[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
Apologist? – does this mean we go around apologizing to everyone? No. In the classical sense, an apologist is one who gives an answer or a reasoned defense for what he believes or how he acts. When the apostle said that we are to be ready to “give an answer”, the Greek word (apologia) from which the English word “apologetics” is used. Similarly, when people are said to be “without an excuse”, the same Greek word, except in the negative, is used.
As Christians, we are all called on to be ready to give an answer, or to be apologists. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t very good at it; the idea of Christian apologetics may even seem intimidating. There are some very well-known Christian apologists and we may feel inadequate compared to them, or feel like unless we are planning to reach their lofty heights of apologetics, that there is no reason for us “little guys” even to try. However, I’m made to think of Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace who says that Christianity doesn’t need more “million dollar apologists”, but instead, Christianity needs a million “one dollar apologists”.
You can’t learn everything about everything; that’s just a fact of life. But you can learn a little about a lot of things – and indeed, we have a Biblical mandate to do so.
The field of Christian apologetics is indeed vast, but don’t let this cause you to lose heart. Instead, be thankful that there is so much good information already out there and so many different ways you can go, which allows you to become very good (even as a “one dollar apologist”) in both a general area and one or more specific areas. All Christians should be able to provide at least a simple defense/reason for why they believe in God, why they believe in Jesus, and why they believe the Bible is trustworthy. It’s also helpful to have an answer for the most common objections from non-Christians, such as what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Judge not.”
But most of us will have a more specific area that we already like, that we can apply to Biblical, Christian apologetics. For instance, someone who loves languages may want to delve deeper into the original languages of the Bible. Those who are versed in medical terms may naturally be drawn to biblical topics that touch on those things (such as the health benefits of chastity before marriage and faithfulness within marriage, or even the harmful medical effects of being unforgiving), so that they can more competently discuss medical issues about those topics, while also showing that they are in line with biblical teaching and reflect praise back on our Creator for giving us wise instructions that modern science has shown have medical benefits.
If you hate history and archaeology, you may not be the least bit moved by the latest find in the Middle East that confirms yet another piece of biblical history; but if you are already interested in ancient cultures and artifacts, this will be right up your alley. Those who are cult survivors tend to be drawn to that field, trying to free current members from their cults. The specific areas probably number in the dozens if not the hundreds.
Since the field is so broad, and there are so many ways you could go, it would be an exercise in futility to try and direct you to those sources that deal specifically with each different area, but instead, I would like to offer some general tips:
Read the Bible
- Simple, yes, I know, but vital no matter what else you may learn or know about anything and everything else, if you don’t know the Bible, your effectiveness will be greatly diminished. Why should those you talk to believe the Bible, if you don’t even believe it yourself? If you do believe it, and believe that it is the Word of God, why don’t you want to read what God has to say to you?
- If you haven’t read the Bible all the way through, make that your top priority. If you don’t know what the Bible says, how can you tell others about it?
- If you’re not in the habit of reading the Bible, develop that habit. Set aside time every day, set an alarm on your phone if necessary, but get in the habit of reading the Bible every day.
- If necessary, enlist the help of a friend (in real life or online) or get into a study group where you read the Bible and discuss what you’ve read. This is especially beneficial if you’ve never read the Bible all the way through, or if you come across things in the Bible that are confusing.
- Reading the Bible fast has its advantages. I’m not bragging, but I once read through the entire Bible in 40 days and because of that, I was able to pick up on more things (particularly more OT quotes in the NT, and also some overarching themes) that I had previously missed, because it was all fresh on my mind. Reading fast also had some disadvantages, in that I didn’t have time to “stop and smell the roses” – I didn’t have time to think and ponder deeply on what I had read, and what it meant and how it fit into the rest of the Bible, except in a very superficial way.
- Reading the Bible slowly has its advantages, because you can stop and ponder not only that verse but other verses that pop into your mind and you can cross-reference and really delve into a particular topic. The only wrong ways to read the Bible are 1) not to read it at all, and 2) to read only parts of it, without ever seeing how those parts fit in with their context.
- Read the Bible in context. There are a couple of sayings I’ve heard from Christian apologists: 1) “Never read a Bible verse” (meaning, never read just that one verse, in isolation), and 2) “Develop 20/20 vision” (meaning, read the 20 verses before and after that target verse, to make sure you’re understanding the broader context properly.
