Wednesday, January 04, 2012

10 Pitfalls of the Foolish Apologist

A Christian ambassador desires to be tactful, persuasive, sensitive, and thoughtful. Being a good apologist and being able to give good reasons for the truth of the Christian view takes prayer, patience, study, and persistence. For those who have made it their goal to become good defenders of the faith, there are certain positive disciplines and character traits that one would do well to develop. These help you become a wise apologist.

But on the other hand, there are certain pitfalls that can appear that, when left unchecked, can become character traits and make you a foolish apologist. Although there are surely more, here are Ten Pitfalls of the Foolish Apologist:

  1. The foolish apologist speaks before listening. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” Not only does he communicate to others that he couldn’t care less about what they have to say, but he also becomes unable to give a well informed answer. The wise apologist is patient, seeks to understand, and avoids monologue.

  2. The foolish apologist overstates his argument. The foolish apologist doesn’t have “good reasons.” Instead, he can prove it. He can show something beyond the shadow of a doubt. His arguments are presented with all confidence — and of course he can’t be wrong. Even when using good arguments, he exaggerates what they actually show. No modesty here, and people balk. The wise apologist argues confidently, yet with modesty.

  3. The foolish apologist wants to win every point. When the conversation gets complex, he needs to make sure to correct every single error he sees with another person’s view. Never mind that his conversation partner is getting offended by his “attention to detail.” This apologist is the fallacy police, the fact-checker, and grammarian all-in-one. If he makes an error, back-pedaling is in order, with little or no admission of wrong. The wise apologist can discern what really matters in a conversation.

  4. The foolish apologist chases red herrings. If the topic is the resurrection, just bring up evolution. The foolish apologist will happily hop down any bunny trail that appears. The conversation goes in all directions. He can’t make any progress in an argument because he can’t spot red herrings, distractions, and non-issues. In fact, he may often enjoy these deviations from focused dialogue, because he’s proud of his expertise in his own pet subject areas. The wise apologist knows how to stick to one point.

  5. The foolish apologist is proud of himself. He likes the fact that he knows terms that make the “novices” around him cock their heads. He secretly commends himself for reading more books in a month than most people do in a year. He enjoys the sound of his own voice, and thinks he does a pretty good job in an internet forum. Apologetics is his tool to show the world he can flex his intellectual muscle. He’s received his reward. The wise apologist humbles himself before God, and looks upon himself with sober judgment.

  6. The foolish apologist seeks popularity. He enjoys the accolades of others, speaking to lots of people, being a big name. Name-dropping becomes a normal tool to show others just how connected he is to what’s happening in the scene. He doesn’t choose the lowly place. The wise apologist blooms where he is planted.

  7. The foolish apologist neglects spiritual disciplines. He finds reading philosophy more interesting than reading the Bible, so he neglects the Bible. Prayer is seldom and rushed. In fact, prayer, meditation, Bible study, worship and fellowship take the back seat to study. The foolish apologist deceives himself that he is being spiritual, all the while drifting away. The wise apologist sits at the feet of Jesus.

  8. The foolish apologist has not love. He can speak in the tongues of philosophers and of theologians, but he has not love – he is only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. He has the gift of intellect and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge; his arguments can move mountains, but he has not love – he is nothing. He gives all his time and energy to study, and surrenders his finances to university degrees, but has not love – and has gained nothing. The wise apologist is motivated by love for God and love for others.

  9. The foolish apologist isolates himself from others. He doesn’t need their input. He doesn’t appreciate correction. He has his own plans, his own agenda, and own personal ministry. He refuses to let iron sharpen iron. When he falls, he has no one to help him up. He’s accountable to himself only. The wise apologist surrounds himself with godly counsel and fellow laborers.

  10. The foolish apologist doesn’t do apologetics. He becomes an apologetics junkie; a consumer instead of an enlisted soldier. He does more talking about defending the faith than actually defending the faith. Debates are a spectator sport. He forgets that souls are in the balance and doesn’t even think of preaching the Gospel. The wise apologist wants to win others to Christ more than anything – and he uses apologetics as a tool to assist in this task.
Have you encountered any of these pitfalls in your own life? This list may serve as a handy reminder or even serve as a list of prayer points for your own development as a better ambassador for Christ.
*The pronoun “he” is used only for consistency.


