We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Friday, January 22, 2010

What About My Apologetics Qualifications?

Someone asked about my qualifications to be an apologist.  Please forgive the length of this post, and I will try not to bore you too much, but in order to explain 35 years of apologetics study it takes more than a couple pages!

After I was born-again in January 1974, I struggled often with the Mormon teachings coming back to mind, and I had to continually compare what they said with the Bible. I went to the base library and found some material about the Mormons, and someone in the Navigators got me a tape of Dr. Walter Martin teaching about them. I then began thinking that I should try to tell other Mormons of their error, and from then on I wanted to study as much as possible about the Mormons so as to reach those in the LDS, as well as prevent people from joining. That was my first thought about apologetics. (This eventually led to my acquiring a sizable collection of books and journals on the subject, and many official LDS publications, as well as their “Gospel Link” CD).

Time went by, but my first meeting with Mormons coming to our door wasn’t until 1979 in Aurora, IL. That same year we had Jehovah’s Witnesses come to our door, so I studied about them for future encounters. As the years went by I began slowly learning more and more about these two cults because I felt I could reach them. Books about these groups were some of the first in my library.

From the time I became a believer, I tried to read the Bible through at least once a year. But, as noted in my church history, I didn’t go to church (except with Jill’s parents on Easter and Christmas) until 1988. I studied the Bible and listened to Moody radio regularly, but it wasn’t until late 1986 that I began researching denominational doctrines compared to what the Bible said. Of course this meant I had to study the Bible even more thoroughly. And, as noted in my previous article, this was when I also spent a lot of time studying Roman Catholicism. When I decided the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, was viable, I bought and studied their Book of Concord.

In the Spring of 1988 I bought the first of the many commentaries I‘ve acquired over the years. And while listening to Moody, I heard a program called Science Asks, God Answers, about evolution, and my interest was raised in this subject (I had learned the “Gap Theory” from the Navs, but that theory kept bugging me), so that required the purchase of books about creation.

I’m not positive, but I think it was in 1988, or that period, when the local TV station did a program on Willow Creek and their “market-driven” philosophy. As I watched the program, I was appalled that any church would see this as a way to bring in members. Little did I know then that this would be a major movement.

In the fall of 1988 we began worship at a Lutheran church in Batavia, IL. My wife and I became Sunday School teachers for elementary students (although I changed to high school after a year and a half).

When I was studying with the Navigators, we used the NAS Bible. But while at this Lutheran church I discovered the NIV and bought one (this was the first of a collection that now includes over two dozen English versions). In the church library I began to find more information on Mormons and JWs, and even more about the creation/evolution issue. I also found a copy of Kingdom of the Cults, then purchased my own and began studying apologetics as an interest.

Some of the church members knew I studied the Mormons and JWs, and I was frequently asked to come to their homes when they had these “missionaries” come to their doors. And of course we had our own visits. I acquired more books and, while studying the Mormons, I kept coming across references to a connection with Freemasonry. This lead me to buy and study books on that subject.

We arrived at our new Lutheran church in the fall of 1992 just in time for me to fill an opening for a teacher for their catechism classes. Jill and I again became Sunday School teachers almost immediately, with me again taking the high-schoolers, who hadn’t had Sunday School for years due to a lack of teaching volunteers. Some of my first classes were on cults, and I taught a lot about biblical worldview and how to apply one’s faith in daily living.

In September 1992, after I had been studying Water Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, the local newspaper had an article about Christian Scientists, which built that faith up as a true Christian denomination. I had been a regular opinion page contributor on various social issues, but this time I wrote a letter exposing the teachings of Christian Science compared to orthodox Christianity. It was then I realized I could be doing this sort of thing regularly. From that point on, I began looking for every time someone misused Scripture in the newspaper, and I would write letters to correct the errors. Over the following years this would give me a lot of experience in researching and properly contending for the faith, and it has indeed been a learning experience! Looking back, I can see how the Lord used this to prepare me for future ministry.

In 1993 I discovered Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis, where I learned about Word of Faith teachings. It was shortly after this, in January 1994, that we began home schooling, and the local group we belonged to had some followers of the Word of Faith. It was as if God had prepared me to deal with this teaching. (Since then I have acquired more books on the subject.)

Meanwhile, over the next couple years, it seemed that there was always some other cult or aberrational teaching that was brought to my attention by friends, relatives or co-workers, and my library kept growing with various reference materials to be able to teach against such false teachers and doctrine, and to learn proper hermeneutics. And I also got more interested in worldview teachings, starting with Francis Schaeffer’s, How Should We Then Live?

Wanting to leave Lutheranism, for our first Sunday in the Cedar Rapids area in December 1995 we went to church with our realtor to River of Life. It was an eerie experience because they are what is known as a “signs and wonders“ church, but I learned some important apologetic information there, and the experience led me to find out what I could about their pastor, Francis Frangipane.

