Kelly Madland, MA
Be Ready 2015
I want to begin by telling you a story – a true story. It takes place in an average Canadian city; a blue collar mining town that has big city amenities, lots of hard working people, and one local newspaper. This city is also the home of a very active atheist group known as the Centre for Rational Thought. They organize conferences, maintain a website, blogs and a library. The director, Mr. Atheist, regularly writes letters to the editor, maligning Christians usually, and he even has a weekly column entitled, “Rational Thoughts”. The problem is, most of his thoughts are not that rational or coherent, but they were getting prime exposure.
Meanwhile, meet Average Joe. He is a middle-class husband and father of 3 who attends a small evangelical church, and works at the local university. He had also done some reading in the areas of philosophy and logic, and so decided to write letters to the editor in response to Mr. Atheist’s material. Through some of the letters, he was able to write about Christianity being rational rather than atheism, how even though religion has caused wars and death, atheism has also done this to a greater and more horrific degree, and he also publicly challenged Mr. Atheist to prove his belief that there was no God. This average Joe also attended some of the atheist groups events and introduced himself to the director afterwards. He was doing what he could and was establishing a conversation, so to speak, with Mr. Atheist and anyone else who might be listening in.
In 2012, the Centre for Rational Thought was going to hold their 2nd annual Imagine No Religion Conference, and Atheist Alliance International was helping sponsor the event. A debate was to be held on the Friday evening with two prominent atheists on the topic of God’s existence. They needed Christian opponents, and who was the one Christian that they knew who could take them on? Average Joe.
They contacted Average Joe and asked him to debate at their conference. What an amazing opportunity for the Kingdom! Wasn’t this where his interactions with the Atheists had taken him? Was God asking him to debate?
In no way, however, was Average Joe experienced in public debates. He was much better on paper than on his feet in an argument. Public debating was not something he was qualified or prepared for – nor could he become so in time for the event. He was way out of his depth!
Average Joe did not have the skills adequate to meet the opportunity being presented – he wasn’t a million dollar apologist – those are apologists with a world-wide or large audience, perhaps a doctorate, books published, or a syndicated radio show. Likely none of us are nor will we ever be million dollar apologists.
But that is not what is needed in these situations. What is needed rather is a million one-dollar apologists – you and me – using opportunities like Average Joe’s newspaper letters for the advancement of the Kingdom and for the equipping of fellow believers.
You have probably heard the expression “bloom where you are planted”. You are unique. Only you have the network and social contacts that you do. Your circle of influence is different than mine. Only you can meet the certain needs and questions of those around you. You are uniquely placed. But are you ready and equipped to meet your unique challenges and opportunities when they present themselves?
You don’t need to be a million dollar apologist to make a difference.
Your disability is your opportunity. ~Kurt Hahn
We have all felt inadequate – if you haven’t …you will.
Kurt Hahn of Outward Bound is known for saying “Your disability is your opportunity”.
The word “disability” can be a range of things from a physical illness or malformation to a situation in your life, or perhaps something that is not your area of expertise. In other words, Hahn is saying, how can you flip your thinking from “I am inadequate for this situation” to “how is this situation an opportunity”?
This is biblical thinking. For example, the Apostle Paul had what is thought to be a physical disability or infirmity. This man who had performed miracles for God, and was even brought back from death or near death, pleaded with God to remove this “thorn in the flesh”. This was God’ reply.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12
Your disability can be your opportunity.
In the mid-80s, my dad traveled to Communist China to make contact with members of the underground Church there. He met a little old lady who was crippled with arthritis and could no longer walk. She lived in a little box apartment and was viewed as fairly useless by the Government, so she was left alone. Yet she was crucial to the underground church movement. At the back of her little apartment was a closet with a hanging curtain in front of it. The closet was filled with Bibles and Christian educational material. Her disability was literally her opportunity. Since the government left her alone, she was able to provide a way station for the underground church to procure much needed literature.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Let me introduce you to Daryl Davis. (He’s the guy on the left.). He is a musician, who back in 1983 was playing country music in an otherwise all-white band. He struck up a conversation with someone who liked his “style” and, long story short, ended up befriending this man who turned out to be a member of the KKK. That friendship dispelled the myths and lies about Black people that the Klansman had been brainwashed with over many years, and he ended up leaving the Klan. He was just the first in a long line of many to come. The KKK in Maryland ended up being basically dismantled because Davis kept making friends with its members, and thereby dispelling their beliefs.
This man’s disadvantage would seemingly have been his race. Instead, he turned this into an opportunity of befriending Klan members so their false ideas about his race could be dismantled. His alleged “disability” was his opportunity.
So what happened with Average Joe?
Full disclosure, Average Joe in this story is my husband, Colin. So I happen to know that formal debating was not part of his skill set, but he was still positioned to use this situation as an opportunity.
What we did have was a few connections to people who could debate formally, and who had the skills needed to represent the “Yes” side on the question of God’s existence. We helped to connect the atheist group with these professors. Well, now we had the atheists partly funding their way and since these professors were going to be here overnight, why not make use of them? We created our own little apologetics conference for the next day and invited out a couple other speakers. We printed postcards and hit the pavement going and talking personally to the churches in the city. We gathered volunteers. We charged a minimal fee so people would take it seriously (people tend to ignore free things) and prayed costs would be covered.
The end result was two Christian apologists debating at the Imagine No Religion conference, and the next day a successful equipping conference for local Christians, run by volunteers supported by the cooperation of two local churches.
Not bad work for Average Joe, a $1 apologist.
