I came across a fellow apologist’s article on advice that he gives to those wishing to interact with apologetics for the first time. Christian Apologetics, albeit in brevity, is a discipline that attempts to give rational reasons for believing in Christian theism (1 Peter 3:15). However, such is not limited to Christianity as apologists can be found in just about every other worldview (you get Islamic, Jewish & atheist apologists, for example).
But upon reading Nick’s piece I felt inspired to give some advice of my own; at least advice that some years of experience has taught me. I also don’t claim to be a mature, long-time apologist. After all, it was just a handful of years ago that at the age of 20 I gave my life to Jesus. So although I have come a long, long way, I still have very much to learn. But here are nine pieces of advice I would give to those interested in apologetics.
1. Go For it.
To this day nothing surprises me more than the bare fact that I am an apologist. Throughout my childhood and high school (also well into my attendance at a prior university) I was certainly no Christian. However, much in my life changed and I soon had an inner urge to find out if Christianity really was true. That surprised me since I had never even heard of apologetics before nor had I a desire to learn anything about religion – however all of a sudden I had this urge to investigate Christian truth claims. That is where my journey began.
Therefore, my first piece of advice is to say that apologetics might not be for everyone just as sport, or fashion, may not be for everyone. However, it certainly is for some people especially those who wish to think critically about their worldview. And should one wish to introduce themselves to apologetics, or at least get to know more about it, then I encourage them to pop me a message on Facebook or comment below. Other than that there are plenty of resources available online & in books authored by some leading Christian thinkers that can be accessed. The content is there and one just has to go get it.
2. It Will Test You.
I have long since lost count at just how many times I have been stretched to the ultimate limit. When one engages in apologetics, especially for the first time, they will inevitably bring along with them presuppositions. Those presuppositions will certainly be challenged. So many times over the past years I have wrestled with some of the most theologically demanding questions. As a result I’ve been forced to change my mind on previous beliefs when I have been confronted with evidence to the contrary. However, should one go through this process then it shows that he is a critical thinker who really takes what he believes seriously. In fact, he is so serious about what he believes that he will follow the evidence where it leads & thus adjust his beliefs accordingly.
Also expect additional questions to come to mind as one tackles a wide array of subjects for the very first time – these subjects will be related to Christian theology and could involve science, comparative religion, philosophy and more.
3. There’s Conflict
There’s no worldview that does not have some level of in house conflict. Christians have Protestants and Catholics who clearly disagree on things while Muslims have the Sunni and Sufis, and Atheists have naturalists and nihilists. So, the more one grows in their understanding of what they believe the sooner he will end up taking sides on certain doctrinal subjects. This is unavoidable and this means that in house disagreements will certainly crop up.
So, as an apologist one should well expect for conflict from within his owns ranks as well as beyond. For example, this can clearly be seen in the Young Earth vs. Old Earth debates. Or, if you happen to be a Christian who believes in theistic evolution expect Young Earthers to call you a heretic.
But what ultimately matters for the Christian apologist is his belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus. Other things may be flexible and thus can still be debated & discussed.
4. It Will Strengthen Your Faith.
Sure, you will have unanswered questions and you will face difficulties that can at times feel impassable. But the longer you reflect on these difficulties and the harder you look for answers the more you will end up strengthening your faith.
For example, I often weigh up certainties against my uncertainties. And I know that when I do this my certainties always end up outweighing my uncertainties. This helps a lot when you’re facing those questions that you seem to have no answers for. So, when you look at the bigger picture you’ll feel rationally justified in your belief.
5. You’ll Need Patience & Lots of it.
Over time, and as you develop your knowledge, you will find that you will begin leaving older challenges behind; these are usually challenges that you’ve overcome, or that you intend to return to in the future. However, just because you have overcome these challenges it does not necessarily mean that others have. So, as you become a capable apologist you will end up having to undergo the same discussions & conversations with fellow believers & unbelievers alike. This will test your patience but the way that you handle these situations will build an inner maturity when dealing with people.
However, discernment is also needed here. Many times skeptics will simply rehash the same overused arguments time & time again. These skeptics have no intention of giving your position a fair hearing; instead they simply want to argue for the sake of arguing – and as an apologist you will surely come across these types of people. Yet, over time I have increased in discernment and I can usually tell who I should enter in discussion with – experience will certainly help you here.
6. People Will Be Rude.
Although it is inevitable that you will face disagreements with fellow believers & unbelievers alike, it is also very, very likely that you’ll come under verbal assault. Remember that people say things over the internet that they’ll never say to someone face-to-face. So, expect to be sworn at and be called names. This will happen but after time you’ll develop a thick skin that will easily deflect such infantile assaults. Be the bigger person.
This is not exclusivity in the way that it means you’re “special” or in a whole class of your own. Certainly not. Rather, it refers to the fact that the more you learn about your faith the narrower your pool of support will become.
For instance, the more time that I’ve had to refine my beliefs I have also found the less people I can ask for help. No longer can my pastor or my homegroup leader answer some of my toughest theological questions. This could be because they haven’t asked themselves such questions and if they haven’t then they surely wont have answers. Or they might give me an answer that I deem weak based on what I already know. So, the further one goes along the narrower the pool of support inevitably becomes. This will mean that as an apologist you’ll often have to chip away at the rock yourself.
However, there are also many great online apologetic support groups or groups that are solely dedicated to apologetics. And there one can take their questions. However, internet technology, at least in many instances, is certainly no substitute for face-to-face interaction with fellow Christians. This would suggest that one ought to try & get to know a Christian who can be a mentor or buddy – for instance, one may do well in joining a Bible group.
This is where I may be the most prone to error. Apologetics clearly requires one to use their brain. Since apologetics can be such an intellectual exercise one may end up confining their faith solely to the intellect. In other words, one should try and achieve a balance between intellect and the heart – remember that Christianity is also about getting to know God through his word & through prayer.
Apologetics is not only about giving reasonable reasons to believe in Christianity, but it is also about worship. It’s about focusing on God, his word, and sharing the gospel with nonbelievers in the world. It is also about taking the gospel to people who have never heard of it before. But this shouldn’t be a substitute for actually getting your fingers dirty through missionary work – by either helping out in communities and so on.
I am sure that there are other bits of advice I’ve neglected to mention, and should that be the case I will keep come back and update the list. However, I believe that these nine pieces of advice, advice that I can humbly give to others through experience, should help those who are considering becoming involved in apologetics. I trust that should anyone be moved to do so they will let me know in the comments or via personal message.