Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rabble-Rauser and Neville Chamberlain Apologetics

Update: Rauser has responded to this post, but I'll be responding any further on the TheologyWeb thread below.


Oh dear. Poor Randal Rauser is in quite the snit of snark over our published Book Snap this past Friday; so upset, indeed, that he sacrificed some part of his Saturday away from the show down at Chuck E. Cheese to reply. That’s rather a shame, as I expect he was intent on attending the apologetics conference there and had been planning to do so for weeks.

In any event, his dyspepsia is expressed concerning two broad points. The first is an objection to my comment:

This book is valuable for one reason, though, as a study of how emergents/postmoderns "do" apologetics -- rather badly, as it happens.

In response, Rauser demurs, thumb in cheek, that he is not, is not either, so there too, a postmodernist, “by any conventional definition.”

Um, yes. That’s why the exact descriptor range I used was “emergent/postmoderns” – not “postmoderns” in isolation. Rather tellingly, Rauser doesn’t bother to engage the first half of that designation-slash-designation, the format of which is a clue to most readers of the English language of an either/or proposition, of which either designation might be intended to apply to the designee as part of a much broader continuum of persons.  I gather such nuances escape Rauser, perhaps due to some past mental engagement with fundamentalism. Or, maybe he got too much snark in his soup to pay attention carefully.

Then we have the second bout, in which we are treated to a Rauser Ramble about how he found the “warfare model of apologetics…wholly inadequate.” I do not doubt this; given Rauser’s manifest lack of competence in that arena, it is no surprise he finds it so readily dispensable. One may as well hand a caveman an iPhone, if not an insurance application. Indeed, his very distaste for the “warfare model” is a sign that we don’t have someone academically prepared to confront the reality at hand.

As it happens, one of his commenters conveniently sets the table for us:

That's one of the reasons I find the gospel portrayals of Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees odd, a few quick words by Jesus and the Pharisees just seem to melt away. Doesn't work that way in real life.

Ah yes, of course. “Real life.” As Hume showed, that was the measure of all things, was it not? Allow me, though, to introduce Rauser and his readers to “real life” in the first century, in an agonistic (honor-shame) society. (Regular readers of my material will be asked to forebear as we return to these most basic explanations.)

Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees were, in fact, small ideological wars – competitions for public honor. On one side stood Jesus, defending his own public honor, at least as most would read it; but also defending the honor of the Father and where He really stood. On the other side stood the Pharisees, defending their own honor, and their public reputation as spiritual guides and leaders.

Despite Rauser’s personal problems with the warfare model, these interactions were mini-RPG contests in and of themselves. The whole idea was to publicly shame and disgrace your opponent, so that no one would respect them.

Now in terms of the commenter’s problem with this as a “real life” scenario, here’s where their realization fails. In the eyes of the Pharisees, they were not confronting the incarnate hypostasis Wisdom; they were confronting a dumb, rural hick from the back country of Galilee, someone who was likely to know more about changing the goat’s oil than about the rigors of Torah scholarship. The Pharisees, in contrast, slept in pyjamas with Torah passages all over them. 

Now surely, their thinking would be, it would be little difficulty to shame this rural hick by asking him one of our first level questions; once that RPG is launched, he’ll melt back into Rednecksville where he belongs. Right?

Ah, no. Jesus not only answered, he answered well. Not what they expected. And worse, it makes THEM look like the idiots for failing to roust him. In that scenario, the silence-response is quite true to life – in fact, their best option for not giving themselves another self-inflicted pwning.

So, sorry, but – “real life” is rather more diverse than your backyard clubhouse and an episode of Seinfeld, kiddies. Might want to try some serious social science scholarship before you pull up the Radio Flyer for another round.

In all of this, I might add, Rauser is not merely wrong, he is also a hypocrite. Typical of the postmodern/emergent (oh, drat, it’s that slash again), he is also well-versed in his own form of warfare and weaponry, such as the Passive-Aggressive Popgun and the Guilt Trip Gumball Grenade. The analogies he draws of “warfare apologetics” to “Archie Comics and Hubba Bubba chewing gum,” designating them as “childish things,” reflects his own choice of warfare engagement; the fact that he is not very good at it doesn’t change that at all. An insult in the third person is still an insult, even if it is an insult reflecting inadequate courage to be direct.

Rauser’s worry was that “the warfare approach to apologetics produced almost no change in others.” Well, as I said, as bad as he was at it, that’s not surprising. If he’d done it right, he’d have seen some changes, much as I have over the past 15-20 years. As it is, his misplaced query speaks for the broader theme that ails him:

It didn’t take much of that before I started to ask myself, what good is winning arguments if I lose people?

What good indeed?

“What good indeed”? Well, let’s see. It does the good of shutting the mouths of those who deceive and destroy – you know, the way the Pharisees fell silent after Jesus lobbed a Shame RPG into their midst. I doubt Rauser understands this; as noted last time, he lacked the wisdom to keep away from John Loftus, and rather than help shut Loftus’ mouth, as he ought to have done, he actually will be sharing a platform with him, one due out, apparently, in April 2013. 

Think on that for a moment, folks. Rauser is sharing a platform with a man who insults people with disabilities; lies unconscionably, and gives amusement park workers “the finger” for just doing their job keeping people safe. Neville Chamberlain apologetics, indeed. It didn’t work in the 1930s and 1940s. It won’t work this time, either.

I’ve seen Rauser’s pattern before, so I expect it’ll amount to this: He’ll launch 1-2 more Passive-Aggressive Popgun postings, then retire from the field claiming the moral high ground of not wanting to soil himself further with warfare that is beneath him. The postmodern/emergent (darned slash again) is, after all, quite predictable. For the record, I rate Rauser a 10 on his own Metamucil Scale, an 8 on the Hypocrisy Scale, and a 2 on the Academic Proficiency Scale.

And I’ll also start a thread on TheologyWeb here so that others can enjoy his exercises in postmodern/emergent dance, too.


  1. I think the problem with the likes of him is that they think apologetics is all about winning people over to their side of the argument, even to the point of compromising the solid nature of truth. They're all touchy-feely and think getting to emotions are able to deal with the arguments. Perhaps that's what happens when their faith is based on an emotional rapture rather than the facts. Maybe he doesn't even know that Biblical faith deals with the evidence and not something you blindly believe in, which could have influenced his idea of apologetics.

  2. @Mairoem: Not unlikely. Such as Rauser also fail to see a distinction between apologetics in public and private spheres. In another post he muses against those who use warfare style apologetics on the two Mormon dudes at the door. OK, that's fine as long as they're just two small fry doing the best they can, and are willing to listen. But try that on Daniel Peterson or any of the FARMS bunch, and they'll have your liver for breakfast.

  3. I have to say JP, (and stop me if you've heard this before...) I used to think you were too harsh with opponents. But having spent a few years now encountering them on teh interwebz I get it now. I get it.

  4. @Jon: I think I've heard it a few times. :D

    I see I hit Rauser's nerve. I'll see how much gumption he has by replying not here, but on the TWeb thread.