Right after graduating university, my old roommate took a position with Sherwin Williams paint. He went off for a few days of training and came back with a thick binder of SW propaganda, a new shirt, and a whole new outlook on life. From that point on every time we went out he would point out the problems with the cracked paint on a park bench or the fading color on a wall, and then he’d observe how the problem in question could have been avoided by purchasing Sherwin Williams paint instead. With a sense of dismay I realized my friend had been changed. In short, he had become a company man: “a man who always sides with his employers.” (Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial Expressions.)
The problem with company men, as we all know, is that they don’t give a balanced account of the world. They have a carefully selected list of facts (or “facts”) which they use skillfully to vindicate their assumptions. Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that Sherwin Williams paint does have many virtues. It’s just that I’d like to hear from the guys at Glidden as well before I make my final purchase.
The single greatest problem with apologetics is that it suffers from the company man image. And unfortunately, the stereotype is often deserved. There are countless examples of Christian apologists selectively reading data to vindicate their opinions. Now it is worth noting that we all do this to a greater or lesser extent. Everybody selectively reads data. It is also worth noting that when we combine that selective reading of data with the desire to convert others to our way of thinking, we all become company men, whether the topic is religion, politics, science or just about anything else.
With that in mind it is hardly fair to identify Christian apologetics as uniquely problematic. But even so, we’re dealing as much here with image as reality and the reality is that apologetics is often marginalized precisely because Christian apologists are not often enough willing to admit when they don’t have adequate answers.
And there is the irony because short term loss — admitting ignorance or a weak argument in a particular instance — could lead ultimately to long term gain — increased credibility in the eyes of others which is, in the grand scheme of things, a big part of what the apologist is after. Looking back, I know my estimation of my roommate would have said just once: “You know, Sherwin Williams has a great paint for that … but in this case Behr’s is even better.”
(By the way, you gotta love that Sherwin Williams logo. Talk about a politically incorrect blast from the past. A logo that reminds us of the glory days when mom drove to the corner store in her 15 MPG V8 Chevy Nomad station wagon just to get a new jug of DDT.)