How To Become a Self-Taught Apologist


You've just been introduced to Christian Apologetics and have discovered that there are many good arguments and evidence that demonstrate that Christianity is true. However, you're not sure that you're smart enough, have enough free time, or have the financial means to learn this material yourself so that you can be a better witness for Christ.

Can you afford to go to seminary and be trained formally in philosophy and theology? If so, by all means, do that. If you can't either because you can't afford it or your current career won't allow you to go back to school, don't worry. You don't have to go to seminary to be a good apologist. Sure, you need letters after your name if you want to read papers at ETS or EPS conferences and if you want your name published in academic journals, but if all your after is the knowledge and the training necessary to win skeptical souls over to Christ, you can do that without ever setting foot on a campus.

I am 100% self-taught in apologetics. Everything you read on my blog, listen to on my podcast, hear in my debates, and see in my social media debates came 100% from reading books, reading blogs, listening to podcasts and lectures, and watching debates. While I would certainly like to have a career in apologetics, as long as I'm winning souls for Christ and equipping my fellow believers, I consider my time as an apologist a success. It may be God's will for me to just have a blog, write some books, and do a podcast. That's fine. As long as there will be fewer people in Hell because of the work I'm doing, it is well with my soul. Now, because of my lack of degrees, when I touch upon subjects, I have to heavily cite expert sources and witnesses to back up what I'm saying, since I'm not an official authority in these fields. But that's more of a lesson on how to be, what I call "a credible layman". I have plans to write an article on that in the future. Right now, I want to give you advice on how to educate yourself so that you can be an effective apologist.

You Are Smart Enough To Learn 

First thing's first. You need to do away with this "I'm not smart enough" mentality that a lot of people have when they encounter apologetics for the first time. I was introduced to apologetics in August of 2010 when I was just 18, but I didn't put forth the effort to learn the material until the winter of 2011. Why? Because as I watched Lee Strobel's "The Case For A Creator", as I listened to William Lane Craig unpack The Kalam Cosmological Argument on YouTube, I thought to myself "This stuff is way too complicated. There's no way I can remember all of this stuff". When I would witness to unbelievers and fail to answer their challenges, I would go into my bedroom and pray "God, please send someone like Lee Strobel or William Lane Craig into these peoples' lives to show them the evidence that you exist, and that Jesus really did die on the cross and rise from the dead." My game plan was to just preach the gospel and if anyone brought up hard questions, I'd just pray for God to send a smart person into their path to answer them.

Eventually, God got a hold of me. One day when I was praying for one nasty atheist who badgered me on Twitter, when I said "God please send them someone to show them the evidence." I felt God say to me "I want you to show them the evidence." Now, this wasn't an audible voice, and I'm not one of those "I heard a word from God today that said...." kind of guy. But if God does speak to hearts, that moment was definitely one of them. I was confused. I struggled so much to even unpack The Kalam Cosmological Argument in the most basic way, and I could barely regurgitate design arguments. I thought "God. You've got the wrong guy. You need to pick someone with a higher IQ." The very next day as I was scrolling my Facebook timeline, I saw a picture that was captioned "God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called." At the moment, I realized that while I wasn't qualified to share my faith, I could get qualified.

Below is what I did to get to where I am today.

Rule 1: Consume The Same Material Over And Over

It is said that it takes 1,000 hours to master a craft. Don't get discouraged if you read a book and only get the gist the first time around. The books I bought, I read dozens and dozens of times. I was determined to hammer that content into my head until I could articulate the arguments as well as the authors could. Several of my oldest Christian Apologetics books are falling apart due to overuse. My copy of William Lane Craig's On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision is one rugged book. My copy of Hugh Ross' The Creator and The Cosmos has a broken binder and some of the pages just fell out! My copy of Frank Turek's and Norman Geisler's I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is likewise falling apart. In fact, when I had Norman Geisler autograph this book at the 2017 National Conference On Christian Apologetics, as Dr. Geisler was signing the book, his wife remarked "You've gotten a lot of mileage out of that book, haven't you!" My copy of The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus written by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona is likewise falling apart. Neil Mammen's Who Is Agent X: Proving Science And Logic Show It Is More Rational To Believe That God Exists and all of Lee Strobel's books are holding up pretty well, but you can see some wear on them as well.

I read these books over and over and over and over until the material was burned into my mind. I did this not only with the books that I read, but with the lectures and podcasts I listened to. I would listen to lectures I downloaded from the Apologetics 315 website and listen to them on my MP3 Player while I did housework and yard work. I would listen to the same MP3 files over and over and over.

Rule 2: Focus On One Topic At A Time

You won't get very far if you bounce from subject to subject. Fix your eyes on one or two particular subjects and pursue that one (or two) subjects into the ground. Once you feel that you've got a good grasp on those topics, you can move onto another subject. When I first started, the subjects I pursued into the ground were Natural Theology (i.e arguments for God's existence like the Kalam and Fine-Tuning arguments) and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. After I felt I could defend those arguments decently, I studied soteriology and debated the Calvinism issue with my fellow Christians. Eventually, I moved onto investigating Theistic Evolution and then (finally!) eschatology.

Nowadays I revisit all of these subjects frequently, but when I was first trying to learn them, I focused exclusively on them.

Rule 3: Don't Learn, Train. 

In his book, Forensic Faith, J. Warner Wallace writes "Stop teaching your young people. We’ve got lots of great teachers in the church and lots of concerned parents who want to teach their kids. We’ve been teaching young people for generations. But this teaching has obviously become ineffective, if the
current statistics related to the departure rates of young people in their college years are even remotely accurate. We’ve been teaching, and students have been leaving. It’s time to stop teaching and start training."1 (emphasis in original).

