Defending The Gospel, Dirty Jobs Edition
I have always liked working with my hands. From Lincoln Logs to Legos, from fishing to dissections, from changing the oil in my truck to constructing gallows. Alright, the last one is a pulley system I built for my boys but eventually my sons will be introduced to the Western where bad guys need killing and the noose was the swift arm of justice in the kingdom of the left. The short of it is that I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty. This proclivity may be a bit of nature and nurture as my family history includes mechanics, computer programmers, surgeons, forestry workers, and stay-at-home moms; all groups dependent on the use of their hands. I cultivated whatever genetic disposition may exist while I was young. I spent, ironically in light of my current profession, more time constructing forts and match car ramps with my childhood books than I did reading them. More recently, when not constructing future instruments of capital punishment, I’ve found comfort in yard work and tinkering, fixing, and improving the home.
A freshly mowed yard and a room stripped down to studs is oddly beautiful, both in fact of old creation gutted and the potential for new creation in its stead. Sometimes, while surveying my handiwork, I’ll reflect upon whether Jesus had similar experiences gazing upon whatever carpentry jobs he worked on under Joseph’s tutelage. I also wonder if Jesus ever verbally “slipped” as our tools of creation must hinder the hands of the heavenly architect. I don’t know why, but this brings an odd comfort to one who often verbally “slips,” remembering only after the fact the children at his feet.
So how might these reflections help us understand the apologetic task? First, we tend to think about apologetics as an academic enterprise, as something that requires formal training. While the apologetic world needs academics, I’m not about to write myself out of a job(!), their influence upon the broader world is far less than we academics imagine. The history of science, of much more interest to the general public than philosophy or theology, suffices to support my point. Think back to how many scientists you can name off the top of your head. I bet your recollection will extend no further than your ten fingers, and, if you happen to be a science history buff, no further than your ten toes as well. The game changers are far fewer than the everyday scientist. Likewise, the academic apologist is far fewer than YOU who happens upon this post! The world goes round not due to the few with leisure but through the daily hard work of humans.
Reflecting on my existential insignificance of the last paragraph, brought a second point to mind. We academics tend to carve the apologetic intellectual landscape at the joint of tough minded versus tender minded apologetic. The tough minded deals with all the logic chopping, argument destroying characteristics well-represented by your standard apologetic YouTube search. The tender minded deals with hobbits, rings, turkish delight and talking beavers. Or, more generally, the kinds of things that get my friend Pastor Sam Schuldheisz all excited about here at 1517.
However, I think that we need another axis to the tough/tender dichotomy. One that tracks a more practical side in apologetics. One that takes a cue from the joy found in actually working with materials in an environment, a more worldly hands-on approach. This axis would run vertical through the horizontal tough/tender axis, tracking more closely Aristotle’s distinction between knowing why (theory) versus knowing how (practice/skill). For lack of a better turn of phrase, the distinction I have in mind is much like the difference between white collar and blue collar work.
White collar work deals with administration and theory building, while blue collar work deals with materials and skill sets. In a blue collar world, the actual circumstances of the job dictates the work done, often leading to a constant stream of revisions as new information is gained on the job. To the amateur handyman like me, this is evidenced by the numerous extra trips to Home Depot during any given project. In a white collar world there are protocols, department meetings, and TPS reports. Thus, the blue collar is inherently practical and experimental in nature. Anybody who has ever worked with their hands knows that the theoretical (what ought to take place) is a slave to the practical (the circumstances of the situation). The old adage, measure twice and cut once, is a great rule of thumb, but is never perfectly realized this side of heaven. Apologetically, this means that a blue collar apologetic is one forged in circumstance and experience. You must not be afraid of dirty jobs — to get your hands dirty, working with and responding to the messy material given you.
Lastly, I think the use of white and blue collar brings forward an underrepresented element of apologetics and evangelism—vocation. Apologetics and evangelism happens through our vocations. My day-in, day-out work becomes a testament to Christ. My theoretical reflections upon the nature of apologetics, the clearing of rooms down to the studs, every oil change, every bottom wiped, and yes, every gallow (or pulley system) constructed is witness to the “hope that is within.” How might we better tap this much more fertile, yet underrepresented aspect of apologetics? How does the plumber use his craft as an apologetic aid? How does the carpenter translate his joy in breaking a room down to its studs into an apologetic understood by carpenters? I don’t have any definite answers, after all, I am unabashedly white collar or theoretical in my reflections upon apologetics. That is the game I play, or the vocation I’ve been called into. However, one way I can help is identifying areas where more work needs to be done, and in this sense, I think all can agree that the relationship between vocation and apologetics/evangelism is an area worth some careful thought by both white collar and blue collar workers.