Apologist Demeanors: Are You a Patton or a Bradley?

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Have you ever seen the movie Patton? Actor George C. Scott won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his amazing portrayal of the bold, opinionated, and flamboyant General George Patton. General Patton was not only a great battlefield tank commander for the US Army during World War II, but he was also arguably one of the most politically incorrect persons of the twentieth century. Patton wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on virtually any issue, regardless of the consequences. (We’ll make an apologetics connection about this personality trait shortly.) However, just how realistic Scott’s movie portrayal was has been a topic of historical debate.

A powerful contrast to Patton’s dominant personality is shown in the demeanor of General Omar Bradley, played in the film by Karl Malden. Bradley is highly competent but quiet and modest, and he readily deflects compliments by attributing praise to the US combat soldiers who fight daily on the front line. In real life, Omar Bradley was known as the “GI’s General” for his respect and affection for the common enlisted soldier. My father—who fought in a US infantry division in the European theater during World War II—always spoke highly of General Bradley.

It seems that many, if not most, people prefer the bold, aggressive, and hard-charging US generals to their more humble, quiet, and deferential counterparts. I guess that is why there have been movies made about George Custer, Douglas MacArthur, and George Patton, but far fewer about generals like Maxwell Taylor, Alexander Patch, and Omar Bradley.

Personalities and Demeanors of Christian Apologists

When it comes to the demeanors of Christian apologists, again, I think many Christians prefer and even admire the hard-charging or aggressive personality types. Here I’m thinking of people like Walter Martin, Ronald Nash, and Greg Bahnsen. (I knew all three of these men, and while they were often more like Patton than Bradley when in the apologetics arena of debate, nevertheless, they were all men of scholarship, grace, and humility.) However, the more winsome types also garner quite a following, but for entirely different reasons—here I’m thinking of people like Ravi Zacharias, Alvin Plantinga, and Hugh Ross. These men strike me temperamentally as more like Bradley than Patton, but make no mistake—just like Bradley, they exhibit a reserved strength and toughness.

My first teacher in the historic Christian faith was Walter Martin, the founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” I attended Martin’s Bible class for many years and listened to dozens of his debates and teaching tapes. I then had the good fortune of working for and with him at CRI for a few years. Martin was seemingly fearless in defending the faith and amazingly articulate and inspirational in speech and debate.

Sometime after Martin’s unfortunate death, I thought to myself that I should model my apologetics style after his. I would be a bold, daring, and provocative Christian apologist like him. Soon after, I distinctly remember a lady telling me, after hearing one of my nuanced (a.k.a. wimpy) remarks, “You’re no Walter Martin!” Though at the time I didn’t appreciate the comment, in retrospect, I discovered she was right. I am no Walter Martin. I neither have his personality nor his unique skill set. I needed to learn to be myself and use the personality and gifts God had given me. When I recognized this, I began experiencing greater personal fulfillment in my apologetics-related work. I also saw how God could use my distinct personality and demeanor for his sovereign purposes.

Just as both Patton and Bradley were needed to win the war against Nazi tyranny, so Christ’s church needs Christian apologists of various temperaments and personality types. Yet, as the apostles Paul and Peter tell us, all Christian apologists must strive to defend the faith with strength and boldness (2 Corinthians 10:4–5), but guided by gentleness, respect, and the keeping of a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:15–16).

Reflections: Your Turn

To reference old school movies and TV, which might you resonate more with: the personality of the fictional detective Dirty Harry, or the personality of Columbo?

  One thought on “Apologist Demeanors: Are You a Patton or a Bradley?

  1. jamesbradfordpate
    May 22, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I’d be a Columbo, only my IQ is not as high!

    I wonder where Eisenhower would fit in on that spectrum of generals’ personalities. Or Haanegraff on the spectrum of apologist personalities? Haanegraff has that soothing voice, but he can get pretty combative on his radio show.

  2. jamesbradfordpate
    May 22, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

    • May 22, 2018 at 10:38 am

      I view Eisenhower as a combination of Bradley and Patton but closer to Bradley.

