After a short break over the holidays, it feels good to be back in the apologist’s seat. Getting here wasn’t easy and I made plenty of the mistakes along the way. As the new year begins I’d like to offer a few handy tips for those interested in entering apologetics.
We all make mistakes at some point in our lives. This is especially true when we first start out pursuing what we’re passionate about. The amount of mistakes beginner apologists make can be vast and I regrettably made many myself. These following tips are inspired first and foremost by the mistakes I made as a naive defender as well as advice from other experienced apologists.
Know What You’re Getting Into
When I began I didn’t really know what apologetics was. I had never even heard the word before atheist channels mentioned “Christian apologists.” For me, apologetics was nothing more than an angry attack towards the non-believing and that made way for a number of grave mistakes. I believed I could master my defence by simply watching a few youtube debates between atheists and Christian philosophers. I believed I could engage in a debate with a skeptic only after reading a few articles from Got Questions. Although watching online debates is a useful tool for those choosing to enter the field they are by no means the be all and end all.
In summary, Apologetics is a discipline that requires much thought and study. Like any ministry, you should think and pray about why you desire to enter the field before you do so. Entering with the mindset of attacking the atheist community, like I once had, only leads to frustration and exhaustion. You should enjoy learning because apologetics is for yourself as much it is for the honest skeptic. After I realized my mistake I’m grateful that the Lord had placed in me a desire to learn so that I could seriously pursue this ministry. Pursuing apologetics for the right reasons will also help you avoid this next mistake.
Know The Arguments From The Other Side
If your sole reason for becoming an apologist is to attack the atheist community you will most likely avoid reading anything by said community. If you desire to become a competent apologist you need to become familiar with the arguments from the other side. Balance out your study by reading articles and books from popular atheists. Your job is to examine the data and that can only be done when both viewpoints are taken into consideration. This goes for skeptics as well. If you find yourself brushing off any work because of a speculation of bias you’re throwing away your credibility as an authoritative voice.
Choose a Single Field of Study
Another mistake I made was trying to become a jack of all trades, so to speak. Christian apologetics is a wide field that stretches from history, philosophy, science, theology, etc. Trying to become an expert in multiple fields of study will result in you becoming an expert of none. We only have a limited amount of time and we need to use it wisely. Pick a single or else small number of subjects you’re interested in and dedicate yourself to becoming a master of them.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t familiarize yourself with other subjects, however. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a basic understanding of scientific apologetics, philosophy, and theology. You may find insights in another subject that can help answer a question in yours so in some ways it’s important to read broadly. Where to draw the line is a difficult question but keep in mind other sources you can look up if you feel you aren’t getting the full picture.
Patience goes two ways here. The first is towards those willing to engage in a conversation with you. Honest skeptics are folks who ask intelligent questions and refuse to accept something at face value. If someone doesn’t agree with you after reading something you wrote it doesn’t mean they are against you, it means they hold the truth in high regard. That said, there are a few signs to look out for if a skeptic who desires to converse with you is an honest questioner or an anti-evangelist. The former will ask intelligent questions and seriously consider your response or referral, even if they may not agree. An anti-evangelist, on the other hand, will try a number dishonest tactics (such as diverting from the chosen subject matter and/or throwing a large number of unrelated objections at you) and will refuse to consider any form of answer you provide. If they label themselves as “skeptics” chances are they’re among the latter camp. An honest skeptic will ask questions and seek answers and will not pride themselves as a beacon of reason above someone else.
The second way to show patience is to adopt a skeptical mindset yourself. Don’t accept any critical work as the final word or something that does not have a rebuttal. Ask questions, read multiple works on the subject, and search for the most reasonable answer. If your subject is history there are countless works to explore and chances are some form of answer is out there.
Know Your Subject
If you’re anything like me a few years back you probably want to begin debates with atheists online as soon as possible. Don’t do this. Know your subject and familiarize yourself with the objections they may use against your argument before you engage with anyone. This may sound like an avoidance of confrontation but rest assured it isn’t. Keeping away from online debates will give you the chance to evaluate the data for yourself and come to your own informed conclusion. Online debates are usually nothing more than manipulative tactics to force you to think a certain way; also keep in mind the emotional aspect of most online debates. If you don’t know your subject well it’s easy to panic and be manipulated into thinking negative thoughts about yourself.
It’s Ok To Admit That You Don’t Know
Remember, even if you know your subject well, there will be times where you don’t know how to address something. Apologetics is a continual search for truth and no human can read every work in their field in a year or two. If you don’t know how to address a question it’s ok to admit that you don’t know. As already said, exercise patience and search for an answer; it will be out there. If a skeptic demands you answer him right away after asking a question you aren’t sure of, keep in mind that it is he who is in the wrong as he is pretending to be an expert in a field.
This is why I’m not a fan of online debates, especially live ones, where you’re expected to have an immediate response or else there is no answer at all. Settings where you cannot admit a gap in your knowledge should be shunned. Some, such as Mike Licona, can easily debate in a live setting but these people aren’t students or those beginning a ministry, they’ve been researching for decades and their debates are incredibly tight subject wise. For everyone else, use a setting where time is on your side (in my case that would be this site) so as thorough a job as possible can be done.
Remember To Make Use of Professional Sources
Finally, find a list of experts you can consult or refer to whenever the need arises. When time is so important it’s often easier to refer a skeptic to an expert if said person can or has provided an answer that you cannot possibly give in the limited amount of time you have. It’s also a good test to see if your questioner is an honest skeptic or an activist. If they’re the latter they’ll most likely brush away your referral with little more than a vague reason for doing so and repeat their question. These kinds of people should be refused and knocked away for they have no intention of listening or learning. Stand your ground and remember that you have no obligation to these folks.
That’s all that comes to mind for now but as I continue to grow and learn or receive questions I may add a few more tips. Until then, good luck.