Now more than ever, we seem to be surrounded by experts and intellectual giants on all corners. Throw out a question on Facebook and you will get a response, often from an “expert”. Google a contentious question that has plagued philosophers for centuries and you will discover reams of pages linking to the blogs of “experts”. I am also often told that you don’t need to be a doctor to know what is wrong with someone, implying that the average person now has enough medical information on hand to be somewhat of a diagnosis “expert”. The expansion of technology has unlocked information and data unlike the human race has ever experienced. Has this in turn created more “experts” across more fields? To answer this question, we first must ask, “What is an expert?”
Malcolm Gladwell has written an article raising the case study of Herbert Simon and William Chase from forty years ago. Simon and Chase proposed that for someone to become an expert in chess, they would need at least 10,000 hours of focused exposure and study. Gladwell supports this through different examples given in his book, Outliers. He claims that natural talent combined with guided practice (minimum 10,000 hours) will produce professional proficiency. I do not believe this is an absolute given but I do agree that talent and preparation are a necessity to professional proficiency.
Let’s look at an example. My engineering degree contributes approximately 4,000 hours in addition to 15 years of work experience (approx. 30,000 hours). This equates my engineering study and experience at 34,000 hours. I have the potential to be professionally proficient although it is not guaranteed. If assessed and confirmed by my peers and mentors in the field, I could be classed as an expert in engineering.
Why then do I encounter people, with little experience in this field, telling me that I am wrong and do not know what I am talking about? What causes someone to elevate their 100 hours of backyard experience over the 34,000 professional hours of another? I believe that relativism has given people the confidence that their view is always true, even if only for them. Expertise is reduced in a post-modern society to relative truth based on personal experience, no matter how little. Formal education, in this age of technology that has swamped us with knowledge and information, has taken a back seat to the internet expert. Most internet “experts” I would say, are only an expert in their own virtual backyard. They may have the talent but lack the critical preparation Gladwell speaks of.
In this technical age, so much time and experience is invested into internet related activities. My caution with utilizing those hours towards professional proficiency is the typical lack of accountability or structure to ensure you are indeed adding to your expertise and not just fabricating falsity. The exposure is not a waste because we can learn from it but it is usually uncensored. It can still be a great place for amateurs to be mentored and developed. On the other hand, I believe reading published works through journals and old fashioned books certainly does contribute to professional proficiency.
What does this mean in ministry? I am often frustrated to find that people who wish to serve cross culturally think they can do so with little to no training, education or experience. It would be like a high school graduate insisting they can work as a graduate engineer. In the name is grace, God’s leading, and whatever else, they plead to leave everything behind to go and serve the Lord. I find this a poor understanding of stewardship and a lack of integrity in preparing yourself to serve at the best of one’s ability. I instead prefer to mentor them and help guide them in the right direction so that they can be prepared to do what God is calling them to.
How do we then treat this in apologetics, in assessing ourselves, and in receiving criticism? In terms of my faith life, it gets a little more complicated because of the variation in fields, from theology to apologetics, and service to leadership. I do not think it is accurate to combine it as one field. For apologetics alone, my seminary education equates to 3,000 hours with another five years defending the faith across language and cultural barriers (approx. 10,000 hours). This gives me at least 13,000 hours of apologetical training and application. I will not include my online blogging, debates and conversations for reasons explained earlier. Again, this only gives me the potential to be professionally proficient in the area of cultural apologetics.
In firstly assessing ourselves as apologists, do we act like experts when in fact we are still amateurs in training? For integrity, we must recognize and respect our limits. If not, we have become entangled in the lie of relativism. Some will say this is about pride and hierarchy but it is rather about maintaining the integrity of knowledge and education that has become compromised in our current age. How else could a high school graduate dismiss the argument of a double PhD without reason or explanation? Education and knowledge has become slave to the personal opinion under relativism. This is why the article written by Gladwell is important to understand and discuss.
If you do have the talent and preparation, remember this when you have some blogger throwing mud at you. Expertise does not come from charisma or confidence. It is not achieved through loudness or arrogance. Expertise comes from no less than talent and preparation through hard work. As Gladwell reemphasized, at least 10,000 hours are necessary before one can considered to be an expert. I believe there are more experts across more fields today because of our access to higher education and published media. This does not protect us from the ever expanding population of internet “experts” who often reduce the value of formal education to justify their own accreditation. In the microwave age when everything is instant, becoming an expert still takes time and experience to gain proficiency.
Whether it is in pursuing a hobby, succeeding as a professional, or growing in faith, let us not cease once we reach the 10,000 hours. Let us strive to become the best that we can become, adding to it humility rather than pride, to assist others coming behind us. This will allow us to leave a legacy that will impact our world more than the temporary “expert” tag we carry to the grave.
For those interested in getting started on the road to becoming an expert in apologetics, may I suggest the following:
- Know your Scriptures and study them well in your local church community.
- Read published works and books (not just blogs). A list of good starter books can be found at Apologetics 315 and also at RZIM.
- Look for opportunities to engage with people in apologetics ministry on the internet. You will find reputable communities at The Christian Apologetics Alliance, The Poached Egg, Apologetics 315, Stand to Reason, RZIM and Reasonable Faith. As I said, do not rely on this to become an expert but use it as a tool and stepping stone.
- Find people in real life who can mentor you to help you use apologetics in daily life. You may live near a Reasonable Faith chapter or be able to connect with a Ratio Christi ministry on a university campus. Be creative, especially in your own church and community.
- Enroll to study an MA in apologetics. I personally recommend Luther Rice (#8) because I had to study off campus. The Top 10 graduate programs.
Cross posted on “When Worldviews Collide”.