web analytics

Apr 24

A Call to Churches to Create Careers in Apologetics

This article discussing emerging church staff positions crossed my desk and caught my attention.  According to the article, prevailing trends in society and in the Church (Institutional) suggest that we can see these positions being developed or created:

The Network Administrator
The Multicultural Children’s Director
The Chief of Staff
The Operations Pastor
The Creative Arts Director
The Boomer Director
The Spiritual Growth Pastor

I think this list, though not portrayed as comprehensive, is probably pretty accurate.  Given my background, I noticed that one position is not mentioned:  Apologetics Director.  I think that is pretty accurate, too.

I find this to be pretty interesting and indicative of the state of the Church, Inc. today.   Not to take away anything from the positions mentioned above or positions that may already exist, but we live in a society where Christianity is being deliberately attacked at a number of levels.   At the same time, the culture itself represents challenges to Christianity less intentionally, in the form of hundreds and even thousands of new world views for Christians to encounter and have to deal with.

The average Christian receives an education from the Church that presumes that said Christian will never encounter someone with a different worldview or even one that is positively hostile.   We educate our youth as though when they go to college their professors will be sympathetic to Christianity.

Now, we all know that hostility to Christianity is rampant.  We all know that the number and variety of challenges to the Christian faith have increased a thousandfold since 1900.  We know this.  We are doing precious little.

Now, in my view, spiritual formation is a duty that chiefly resides in the family with the parents being the primary mechanism by which the faith is transmitted from one generation to the next.  Assisted and supported, of course, by the Greater Church.    I think Church professionals have allowed too much to be delegated to them, willingly taking on duties that should be performed by the father and mother.  They ought to work actively to restore parents to their rightful place in the chain.

However, at the same time I am a realist.  Many parents don’t know that the Bible lists them as the primary medium for raising godly children.  (eg, Mal. 2:15).  They need to be told this, and then equipped for the task.  This will take work.  At the same time, all of the aforementioned challenges to the Christian faith make it all the more difficult for the average Christian to equip their child for the ‘average’ American experience.

Thus, it seems to me that to resolve both issues at the same time (1., equip parents and 2., address robust challenges to Christianity) the obvious solution is to create apologetics positions throughout the churches.

The primary purpose of these positions would not, in my view, to be to contend with the local atheist or bang elbows with the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons.  They would be to educate and inform members of the congregation and raise them up to the level where they can adequately express their faith with confidence in the Marketplace of Ideas and answer the questions posed by their own children.

I would contend that this purpose cannot be fulfilled by pastors, youth directors, Sunday school teachers, and Directors of Christian Education.  Pastors, for example, are already over-worked.    From the foregoing you should infer that youth directors are not the ones, as they are working with the youth primarily and not the parents and adults.

DCEs clearly have some potential overlap, but even here the DCE is often in charge of the education programs ranging from early childhood on up and they also tend to be overworked.  I can speak from experience, having worked for three years in a DCE type position at a church, that while there was overlap with what I would consider to be apologetics, there wasn’t enough time in the day to be fully engaged in an apologetics ministry along with all the other things I was doing.

In general, most Christians see a value to apologetics.  However, it hasn’t occurred to many (or any?) congregations to, for lack of a better phrase, “put their money where their mouths are.”  Why not?

Several reasons, I think.  I think that a lot of Christians, and certainly a lot of pastors, believe or behave as though they believe, that there is a sharp division between the mission of the church and ‘secular affairs.’  The notion (for example) of teaching biology to the flock strikes them as nonsense: the Church’s job is to preach the Gospel.  A little hard to preach the Gospel when all of their biology profs in college proclaim that the Gospel is bunk, but ok, that view is out there.

Another reason that is related to that one is the view among some that apologetics is positively useless and has no role in the Christian’s walk.  I have much to say in rebuke of that position but for now will pass.  Needless to say, I don’t agree with that view and this post is not directed to people who believe that, anyway.

Another prevailing notion is that the only qualification one needs to be an apologist is a penchant for arguing- with some exceptions.  The exceptions seem to be centered around the perception that anyone really worth their salt in apologetics will go out and become a scholar.  In truth, engaging in apologetics is a full time endeavor involving tons of reading and research and writing, and if I had my way- teaching.  Apologetics is much more than arguing, if only for the reason that if you wanted to win in an argument you have to know what you’re talking about!  But it is more than that, in any case.

But just as we don’t figure that seminaries are sufficient for shepherding the church- they must actually produce individuals that go out to the congregation to implement what they learned at the seminary- we should not think that just because we have scholars at universities working the apologetics angle that done what is needful.  That track is necessary and important, but we still need people who will take that information and apply it in a specific local context, translating and explaining the heady stuff that the scholars are generating.

