A year or so into my grad school work, I tentatively assumed the role of public apologist. The landmark day was in the summer of 2010, when I instituted this blog to formally make myself available to both believers and non-believers struggling with questions about the alleged truths of Christianity. Not surprisingly, as I’ve worked to educate others, I have learned many valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do in apologetics ministry. For the benefit of apologists of all levels, I’d like to share a couple of important insights that may change the way you see and practice this discipline at the interpersonal level.
I’m going to tell you what your job is NOT.
You are not a spoon-feeder. I have found that many folks, abrasive atheists/agnostics in particular, aren’t willing to undertake serious research on their own. They’re armed with a hundred pop-atheism talking points that have long been answered, which goes to show they haven’t investigated the opposing viewpoint at all. Instead, they expect you to take a significant amount of time out of your schedule to distill your entire bank of knowledge on a topic into a few paragraphs and then relay it to them on social media or by email. If you do go to the effort, they often wave their hand at your response and change the subject. Don’t fall into this trap. Pay attention to verbal cues and the attitude of the individual to determine whether or not they are sincerely interested in your answers, give them a sentence or two to chew on and then direct them to a book, article, or lecture by a reputable scholar. If they come back at a later date, having studied the sources, further dialogue is warranted, so long as they maintain a respectful tone. If they simply dismiss your words and suggestions with poor logic, make snide comments about the scholars you recommend, or change the subject, cut off the conversation and stop wasting your time. Such a person is a distraction from ministry, not a legitimate beneficiary. Often, such persons will try to goad you into arguing with them further by questioning the depth or breadth of your knowledge or even your credentials. Don’t succumb to the temptation to defend yourself. Never forget that one of the strongest tactics of the Enemy is to keep you busy with futile business.
You are not a mind-changer. Apologetics is about disseminating truth. The apologist is called to demonstrate the quality of the evidence for Christianity and provide substantial answers for objections. This does not include debating with someone until they concede a point. The success of your efforts cannot be measured by how many times an interlocutor says to you, “good point,” or “you’re right.” Rarely, if ever, will a hardened skeptic say such a thing to you. As the subtitle of this blog hints, we are to put pebbles in shoes; we give the person some relevant facts to consider and point them to sound resources, but at the end of the day, the individual must be, or become, open to the evidence. Emotional barriers are powerful things, and they’re almost always disguised as intellectual objections. The truth is, for some people, no evidence that now exists or ever could exist would make a difference to them because deep down, it isn’t about the facts at all. As the atheist scholar, Dr. Thomas Nagel has so bluntly put it, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (The Last Word, 1997)
You are not a soul-saver. Apologetics ministry is not about “winning souls,” as the old-time evangelists would put it. Rather, our work is about removing true intellectual obstacles. For some believers, this removal brings great relief from doubt, for some seekers, it paves the way for a more serious investigation of Christianity. But ultimately, the acceptance or rejection of Christ is a choice made by the individual in response to the Holy Spirit’s calling. Do not even try to own someone’s decision.
Today, I’m praying for all believers engaged in apologetics, whether at the scholarly level or in their own home. Please also pray for me. Soli Deo gloria.