Christian Apologetics Free Course 06, Lesson 04
The Preparation To Become An Apologist 04
Reducing our ideas, arguments, and apologetic presentations to crisp and clear writing helps us to analyse the content as well as the presentation. It helps us to spot our weak points, and it goes a long way toward improving our communication skills. Our communication will be clearer and more precise, and people will be able to hear what we want them to hear rather that what we merely thought they heard.
Though the primary purpose of the personal writing exercise is to develop accurate and concise expression, apologists who manage to get published will only add to their preparedness. First, being published refines their ability to communicate. Feedback from their readers help them to discover their own weak spots. Feedback also informs them of current areas of discussion and debate related to the Christian faith. Second, published writers gradually develop popularity and authority though their work, and emerge as experts in their field of writing. This in turn makes them more popular and welcome among their potential listeners.
Apologists should also keep their eyes open to developments in society that support the Christian faith, as well as new challenges to the Christian faith. For example, newspapers and magazines worldwide, from time to time, carry news, articles, and stories that question the Christian faith directly or indirectly. Apologists should be the first ones to read and analyze them and formulate an objective answer (even if they would never have to face that question). Since no single apologist can read all the available periodicals, all apologists should develop a circle of friends who will alert them to such writings.
Ideas have consequences, and more so with anti-Christian ideas because the whole world has been in rebellion against God from the Edenic fall onwards. Many young Christians read such articles eagerly and end up puzzled about the reliability of the Christian faith. Given the right atmosphere, they may present these doubts to sympathetic apologists. If they fail to do so, perceptive apologists should make it a point to elicit such questions from their young listeners. Of course, a clear and satisfactory answer can be given only if Christian apologists understand the nature of the attack in a given article or story and thinks through the answer beforehand.
A good example is a survey which an Indian magazine carried out a few years ago. It claimed that one-third of all Indian men had one or more extra-marital liaisons. It then went on to claim that permissiveness is the norm and that people who advocate a conservative lifestyle are a minority in India. So persuasive was this article that numerous other Indian magazines quoted it, and the slogan “Morality is Dead” became the talk of the day among urban Indians. Everywhere that I went to speak at camps, conferences and seminars people had this to ask: Is morality dead in India, and are we abnormal because of our conservative outlook about the sanctity of sex?
Christian apologetics goes far beyond the scientific or historical accuracy of the Bible. When the Scripture in I Peter 3:15 says “Be ye ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” we should realise that the hope that is in us touches every aspect of our Christian life, including the Biblical principles of sexual purity. Consequently I felt a need to address the subject in an objective manner, and searched everywhere until I was able to obtain the original article from which they all were quoting. It turned out to be a big surprise.
The magazine that had conducted the survey was a pornographic one. Out of its 100 000 or so readers, fewer than 2 000 had (reportedly) participated, and one-third of them had confessed that they were people of easy virtues. These few facts alone totally negated the tall claims made by the magazine. First, the survey had been conducted among a group of lecherous people who read pornographic magazines, and not among typical urban Indian males. Second, even among such an avowedly lecherous crowd, two-thirds of the males refused to have extra-marital liaisons and were strictly monogamous. Clearly, the results of this survey gave no indication that conservative morality was dead. On the contrary, it only showed that even the Peeping Toms of India maintain a conservative morality in their family lives, a deduction totally opposite to what they were proclaiming. Once I discovered this, it became easy to diffuse the bomb they were dropping all around.
All Christian apologists should prepare themselves in a similar manner to face the distortions of the media, whether it touches morality or canonicity. Periodicals are not the only offenders against whom apologists need to defend. Countless books come out every year, both fiction as well as non-fiction, that directly or indirectly attack the Christian faith. One of the recurring themes is that the Lord Jesus did not die on the cross but that He eventually came out of the swoon or stupor, and fled to the more tolerant and hospitable India where He lived up to the age of 130. They then pile up all kinds of “proofs” including the presumed grave of Jesus in the Kashmir state of India. On the other extreme are books that totally deny that Jesus was a historical person. In between them lies a whole range of books that attack various aspects of the Christian faith either through fiction or non-fiction.
Young Christians are often more fascinated by destructive books than by wholesome ones. Even many older fence-sitting believers are fascinated by such books and invest a fortune in buying them. Unfortunately, once such books enter Christian homes, many believers (including some very young ones) are enticed into reading them. Others are trapped when some rebellious soul passes such books to unsuspecting people, claiming that they are “great” books. Ideas have consequences, and such ideas can cause people to end up with various levels of doubt. Christian apologists should come to their rescue.
To prepare for this, apologists should regularly read book-reviews and book-summaries, which appear in newspapers, magazines, and journals. They should also subscribe to book-review magazines which are now becoming common worldwide. The Internet provides numerous book-review and book-summary resources and most of them are free. Once they spot books that can create a serious problem for their potential audience, they should look for everything they can find to expose the fallacy propounded by that book. If they feel they need to know the book first-hand, they should, as soon as possible, read it critically and analytically.