      Ken Samples

  3. Peter J. Wenzell
    May 22, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Ken,

    Nice thought provoking post. Thank you for your excellent comparison of the archetypical identities of WW-2 Generals G. Patton and O. Bradley to help your readers assess the core of who we are as apologists. In fact, you highlighted a primary concern, for which I humbly seek your general advice to help me resolve.

    My central area of concern is separating from my 35 + years in business, where success is defined in strictly material terms: growth, money, earnings, cars, etc. my personality/identity was 100% ego.

    My ideal apologist possesses a combination of the best personality traits of the undeniable, genuinely-deeply humble, and Christ-like gentleness of a Ravi Zacharias; but increasingly I best relate, and I feel drawn to the silky smooth, polished, intellectually intimidating presence and superior debate skills of a William Lane Craig.

    After 2 years of debilitating back pain that led to 5 failed lower back operations, and then an against- all- odds type of discovery of a spine tumor in my upper back, and subsequent surgery to remove the lesion ended in my paraplegia, I came to Christ on “bended knee”.

    The general consensus of opinion I have received is to use my conversion story and medical travails to somehow induce others to follow my lede. I have 8 years of study, a 330 slide PowerPoint deck of a mountain of “the best of” circumstantial evidence that I found most compelling and persuasive in my intellectual quest to determine the most reasonable, rational, and the closest I could come to the Truth. I found the optimal answers to the “big” existential questions we all ask ourselves in life and hope to help others by sharing the same.

    Ken, I try to listen to the Holy Spirit and keep Jesus in my thoughts and actions in my day as I seek the best way to serve God who has been infinitely generous to me. I agree with the need to have an identity as a Christian apologist but feel the pull toward the need to succeed in the keeping score, materialistic sense despite having full knowledge that Science has proven the materialist/reductionist worldview false.

    Thanks for your consideration of my request for assistance as I have the burning desire to help others and to be a reflection of the hope that I have within.

    • May 22, 2018 at 9:24 pm

      Peter:

      Greetings.

      As I said in the article, I think people who engage in the apologetics enterprise need to be themselves and find their own voice. Of course encouraged by boldness in the Gospel and yet guided by a winsomeness.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

      • Peter J. Wenzell
        May 22, 2018 at 10:45 pm

        Ken,
        Thank you for the sound wisdom. I need to wait until that divine direction hopefully guides me toward finding my mission such that His way is best served.
        Pete

  4. Rita
    May 23, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    A comment to Peter’s story – because of his desire to help others and be a reflection of the hope that is within him, there is no doubt God will use that desire and his skills to build up the Body and give glory to God. Particularly due to his coming to the Lord “on bended knee,” and humility.
    As for me, I am an Omar Bradley type, but I have found that a natural ability to lead will always come through, even without the theatrics.

    • May 23, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      I’m a Bradley, too.

      Thanks, Rita.

      Ken Samples

    • Peter J. Wenzell
      May 24, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      Rita,

      Thanks for the very “Bradley-esque” response. I am also grateful for your optimistic and encouraging words that have given me a lift and a renewed source of hope that I will be put to work in God’s service in His timeframe and not mine.

      Kind regards,

      Pete

  5. ethos6
    May 26, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Ken, thank you for this article. I’ve lately been discouraged with my own limitations in comparison to other apologists. This was just the reminder I needed to do away with that and instead set myself to offering up the gifts and talents God has entrusted to me for his service.

    Thank you again,

    Dan

    • May 26, 2018 at 9:24 am

      Dan:

      I know the discouragement all too well.

      Glad the article was helpful.

      Use your gifts and fulfill your calling, brother.

      Blessings in the Triune God.

      Ken Samples

    • September 26, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      Dan,

      J. Warner Wallace has a great note he hits repeatedly. He talks about how many Christians look to the “all-star” apologists, the oft-quoted, oft-requested “million-dollar” apologists (not derisively; just to say they are well-known and highly visible). But he argues it’s more important to have “a million one-dollar apologists” than more million-dollar apologists. The point he makes is to bloom where you’re planted, use whatever skills you have in whatever context your find yourself and not try to compare ourselves to the vocational apologists (a VERY important distinction, by the way). Just search ‘j warner wallace million dollar apologist’ and you’ll find some good blog posts on his site.
      –Randy

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