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Posted: 11/15/06

Disarming "Shoot First" Apologetics


It is a sad fact of Church History that Christians spend a great deal of time arguing with each other.  A recent example of this is can be found in an article written by Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary (Christianity Today, November 2006).  In it, Mouw takes issue with the late Dr. Walter Martin's methodology, implying that Walter Martin practiced "Shoot First" Apologetics (a polemic title)-and that he knew better-after being warned against it by his good friend and mentor, Donald Grey Barnhouse.

To support his point, Mouw quotes an illustration on bluebirds and grackles given to Walter Martin by his mentor. The two men had been talking out at the Barnhouse farm, where Dr. Barnhouse walked the grounds shooting pesky grackles, and Barnhouse gave Martin an object lesson on how one must be careful (when aiming at birds and people) to shoot only the grackles.

But close examination of Richard Mouw's argument reveals a logical fallacy that is surprising, considering his place in academia.  Mouw chose to set up a Straw Man argument, a caricature of Walter Martin and his approach to apologetics, instead of accurately representing his position.  The birds Barnhouse shot on his farm were far away; Walter Martin's meticulous research brought him up close to the grackles.  He aimed precisely.  It seems as if Mouw never read a footnote in any of Martin's work.  Walter Martin quoted primary source material-he meticulously identified his targets using their own intelligence.

Richard Mouw goes on to make additional errors in his assessment of Martin:  First, ignorance of his two subjects, Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse.  If Richard Mouw knew Walter Martin at all, he would be familiar with the story he always told about his friend, Rocky Marciano, the former World Heavyweight Champion.  In it, Marciano gives a great sermon illustration with his "peek-a-boo" style of boxing: "If I was fighting a guy like you, Walt," he said, "And you could hit anywhere near as hard as I could, you would annihilate me.  I'd never get close enough to hit you.  I learned that long ago, so I developed a style:  Cover-up, peek-a-boo.  I took the blows on my arms, my shoulders, and sometimes on my face-five, six, seven, eight to one-because I knew if I could get in close enough, I could take them out with one shot."

My father loved this illustration.  Get in close with the Word of God, whatever it takes.  This is the story that accurately represents the apologetic style of Walter Martin.  He never advocated aiming in ignorance from far away.

It seems as if Richard Mouw did not know Donald Barnhouse, either.  In academic research, context is everything, but Mouw chose to leave out the historical context surrounding this story.  He left out the fact that Barnhouse loved and supported Walter Martin-and my father loved and respected him.  This close relationship meant that Barnhouse would have rebuked my father privately and publicly if he truly believed Walter Martin used "Shoot First" Apologetics.  He also left out the fact that Donald Barnhouse did not shy away from confrontation.  He believed quite strongly in the power of Negative Thinking.  The proof of this lies in another story my father told about Barnhouse:

"I'll never forget the time when my teacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, told me of a luncheon he had with Norman Vincent Peale-who was then riding the crest of the wave on the power of positive thinking.  They had chatted for a few minutes when Peale unexpectedly remarked, "I'd like a candid answer, Donald.  I know you'll give me one.  What do you really think of what I've written on the power of positive thought?"

Donald Barnhouse was quiet for a moment before replying, "Well, I can only tell you what a great many clergymen have said to me."

"And what is that?" asked Peale.

"Paul is appealing, but Peale is appalling," said Barnhouse, irrepressible as ever.  "You have forgotten the most important thing.  Before anyone can think positively, they must think negatively."

"What do you mean by that?" Peale asked.

"Look," said Barnhouse, "I am a sinner.  Negative or positive?"


"I am a lost sinner.  Negative or positive?"


"I am going to eternal judgment.  Negative or positive."


Dr. Barnhouse smiled, "Those are three negative propositions, without which, you cannot think positively.  'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved' (Acts 16:31).  But if you don't think the first three, you'll never get to the fourth."

"I never thought of it quite that way before," answered Dr. Peale, rather disturbed.

"You must write a new book," said Dr. Barnhouse, "The Power of Negative Thinking."

"I can't do that; it would ruin me!"

"Get out the truth," said Barnhouse.  "The Lord will take care of it."

He never wrote the book, but Dr. Peale was told what he should do.  The truth of the matter is this:  Whatever the cost-tell the truth.  This is what we must do.  Speak the truth in love, but for the sake of Christ, let's speak it!"


Donald Barnhouse did not mince words.  If he told Norman Vincent Peale his opinion of his book, he would have warned the evangelical world against Walter Martin if he thought he was in error.  Instead, he named him "The Bible Answer Man" and helped pay for his Master's degree.

A final error Mouw makes is a mix-up in weapons.  Any familiarity with Walter Martin's work would reveal that his weapon was the Sword of the Spirit-the Word of God-not a hair-trigger, Ad Hominem gun.  Guns kill, and Walter Martin never aimed to kill.  He loved people, and the only thing he wanted to kill was the false doctrine that would send them to Hell.  My father's weapon was the Bible, and it is a precision instrument: "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

What kind of apologetics did Walter Martin practice?  I think he said it best:

"I love Mormons.  I love Jehovah's Witnesses.  I love the people in the cults.  I care.  I'm fighting for their lives; for their souls.  That's love.  Love isn't this sickly, gooey, syrupy garbage that flows out; where people are forever saying with this plastic evangelical smile plastered to their faces, 'Jesus loves you.  Jesus loves you.  We want you to be born again.'  Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths!  In the name of God, people are dying in their sins.  You have to tell them more than 'Jesus loves you.'  You have to tell them Jesus is going to judge them!  If they are not going to receive love, they're going to receive justice.  As long as we do not tell the whole story the world will tolerate us.  But if we tell the world the whole truth, it will hate us as it hated him.  Controversy is part and parcel of the Christian heritage.  You cannot escape it if you truly want to serve Jesus Christ."

