Published Jun 29, 2019
How to develop the mindset of an apologist
Article by Casey McFall
Note: This article is the third of a series of apologetics-related articles that are a condensed version of an apologetics class that I taught. You can read the first one here.
The lesson this time is not intended to teach one how to develop a career as an apologist with books and speaking appointments. Instead, the intention is to help Christians develop the right mindset towards the Bible and apologetics and to teach them our to engage with others in the defense of their faith. Please note that this article will be a bit shorter and lighter on content than most of my articles, but the topic is still an important one.
Develop the right mindset
The first step to becoming an apologist is developing the right mindset. The mindset that a person has is of utmost importance and can be a deciding factor between success or failure. It can also help or hinder learning as it defines what we believe to be possible, alters the schemas or biases of our mind, and shapes how we perceive the world around us.
In order to develop a conducive mindset, a Christian should set aside fears and biases and not shy away from asking the hard questions. It’s a sad fact, but the behavior of Christians and churches has created in many, if not most, people a hesitancy towards questioning the Bible or commonly held beliefs. Christians feel a shame in asking the questions; as if asking those questions is evidence of their own weakness or lack of faith. This shouldn’t be the case! It was precisely because they took things with a healthy dose of skepticism and sought the truth in the scriptures, that the Bereans were called “more noble” in Acts 17:11. There is no shame in having doubts! It is significantly worse, to have the doubt and harbor it rather than voicing the doubt. Because when someone harbors that doubt, it will take seed in their heart and work against that person’s faith. When that doubt gets voiced however, it creates the opportunity for others to respond to it and eliminate the source of the doubt. I never hesitate to challenge the Bible, because the Truth of the Word of God will always come out and the Bible will always be able to stand firm against any challenge!
There are several examples from history of men who challenged the Word of God as skeptics and found it to be true. One of the more famous is the archeologist Sir William M. Ramsay (not to be confused with the Nobel prize winning Si William Ramsay). He was initially persuaded by the Tubingen theory, which posits that Paul and Peter were each leaders of a different sect of “Christianity”. This theory teaches that the majority of the New Testament, including Acts, is not actually genuine or valid and was simply written by one of those two parties as an attack on the other. It was with this mindset that Sir Ramsay began his archeological digs in Asia Minor. Over his 25 years of digging in the area, Sir Ramsay eventually changed his mind both about the book of Acts and the other Pauline epistles and could not help but conclude that they were absolutely accurate to the most minute of degrees.
It is also vitally important that we teach this mindset to our children! Unfortunately, many Christian parents discourage their kids from asking questions. This means that they know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe it. So when they leave the safety of their Christian home, they begin to be challenged by others and are unable to defend themselves. A survey asked Christian youths who had left or were leaving their faith what were the reasons for their abandonment. The number one answer was that they had left because they had troubling, unanswered questions about the faith. According to a survey conducted in 1999, a full 72% of all college professors are self-professed liberals. Another 25% are outright atheists. These are the people who our children will be looking up and will be viewing as authority figures. It is no wonder that a full 70-80% of all evangelical children leave their faith by the end of their freshmen year (according to research conducted by the Southern Baptist).
It’s ok to not know
Another important step in becoming an apologist is to accept the fact that you won’t always have an answer. The number of potential questions that could be presented to a person about the Bible, God, or the Christian faith is simply astounding! The odds of being asked a question that you’ve never heard or considered before are rather high. So it’s completely normal for you to not have a well-reasoned response prepared, and responding with: “That’s a good question. Let me research it and get back to you.” is often much better than coming up with a response off-the-cuff. After having been asked the question however, you should dedicate some time to researching the answer! This way, next time you see that person or next time someone else asks you that question, you will have studied and will be prepared.
Follow the rules of engagement
“Rules of engagement” is a military term. In essence, it describes how to engage in the enemy and under what circumstances. As an apologist, you should also follow certain rules of engagement when either defending the Scriptures or persuading the lost to Christ. The following are my suggestions, but I encourage everyone to develop their own rules.
- Do not argue
- I cannot emphasize this point enough. Apologetics is intended to be used to establish your faith or persuade the lost through a reasoned discourse about the truth of the Word of God. It is not intended to be used simply to win arguments! People come to God through a recognition of the truth, not through dexterous bouts of verbal jousting! Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as having said: “The man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” In other words, even if you do actually force someone to be convinced with the weight of your arguments, he will still refuse to acknowledge it because of the method that you used and the internal obstinacy that it created. Always remember that it is the Lord who opens the hear and the mind (Acts 16:14).