- Some unbelievers know the Bible better than some Christians do, and will have no compunction about quoting parts of the Bible that they think oppose the Christian message or belief, so knowing the particular context of the passage or knowing the Bible as a whole is necessary to give a full-bodied response. Most of us have probably been told at one time or another that “Jesus said not to judge”, with the implication being that we’re not obeying Jesus by saying this or that behavior is wrong. Can you answer that? If you can’t already, you need to be able to, because you will hear it! Similarly, cults prey on people who have only passing familiarity with the Bible, because they can read a passage to such a person (sometimes not even the whole verse, much less the entire chapter), and claim that it means X, and the person has no clue that the context gives a much different viewpoint, or that there are other places in the Bible which contradict the meaning imposed upon the text..
- Huh? Yes, just get started. Do you already argue online with people? Great! Read more about those topics and/or watch videos about it, particularly those from a Christian viewpoint. Have an interest in a topic but you’re not used to talking to people about it? That’s okay too – find a Facebook group or some other online forum that allows for conversation and exchange of ideas.
- Before I was interested in “Christian apologetics” as such, I had spent nearly a decade arguing online about abortion (mostly pre-Facebook). It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in pregnancy and birth that started when I first became pregnant and in which I became very involved for many years. By being online, you can “lurk” and read arguments both for and against and see how the various arguments can be countered. When you feel up to it, you can “join the fray”, and field-test your own knowledge, arguments and skills in the safety of your own home, with plenty of time to research an answer when a difficult or new point is brought up.
- Ask questions, especially at first, rather than making bold statements. For one, you may be wrong about something and it’s a lot less embarrassing to be given an answer (even if it’s what you didn’t expect) than it is to be corrected for believing something that was actually wrong. Also, different people have different beliefs and motivations, even if they all belong to the same large group. You allow for different Christians to have different beliefs and practices (Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc., etc., etc.) so don’t assume that atheists, Muslims, or anybody else are all the same.
- Talking online to others who have different beliefs is good practice for talking in person. Going back to my example of abortion – because I had spent so many years arguing about abortion and also delving deeply into the broader field of pregnancy, birth, and women’s health, when I did talk to abortion advocates in person (at a protest / counter-protest in front of a Planned Parenthood), it was fairly easy because I had had so much practice. The arguments in person were the same as the arguments others had made online. Because I’d dealt with them literally hundreds of times, it was like riding a bike or playing a familiar song on the piano – I scarcely had to think about the responses because they were so ingrained by that time.
If you are presented with an argument that you’ve never encountered before, or are unsure of how to respond
- … if you’re online, then you can quickly research the topic and see what others have said before you. It’s almost certain that that argument has been asked and answered many times before, even if it’s new to you. If you’re already familiar with some broad (or specific) Christian apologists or apologetics organizations, look on their websites for the main words of the argument, to see what if anything they’ve said about it. If you don’t have any, you can ask in your Christian circles of friends (real or online) for help, or do an internet search of the keywords (such as “Jesus a retelling of Mithras”) along with phrases like “Christian response”. Who knows? – you may find your new favorite “million-dollar apologist” this way.
- … if you’re in person, don’t panic!! It’s not the end of the world. Simply say, “That’s a good question, but I’m not sure of the answer. Let me think about it and get back to you on that,” getting their contact information if necessary. Then, as above, look for the answer from those who have already answered it.
Another tip, particularly if the person is presenting you with an argument supposedly based in Scripture, is to examine the passage in question, and make sure that their argument is sound. It usually isn’t. As mentioned earlier, most of us have been told that “Jesus said don’t judge,” thus implying that we’re disobeying Jesus by saying that it’s wrong to do X, Y, or Z. If you have a Bible handy (you do have one on your smart-phone, right?), you can read the entire section about “judging”, and then point out that Jesus is decrying hypocritical judging – of saying that someone is wrong to do X, when you’re doing it yourself and not actually saying, “Don’t ever tell anybody that they’re doing something wrong”. This is most obvious by the fact that at the end, Jesus says that once you’ve gotten the beam out of your own eye, you can see clearly to get out the speck from your brother’s eye, thus showing that the speck (if it truly existed, and wasn’t just a figment of your own imagination) was still a fault and ought to be removed.