Richard Mouw, the man who told Christians they had "sinned against" Mormons and suggested they celebrate Joseph Smith's birthday, did not write his article from a neutral perspective.  I suppose we can be thankful he acknowledged that grackles do exist in the world today, but it is interesting that in misrepresenting Walter Martin and firing in ignorance from far away, Mouw hit a bluebird instead of a grackle-demonstrating for all to see the essence of "Shoot First" Apologetics. 

Distributed by

By Jill Martin Rische

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Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 12/09/06 01:47:36 AM Age 47, MO
Thank you, Jill, for this article, and thank you, Brannon Howse, for bring her on board Worldview Weekend. I also want to thank Walter Martin for carefully analyzing and exposing the errors of the Word-Faith preachers, such as Copeland, Hagin, and Tilton.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/22/06 01:59:03 PM Age 52, TX
I loved this man and had the privelege of receiving his taped sunday school lessons from Melodyland for many years. Later I spoke at a conference and shared the venue with him, enabling us to spend some time traveling to and from the conference talking. I considered him a mentor and spiritual father - one I quote often. "Speak the truth in love - but for GOD'S sake, speak it!" Man do we need that now. Mr. Martin was a spiritual smart bomb. God bless you Jill for the article - and for not letting Hannegraff claim the crown he was not given.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/20/06 12:40:18 PM Age 20, MN
Good point. While we need to love all people, christians or no, but we must be careful. Love coupled with words is the best Gospel message option available to us. "Preach the gospel at all times... when necessary use words." -- St. Francis of Assisi We must must must not to forget to be civil and loving while stern.....persistent, yet respectful. It is a delicate mission and thus we must be calm and patient. Thank you for your article

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 09:48:01 PM Age 64, TN
Ahhhhh! A chip off the old block. I loved it, Jill! Reminds me of your dad.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 05:40:26 PM Age 55, TX
I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Martin speak for several days in Salt Lake City in the early 70's. With compassion, conviction, wisdom, and truth supported by original source documents, Walter Martin laid out a powerful and compelling case for why he at once loved the Mormon people (citing his kinship to Mormon ancestors) and yet hated the theology, which he declared to be straight from the pit. Without acrimony or discourteousness,he ultimately silenced the vocal LDS apologists and he did it with love. I don't read Christianity Today any longer and was unaware of this controversy. Thank you, Jill, for setting the record straight. I can add a first-hand experience and hearty "Amen" to the commendation of your father's extraordinary contribution to the Church, as well as his compassion for those who are lost because they have not been confronted with the Way, the Truth and the Life. Dr. Martin showed us how to speak truth with love, with boldness and with grace.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 01:36:38 PM Age 50, TX
Most excellent article. One MOST pastors need to read, as well. Far too many evangelicals have forgotten (or never learned) the lesson Barnhouse taught Peale: "Before anyone can think positively, they must think negatively." I am thankful for Ray Comfort's teaching, "Hells' Best Kept Secret" as well as all the other faithful saints who do fall into the satanic trap of loving the culture of world at the expense of the Gospel.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 12:47:25 PM Age 51, WA
Thank you. Reading "Kingdom of the Cults" changed my perspective and made me see those following false religions in a new way.

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 09:01:06 AM Age 34, CO
Even though I only learned who he was after he was already with the Lord, your dad has been one of my heroes for many years. Jesus bless you, Mrs. Rische!

Re: The Late Walter Martin's Daughter Takes on Her Father's Critic
Posted On: 11/16/06 08:27:25 AM Age 58, VA
Thank you for sharing this about your Dad. I, for one, would hardly be able to discern good and evil in these last days if it had not been for your Dad. When the Lord led me to your Dads book, The Kingdom of the Cults, and I began to study the error in the different cults with the help of his book, I was armed with the ammunition I needed to discern and resist the Falling Away that has penetrated the Church today. What is the ammunition? The Word of God that your Dad used to support everything he wrote about. I thank God for your Dad's love for those caught up in the error and his willingness to expose it, that their souls might be saved. He, as well as Johanna Michaelson, whom I believed your Dad mentored, have given me hope and strength to continue to believe for my sisters who are steeped in error, one in the New Age Movement and the other a practicing Muslim. I am not surprised that your Dad would be attacked in this late hour when pressure is being put on the Bride to tolerate error! Rest assured, the Bride sees through it. The Bride has ears to hear what the Spirit says. Your Dad taught what the Spirit was saying and IS saying very loudly at this time, warning the Bride to believe only what the Bible says and not what some Professor might come up with! Any one, President of a Seminary, theologian, or otherwise, who thinks that we should celebrate John Smith's birthday in an attempt to placate the largest so called "Christian" cult in the world is not even worth listening to." His error is so ghastly that it fits the endtimes prophesies about the great Falling Away! It is true but sad that those who want to serve Jesus will be persecuted. And it is true that those who love Jesus will seek Him with their whole heart. Men like this President, seek to please other men first rather than truely seeking Jesus with their whole hearts. Heaven help him and God bless you!

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