Our next church was a Bible Church. Here I learned that even Bible churches with good teaching can have a love affair with the world and aberrant teachings; they had many members involved in Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, and the church itself became the major market-driven church in the area. So after six months we began searching until we found another Bible Church (although my son got involved with the Christian Service Brigade here for the next couple of years, and I was able to teach that group about cults and false teachings such as SLSW).

It seemed that the Lord kept bringing more false teachings to my attention, and it was during that first year in Iowa where I learned about the Jesus Seminar. Also during that first year, I took an interest in the field of psychology and counseling (a fellow employee gave me his college Psychology 101 textbook and I was appalled at what I read in it). What I didn’t realize was that this apparently was more preparation for a future ministry.

Well, we moved right into the thick of things at that new church. Their new pastor, who arrived the same time we did, wanted to bring in some strange teachings from the Toronto and Pensacola Revival, which I hadn’t heard of yet. But since so much of what he was teaching was similar to the Word of Faith, I began researching into the whole thing. The Lord obviously felt I needed to know about these “revivals” and “Promise Keepers” (which most of the men there seemed to be involved with). A lady in the congregation, learning of my meetings with the pastor, gave me a book on the “revival,” by Pastor Bill Randles. I went to meet Bill, who gave me more of his books and pointed me to Media Spotlight apologetics ministry for more information. Another member began giving me copies of his Berean Call monthly teaching letter until I subscribed to it.

My library began growing by leaps and bounds and I began doing much more with apologetics. I subscribed to the Christian Research Institute’s Journal, and began alerting people to aberrant teachings, while doing classes for high school Sunday School on cults and false teachings. I became very zealous for this and I wanted to get the truth to everyone who would be seeing false teachings.

The issue of the “revival” finally led to a church split in early 1997. I worked with the elders during this time to attempt to get the pastor (who was worshipping on Saturdays at River of Life) to change what he was bringing in, but he ended up resigning. Without a senior pastor, the elders took turns teaching and brought in guest pastors over the next year’s time. Even with this, the revival influence was bringing about dissent among the congregation and the elders didn’t want to address the situation. This left us looking for a place of worship in November of 1998. (This church has since called a new pastor who has been doing an excellent job of bringing in some stability and sound teachings.)

For the next six months we began church searching again, spending a few weeks at various places while hoping to find a place that wasn’t worldly or aberrant or following after every new fad. We found some that were pretty good, and were trying to decide where to choose when friends we had met in October suggested their church, a Plymouth Brethren Assembly. We began attending there the first Sunday of July 1999.

During our first Sunday, two gentlemen approached me about going to a Bill Gothard conference. I had previously heard the name and had seen some materials at home schooling conventions, but I didn’t know much about Gothard other that that he had some home school curriculum. I told them I wasn’t interested.

The couple who had invited us to this church later told me that Gothard had some very legalistic teachings, and they showed me some material they had gotten in the past. On the following Sunday I noticed the two men approaching another young man, and as the other young man claimed non-interest, they began pressuring him that it was something he really needed for his young family. At that point I stepped in and commented about what legalism I knew of, and suggested they not pressure anyone.

The high-pressure tactics reminded me of cults, so the next day I called Christian Research Institute and asked if they had any information on Bill Gothard. They had none, but knew of work Midwest Christian Outreach had done with him, and so sent me there. I then contacted MCO and they provided me with some good materials. Meanwhile, another individual from church, learning of my investigation, pulled an article off the Internet from Personal Freedom Outreach. I then contacted PFO, who sent me another packet. Both these organizations have excellent journals, to which I began subscribing.

My contact with these last two organizations finally made me realize that it was quite possible that the Lord was leading me into apologetics as a ministry. It was in the spring of 2000 that I asked Jill about starting an apologetics ministry, and, although she wasn’t as interested in apologetics as I was, she was always very supportive, and she readily agreed to the idea. So we commissioned “The Watchman Ministry,” with the name being based on the passages about the watchman in Ezekiel and wrote up a mission statement (at that time I thought I had a unique idea - so funny to find many other similar names in the apologetics field!).

Over the next two years at this church, I taught several evening classes on cults, and at the same time I began general apologetics studies through my connections with various ministries. I began learning more and more about how to properly teach and how to discern, and, more importantly, how to properly communicate the truth. I also got some very beneficial experience putting together sermons, since I had the opportunity to teach in the assembly on four occasions. The elders accepted my suggestion of how to keep the congregation alert to false teaching fads, and I was able to put out a “Spiritual Danger Alert” when something new came up (The Prayer of Jabez and The Alpha Course were my first two).

Unfortunately, this church began having some power struggles among the leadership, and the teaching was becoming “hit-or-miss.” Gothardism was very prevalent, and some of the members were pushing Ezzo’s Growing Kids God’s Way. Then there was the group who were following the Pearls, so there were many controversies. The leadership didn’t want to approach any of it because they didn’t want to cause offense. Finally, there was an issue needing church discipline which the leadership refused to deal with, leading a few families to leave the assembly, including me and my wife. In October 2001 we made the decision to go where we knew the leadership and teaching was good, and began worshiping 26 miles from home at an excellent Bible Church.