  1. Stephen Bedard January 4, 2012

    Awesome stuff! You hit the nail on the head with this.

  2. Rudolph Boshoff January 4, 2012

    Excellent!Loved the last statement under point 10 "He becomes an apologetics junkie; a consumer instead of an enlisted soldier.."
    Ouch!!! What a reprimand!

  3. wincer January 4, 2012

    Excellent! We all need reminding from time to time. God bless!

  4. Carolyn January 4, 2012

    Excellent. Thank you for this! Definitely a timely reminder.

  5. James January 4, 2012

    11. The foolish apologist skims over the previous 10 points.

  6. KP January 4, 2012

    Thanks so much for these necessary warnings, Brian. I'm going to take them to heart and share them with my apologetics class when we talk about the character of the apologist. Proverbs 18:1 came immediately to mind when I read #9.

  7. Chris Nelson January 4, 2012

    Number 12: the foolish apologist forgets to share the glorious gospel. I've done this before myself.

  8. Adam January 4, 2012

    Well said, Pastor Adam Barton, Akron, Ohio

  9. frontlineapologetics January 4, 2012

    Incredible reminders Brian, thank you for sharing these. They are spot on. I have been guilty of more than a few of these myself.

  10. Pathdrc January 4, 2012

    I think number 7 can happen to many Christians – not just apologists.

  11. Damian January 4, 2012

    The foolish apologist thinks his arguments are more persuasive than the life he lives not realizing people observe far better than they listen.

  12. Songs of a Semi-Free Man January 4, 2012

    Great stuff! We have to remember that the goal is not just to win arguments but to win souls.

  13. Brad Littlejohn January 4, 2012

    Thanks Brian, these are fantastic points. These same points could easily, and with equal urgency, be applied to Christian scholar generally, whether or not they see what they are doing as "apologetics" specifically. Any Christian who wants to serve Christ rather than self in academia should take each of these principles to heart.

  14. Michael Baldwin January 4, 2012

    Great post, Brian. Very challenging!
    I thank God that my righteousness is by Christ alone, and not by my apologetic shortcomings! 🙂

  15. junia January 4, 2012

    This is wonderful except for the male language, It makes me feel invisible…but I still love you guys.

  16. Brian Auten January 4, 2012

    I was going to alternate each point to reference he/she — but it was quite awkward sounding. Hence my *asterisk at the bottom about the use of the "he" pronoun.

  17. Greg January 4, 2012

    At least 11 of those describe me…

  18. factorysense January 4, 2012

    Very good one, thanks for making it 🙂

  19. Adam January 4, 2012

    Well said! Thank you. Pastor Adam Barton, Akron, Ohio

  20. Rob Lundberg January 4, 2012

    Great post and words for us all to remember for sure

  21. Crude January 5, 2012

    A good list, but I'd add a few more.

    * A foolish apologist thinks his points can only be made directly. He has little use for humor or satire, and when he uses either, it's only as a prelude to a serious or deeper argument. He focuses on arguing for a specific point, rather than on making his audience think.

    * A foolish apologist thinks apologetics exclusively deals with arguments, evidence and exegesis. He does not consider reaching people through entertainment – whether in the form of comics, video games, cartoons or otherwise. To the extent he does use these, he borrows from others and offers commentary, rather than producing them (and with skill) on his own.

    * A foolish apologist, when on the internet, fights primarily in the comments box – even on his own website. He allows him to spend sometimes over a week going back and forth, often either with a troll or someone who only shows up to distract from the apologist's message. He fails to consider whether apologetics is about spreading a message to people, or in perpetual one on one (or small group v group combat).

    I'm not much of an apologist – in fact, I wouldn't even call myself one. But what I lament the most is that 'apologetics' is seen (rightly) as the forefront of spreading the Christian message, of fighting an intellectual and cultural war. But at the same time, apologetics is (wrongly) limited to formal debate and discussion, rather than with a focus on the actual culture. The world needs apologists in media – flash animators and game programmers and cartoon makers and comic writers and fiction writers and more. It needs apologetics who have humor, passion for creativity, for story writing, for joke telling, for indirect rather than direct communication.

