“I was just wondering, with all the apologetics materials that we read and consume, how do you guys make the things that you read and learn your own? Do you take notes? Do you memorize some of the information? I find myself reading a lot of material, and it is useful in the sense that it strengthens my own faith, but when I have to articulate what I know to someone else, suddenly I sit with a mouth full of teeth or the information comes out completely wrong. I would like to know how to fix this as studying apologetics is not primarily for myself to have a stronger faith, but to be able to clear the view for an unbeliever. How do you guys do this?” – Jana B.
Carey: Personally, I have realized that if I really need to learn something and make it my own, I have to write it down and summarize it using my own words. This is especially true for me with apologetics, since many topics can be complex and have many layers. I usually use Google Drive for doing this, so that I can jot things down on my phone when I hear something and so I can access my notes from anywhere. My posts on ACL so far all have a final section that summarizes the key takeaway points from the post. I have always done this when studying something and I thought it might be helpful for others as well. I have a bad memory as is, so when I write down 5 or so key points that I can easily memorize, then I can better explain my position to others in conversation.
Nate: I have three quick thoughts, Jana. First, like Carey, I take notes. Sometimes I jot notes down with a pen; sometimes I type it on my phone or laptop; sometimes I record myself speaking. It doesn’t matter as long as I can get to it later! Second, I explain the new information to someone. Having to explain or even teach material to someone else is the best way to fully understand it yourself. Now, maybe there’s nobody around. That’s okay. Have a fake conversation with yourself. Pretending to explain new concepts or information to someone is often just as good. Third, I roleplay with friends and family, i.e. they take the role of a skeptic and I try to unpack the information. I do this a lot! Roleplaying is tremendously beneficial as it not only helps you to understand the material but remember it as well (especially if you keep doing it).
Since these last two methods really force you to interact with the material over and over, the information often becomes so familiar to you that you start seeing different ways to explain it, like analogies, metaphors, even stories. In other words, the more you have to explain new material and interact with it through roleplaying, the more it becomes your own. God be with you on this, Jana!
Gene: For me, hearing something seems to sink in better than reading it. If I’m reading something and I want to remember an important tactic or phrase, I usually highlight it and then bend the top corner of the page to find it easier later. Then I just have to remember what book I read it in and find the page. Most of the time though I am listening to podcasts and soaking things in like a sponge. Hopefully. If you get a handful of podcasts that cover the same neighborhood of topics you will eventually here small variations of the same arguments over and over again. That has helped me most in committing the arguments to memory to quickly recall them when I need them.
Alex: As I read things or listen to smart people, it’s usually just random as to what sticks and what doesn’t. But when I’m lucky enough to have time to think through issues and material, information sticks best when I learn it well enough to present it (I’m chiefly kinesthetic). For this, I highlight in books, write notes in the margins or jot on a scratchpad. However, this isn’t always practical because there are many issues that fly by in a given week, and to study them all to the level I desire would consume all my time. So the majority of my learning is made by simply thinking about it and letting whatever sticks stick. Whether it’s a book/article I’m reading, a podcast I’m listening to or a friend I’m talking with, my “internal dialogue” is always processing the information in real-time. That’s a good picture of how I learn material on the average day: arguing with myself (not like Gollum/Smeagol) with the hope of finding a reliable and reasonable conclusion.
Making it “my own” comes naturally, regardless of how extensive my study is. As I mull things over (the internal arguing), the result is inevitably my own angle on the issue, accepting what I find reasonable and rejecting what I believe to be hot gas.
Roger: How do I make everything I read my own? Great question. First, a quick story. After an exciting sermon, the line was pretty long to tell the pastor, “well done.” As I neared him, I could hear the same reply over and over again. “Thanks, but it’s not mine; I’ve never had an original thought.” I thought his reply was simply a humble way to thank all those who’d gone before and influenced him–until a few weeks later. The pastor was presenting again and he shared this same story. He started by thanking everyone and reminding them that he’d, “never had an original thought.” Then he continued his story of researching for this sermon when he grabbed a book he hadn’t read in a while. Flipping through the highlights and dog-ears he found a quote from the author…”I’ve never had an original thought.” The congregation laughed as we all learned, even his thought “I’ve never had an original thought” wasn’t an original thought. 🙂
I share that to remind you that being original isn’t always the requirement. Rather, being personal is. Instead of asking, “how do I make what I’ve read work for me?”, try asking, “what does the person I’m talking to need to hear?” Be confident in you and the Lord working through you. You’ll find even garbled up messes will be tilled fields for ripe fruit.