We attended our first 3-day apologetics conference in April 2002 in St. Louis, put on by Personal Freedom Outreach. We also attended a 2-day conference for Biblical (nouthetic) counselors that November, which taught us a lot about working with people. In April 2004 we returned to another PFO conference, and in February 2005 we attended another apologetics conference in Kansas City put on by another ministry at the Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary.

Shortly after the apologetics conference in February, I was asked by a friend attending seminary to team with him writing a paper on psychology versus the Christian faith. This was a very interesting research paper to do, proving the two fields to be incompatible.

For 14 weeks in the summer of 2005 I taught adult Sunday School on cults and false teachings. Later that year we attended another Biblical counselors’ conference.

We attended another PFO conference in April 2006, a Biblical counselors’ conference in April 2007, and then another PFO conference in 2008. We will be attending another PFO conference this coming April.

It was during the fall of 2007 that a pastor friend of mine told me that, since I had an apologetics ministry, I should do a blog. He is the one who helped me set it up.

My personal library now has over 1000 volumes, all of which I have studied. Subjects range from various cults and aberrant teachings, to commentaries, church leadership, church history, teachings of the early church “fathers,” psychology, nouthetic counseling, social issues, worldview teachings, systematic theology, marital counseling, humanism, many journals, devotionals, creation, Intelligent Design, etc.

Members of my church congregation who are looking for information about false teachings frequently come to me, especially after I taught the adult Sunday School class. Additionally, a local pastor uses me as his resource for all apologetics needs. My wife and I have done family counseling, pre-marital counseling, marital counseling and counseling with people going through divorce.

So the question on the table is, what qualifies me to teach apologetics - what training in this field do I have? As you can see from this narrative, my education has been an eclectic one of self-study and attending various conferences, and my experience with teaching the subject has been in various venues over many years, where I have been approved as an apologetics teacher by many church leaders.

I leave the question as to whether I am qualified for the apologetics ministry up to the reader of my blog.

8 comments:

Ron Livesay said...

If we had to rely only on those with the "proper degrees," we would have to ignore Peter and a number of other biblical writers. I knew a pastor who referred to seminary as "cemetary." Maybe that was a defense mechanism...who knows? But he did have a point, at least in some cases.

While I believe formal study and degrees have their place, I also sometimes believe the church is "dying by degrees." Often, degrees are merely window dressing that give us credibility only in the eyes of those who don't know any better. Real credibility comes from actual knowledge and wisdom.

Keep up the good work.

EBenz said...

Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Glenn! It is so amazing to see how God was preparing you step-by-step. Your work is truly a blessing. The truth you present brings glory to God! It was largely your blog that encouraged me to begin my own studies and for that I am grateful! Keep on contending for the faith!

Marie said...

I second EBenz' comment. What great experiences, and the knowledge God led you into afterward! He wastes nothing.

Over 1,000 books?!? Dude. And my mother thought my father was crazy with his endless cartons of National Geographic in the attic!!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Thanks for all the kind words.

What's funny is that I never envisioned myself as becoming a Christian apologist; When I became a believer, I wanted to use my aviation skills for the Lord. My plan was to become a missionary pilot. I had plans for getting my airplane mechanic's licenses as soon as I got out of the Army, and the school I was set up to go to was Colorado Aero Tech north of Denver. 7 months after I made this decision, I met my wife and the money I had saved for school was spent on a car so I could to to Ohio to see her as often as possible for the last 6 months of service. Although I told her my plans, I never got the mechanic license and the missionary pilot idea was not to be. I guess it just goes to show you that you might have plans of what you want to do for the Lord, but sometimes He has other ideas.

I bought another book. Hey, i got it 35% off. I got John MacArthur's Bible Commentary Friday. You can never have too many commentaries!

Louise said...

I appreciate all you've gone through to get to where you are now. You are an immense help to many of us. Thank you!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Thank you Louise, for your encouragement. And welcome to my blog!

Paul Pavao said...

Ok, I'm done inundating you with comments, but ...

I personally am always going to judge your qualifications by what you teach, not by who taught you to teach it. Your posts make it clear you've done your homework.

I suspect that most people who will write you off for not having degrees are going to be those who disagree with you. They're going to write you off for any reason they can find, and not having letters after your name is just one they happen to be able to find.

If they didn't have that, they'd find another.

Wisdom is justified by her children. Truth is able to defend itself because ultimately, Truth is a Being, not a set of facts.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Paul,
Thanks for you kind words. I agree with you 100% - a person should be judged by what they teach, not by what degrees they hold. And I suppose you are also right that if a person didn't have that excuse, they'd find another if they wanted to disagree with me.

By the way, I looked at your site. That looks very, very interesting and I could spend some time there!