Becoming a Community Apologist: The Significance and Cost of Being an Apologist

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)[1] 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.[2]

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.”[3] 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.

Some other writing I have done related to this topic: Becoming an Ambassador: part1, part2, and part3.


[1] I say “future” because I am in the process of networking my way into relationships with college students and para-church ministries on campus.

[2] 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.

[3] There are many good posts to found that define apologetics. I would recommend How to Get Apologetics in Your Church. In addition to the practical advice, the first chapter is a good introduction to apologetics.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Ken Mann

Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. A software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity, Ken sees the most powerful argument for Christianity as its relevance to every facet of human existence. Studying theology, apologetics, and philosophy of science is the latest expression of that belief in his life. After Biola, Ken hopes to encourage other believers with the powerful evidence for God’s providence and presence in creation. He blogs at http://www.hieropraxis.com

  • http://www.taiwanja.nl/ Anja

    Thanks for writing this post! I was debating with myself whether or not I should start studying apologetics via Biola’s distance certificate program, and this post convinced me that I should. All the best.

  • Salvatore Mazzotta

    Of course there are many young earth creationists who are opposed neither to natural theology nor to science. They may, however, be opposed to the use of this or that scientific theory as a grid through which to interpret Scripture.

    • Ken Mann

      Salvatore, I did not mean to portray young earth creationists as a group to be down on natural theology. As to the interface of science and theology, I agree with your statement at face value.
      I have devoted a lot of thought to this question over the past couple years and have started writing about it else where. The YEC, OEC, and theistic evolutionist (to name just three points of view) all have access to the same data (from nature and scripture). The conflicts between these various views frequently boil down to interpretations of that data. Each view has a set of presuppositions they bring to the process of interpretation. Those presuppositions need to be examined and questioned just as much as the data.
      I believe strongly in the “two-books” view of revelation. Consequently, the disagreements between various views points to either incomplete data or flawed interpretations. “All truth is God’s truth”, thus these conflicts indicate that more work and dialogue is needed.

      • Salvatore Mazzotta

        Ken,

        And I agree with what you have said, as far as it goes. God
        has indeed given us two books—Scripture and nature—which reveal God to
        us. The first is an actual book, comprising propositional statements.
        The second, figurative “book” is more of a picture-book (like a book of
        photographs of the night sky or a CD of jungle sounds). The proper ways
        to interpret each book are vastly different.

        Now, what I object
        to is the idea, promoted by many Christians, including some leading
        apologists, that this or that theory of science may be used as an
        interpretive grid through which to understand the text of Scripture.
        This is an unsound hermeneutical principle that will practically
        guarantee that those who adopt it will misinterpret any text that they
        subject to it.

        It is very much like the old leftist literature
        professor who insists that no text, ancient or modern, can be rightly
        understood without viewing it through the lens of Marxist economic
        theory.

        • Ken Mann

          Salvatore, I agree that science should not dictate hermeneutics, that is something I would never agree with. Thanks for your comments.

        • dadodeaf

          I too agree with the danger of coming to Scripture through science rather than interpreting science through the lens provided by Scripture. Such has been acidic to many a faith for 150 years.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

    Great article Ken. I think the other aspect that needs to be mentioned when considering ‘cost’ is that of ‘making a living’ or financial goals. I really don’t know all that many people who make a living doing solely apologetics… I can probably count them on my fingers. Most have some other career, have combined apologetics into their career (i.e.: pastor or teaching role), or have a spouse who provides much of the family income…. or are living on a pretty small amount of income. It is unfortunate, and hopefully changing, but is also often kind of the ‘elephant in the room’ that should be mentioned. I don’t say this to deter anyone from apologetics, but just to be realistic and a bit careful (ex: student loans, expectations, etc.).

    So, my advice would be to think about this along two vectors. First, look at your debt and cost of living. Be sure you’re doing what you can to eliminate debt (ex: Dave Ramsey, etc.) and be realistic about your cost of living. Second, be realistic about opportunities to use your apologetics skills and what kinds of income that might provide. Don’t just assume that if you get the apologetics degree, there will be decent paying apologetics teaching positions available. Think of apologetics more like missions work at this point. You’ll probably have to come up with support or be flexible about how support is generated (i.e.: through a para-church organization).

    Again, I’m really hoping that ‘Minister of Apologetics’ becomes common, and that enough para-church organizations spring up with enough funding to hire and pay-well good apologists. But until that happens, be careful and wise.

    • Ken Mann

      Steve, I agree with you. In my situation, I am and probably always will be a “tent maker” apologist. My responsibility is first and foremost to my family (1 Cor. 7). I have the resources to (slowly) pursue my degree and the college I am getting involved at is 15 minutes away.
      Sadly, there are disadvantages to my situation. I cannot be on campus full time and cannot devote as much time as I would like to my degree. In spite of the costs I would urge aspiring apologists to consider getting a degree. It will push you in ways that mere personal study just can’t.

      • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

        No disagreement here. I highly value my education as well. While we’re all life-long learners in this type of discipline, there is something special about the way school and seminary pushes one that few have the discipline to do on their own (not to mention the unique community gathered).

        And, there is nothing wrong with being a ‘tentmaker’ apologist, so long as that is the expectation. It affords some unique opportunities as well. But, it would (and will) be nice to see the church better come alongside apologists and help support them to minimize those downsides. And, imagine what some of these folks could do if they could focus more of their time on the apologetics work at hand. It is incredibly impressive to me the amount of work tentmaker apologists accomplish given their time and focus limitations!

        • http://www.TilledSoil.org/ Steve Wilkinson

          BTW, I include myself in this category, as I’m a full-time dad to a toddler and also do some web and technology work on the side. I’m fortunate enough to have a brilliant wife who is able to support our family, and a previous higher-paying career which helped me get to my education goals. But, I can tell you that it would be a huge relief if my salary was funded because of my apologetics work, and even better if I were able to start funding others to do the same. I think that time will come, but I have no idea how long the road will be.

  • andy willhoit

    Ken,
    Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it. It’s always comforting to read that others have experienced and contemplated the same journey. As you hinted at, hobby, or lay apologists feel a bit isolated and misunderstood. It was especially reassuring to read your statement ‘The types of things one learns today under the guise of “apologetics” used to be routinely taught in the Church.’

    I recently obtained my Certificate of Achievement in Christian Apologetics from Biola. It ranks high up on my list of most satisfying and valuable achievements.

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