Five tips for young apologists
Want to get confident talking about what you believe? Start here.
It seems strange to be writing an article with advice for young apologists (i.e. someone who defends the truths of Chrsitianity). After all, I still think of myself as young! There are many “seasoned” apologists I turn to for advice and direction that are much older and more experienced than me (don’t worry, dad, I won’t mention any names!). But I do have some insights for younger apologists that I have learned along the way
1. Love Jesus above all
As an apologist, I’m guessing you love to reason, debate, and study. These are all good things! But in the midst of studying the Bible to defend it, it’s easy to forget to read it for personal understanding and growth. Like the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4), it is easy to lose our first love. If you want to be an effective apologist, be sure your apologetics and evangelism comes from a deep love for people and for the Lord. While it is important to spend time honing our apologetics skills, always be attentive that it is not drawing you away from Jesus.
2. Study and do your homework
For the past few years I have been following dozens of apologetics blogs. While there are some blogs that are truly excellent, it is unfortunate how many apologists read only one side of an issue, fail to cite their sources, and get their facts wrong. We all make mistakes at times (I certainly have), but as apologists we should do our homework and be sure we present the best case possible. James, the brother of Jesus, said that God holds teachers to a higher standard (James 3:1). As apologists, we are teachers for the church. Many people take what we say as “gospel.” Thus, we need to get it right. If you want to be an effective apologist, then go the extra mile and do your homework.
3. Build relationships with non-believers
Pastor Dan Kimball did not grow up in the church. As a thinking person, apologetics was important in helping to draw him to the faith. And so when he became a Christian, he continued studying apologetics intently. But after a few months he noticed something strange: the more he studied apologetics, the less he actually did apologetics. In other words, he began to focus his time on reading apologetics books, watching debates, and attending apologetics conferences rather than actually reaching out to non-believers and doing apologetics.
This is a real temptation for those of us who love apologetics. But if you want to be an effective apologist, you must be in genuine relationship with people of other faiths. Enter into these relationships not simply to convert people, or to have good stories to tell, but to truly get to know them, learn from them, and love them as Jesus would have you love them—whether they ever convert or not. Your apologetics ministry should flow from your actual practice, not just theory.
4. Get a mentor
As I look back on my (roughly) twenty years of doing apologetics, I realize that I never could have done it alone—never. I would not be the speaker, writer, and teacher I am today with certain people who have poured their lives into me and helped me along the way. But it didn’t happen by accident. I have intentionally sought out relationships with people who have the experience and knowledge to help me get where I need to go. Mentors may seek you out. But typically you need to go find a mentor. You can certainly learn from the best by watching debates and presentations online. But you also need a mentor who knows you and can give personal direction and feedback. Don’t do it alone.
5. Cultivate a gentle spirit
Apologists must speak the truth with gentleness. Paul said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). And in 2 Timothy 2:25, he writes, “…correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”
We live in an angry, argumentative culture. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to say provocative things to get re-tweets, blog hits, or YouTube channel followers. But this is not the way of Jesus. In his excellent book, The Allure of Gentleness, the late Dallas Willard said it best:
“Like Jesus, we are reaching out in love in a humble spirit with no coercion. The only way to accomplish that is to present our defense gently, as help offered in love in the manner of Jesus. But that is not all. The means of our communication needs to be gentle, because gentleness also characterizes the subject of our communication. What we are seeking to defend or explain is Jesus himself, who is a gentle, loving shepherd. If we are not gentle in how we present the good news, how will people encounter the gentle and loving Messiah we want to point to?”
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.