Congregations consist of hairdressers, mechanics, secretaries, business managers, deliverymen, attorneys, doctors, stay-at-home moms and dads, etc, etc… in short, any number of occupations where one doesn’t have the luxury of sifting through whatever is happening in academia today that relates to effectively equipping young people to stand up under the weight of our culture.  Yet even these earnestly wish to do just that.

Given the cultural climate today, it seems to me that we desperately need these local apologetics positions.  We need people to take the lead in mastering and then communicating this material.  Reagan said, ‘If you want more of something, subsidize it.’  Let’s face it, this need will not be filled any time soon if we don’t direct resources to meeting it.   If this is something we want in the Church, we need to invest in it in a tangible fashion.

There seems to be an awful lot of hand-wringing about these types of things but in my estimation not much else.  Creation of apologetics positions would not solve the whole problem (bringing parents on board is the real key, in my view) but it is at least doing something that pertains to the specific crisis:  kids are falling away because they don’t want to believe something that the evidence says is not true, not because they didn’t have an enjoyable time in church last Sunday.  You know what, the same is true of their parents.

The irony is that apologetics degree programs are springing up all over the place.  And what for?  To be funneled into academia?  To be internet bloggers?  Really? Granting that both of these routes have value, in my estimation what we really need are ‘boots on the ground.’  We are preparing people for that sort of thing but not positions for them to occupy.

In my view, that has got to change.  I suppose that that change will have to be wrought one congregation at a time.   In that sense there is hope, since this proposal of mine does not require a huge massive overhaul of the Church.  All it would take is individual congregations to see the need, pursue it, and fund it.

Or, alternatively, people who feel that apologetics is something we want to keep around even if there aren’t formal positions for it should seek out and identify individual apologists and apologetics ministries to support out of their resources, much as we might individually support or sponsor a missionary.

Matthew 9:37-38

Share

8 comments

1 ping

Skip to comment form

  1. Yes, agreed. How can we help turn this idea into reality?

    • Ramzi on April 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    This is a super idea. Many are challenged by their faith in this day. And many leave altogether. This could be a great value.

  2. Better than creating yet another paid clergy position to add to the already enormous bloat found in most organizations masquerading as churches would be for us to recognize that the clergy/laity system has failed us and that we need to go back to the community model found in the early church. We can not be merely content with gathering at a building for up to 4 hours a week (if you are among the most holy).

    We need to get back to the notion that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in a constant contact with other believers in mutually edifying relationships.

    Sure, some are gifted to teach, and they should, but the whole of the body needs to realize it’s obligation to do the heavy lifting of study that is required if they are to be effective warriors and not merely statistical casualties.

    • Anthony on April 24, 2010 at 9:12 pm
      Author

    Don-

    I think realistically individual congregations will have to make a decision on their own. I suppose at that level, it comes down to people who buy into this idea to raise the issue in their own congregations. After that, just hang out a sign that reads: “Hiring apologists!” and get ready for the avalanche of applications. 🙂

    Wes-

    I actually agree with you much more than you may realize. In fact, I agree with everything you said. However, I don’t think you can get back to the community model until after Christians can be counted on to regularly interact with the Bible for themselves. This means, as I alluded to in the blog entry, it is the job of parents to transmit the faith to the next generation- not pastors and the professional clergy. I trust you saw my comments to that effect.

    But having said that, I would re-state the fact that I am a realist. We have the system we have. The only way out of the system is for people to do the ‘heavy lifting’ that you refer to. It is my belief that by mainstreaming apologetics in the manner I described- deliberately equipping fathers and mothers to transmit the faith in the face of accumulating challenges- the day might come when the whole Body steps up.

    So while I agree with what you said, I am left wondering from it how one gets from Here to There. I believe my proposal would. I would be interested in hearing exactly what you had in mind for the actual mechanism to bring it about. Given the high level of ignorance among Christians of the Bible, I don’t see much widespread interest in changing the status quo: most people do not even know about the ‘community model’ in order to consider it.

    • Mark on April 25, 2010 at 6:39 am

    To Anthony and Wes-

    You both make very good points! However, Anthony you mentioned the “hard work” of learning in your post. Our culture only values learning for job/career training, this is deep seated in the institutional church with the inch deep theology and in the view as you also stated “just preach the Gospel”. We never move past being preached to about the Gospel, attendance, serving and giving. We claim on one hand that people should study the bible, but we really don’t want to much of that because that could take time away from growing our institutions or worse lead them to view the institution as not biblical. So, as a realist as well, I would say it is naive to think leaders of institutions will allow for positions in them to be created that will harm the institution or God forbid lead to its decline.
    Wes- while I would agree with you that a HUGE part of the problem is the view that leaders have POSITIONS instead of FUNCTIONS, I do not agree that the whole body should be required to do the heavy lifting of study, they should however desire to learn as much as they are able from those that do the heavy lifting.
    For my part, I see biblically I am resposible for me and my family. I will seek out brothers and sisters to fellowship with sharpen and be sharpened by and I will challenge those with other worldviews with the Gospel and reason and I will do it all to please God and not mammon.