    Again, this is a good list, but more and more I feel strongly that this is where apologetics is lacking most. There's this idea that if the apologist just has the best argument and the sharpest presentation, he will be effective. But how many social movements or religious movements relied on those alone and saw any success?

  22. defeatingdefeaters January 5, 2012

    Good post, Crude.

    Brian, thanks for this convicting post.

  23. Steve Laird January 5, 2012

    Good lessons for all, regardless of faith (or lack of it). As an atheist I'd choose to ignore 7 and 10 but the rest are all relevant. Thanks.

  24. jeremy January 5, 2012

    The foolish apologist doesn't have "good reasons." Instead, he can prove it

    — I like this, but doesn't the person who does presuppositional apologetics think his way is a proof? (Or I could be totally misunderstanding that form. Also, not to imply they are foolish in my question.)

  25. Brian Auten January 5, 2012


    The point I would want to make in saying "he can prove it" would be in the approach to others. If you have a very strong argument, introducing it by saying, "I can prove x" is not a good way to dispose your listener in you favor.

    It's kind of like introducing a joke by saying, "this is going to be the funniest joke and its sure to make you laugh" — well, that usually doesn't help the joke out much.

    Now I won't speak for presuppositionalists who may or may not think they have a proof. But for the sake of discussion, say that they do have a proof. I think it would still be better to state it or introduce it modestly. Let the argument speak for itself and let the listener judge how persuasive it is to them.

  26. Lrock79 January 6, 2012

    Ouch is correct, I'm guilty of at least 5 of the 9!

  27. Gary Hinchman January 7, 2012

    Just excellent. Simple, biblical, humbling, and well reasoned.

  28. Gary Hinchman January 7, 2012

    Just excellent. Simple, biblical, humbling, and well reasoned.

  29. ordinaryclay January 7, 2012

    Great post. Thank you!

  30. Unknown January 10, 2012

    Great stuff Eddie! Do you know any perfect apologists? I believe even the best ones are guilty of being self focused instead of God focused. With God all things are possible.

  31. Brandon January 10, 2012

    Great stuff Eddie!I believe many of us are guilty of deviating by becoming self-focused instead of God_focused.

  32. Chad January 15, 2012

    The foolish apologist doesn't follow Apologetics315!

    Great work Brian!

  33. Elder Shawn T. Gardiner January 27, 2012

    Great Post,

    I'm still bleeding from the slices I got from at least 5 of these points.

    Thanks for the sobering.

  34. Tom January 30, 2012

    Much love, Brother Auten! Thanks for writing this!

  35. Anonymous June 7, 2012

    wow!!!!!!! God bless you Auten.
    Foolish apologist don't share there knowledge freely to others. they only sell them 🙂

  36. Jim Reeverts August 3, 2012

    The first comment stated, "You hit the nail on the head with this one…" I think you hit ME on the head. Thanks for the wake-up call. ~JR

  37. razorswift August 4, 2012

    Man, I'm guilty of all 10…j/k. Seriously though, I think every apologist at one point in his/her life has been guilty of some of these. At least I know I have. Great post!

  38. TerryL1000 August 19, 2012

    I also think the foolish apologist thinks they are responsible for converting the lost and not God. I think they should look at themselves as seed planters and let God grow the seed and if they are lucky, they can harvest the fruit.

  39. ashmine12 February 14, 2013

    The foolish apologist idolizes degrees and accolades. He thinks that formal education makes people, and that without it he is nothing. He places educated people above God and their writings above God's word. He views the Holy Spirit's gifts as nonexistent or second rate. He relies on the educated for wisdom and understanding. The wise apologist believes that the Holy Spirit's gifts equip and qualify him, and he only relies on God for wisdom and understanding.

  40. Robby March 6, 2013

    If you read this and don't feel any of them hit you square in the face, then you may be in trouble.

  41. Sam Ronicker October 24, 2013

    Very well put! Thank you.

  42. Benjamen S. Long, Pastor January 2, 2014

    …in addition, the foolish Apologist takes offense with points 1-10. I stand both convicted, AND CORRECTED (smile): profoundly so.

  43. Benjamen S. Long, Pastor January 2, 2014

    …the foolish Apologist takes offense at points 1-10. Profoundly engaging list — FOOD FOR THOUGHT (smile). I stand convicted, AND corrected.