Studying apologetics can be a daunting endeavor because it tackles so many different topics. When I was first starting out, I would barely grasp one concept only to be made aware of ten more things I needed to know—right now. I wanted to know All. The. Things. While simultaneously trying to grasp the cosmological argument, biblical Greek, the history of philosophy, world religions, and textual criticism, I found myself with several open books and an overwhelmed mind. As I learned how to prioritize, I discovered eight things that helped me simplify and study apologetics in a fruitful and productive way:
1. Master the basics.
Start with these three basic arguments for the existence of God: the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments. You don't have to be an expert, but if you get a general working knowledge of these three arguments, you'll have a good foundation to build on. Next, learn how to make a simple case for the resurrection of Jesus. (Every Christian should be able to do this!) You can get a great overview of all of these basics in the book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler. If you are just dipping your toe into the ocean of apologetics, this is the first book you should read!
2. Learn one new thing every day.
In our busy lives, finding time to read and study can be difficult, so make it a priority to commit one fact or concept to memory every single day. It may sound simple, but you won't believe how quickly this information will start to accumulate. This way, if you only have time to read one paragraph out of one book, you can feel good about the progress you're making!
3. Focus your study on topics you care about.
After you master the basics, specialize in an area of apologetics you are really passionate about. Maybe it will be philosophy or logic or science or Islam. I'm not all that enthusiastic about science, but I'm very interested in the Bible, so I tend to focus my research on textual criticism and canon.
4. Don't neglect Bible study and prayer.
It can be tempting to make apologetics a priority over your personal time of devotion and prayer, and it can become easy to lose sight of what you're actually learning to defend. Having a regular time of prayer and Bible study is not only necessary for your own spiritual growth, but it will make you a much better apologist!
5. Admit it when you don't know something.
No one can know everything, and it's possible to stump even the most respected scholars. I once audited a class by a brilliant Ph.D. professor and a student asked him a question. He responded, "Hmm. I'm not sure. Let me look into it and I'll get back to you." It impressed me that he would have the humility to admit he didn't know the answer, and it caused me to trust what he had to say about the things he did claim to know about. Simply saying, "I don't know" will not only build trust and model humility, but it can open a door to future conversations with the person you are sharing your faith with.
6. Make it your goal to win the person, not the argument.
When talking with someone who is raising objections to your faith, it can be tempting to slam down facts like a sledgehammer on concrete. Being a good apologist means having the maturity and wisdom to stay focused on winning the person. Sometimes this can mean not answering their objections directly, but asking a few gentle, well-placed questions to get them thinking. To learn how to do this, Greg Koukl's book Tactics is a must read.
7. Utilize various types of media.
Are you a busy mom with small kids? A full-time student? Have a 40+ hour work week with little free time? You don't have to sit down and read for hours every day to become knowledgeable in apologetics. There are tons of great podcasts, audio books, and videos you can watch or listen to on the go. Visit my resource page for some great options!
8. Don't give up.
As my own questions were being answered, I wanted to reach out and help other people who were struggling in their faith. I almost gave up because I figured that I would probably never know enough to really make an impact for the kingdom of God.
I read some great advice from J. Warner Wallace, who pointed out that there are very few "million dollar apologists" writing books and headlining conferences. What the church needs are "one dollar apologists" who are willing to study and devote themselves to their local church and community. He wrote:
The impact of a single "million dollar apologist" will not change our culture as
powerfully as the impact of a million "one dollar apologists."
I thought— I can do that. I can be a one dollar apologist. I began to talk to my friends about apologetics and offered to help teach a few teenagers at our church who had questions. A couple of years later, I attended Cross Examined Instructor Academy, where J. Warner Wallace was one of my instructors in presenting apologetics. Talk about full circle!
Don't give up. Your church needs you. Your family needs you. Your kids need you. Be the best one dollar apologist you can be. You never know how God will use you if you will be faithful, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you.”
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