There are several hard lessons that you learn in the early years of apologetics training:
1. You know WAY less than you thought you knew, and tragically, there isn’t enough time in the average life span to read ALL THE BOOKS.
2. Learning philosophy is like learning a foreign language–one that contains another foreign language.
3. It is a bad idea to engage Angry Internet Atheists (AIAs) without a great deal of apologetics training under your belt, and sometimes even then. Save your breath and your sanity.
4. The war is against the Enemy, not fellow mankind. We’re on the most important infiltration mission ever, and the smoke, the grit, and the sting of Enemy fire is often discouraging and exhausting. Practicing public apologetics, in particular, is a bold invitation for spiritual warfare. Incessant prayer required.
5. We won’t frequently see how God ultimately uses our work in the field; it takes a large measure of trust in His sovereign plan and our place in it to remain passionately motivated to persevere.
Even long-time apologists never stop experiencing the stark realities of lessons 4 and 5. I go through seasons of ministry during which I’m doing enormous amounts of work, yet I must be content with not knowing whether or not my efforts are having any significant impact for the Kingdom (Lesson 5). I’ve grown to understand that God has good reasons for allowing this, the most obvious being that it squelches any tendency to think that the abilities we have can be fruitful independent of Him. After all, if we always saw marvelous, immediate results from our ministry efforts, we’d likely fall into the trap of arrogant self-reliance. But also, it reminds us of the fact that, because we are not omniscient creatures, we are seeing through a glass darkly; we won’t know the full extent of the impact of our ministry until this life is over.
Whenever I’m living through one of these periods while also dealing with a higher than usual amount of Lesson 4 realities, the result can be acute intellectual and emotional exhaustion. I recently experienced this perfect storm (again), and I reached a point where I was utterly desperate for God’s affirmation. I needed to know that I was on the right track, that He was using me, and that in some way, my efforts were bringing Him glory. So I prayed precisely for this spiritual refreshment.
It has rained down, and God’s fingerprints have been on every drop. I’d like to share just one example with you.
This week, a woman I had never met before approached me wearing a puzzled expression and said that I looked familiar to her. “How do I know you?” she asked. Since this encounter happened at my church, I suggested to her that perhaps she had attended one of the classes I’ve taught over the past year.
“Wait,” she said, “weren’t you the speaker that did the intelligent design session at the apologetics conference last fall?”
“Oh! Yes, that was me,” I responded. Mystery solved.
She then proceeded to tell me about how her brother-in-law, an atheist, attended the conference with her. She described him as an intellectual, highly skeptical person who asks difficult questions about the faith. ”Your session was perfect for him,” she told me. “You know, he isn’t a believer yet, but the conference definitely had an impact on him. Now, whenever he goes on his morning runs, he’s listening to the Bible on his iPod. That’s a big deal for him!”
This exchange happened almost 10 months to the day after the actual event. Back then, I had no idea that someone like that gentleman was attending my session. He didn’t ask any questions at the end. He simply came, listened, and left. And then, in response to my prayer, God revealed to me what He is often doing behind the scenes. He refreshed my heart, renewed my strength and sharpened my eternal perspective.
Let us press on.
Soli Deo Gloria