It would be fair to say that I have been interested in becoming an apologist since 1992. Yet it was not until the summer of 2009 that I decided to get serious about it. What I have to offer here is less than advice but hopefully more than merely telling my own story.
In order to put my remarks in context let me offer a brief sketch of my background and where I am today. I have been a Christian for over 25 years. In 2009 I had what might be called a “mid-life crisis” that drove me to enroll in graduate school (specifically the Science and Religion program at Biola University). In 2011 I started blogging as a contributor for a fellow Biola student. In 2012 I became involved with Ratio Christi as the (future) chapter director at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
You might discern from the above is that I am serious about becoming involved in apologetics ministry. I am. What I am not doing is acting on some grand vision or strategy. I cannot say I have “been called to ministry.” I am simply doing something I love as much as my savior, something I believe to be of profound importance.
This post is part of a series intended to encourage readers interested in apologetics to get involved in their “community.” Your community could be your church, workplace or neighborhood. The authors of this series want you to turn your interest in apologetics into action where you live and work. Reasonable Faith, Stand To Reason, Ratio Christi are three organizations that can equip you and give you opportunities to get involved. Drawing some inspiration Luke 14:28-32 I want describe becoming a community apologist from two perspectives: Significance and Cost.
Consider the Significance
It is a fact of 20th century, bordering on a cliché, that the protestant church has abandoned the intellectual heritage of the Christian faith. I first became aware of this at a series of lectures J.P. Moreland gave at my church in 1992. There are many consequences of this that we have all observed. In one sense, the Church has lost its ability to be taken seriously in the marketplace of ideas. Aside from the fundamental goal of preaching the gospel, the Church must influence society in such a way as to make preaching the gospel possible. This may take the form of protecting religious freedom or simply preventing the Christian worldview from becoming ridiculous.
Being or becoming an apologist is simultaneously strange and normal. It is strange because it is discipline, a field of study that is largely ignored by the Church today. While there is a vast community of para-church ministries, blogs, and (more recently) colleges involved in apologetics many people you meet at church don’t know what it is. I have spoken at groups this past year where I was caught off guard because I needed to define “apologetics.” Apologetics is also normal expression of being a disciple of Jesus. The types of things one learns today under the guise of “apologetics” used to be routinely taught in the Church.
“What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God: this is Christian doctrine. Doctrine is not the only, not even the primary, activity of the church. The church worships God and serves mankind, it works for the transformation of this world and awaits the consummation of its hope in the next. The church is more than a school…but the church cannot be less than a school.” – Jaroslav Pelikan, Church historian
I believe becoming a community apologist, especially for your church is a significant task. You are trying to restore something that may be missing from your local church that is sorely needed.
Consider the Cost
As the reference from Luke cited above makes clear, starting on any project requires some consideration as to the effort and difficulty involved. Some might wonder if they have the necessary abilities or skills. I believe that is the wrong kind of question. What is far more significant is the desire to study theology and philosophy simply for the sake of growing closer to God. I started attending Biola not because of the ministry plans I had (I had none) but because I believed taking my hobby of reading that type of literature more seriously would be rewarding. It has been far more than I could have imagined.
I want to offer three pieces of advice for any aspiring apologist.
First, be willing to work at it. The effort in terms of study required to become an apologist is something one must enjoy for its own sake. While a desirable outcome is the opportunity to serve in your local community, I don’t believe that can sustain someone as their primary motivation. Why do I say that? Because, I believe there are two significant forms of resistance you will encounter. First, there is potential resistance to the apologetics enterprise in general. You may face a community steeped in young earth creationism that eschews natural theology because of its ties to modern science. You may encounter resistance from church leaders that are threatened by their own ignorance in some areas. Second, you may encounter resistance because in this new role as an apologist, you are an unknown quantity. Until you establish yourself as a reliable, trustworthy, and irenic resource of answers to tough questions, you will have to be patient.
Studying apologetics, I believe, is a lifelong process. The number of topics that can be studied in the service of Christian apologetics is, frankly, overwhelming. If you don’t enroll in an MA program somewhere, how do you start? Simply consider two questions: What interests you? What objections/challenges/doubts have you heard from people you know? Start there.
The process of learning and mastering any given topic takes a long time. I am not suggesting an apologist has to master every topic they address, but he or she should always seek a deep understanding of any given topic. An apologist should have a level of knowledge that allows them to speak extemporaneously for 5 to 10 minutes or be able to write a couple hundred words. An apologist should have a level of knowledge that goes beyond merely quoting others or listing dozens of web links. In other words, your knowledge should be deep enough to synthesize what you’ve read into your own voice. Especially when the terminology intrinsic to the material requires some explanation.
My second bit of advice, be worthy of the role. This phrase came to mind in the context of priorities in my life after completing my first semester and first residency at Biola. It was quite clear to me that Biola was going to develop my mind, my intellect to serve, but what was I doing about my soul, my day-to-day, moment-to-moment contact with God?
This humbling realization brought a new urgency to the time I spend in prayer. Since I am not expert or even a journeyman when it comes to spiritual disciplines, I will not offer anything from my life as a to how one might approach this topic. It is simply my contention that one must put daily effort into their spiritual life.
Finally, I would say be ready. The two most significant pieces of advice I have had in the last few years are summarized in this phrase. Greg Koukl advises his listeners to “bloom where they are planted.” In other words, opportunities for ministry may be right where you live, work or worship. The other advice is from J. Warner Wallace. Simply put, the apologist is responsible for being prepared both intellectually and spiritually for whatever encounter or teaching opportunity comes their way. You are not responsible for making those opportunities happen. If you are prepared, the doors may open. That doesn’t mean you sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. There may necessarily be some networking, cold-calls, and legwork to find opportunities. This past year I bought a lot of lunches and have learned a lot of patience. I have even had a modicum of success. The timing of my ministry will be in God’s providence; the preparation for ministry is my responsibility.
 I say “future” because I am in the process of networking my way into relationships with college students and para-church ministries on campus.
 Obviously certain doctrines will always be a stumbling block (e.g. the Cross), but Christian theism makes more sense of the world than any other worldview. That coherence is a starting point for many to consider the truth claims of Jesus.