And that is what Colin is; a one-dollar apologist. He couldn’t debate and didn’t have a degree in a relevant field. He did, however, take the time to read about questions that he had in regards to Christianity. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, he wrote letters to the editor. He went to the public events put on by the atheist group and and built a “relationship” with the leader of the atheist group, which in turn led to him being able to set up and organize a time of defending the faith and equipping fellow believers.
In other cases, it might be your vocation that is keeping you from being an apologist – maybe IT can be your opportunity. Many of us hold full-time jobs and cannot be full-time apologists, even if we would like to. My full-time trade at the moment is a medical transcriptionist. I would eventually like to use what I know about transcription as an illustration in regards to the accuracy of the translations and transmission of Scripture. I am also a musician and have been a worship leader for years, so now I want to help the Church see loving God with their minds as worship as well.
J. Warner Wallace is a great example. He has used his career as a cold case homicide detective as an opportunity to make a case for Christianity, and especially for the resurrection. He was also deliberate about preparing himself to be a one-dollar apologist even though he was working. (He is actually the one who coined the term “one-dollar apologist”).
‘After the Big Bang’ Used by permission. ©Marjan Smeijsters
So, how do you go about becoming a one-dollar apologist?
Bloom where you are planted. Serve, learn, be winsome.
You see, apologetics isn’t about “apologetics”.It is not the latest fad in pop-Christianity.
Apologetics is about the Gospel – the Great Commission applied to a post-Christian culture in an age of information.
As Christians, we are first and foremost about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for humanity. That is reality. But reality also is that we live in a post-Christian world.
Jesus’ last recorded words in the Gospel of Matthew are a command:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. ~ Matt 28
Later, Peter writes to the early Church,
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
With that in mind, “bloom where you are planted”.
Earlier, I mentioned that you are unique. Only you have the network and social contacts that you do. Your circle of influence is different than mine. Only you can meet the certain needs and questions of those around you. You are uniquely placed…in both culture and time. You have been ordained by God to live during this era – this age of information in a post-Christian world. So, how will you answer the Great Commission in this age?
There are 3 ways that I would suggest and they will look different for each one of you.
3. Be Winsome.
These three things are interdependent and ongoing.
As Christians, I hope this is already a part of your life. Servanthood. Serve the least, provide servant leadership. Serve like Jesus did. If you are doing this, whether it is helping with the Youth at your church or teaching Sunday school, or a small group, you are in a position to make disciples. Once you are serving, you can use the resources of apologetics in a relevant area and help those around you learn about God and learn to love God with their minds. Make disciples, teaching them to obey God’s Word.
Be a lifelong learner. I like the fact that you are here. I think I am preaching to the choir since you are spending your Saturday at this conference. Let this be a launching pad to digging deeper.
There are also so many great resources out there. Just start with a question that you have. Or some of the big questions of life that everyone asks such as
- Does God Exist?
- Why is there Evil?
- Why would a good God Allow Suffering?
- Do all Religions Lead to God?
- Is there Life after death?
- Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
What questions are your kids asking you? Questions about what God is like start at a young age! Are you prepared? My teenagers on separate occasions over the past year or two have been faced with situations like Buddhism and Buddhist prayers being taught and prayed in a social studies class in a public school. In my son’s English class, studying morality and ethics, religion was taught as being “myth”. The teacher got her info from skeptics.com. Can you equip your teenagers in a world where atheism is a click away on the Internet? Are you prepared?
Be prepared – that was what Peter said.
Read books on your topic in question. Read material that is opposite to your point of view and think critically about it. Take a course, or take several and get a certificate or a degree. I just completed an MA in apologetics through Biola University in LA. Do what YOU can. Many of us maybe don’t have the time or the money to do a degree – that is fine. There are so many digital resources out there. Make use of them. Be deliberate. Sometimes our biggest battle these days is against Netflix.
At the same time, don’t feel overwhelmed. You got this. If you are not sure about content, ask some fellow apologists or a trusted person in leadership. Networking through apologetics groups in social media is a good way to do this. Get connected with Faith Beyond Belief or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to interact with you.
Be deliberate about studying. William Lane Craig uses the “turtle method”. In addition to 20 minutes of Bible reading every morning, he reads 2 pages (about 20 minutes) of the Church fathers every morning. Granted he is probably reading them in Greek or Latin, but the point remains. WE can read for 20 minutes a day on a relevant topic…in English. Maybe it is an apologetics 101-type book. Or maybe some relevant blogs. But it’s doable.
J. Warner Wallace talks about taking a theology degree part-time while he was working full-time. Looking into it he realized it was going to take 10 years. But his point was, so what? 10 years is going to go by anyway. We may as well come out of those 10 years better able to defend our faith or knowing what we want to know.
Peter says to give a reason for the hope that you have with gentleness and respect…and he goes on to say do it this way so that you are
keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
While what the lady is screaming in and of itself may be true, her method of delivery will keep her message from being received.
Delivery methods can be learned, and there are resources out there for you to tap into, which goes back to point 2 – Learn.
For example, you could use the book and study entitled Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions. Koukl teaches Christians how to use selective questions to invite others to participate in a conversation, make headway without making an assertion, shift the burden of proof and put you in the driver’s seat.
These are simply conversational skills, but they can help build the Kingdom.
And by the way, You don’t have to know much to show kindness and respect. Remember Daryl Davis? He dismantled the Maryland KKK by being winsome, by being a friend.
Read a Book
Take a Course
Lead a Small Group
Start a Blog
Just DO Something…
Read another Book
Earn a Degree
Make yourself available to God and you will be a $1 dollar apologist! They will be some of your most exciting days on this planet.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.