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Apologetics for the Abused
The “how” of apologetics for the abused starts not with technique, but with costly courage and faithfulness. Here we pick up the thread from last week and consider what I mean by apologetics for the abused.
There are two basic aspects of apologetics: reasoning and communication. That is, doing apologetics involves constructing and learning various rational arguments for the faith (the what); as well as learning ways of effectively communicating those arguments (the how). Thesis 96 seeks to help with both, and today I want to focus on the “how”.
Equating the “how” with effective communication makes it sound like a skill, but the heart of apologetic method, what makes it effective, is integrity. As G. Campbell Morgan put it, “The influence you exert is always the influence of what you are.”1 What do we need to be when called to defend hurting sheep? People of courage and conviction. To illustrate, let’s take another look at 2 Timothy 4:16.
At my first apologia no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
Like the 11 disciples at Jesus’ arrest, Paul’s friends deserted him in his hour of need. They did not stand by him at his first apologia; they did not join in defending him. With Paul’s repeated exhortation to Timothy to not be ashamed of his chains (2 Timothy 1:8, 16), it seems these deserters were unwilling to pay the cost of shameful association.
The threat of shame from other Christians, shame for surrendering safe neutrality and taking sides, is real. “Gossip.” “Divisive.” “Gullible.” “Emotional.” It is only natural to want to distance oneself and avoid such shameful epithets, but apologetics for the abused cannot be done from a distance. Apologetics requires presence empowered by conviction. As Paul put it in 1 Timothy 4:16, apologetics is a “stand by” ministry, literally “being alongside” those who are hurting. It involves action, but action that springs from a heart of imitation—inspired by Jesus who “stood by” Paul when others fled (2 Timothy 4:17).
In a word, apologetics for the abused is a work of advocacy.
“Christian advocacy” is a favorite phrase of Os Guinness in his apologetics book Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Guinness speaks to the cost of apologetics for the abused with the language of internal advocacy:
Christian advocates then must be ready to focus their attention on those inside of church as well as those outside…There is no question that the inside task is far harder and more thankless for apologists than addressing the open enemies of the church. It requires a costly courage as well as faithfulness. Outside attacks often stiffen Christian responses, whereas inside revisionism [or abuse of power] saps the strength of believers through its many confusions, betrayals and the overall discouragement of opening ourselves to accusations of self-righteousness.
Why is the “inside task” of apologetics harder? Debating matters of abuse with other Christians in church is difficult for many reasons, but especially because it is not an intellectual issue. People will be hurt in various ways, sometimes life-threatening, if matters are viewed wrongly. So, quite naturally, when advocates encounter resistance to seeing abuse, they want to find the quickest route to changing minds. Only that resistance has roots. Beliefs about abuse are rooted in presuppositions, many of them unexamined. Hence the need for the tools of apologetics, which must be used from a Christ-like spirit of courageous endurance.
For example, a wife reports a pattern of being emotionally and verbally abused by her husband. The pastor and elders get involved and try to help, but they view the marital difficulties as mutually caused conflict. Why? You often see the presuppositions in the proverbs:
It takes 2 to tango
There’s 2 sides to every story
Conflict is never a one-sided problem
It’s a he said / she said matter
He would love her if she respected him; she would respect him if he loved her.
Moving from a strict mutuality paradigm to an abuse paradigm is just that: a paradigm shift—which is never quick or automatic.
Quoting Matthew 15:18-19 will likely not be enough, although it is a start:
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
While Jesus’ words make clear that one’s sin is never caused by another, there is still an entrenched conviction within Christianity that looks for mutual responsibility in cases of abuse. Unfortunately and tragically, victims are sometimes the first ones to volunteer their own guilt for provoking their abusers.
That is why the defense must be given by advocates on behalf of victims. Having to argue your own defense against past or current abuse to disbelieving Christians only amplifies despair and the experience of desertion. In that environment the slow possibility of change is a double death. But apologetics is usually a slow, patient work, and we need Christians willing to do what Guinness calls the thankless job of internal apologetics.
I don’t mean to sound apathetic or cynical by describing this work as “thankless”. It simply points to the need again for integrity. Christian advocates don’t defend abuse survivors for the promise of praise and recognition. To use Luther’s phrase, that is what theologians of glory do. Instead, Christian advocates need to be theologians of the cross. Here’s how I put it near the end of Thesis 96:
Quote from Thesis 96
The theologian of glory floats above others’ problems and does not enter their suffering because no glory is to be found there.
The theologian of the cross bends down to suffer with the traumatized, knowing that is where Jesus is found.
Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, by Os Guinness. This is an excellent book, and easily transferrable to matters of abuse.
The “how” of apologetics for the abused starts not with technique, but with costly courage and faithfulness. Are you willing to pay the cost?
G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 46, in Studies in the Four Gospels. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1931.