- Because it is God, and not us who is doing the persuading, prayer becomes the most important part of apologetic discourse. We should always pray for God to:
- Open their understanding of the Scriptures – Luke 24:45
- Guide our paths – Isaiah 30:21
- Grant us wisdom – James 1:5
- Help our speech – Colossians 4:6
- Base everything on the Bible
- As demonstrated in the second lesson (which you can read here), all other proofs are secondary to the Word of God. Other than this, there is also power in citing Scriptures. This holds true even if the person that you are talking to doesn’t believe that the Bible really is the Word of God. The Word of God is quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and more effective than anything else as it carries with it the weight and power of God’s divine inspiration.
- Be informed
- You do not have to study opposing points of view and theories in-depth, but it is highly beneficial to be aware of where people draw their opinions from and what evidence (if any) they base their arguments on. In this way, you will not be caught flatfooted and will always be prepared to refute or explain as necessary.
- Listen, then respond
- This is another one that is extremely important. Always listen to the other person, then respond to what they said. Do not make assumptions about what they believe then build a case against those assumptions! When people stop listening and then only responding, it becomes very easily to begin engaging in the straw man or red herring fallacies, and neither of those will persuade anyone!
- Ask questions
- Just as many Christians know what they believe but not why they believe it; many non-Christians also do not know why they believe something. Often times, simply engaging with the person in friendly conversation and asking why they believe something (with a friendly attitude, not an aggressive one that will make them feel defensive) is enough to make them realize that their beliefs are based on ungrounded presuppositions. Getting them to this point will go a long way to completely persuading them!
- Don't interrupt
- It’s basic courtesy; and yet, it happens often enough that it is worth saying. Do not interrupt the other person. No matter how high your emotions are raging, no matter how badly you want to cut in with a counter argument, no matter how ridiculous their claims may be. The moment that you interrupt, you have let them know that you don’t really care about what they are saying and they will begin to shut down. After all, if you don’t care about what they are saying, why should they care about what you have to say?
- Make mistakes
- This is not an encouragement to intentionally make mistakes, but rather an acknowledgement that if you are actively doing something mistakes are bound to happen. So rather than sit idle out of fear of making a mistake, embrace the freedom that comes with the knowledge that everyone makes them and just start doing. The sooner you start, the sooner you can learn from the mistake and not make that same mistake again.
- Validate your sources
- This is an especially important one in the age of Google. Hundreds, and even thousands of apologetic websites will share the same piece of information about something, and that information will be wrong. For example, I referenced Sir William Ramsay earlier. The vast majority of apologetic websites (in my experience) claim that he went to Asia Minor specifically to refute the Bible and the book of Acts! This isn’t actually true. There is no evidence indicating that he went there to refute it, but rather that he simply didn’t believe it to be factual. Another example that could be given is that of Simon Greenleaf. A lot of Christian apologists like to point to Greenleaf as an example of an atheist who was challenged to disprove the Scriptures, studied the resurrection of Christ, and ultimately got saved because of the evidence. This is only half true! He was an Episcopalian, not an atheist, and he believed the Bible before conducting the study into the resurrection of Christ. When Christians rely on such refutable claims to bolster their arguments, it weakens their entire case.
An apologist is not someone who debates and argues with others either as a profession or a habit. It is also not someone who always has an answer for everything or who can rattle off a court-room quality argument at the drop of the hat. An apologist is someone who fulfills the command that is given in I Peter 3:15 by studying the Word of God at more than just a superficial level (II Timothy 2:15). This person will prepare him/herself and his/her children and should be something that everyone Christian can claim!
Proverbs 26:3-5 “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
For those who want to learn more about apologetics and are looking for additional resources, I highly recommend Dave Hunt’s book “In defense of the faith”. Unfortunately, not all of the verses referenced in the book are from the KJV, but the majority of them are. Like all things written without the divine inspiration of God, I recommend testing everything said against the truth of the Bible! It is an excellent resource however and he answers many questions about the faith using apologetics. You can find it at Amazon here:
In defense of the faith
I agree about not arguing. The presentation put a good light on two verses in the Bible (Jude 1:3 to contend for the faith and 2 Timothy 2:23 about avoiding unlearned questions
Thanks. And keep up the great work.
July 2, 2019, 12:18 p.m.