    • Anthony on April 25, 2010 at 10:35 am
      Author

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your comment. Well, what can I say? I resonate with your statement directed to me. I even agree that leaders of institutions wouldn’t want to create ‘positions’ that put the ‘institution’ at risk- but on this I’d rather err on the side of being naive than on being cynical. Note when I say that that many would in fact think I am pretty cynical. 🙂

    I think I should be clear that my proposal here is meant to represent a stand-alone good thing. That is to say, training and equipping people to understand and explain their beliefs, in particular to their own children, is a good thing in itself.

    I shouldn’t want anyone to think my purpose in proposing this is the overthrow of the system, but I won’t deny that I believe that a thoroughly knowledgeable ‘laity’ would have the same kind of seismic effect on the Christian church that merely having the Bible in one’s own language after Gutenberg produced on the Catholic Church vis a vis the conflation of Church and Government. In that latter example, after people could read their Bibles for themselves, they saw that this conflation could not be justified from scripture. Likewise, I think, when people become informed again about their own faith, they will begin questioning why things are the way they are.

    I am reminded that the Reformers, Martin Luther in particular, steadfastly saw the parents and the father in particular as the primary transmitter of the faith to the children. As I alluded to, and as you seem to agree, a return to this perspective broadly within the Church will heal many of our ailments.

  3. Anthony,

    Thanks for the thoughtful words and insightful comments.

    Allow me to cut to the chase, you said: “So while I agree with what you said, I am left wondering from it how one gets from Here to There.”

    While I admit that it certainly is a tall order I’ve placed in my rant above regarding how the church culture is structured I don’t think it is unattainable and upon further reflection I can actually concede that your post might make it far more likely and attainable in the long run by giving more Christians the ability to build strong, God-centered, Acts communities.

    That said, I think Mark has a very good point in that the vast majority of intellectual “heavy lifting” in society in general today is largely abandoned in favor of only what we are forced to endure in order to survive (which, as Mark mentioned, mostly means job-related).

    When it comes to apologetics, my initial rant was brought on by what I’ve noticed particularly in the SBC when it comes to anything new (programs, ministries, etc.), especially when it comes to apologetics. In short, anyone who is gifted in apologetics is already expected to promote themselves as if they were a business. Sure, further institutionalizing apologetics teaching would insulate us from poverty, but what would it do to our message? Are we really to believe it is more likely to change the church culture or is it more likely that the church culture would neuter the apologetics teaching (like it has with most other ministries)?

    I believe the root of the issue lies in how we are conditioned to seek entertainment in our culture and not virtue (and CERTAINLY not intellectual virtue) in itself. So what can or should be done to correct it?

    I would have to, again, point to the small group/church model found in Acts. I don’t think its much of a stretch to see this concept applied today either as many churches are recognizing the value of small or cell groups.

    I think a happy marriage of your idea above along with an intentional small-group mentality would go a long way towards the production of strong apologetically-minded Christians AND would have the added benefit of being more reproducible. This would also potentially impact the culture more as a result.

    In the end, I don’t think the current system is capable of the widespread changes I’m sure both of us recognize a well-educated general Christian populace would entail.

    • Anthony on May 25, 2010 at 10:37 am
      Author

    Hi Wes,

    Sorry for taking so long to reply to this.

    I’m just a tad confused by this you said:

    In short, anyone who is gifted in apologetics is already expected to promote themselves as if they were a business. Sure, further institutionalizing apologetics teaching would insulate us from poverty, but what would it do to our message? Are we really to believe it is more likely to change the church culture or is it more likely that the church culture would neuter the apologetics teaching (like it has with most other ministries)?

    It reads to me from this that you aren’t happy about the SBC making apologists promote themselves like they are a business, and yet you aren’t keen on ‘institutionalizing’ it either. These seem to be somewhat incompatible. How would you spare apologists the trouble of having to be business minded while not having the Church support them?

    Is your idea about ‘small groups’ the veiled answer to this… a redefining of clergy/laity relations?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Apologetics 315. Apologetics 315 said: A Call to Churches to Create Careers in Apologetics http://bit.ly/aIiX68 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.