Wallace goes on to say not to get him wrong and that The Bible certainly tells us to teach. Wallace cites 2 Timothy 3:16 which says "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for
reproof, for correction." and notes that Paul told Timothy he should use the Scripture to teach, reprove, and correct, but he didn’t stop there. Paul identified another important use for
God’s Word:

2 Timothy 3:16–17
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for
reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man
of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Wallace wrote "Paul made a distinction between teaching and training. It’s time for us to make a distinction as well. We’ve got to understand the role of teaching within the broader context of training. Teaching is focused on imparting knowledge. Training is focused on preparing for a challenge (“equipping” ourselves “for every good work”). Boxers and MMA fighters train. First responders train. Military personnel train. Why? Because they’re eventually going to deploy in the ring, in the fighting cage, on the street, or on the battlefield. These people know they’re going to be challenged and tested. Unless they prepare for this inevitable reality, they’re going to get hurt."2

Wallace goes on to note that when boxers know that showdown is imminent. They've marked it on their calendars. They know exactly when the showdown is going to take place, they train and train hard. They train relentlessly until the night they step into the ring. Wallace mentioned how he did this with witnessing encounters. In one part of the book, he talked about how he and a group of students made plans to go to Utah on a specific date to engage Mormons. The students didn't know anything about Mormonism and didn't know any of the challenges they might be met with when trying to share the gospel with them. But Wallace said "On this day, we will witness to Mormons." So the whole time leading up to the trip, the students studied and researched and prepared themselves for the encounters they knew were going to occur. Wallace said that when the time arrived, the students did splendidly!

I can speak from personal experience how Calendaring my showdowns helps me become a quick learner. You know those debates you can watch on this site's "My Debates" page? I trained for each of those debates. I didn't always have the same amount of prep time, but whatever prep time I had, I put to good use. The one I had the most prep time was my debate with Nathan Reese on "Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?" and a debate with a man named Anthony B called "Are There Sound Arguments For God's Existence" which got canceled. After those two debates in particular, I found that I could defend the Cosmological and Fine-Tuning Arguments as well as the historicity of the resurrection better than I ever could before that. Calendaring my showdown caused me to train myself to defend these arguments. The pressure leads me to master the subjects faster. Not that I wasn't good at defending these arguments before (if that were the case, I wouldn't have agreed to the debates), what I'm saying is that I was twice as skilled after the month of prepping!

In Forensic Faith, J. Warner Wallace gives us a good acronym to go by: T.R.A.I.N

T – Test
Challenge each other to expose our weaknesses.
R – Require
Expect more from each other than we sometimes think we can
handle.
A – Arm
Learn the truth and how to articulate it.
I – Involve
Deploy into the battlefield of ideas.
N – Nurture

Tend to our wounds and model the nature of Jesus.

Rule 4: Be Good At Time Management 

You need to learn to use your time wisely. All of us only have 14 hours that we're awake. Depending on what kind of job you have and what kind of life you lead will depend on how much time you can devote to studying these topics. Now, the one excuse you should not have is "I don't have time to learn this stuff". Yes, you do. We all have free time. Maybe some of us have more free time than others, but we all have points in time during the week in which nothing is pressing on us.

The issue is not having enough free time. The issue is what you're willing to sacrifice in place of what you normally do during your free time. For example, instead of watching 3 hours of television when you get home from work, open up a William Lane Craig or Lee Strobel book (or...an Evan Minton book). Listen to a podcast or watch a debate on YouTube. Instead of spending Sunday afternoon watching football, devote that time to study.

Before I got into studying apologetics, theology, and philosophy, what I did in my free time was watch anime and play video games. That's how my "Me time" was speant. I have sacrificed those things to a significant degree to become a better ambassador for Christ. Now, I still play video games and I still watch anime, but I'm not able to do it as much as I would like. Sometimes when I get burned out on studying, I take a little break and do these things in their place. Sometimes I can devote only one hour to a game or a show. This is, in fact, the primary reason why I'm very far behind on many of the shows I like. Instead of spending my evening hours in front of the TV, I spend it in front of an open book. I generally binge my TV shows on the weekends to catch up.

If you're a trucker and spend most of your time on the road, audiobooks and podcasts are PERFECT for you. You can just plug in your MP3 Player to your truck's radio and listen and learn while you're delivering. If your truck is old though, you might need to use a cassette adapter. But, in this case, while you may not have a lot of time for reading, you will have a lot of time for listening. And hopefully, the upcoming Cerebral Faith Podcast will be one of the things you listen to. ;-)

I mentioned the trucker vocation because a few of my friends in apologetics do precisely this. If you don't have time to read, you might have time to listen. And even if you're not a trucker, you might still be able to listen to podcasts and audiobooks depending on what you do. Janitors are notorious for wearing earphones. If you're a businessman and do a lot of traveling, your plane flights would be the perfect time for both reading and listening.

If you still have trouble making sufficient time to learn, pray about it. God will help you work out a schedule suited to your lifestyle.

Conclusion 

Hopefully, you find this article helpful. Remember, you won't learn this stuff overnight. I sure didn't.

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NOTES 

1: J. Warner Wallace, "Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes The Case For A More Reasonable, Evidential Faith" page 87, David C Cook

2: J. Warner Wallace, "Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes The Case For A More Reasonable, Evidential Faith" page 88, David C Cook

Comments

  1. Thank you for this blog post. It really has helped and encouraged me.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad. It's a pleasure to help my brothers and sisters in Christ. :-)

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