EVANSTON, Ill. -- Recently, my Apologetics in Contemporary Ministry class was turning through the premier issue of Salvo, published by the folks at Touchstone. Salvo is a hard-hitting publication, one designed to discomfit sub-Christian and anti-Christian ideologies arrayed against “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

The magazine featured some carefully crafted mock advertisements. One invited people to the “Church of Darwin.” Another parodied PETA with a pitch for PETI (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Insects”). Most of these ads performed the classic “reduction to absurdity,” drawing out the embarrassing implications of an opponents’ stance – “If he had his way, look what sort of craziness he’d get us into!”

In the course of our discussion, a student said he would be reluctant to pass the magazine on to a non-believer since some of the material could be seen as “bashing.” So I asked whether “bashing” (as in “gay-bashing” and “Bush-bashing”) was a bad thing, per se. What was bashing anyway?

I took up the marker and began to write possible definitions on the board, trying a bit of the Socratic method. We started with something like, “To bash is to insult,” but that wasn’t automatically bad. Jesus did it without apology (see for example, Luke 11:45, where it is clear He got a two-fer, hitting both the Pharisees and the lawyers). So we tried a refinement: “To bash is to attack someone personally, and not just his ideas.” But, again WWJD got in the way, for the Lord said His opponents, and not just their teachings, were like whitewashed tombs and serpents (Matthew 23:27).

Okay, then maybe “to bash is to take a cheap shot?” But what’s a cheap shot? Is it a zinger without accompanying rationale? Is it disrespectful sarcasm? If so, must we apologize for 1 Kings 18:21-40 to the prophets of Baal on Carmel, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). But it’s hard to call something “cheap” when it is saturated with truth, in Elijah’s case the truth of the emptiness and toxicity of idolatry.

But didn’t Paul say that, in our dealings with outsiders, our “speech [should] always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)? Good point, but he prescribed salt, not sugar, and salt can sting a bit, as John the Baptist, the Apostles, and Jesus showed. Truth can hurt, but it can graciously make one free.

I then asked them why nobody ever criticized “racism-bashing” and “pedophilia-bashing.” At this point, one of the students observed that we only call it “bashing” when we have some respect for the perspective or activity in question. For that reason, you never hear the press talk of “terrorist bashing,” no matter how sternly they denounce al-Qaeda.

When, then, you accuse someone of evolution-bashing, it means you think that Darwinism has something to commend or that it is relatively harmless. Or when you charge someone with "gay-bashing," you think that homosexuality is somewhat excusable and benign. It’s a way of saying, “Lighten up. It doesn’t deserve this sort of treatment.”

So what we have here is a moral or ideological judgment masquerading as the counsel of manners. It’s a way of stifling discussion or criticism without having to do the heavy lifting involved in supplying a thoughtful response. It’s perfectly designed for a culture obsessed with feelings and impatient with truth. If you can’t stand the heat of your critic’s argument, play the niceness card, and disqualify his argument from polite discourse. It’s ingenious, much like the “hate speech” ploy, used worldwide to blunt or silence biblical exhortation.

I should add that I think the expression, “bashing,” has its place. It’s a shorthand way of saying that certain criticisms are unfair. But you had better be ready to back up your claim that the critic has gotten it wrong. The problem is that some want to use it to say that sharp criticism is unfair (or unholy or tacky) because it is sharp criticism. They use the “bashing” charge as an all-purpose tool for stifling or deflecting rigorous examination of the case at hand.

Christians are particularly vulnerable to this misdirection play in an era when “seeker” sensitivity is regnant. Many scurry for cover or chase their spokesmen from the field when secularists cry, “You’re bashing!” God’s people might well retort, “It’s not bashing when it’s fair. Why don’t you save the touchy/tidy dismissal and show me precisely where I’ve gone astray? I’m happy to listen if you have thoughtful particulars.”


Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Reprinted from the Illinois Baptist newsjournal, online at www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist. Send comments to: m.coppenger@comcast.net

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