In Memory of Walter Martin (1928-1989): The Original Bible Answer Man, Part 1 (of 3)

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Kenneth Richard Samples

Photo of Kenneth SamplesHave 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.

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10 thoughts on “In Memory of Walter Martin (1928-1989): The Original Bible Answer Man, Part 1 (of 3)

    Steve Klemetti said:
    June 11, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Jehovah’s Witnesses know and preach the historic Jesus and the present Jesus.

    You say that Jehovah’s Witnesses come at the most inconvenient time. Well, they only come when we invite them. You ought to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses then we will come only when you invite us.

      nhiemstra responded:
      June 11, 2009 at 4:01 pm

      Unfortunately, you’re incorrect, at least by Biblical standards, as well as historic. First, I never invited any Jehoveh’s Witnesses to my home but frequently they, and Mormons, would come to my home. I was delighted to have them and we would have nice conversations regarding their teachings and compare them to the Biblical Texts and how the New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witness’ Bible) distorted Biblical texts. But our visits weren’t confrontational. I would provide coffee and cookies or milk.

        Steve Klemetti said:
        June 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

        Oh, I am correct by biblical standards.

        John 3:16 calls Jesus the son of God.
        Luke 1:32,35 calls him the son of the most high.

        We teach that.

    Jay Howard said:
    June 11, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I want to thank you for your comments. This is the 20th anniversary of his death (this month) and while I never worked for him I lived in CA in the late 1970s and attended his class at Melodyland. I too loved his work.

    I have not heard the current president mention if CRI plans to acknowledge this sad anniversary. I have a feeling there will be no mention whatsoever. As I recall, when I contacted CRI 10 years ago the receptionist seemed not to understand why I would ask about any plan to mention his death.

      nhiemstra responded:
      June 11, 2009 at 3:51 pm

      I never met him but have read his books and seen him on TV. I’m disappointed CRI would have responded that way.

        Steve Klemetti said:
        June 11, 2009 at 5:31 pm

        I talked to him on the phone on his Bible answer man show. He hung up on me because I got him.

    Dennis J. Fischer said:
    June 12, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Walter Martin did the Christian world great disservice in proclaiming Seventh-day Adventism as being Christian. Sadly, even cult watchers can get deceived.

    Dennis J. Fischer
    E-mail: dennisfischer@neb.rr.com

    Terry Camm said:
    June 14, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    What a great teacher of the Word of God, he spoke with grace and taught many how to stand against false teachings and false prophets. He answered many questions on Doctrine from the Trinity, to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5-20.

    Molly W.P. said:
    January 24, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Walter Martin’s radio ministry absolutely changed my life.
    I listened to him every weekday and was actually tuned
    in when his death was announced. So few are able to articulate
    the Word of God as did this gifted soul whom I had the privilege
    of speaking to in person (on his show) ionce n 1988. How I miss him to this day.

    THANK YOU for this website!

    Love in Christ who redeems us,

    Molly in Houston, TX

    PS. This Presbyterian happens to know that the 7th Day Adventist Church is NOT a cult!

    Dennis Fischer said:
    March 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Molly,

    Please provide your “proof” that
    Seventh-day Adventism is somehow not a cult (based on the definition of the three S’s: salvation, sin, and the Savior). The size of a religious group does not determine its cult status. All cults have aberrant, unbiblical views on salvation, sin, and the Savior. Getting the Gospel right should be our highest priority.

    For example, Seventh-day Adventism cannot be considered to be Protestant due to their strong reliance upon extra-biblical authority through the “inspired” writings of their revered prophetess, Ellen G. White. Moreover, official Adventism declares that her writings are a “continuing and authoritative SOURCE of truth.”

    A former SDA minister,

    Dennis Fischer
    E-mail: dfministries@gmail.com

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