Today we continue a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative. Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of apologetics. Last week the focus was evangelism and next week will be focused on the work of pastoral ministry. We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.” Is that true or is that merely the tagline of an ultra tolerant inclusive culture that demands positivity and tolerance at any cost?
We live in a culture that paints an improper picture of Jesus as the “nice guy” on the right side of the Bible rather than the wrathful God on the left side. Perhaps people should read all of the right side of the Bible – especially the first four books of the New Testament along with the last book of the New Testament as a fitting assessment of the true Jesus. Jesus was often straightforward and He placed a great deal of emphasis upon defending the truth of God and the sacred Scriptures.
Apologetics is not the practice of giving an apology. It’s the act of defending the faith. Cornelius Van Til once defined apologetics as “the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”  One of the key words in his definition is the word, “against” which points to the negative focus that must be included in the work of apologetics. Perhaps the key verse in the New Testament regarding apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “but in your hearts honor 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 do it with gentleness and respect.”
The Greek term translated, “to make a defense” is ἀπολογία – from where we derive the word – apologetics. The fact that we must defend the faith once delivered to the saints is clearly laid out in the Scriptures, and it’s clearly practiced by the early church. The New Testament is filled with apostolic examples of apologetics from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost to Paul giving a defense of the faith before Agrippa. Likewise, we see the early pastors being mandated to practice the work of apologetics in their pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9). In short, all Christians are apologists at some level. In the home as Christian parents, at your place of employment, or on social media. You don’t have to be called to full-time vocational ministry before you engage in apologetics.
Practicing Apologetics and Being Negative
False teaching often lurks in the realm of evangelical circles. It’s one thing to refute the false teaching of Joel Osteen, but what about the individual who has crept into the church of Jesus Christ and is leading people astray? A.W. Pink once said:
False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind. 
According to Jude 3-4:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Notice two specific statements in these verses. First notice that Jude says, “contend for the faith.” The word contend is translated from the Greek term ἐπαγωνίζομαι meaning “to extert intense effort on behalf of something, contend.” The command to contend for the faith with intensity does not always mean with a positive tone nor does it demand tolerance. The idea that Christians are to tolerate false teachers and false teaching within the church is on the same level as a momma bear tolerating wolves entering her den where her babies are sleeping.
Secondly, notice that Jude says such false teachers had crept inside unnoticed. Jude then argues that such false teachers should be noticed and the work of making people aware of such individuals is part of the work of apologetics. Anytime light shines in darkness, it reveals error. The best teacher in the New Testament who consistently revealed error is Jesus. In His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently put false teachers on notice and it wasn’t always positive.
One such example is found in Mark 12:18-27. In this text, the Sadducees approached Jesus with a theological question. They wanted to know Jesus’ position on the marriage law mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 – or did they? Actually they were setting a trap for Jesus regarding His position on the resurrection of the dead. That was their real issue. Their question wasn’t exactly sincere, it was more of a theological trap.
Jesus fielded their question and then point by point exposed their false religiosity. Jesus wasn’t about to allow these false teachers off the hook. Why didn’t Jesus just remain positive in hopes of gaining new followers from the community? Why didn’t Jesus merely tolerate their different interpretations on the Scriptures? Jesus responded with a catastrophic bomb, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24)? The reason Jesus exposed them was because of their danger to God’s people. Notice, Jesus exposed their ignorance of the Scriptures.
Negative is not Automatically Nasty
To be clear, as I stated in the first article on evangelism, I’m in no way insinuating that Christians should go around being rude, hateful, and harsh with everyone they come in contact with. All Christians are commanded to love sinners and treat people with respect – even people we disagree with. However, Christians are not to be spineless pushovers who allow anyone to say anything they want – especially as it pertains to the gospel.
The Christian community is often quick to press fellow Christians on the idea that we need to follow Jesus’ example of love, but what about His apologetic? Are we to employ the WWJD principle in the area of love only, or should we actually defend the gospel too? According to 1 Peter 3:15, we are to defend the faith “with gentleness and respect.” I can recall times when I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been in my attempt to defend the faith. There is a difference between gentleness and negligence. Exposing error necessitates negative facts, but it always has a positive goal rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The very moment we claim that pluralism is wrong, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being negative. We speak with the goal of pointing people to the exclusivity of Christ. When we call out the errors of LGBT inclusivism, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being a hater of LGBT people. To the contrary, we do so with the goal of pointing people to faith in Jesus Christ and protecting the church from such false teachers who would press the church into an inclusivist position. Apologetics involves exposing negative error with the positive goal of pointing people to Christ and guarding the gospel from perversion. Vance Havner once said, “The early Christians condemned false doctrine in a way that sounds almost unchristian today.”
Next week, we will look at the need to be negative in the work of pastoral ministry.
- Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 1.
- A.W. Pink, Sermon on the Mount (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2008), 344.