There are a very large number of websites devoted to apologetics and polemics. Some of them contain thousands of pages of resource material, and one can access all of them free of cost. Christian apologists should regularly visit these sites to get an idea of the breadth of the field. They will never be able to read it all, but even an exposure to the titles and summaries would be an education in itself. Once they are acquainted with the wider field, they can pick and choose articles in areas of their special interest as the Holy Spirit leads them. They will find articles on almost every subject, popular to technical, in depth and one page to hundreds of pages in length. Downloading and printing these articles for personal use is allowed under the “Fair Use” provision of the Copyright Laws. Doing so is often a cheaper option than buying books. What’s more, on larger apologetics websites one can frequently obtain analytical articles on current issues well before they appear in the print media. Many of the larger apologetics ministries offer email bulletins, some of which are loaded with apologetic articles and late-breaking news of interest to apologists. It is essential and useful to subscribe to at least half a dozen selected ones. They will keep apologists updated on current information and will also save them the labour of wading through countless sites to gather the same information for themselves. Some of the bulletins offer materials of such lasting value that the websites archive them and interested apologists can easily download older issues. Many bulletins are so rich with information that I print and file them to help me in my ongoing ministry, and when you discover the bulletins useful to your ministry, you will also do the same.
Discussion forums are a special feature of the Internet. In forums one can participate in answering, discussing, or debating on any conceivable subject under the sun. There are forums exclusively dedicated to apologetics, and there are others where apologetics plays only a small part. Visit them as often as possible to discover hot topics and some of the common problems people face. Read the responses and you will discover much. Go to as many as possible, but resist the temptation to post, unless it is a “moderated” forum. People can be unruly when unmoderated, and often stoop to name-calling if they are discredited. Worse, if your identity is known to them, many of the radical and baser contributors will launch a character-attack crusade against you, causing much loss to your mental peace. Use the forums primarily to learn, and post only in moderated ones. Make ongoing preparation a life-long passion. Keep sharpening and polishing your armour, lest you be caught unawares and with a rusted armoury. Professional And Formal Preparation: Up to a few centuries ago one could learn almost any profession or trade without formal training at a college or technical institution. However, each field of study has grown with such leaps and bounds that no one can become an expert today in any field without some sort of formal training.
True, even today some people learn traditional arts and crafts through apprenticeship in an informal way, but such people would not be able to rise beyond a certain level. For example, India has had native medical systems for thousands of years. People often learn these systems in non-formal ways. But when they get into medical practice, they are unable to interpret a blood, urine, or stool sample. X-Rays, ECGs, EEGs, or CAT scans that provide diagnostic information are totally alien to them. Consequently, their medical practice is always handicapped, and they are in danger of damaging a person’s health due to lack of proper training in diagnostics. The same is true in Christian apologetics. Unless apologists receive training they will not be able to diagnose problems accurately or in time.
People opposed to the Christian faith have been sharpening their arsenal for the last two to three centuries. What’s more, based upon research in the social sciences people have been introducing new methods of attack against the Christian faith. For example, formal Propaganda and Mind Manipulation Techniques were developed in the early twentieth century, and they were harnessed by radicals in the second half of the twentieth century. So advanced and sophisticated is their arsenal today that only formal study can help apologists to fight efficiently.
Though Biblical apologetics is several millennia old, formal training in it only became available in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Only a few institutions offer such courses, and therefore Christian apologists will have to do some searching before they can find a course suitable for them. There are currently three methods of becoming formally trained: through introductory distance courses, through short-term classroom training, and through full-fledged courses. Most people would find it useful to go through all three of these in this order.
A search for apologetics and creationism courses on the Internet is the best method for discovering introductory courses. Even a search of Biblical Archeology courses will yield good results. Join these courses and study them formally. Even if they allow you to cover the course through self-study, prefer the formal approach. No amount of self-study can be as good as an instructor-guided study. Do not restrict yourself to just one or two courses or institutions. Join a variety of courses, and do not worry about repetition. You can never study apologetics too much.
Meanwhile keep looking for camps, conferences, seminars, and short-term residential courses in apologetics and creationism. You will soon realise that the correspondence and short-term residential courses greatly complement and reinforce one another. This is also the time to grapple with the more serious books and articles in these subjects. Enjoy as much as you understand, but don’t become discouraged by apparently difficult concepts. Greater understanding comes with further study.
As your next step you may join a seminary known for apologetic emphasis, or which offers full courses and specialisation in Christian apologetics and creationism. If it is impossible to join a residential course, then try a distance course. Aspire to at least an MTh level course with emphasis on Christian apologetics. Full-fledged courses in apologetics are not yet common, but a few seminaries do offer such courses. Worldwide, there are at least two or three seminaries offering courses through distance education. Keep searching, and you will discover one that’s suitable for you.
Summary: Christian life is a battle, and more so for Christian apologists. To fight the good fight requires a great deal of preparation. Aspiring apologists must first be born-again Christians—led by the Holy Spirit and hungry for the Word of God. They must nourish their spirits by reading God’s Word and through fellowship within the body of Christ. They must prepare their minds to meet the already well-prepared minds of their opponents, and this requires an enormous amount of study, practice, and organisation of thought. To communicate effectively, they must sharpen their oral and written communication skills. And to further refine these skills, they should pursue a formal course of study in apologetics. If the Holy Spirit has led you to apologetics, begin right now to develop the habits and associations necessary for success. You did not begin this alone, and you cannot finish it alone.