“What follows here is an informal description of different attitudes Christians (and some non-Christians) might have toward apologetics. This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means: even some of my closest working associates, Ratio Christi chapter directors, fall somewhere between level 1 and 2. My purpose here isn’t to develop new labels for people, but to help us think about who we’re ministering to and what their key apologetics-related needs might be.
These, then, are five levels of apologetics interest to think about, and a few thoughts about what people at each level might need.
- Core leaders. These are the scholars, teachers, speakers, and writers who produce most of the apologetics material the rest of us use. What core leaders need most in their ministry is mutual encouragement, opportunities to study, a well-developed strategic platform from which to present their material, and a heart to serve the rest of the body of Christ.
- Enthusiasts and local leaders. Enthusiasts are the ones who go to conferences, buy books by the armload, write or comment on blogs, and so on. Local leaders are enthusiasts who have also taken up a significant leadership role teaching in Sunday schools, leading community apologetics groups, and so on. Enthusiasts often need encouragement and training to step up to a leadership role. Local leaders and enthusiasts both need a network of encouragers, and they need their steady supply of books to read and conferences to attend. They need a way to minister to others as well.
- Questioners. Everyone has questions, but some people are more open to exploring them than others. Questioners care about answers— but they might not know there are any. They might include teenagers (or even preteens) who have reached the point of wondering whether their parents’ faith can be their own. They might include parents who wonder what to tell their drifting teens to keep them in the faith. Questioners might find apologetics to be mentally challenging, but still they might well be interested in apologetics-style answers if they knew such a thing existed. They need someone to patiently show them those answers do exist, and help them understand.
- The inoculated. These are people who know about apologetics and have a bad opinion of it. They may know some apologetics themselves, but for whatever reason, they don’t see much value in pursuing or promoting it; it’s as if they’ve been inoculated against it. The best way I know of to help the inoculated, and what they might need most, is a kind of double exposure. The first exposure is to tough, real-world questions, issues, and problems that demand seriously thoughtful answers. Painful though it may be, the inoculated need to become uncomfortable in their apathy toward answers. The second exposure involves a deeply relational connection with someone who can represent apologetics wisely, lovingly, and thoughtfully toward them.
- The closed. These fellow Christians aren’t at all interested in apologetics and wouldn’t respond to anything we have to offer. Maybe they’ll get along just the way they are until God calls them home, or maybe God will bring them face-to-face with a hard question someday. Unless and until that happens, there’s not much we have to offer them as apologists. We may still have a lot to offer them as friends in the Lord, but not so much as apologists.
That list is obviously incomplete, but there’s enough there to give us some conceptual material to play with. Suppose you’re an enthusiast: apologetics may not be your greatest love in life, but it’s close. You read a book a week (though you really wish you had time to read two or three). You’ve got Gary Habermas’s minimal facts down pat, and you know William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument well enough to throw in names like Hilbert and Vilenkin. You enjoy apologetics so much you made sure you got a copy of this book.
If something like that describes you, I have two questions for you:
- Who needs your apologetics skills and insights the most? Hint: it isn’t other enthusiasts. They’re getting their apologetics fix the same way you are: books, the Internet, and conferences.
- Who do you find most motivating to be with? The answer to that question will reveal whether you’re a servant apologist or not.
If your answer is “other enthusiasts,” or even “core leaders,” you might want to take a careful look at yourself. There’s nothing the least bit wrong with enjoying fellowship; it’s a matter of purpose and balance. If you’re there for mutual refreshment, great! If you’re there to get equipped to serve others elsewhere, that’s great too.
If you’re there to get a pat on the back for coming up with a new twist on an old argument, that might be okay if you keep it in perspective. If, however, you’re there to escape the realms of the unenlightened and bask in the warmth of some real intellect, take a close look at yourself: that’s old-fashioned pride taking over. And if you’re there without giving a second thought to those who aren’t, then I suggest you think very hard about what Jesus meant when he said, ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10: 45).
Servant apologists look for ways to use their gifts to help those who actually need what they have to offer: questioners, the inoculated, and even the closed. They find ways to serve even if they don’t get pats on the back for their clever new arguments. They do it even if the people they’re ministering to think they’re a little bit weird.
They do it because they know service means meeting others’ needs ahead of their own.” Excerpt from “Servant Apologetics” by Tom Gilson in A New Kind of Apologist.