Do you enjoy apologetics? Have you ever wondered how you can become a professional Christian apologist? Here are four practical recommendations to help guide your journey.
Being a Christian apologist involves a knowledge of various—and often very different—fields of study. In a previous post, I outlined two types of Christian apologists. If you want to be a research apologist, then getting a strong educational foundation, preferably including a PhD, will be critical.
Each area of education is a major undertaking in its own right. But a quality apologist will not only have a mastery of various disciplines, but will also go a step further and know how to integrate those fields into a cohesive worldview. If you want to become a scientific apologist, you will need at least a master’s degree (preferably, a PhD) in a scientific discipline (e.g., physics, astronomy, biochemistry, or marine biology), as well as some graduate-level training in theology, Bible interpretation, church history, or philosophy. Reasons to Believe offers online courses through its distance-learning program, Reasons Institute. These courses can provide some guidance to help you integrate your scientific knowledge with the Bible.
It’s also a great asset when Christian apologists have taken the time to study other subjects, too. Take a foreign language or an art class. Try to read as much as you can on a variety of subjects, including classic literature. This will help you become a well-rounded person. For example, my colleague, Dr. Fazale Rana, appreciates Shakespeare and has incorporated Shakespearean vignettes into his apologetics writing.
Being a quality Christian apologist can’t just be about formal education. The best Christian apologists also know how to thoughtfully engage with unbelievers and bring them to faith in Jesus as their Savior.
Unfortunately, many people who wear the label of “Christian apologist” don’t have much practical experience in sharing their faith with unbelievers. Some have not even worked in a secular environment and have minimal experience dialoguing with people from other worldviews. As a result, they have not field-tested their ability to defend the faith in real-life situations.
There is no substitute for doing the hard work of talking face-to-face with unbelievers for a decade (or longer), receiving difficult feedback, having a lot of conversations that seem to go nowhere, and turning those “failures” into the personal skills needed to truly love others.
If you want to go into scientific apologetics, it will be vital to spend several years getting field or lab experience. This will give you opportunities to demonstrate creative problem-solving skills, a good work ethic, and leadership, as well as to learn creative ways to share your faith. The more practical experience you have as an embedded missionary in a secular field, the better your chances of becoming a reputable apologist.
As you practice your skills in evangelism, you’ll also need to be intentional about developing Christian maturity (what Protestants call “sanctification”). Careful Christian apologists know not only how to give good answers but also how to present them in a kind way that invites the other person into further conversation.
There will be moments when you feel frustrated that certain discussions don’t turn out the way you had hoped. There will be times when unbelievers mischaracterize your beliefs or say unkind things toward you. There will also be instances when you look back and realize that you gave incorrect information or used poor arguments. These will be the moments when you have a choice to allow the Lord to take you to deeper places in your soul as you cooperate with his efforts to conform your character to the image of Christ.
Winning arguments isn’t nearly as important as acting graciously during a disagreement, so that the other party wants to stay in relationship with you. If you lose the relationship because you’ve come on too strong, that’s the time to take that as helpful feedback and possibly even ask the person for forgiveness. Having a lot of education cannot compensate for a lack of graciousness.
Another critical character trait for Christian apologists to strive for is presenting other people’s ideas in a fair and accurate way. Listening well is key. You always want to present views that you don’t agree with in a charitable way so that if a person who holds that position were to hear your summary, they would say, “Yes, that’s an accurate statement about what I believe.” It’s important to invite feedback and correction as you present other people’s ideas. This is part of what my colleague, Kenneth Samples, calls the Golden Rule of Apologetics.
Top-level Christian apologists know how to communicate their research to others, both in written and verbal forms. They are able to write their ideas through blog posts and books, as well as give quality public presentations, media interviews, and answer inquirers’ questions. Knowing how to build and run a website and operate in the realm of social media are also critical skills.
Proficiency in communication takes time. Thankfully, we live in an age where there is an abundance of tools and recourses to help people become better communicators and build their unique brand. You can also volunteer to help others build their strengths. When your church or employer has a need in social media or wants to communicate a new idea, that’s a great opportunity to possibly practice learning some new skills.
Reaching the goal of becoming a Christian apologist may sound overwhelming, but taken one step at a time, it is definitely possible. The Christian community needs creative women and men to help defend the faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile culture.