When Apologetics Feels Like Math

hatemathToday’s post is by Sarah Abbey. You can read more of her work at her blog, A Penny of A Thought.

You know that experience where there’s something you should do but you absolutely hate doing it? That’s how I feel about math – and how many people feel about apologetics.

Really, I hate math.

For one, I don’t really understand it. Once I passed the basics it became confusing for me. Math is a language I don’t speak. I think in pictures and words. Even numbers in my mind are represented by an image or a word. Numbers are just not part of my personality.

Second, I hate math because I’m not very good at the subject, I’ve discovered that when I’m called upon to use more advanced math skills, I panic. Literally. I’m like a deer in headlights. My mind draws a blank and I anxiously feel the weight of my inability.

Third, since math is so confusing and it makes me feel so bad, I tend to avoid conversations that focus on the subject. I have friends who like math, but we tend not to talk about geometric topology, string theory, or stochastic processes when we hang out. Math is not part of my normal, everyday conversations with friends and I plan to keep it that way!

For many Christians, apologetics feels a lot like math: it’s hard to understand, in an area not connected to their personality and temperament, and bringing it up with friends would be both terrifying and absurd.

Yet just as I can’t escape using basic math on a daily basis (no matter how poorly), Christians who take their faith seriously will not be able to escape using basic apologetics. We may never study the ontological argument, but we are called upon, and commanded, to be ready to share the reasons for our hope in Christ (see 1 Peter 3:15-16). When we are asked WHY we believe, we need to be ready to give an answer, even if it is a simple one.

If this command to use apologetics makes your heart sink, I have good news for you.

Our call to learn and discuss apologetics does not need to fill us with dread, fear, and trepidation. Unlike my reaction to math, we don’t need to feel like a deer in headlights if the topic comes up with friends.

Let me share five tips on how you can use apologetics in a way that fits who you are, impacts your friends, and brings glory to the Lord.

Tip #1: Be Your Spirit-filled self

When it comes to using apologetics, be yourself!

Apologetics, like any discipline, comes in all shapes and sizes. Just as each snow flake is different, each personality is different. This means that God has not called you to be an apologist like Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig. He’s called you to share your hope in Christ within your personality.

So look for ways to explain why you believe that fits with who you are. Are you into poetry, music, sports, knitting, camping, bungee jumping, or dare I say it, math? Look for opportunities to use apologetics according to your personality and passions.

For instance, going on camping trips with nonChristian friends is an amazing opportunity to build genuine friendships and have deep conversations around the campfire. And you’re surrounded by the beauty and splendor of natural revelation (see Psalm 19). What an incredible opportunity to authentically discuss how you see evidence for God in the world.

Tip #2: Listen and Ask Questions Before Giving Answers

There is a common misunderstanding that apologetics is a constant debate and argument with others on why their worldview is wrong and our worldview is right. While there is a legitimate place for debating, and Christianity is based on the conviction that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” this does not mean that you should go around debating with your friends on every apologetic issue!

Rather, for most of us, the right place to start any apologetic conversation is to remain silent. Francis Schaeffer, a famous apologist, once wisely suggested that if you have sixty minutes to share the Gospel with someone you should listen for fifty-five minutes and only speak for the last five minutes.

We need to listen to our friends and hear what they are really saying. What are the questions they are asking? Are they even asking questions? As we listen, we also need to ask questions. It is listening that enables us to ask the right questions. What do they believe? Why do they believe it? What led them to their conclusions about the ultimate questions of life?

Listening and asking questions will also help us be better equipped to answer questions that come our way. There are so many different ways to answer these questions.

Also recognize that you do not need to be afraid if you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer. You don’t need to be like a deer in headlights. It’s ok not to have all the answers; it’s ok to honestly tell someone you don’t know. But have the courage not to leave it there. Look into the answer; learn if there is one and what it is. And then share what you’ve learned with the one who originally asked.

Tip #3: Learn by Reading, Watching, or Listening To Apologetics

There is a large amount of understandable, easy to access information on apologetics, both on the web and in print. For example, why not pick up a copy of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ? It’s easy to understand, interesting to read, and explains the trustworthiness and reliability of the Gospel message.

As you learn more, see if you can incorporate your new-found understanding into your daily conversations. Maybe you’ll even have a friend who would be interested in reading the book with you. By reading a book together, the burden of knowing all of the “answers” does not rest on your shoulders.

If you’re not into reading books, then you can try out the various apologetics podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos, and phone apps. They are designed to answer the tough questions of skeptics and equip Christians to answer those questions in everyday life. Listen to a talk on the Bible and science from John Lennox, watch a video of William Lane Craig debating the existence of God, or see Ravi Zacharias discuss the problem of evil. Whichever way you learn best, in today’s world there is a way for you to access quality apologetic information.

This process means you have to be willing to let the Lord use you in ways that are out of your comfort zone. There is a balance in the Christian life of recognizing where God has gifted us and growing in those areas and in submitting to those times when the Lord calls us to serve outside of our normal sphere of influence. The Lord’s grace is sufficient to equip us for all godliness. If he asks you to use apologetics in a way that seems to be outside of your strengths or personality, trust that he knows what he’s doing and that when we are weak he is strong.

Tip #4: Join an Apologetics Community

From personal experience, joining an apologetics community offers a huge boost in confidence and intentionality. For example, you may want to join the Christian Apologetics Alliance group on Facebook. The group is designed to be a place where Christians can ask, wrestle with, and discuss the current apologetic questions they are facing. It’s also an amazing place of encouragement as the group seeks to be a support system in defending the faith.  Take advantage of this dynamic and free resource.

You could also ask your pastor if there is a group or Sunday school class at your church that discusses these issues. You can start a book discussion or study group with your Christian friends. There are so many ways to make learning apologetics a social experience.

Tip #5: Ask the Lord to Help You

This last tip is the most important. Ask the Lord to help you. It’s a prayer he’ll be more than willing to answer with a yes. If apologetics is outside of your personality, temperament, or seems absurd in your sphere of influence, ask God to change your heart and work in your life. Ask him to give you opportunities to share the reasons for the hope you have in Christ, equip you to share with boldness and joy, and to move in your friends’ hearts and minds to respond to his grace.

A father with a demon-possessed son once said to Jesus, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We can pray the same prayer: “Lord I want to share my hope in you. Help me to share my hope in you with my friends.”

In Conclusion

I will probably never like math. I will always dread those moments when I’m called upon to use it. But the good news is that for those of us who have felt the same way about apologetics there is hope. Remember these five tips:

  1. Be Your Spirit-filled self.
  2. Listen and ask questions before giving answers.
  3. Learn by reading, watching, or listening to apologetics.
  4. Join an apologetics community.
  5. Ask the Lord to help you.

We can trust God to use us to share the gospel in a reasonable manner with our friends. Maybe apologetics doesn’t have to feel like math after all!

Did you enjoy this post? You can read more of Sarah’s writing at her blog, A Penny of A Thought.