Perhaps more now than in any time since the first few centuries of church history, there has been an interest in and practice of apologetics. In the early church, apologetic efforts were consistently in the forefront of Christian proclamation because it was necessary to defend and validate the faith. Today, we again find ourselves in a hostile, non-Christian culture. Therefore, apologetic practice has become a necessity. The rise of the modern apologists has impacted the church in a number of ways. The first two contributions to modern Christianity are positive. The second two are not quite so positive.
First, Christians are becoming more and more acquainted with the historical data for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, there is a renewed fervor in asserting the coherence of science and the bible. Third, there is a tendency to push forward and idolize certain individuals with a gift for defending the faith. Fourth, there has arisen a new vocational enterprise in which some Christians aspire to be professional apologists.
Being an Apologist
One of the things I hear quite often is, “I want to be an apologist.” Awesome! Good thing! However, what I assume that statement should mean and what people often actually mean are generally entirely different. Most of the time, people intend to state their desire to become professional apologists. They see people like William Lane Craig or Norman Geisler and hope to become like them. Well, there are a few problems with this goal.
First, those wanting to become a professional apologist tend to miss the fact that most of the professional apologists (but sadly, not all) are also in the ministry. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not speaking just of being in the seminary classroom. No, I mean local church ministry. Even though he is no longer in this position, famed apologist Norman Geisler served as a pastor for years while writing books and teaching classes. Likewise, James White is not just a professional writer and debater, he is also a teaching elder at his local church.
Second, the reason the aforementioned apologists are also in church ministry is because Scripture nowhere lists apologist as a calling from God. No! What is mentioned in Scripture is the fact that those called to be elders are instructed to practice apologetics (Titus 1:5-9). So, while Scripture commands all believers to practice apologetics (I Peter 3:15-16; Jude 3), an elder is to have a unique proficiency in defending the faith. This makes sense given that apostolic preaching was highly apologetic in nature (just read the book of Acts) and yet there is no mention in Scripture of God giving apologists (Eph. 4:11) to the church.
So, if you are interested in apologetics and desire to practice apologetics, good! You are being obedient to Scripture. If your desire is to be a professional apologist but you have no desire for local church ministry, you may want to rethink things. From the perspective of Scripture, there is no such thing as a professional apologist. There are those who serve the local church that have a special proficiency in defending the faith but there are no professional apologists. Further, throughout the history of the church, the greatest apologists also served in ministerial capacity in their local congregations. So, if you desire to be an apologist in some form of official capacity, it should also be coupled with a strong desire and calling to serve the local church.