute Apologists, Bobby Conway, you will realize that he supports BOTH apologetics and mental health, counseling and recovery. I praise God because of guys like him!


Even at my own church we have a much larger attendance in our recovery groups than our apologetics related events. So, it's a false statement to assume that churches don’t focus on recovery for people. I have actually seen the exact opposite. The large majority of churches that I know have several outlets for lay or professional counselors to visit with their people, but it’s very hard to set up much apologetic training. Both need to happen. I’m 100% behind counseling. In fact, several years ago I was considering going into full-time counseling myself.


I actually would argue that good recovery (from spiritual, physical and emotional abuse) DEPENDS on good theology and apologetics. Any group that is encouraging recovery apart from a high regard for truth, as found in God’s Word, is not truly promoting recovery, but is just an emotional support group.

Yes, it’s possible to care more about getting your doctrine right and not listen well to others. This is exactly why I teach the “Columbo tactic” that expressively shows us how to LOVE and LISTEN to people well and engage with them about the truth. Again...I repeat: Doctrine, truth, apologetics and listening go hand in hand. When they do not, that’s because someone is being prideful and not because truth should be downplayed.


Furthermore, the nature of apologetics tends to be more public, whereas when dealing with counseling and trauma recovery it is a more private matter that requires confidentiality.


Additionally, there are many believers that work hard as LEOs, lawyers, etc. to make sure that justice is meted out...however, many of us don't know about their work publicly because much of their work has to be confidential. I have personally visited with many that defend those that have been hurt (within and outside the church) and it's an unhelpful assumption to make this statement that all of the "the church" and its believers are not standing up for those hurt. Has this happened? Yes, but that doesn't mean that a generalized statement is accurate. Also, it's not helpful to defend a position against defending the truth when injustice presupposes a standard of morality and that the truth must be recognized. It's self-refuting. Again, I think this person is probably thinking of a few specific instances but instead commits the part-to-whole fallacy (what's true of a part is ALSO true of the whole) and tries to indict the entire church in his statement.

So yes, naturally, one ministry will be more visible (apologetics/teaching) than others as they perform their specific duties (counseling).


There is no need to pit these different types of ministries against each other. There are different roles and different gifting's within the church (1 Cor. 12).


In apologetics ministries like ours and with how pastors function (yes, pastors function as apologists as well), we will have a more publicly visible platform for several reasons:


  • Bad ideas can influence whole groups of people, especially churches and the nation. Thus, they need to be called out publicly. The truth is what sets us free from the lies of Satan. Also, the truth unites and divides from those that don’t love the truth.

  • Bad ideas disciple people on how to think about issues of morality, justice, government, marriage and so on. There is no neutrality on these topics. Since Christ has “all authority on heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18-20) part of discipling is loving pointing out to both large audience (I.e. online, public events) and in personal discipleship WHY God’s Word should be trusted and obeyed in all matters. Those that want to set up the false dichotomy of “defend survivors of religious trauma MORE than good doctrine” are actually encouraging a process of healing that minimizes healing through good teaching.

  • The primary goal of a pastor is to publicly exposit the Word of God, rebuke false teachings and make disciples. His primary job is not to be a counselor (though he may provide counseling a lot or refer to professional counselors when needed) but to “preach the word...convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering” (2 Tim. 4:2) and “hold fast the pattern of sound words” and teach the word to other “faithful men” (2 Tim 2:2). Thus, naturally, a pastor is called to do apologetics (I.e. “rebuke” and refute” false ideas) that “set themselves up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). Likewise, All believers are called to do apologetics (1 Peter 3:16; 2 Cor 10: 3-5) because they “delight in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6) and even if they are not a pastor, they engage with others about the truth BECAUSE it is the most loving thing to do. Truth sets people free (John 8:31-32) Love never separates itself from truth. Love without truth is indifference or self-love, and truth without love is just harsh. We must “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Both work TOGETHER.


So, \yes, I support trauma recovery and some people very close to me are in recovery groups for various issues. Again, I support counseling 100%.


In fact, many of these people would also agree that false doctrine/teaching (i.e. prosperity gospel, legalism, self-help, new age, "follow your heart") fueled them being abused in the past.

People who have left false teachings have a special hatred for those bad doctrines because of how they harmed them and consequently they now have an acute love for good doctrine and apologetics. Love delights in the truth.


If we truly believe that the gospel is powerful and effective and is STILL changing lives and that God’s word is sufficient for the believer (2 Tin 3:15-16; Rom 1:16), then we MUST defend the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It’s the most loving thing we can do.


 

If you still have more questions on why Christianity is true, please read this article here. Also, please check out our Engage Truth Show and podcast and share!


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