Have you ever had a Jehovah’s Witness knock at your door? Perhaps it’s just me, but they always seem to come to my house at the most inconvenient times.
The first story I ever heard about Walter Martin involved turning the tables on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The story is that Martin, a native of New York City, went to the headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society located in Brooklyn. He knocked on their front door and began witnessing to them about the Jesus Christ of historic Christianity. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Martin had what my Jewish friends call “chutzpah.” I had the distinct privilege of working with and for him at the countercult organization he founded, Christian Research Institute, in the late 1980s.
In light of the 20th anniversary of Martin’s death (June 26), I’d like to share six things I learned from his example as a gifted and accomplished Christian apologist. These lessons have been enormously helpful in my own trek through the challenging Christian apologetics enterprise.
1. Rhetorical Eloquence
Like one of his favorite politicians, President Ronald Reagan, Martin was a great communicator. He mastered the media venues of radio and television in order to convey the Christian message with clarity, intelligence, and force. Martin was one of the finest public speakers I have ever heard. Amazingly, he could speak extemporaneously and nevertheless speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences. He was always a very hard act to follow.
While few can match Martin’s gift and skill of rhetorical eloquence, his example challenged me to concentrate on speaking in a clear, concise, cogent, and compelling manner. I call this the “four C’s of communication.” I encourage would-be apologists to work at sharpening their rhetorical skills. As Martin proved, eloquent speaking is a powerful vehicle in persuading people of the truth of the gospel.
2. Courage Under Fire
Courage is the classic virtue I admire most. That’s probably why I greatly admire noble warriors. Courage is a rare trait both in the Christian church and outside of it. But Martin exhibited a great deal of courage in his apologetics ministry. He wasn’t afraid to take a tough stand on a controversial issue and live with the repercussions.
Some people vigorously criticized Martin when he asserted that Seventh-day Adventism and Roman Catholicism shouldn’t be categorized as non-Christian cults. For the record, Martin did not give either church body a clean bill of theological health and criticized both belief systems. Martin did his homework and was willing to absorb criticism from all sides.
As one of his research assistants, I adopted and defended Martin’s views on Adventism and Catholicism. Accordingly, some of Martin’s critics also publicly criticized my positions. While it’s never easy for a Christian apologist to enter into the arena and take the heat, aspiring apologists need to know that facing criticism comes with the apologetic territory.
Though he has a different temperament and labors in a different part of the apologetic vineyard, Hugh Ross exhibits Martin-like courage in defending old-Earth creationism. Yet Martin himself affirmed old-Earth creationism long before it gained popular support.
In part two of this article I will discuss two more apologetic lessons that I learned from my former boss and apologetics mentor, Walter Ralston Martin.
For more information about Martin’s books and taped lectures, see Walter Martin’s Religious InfoNet.