What makes a person an apologist? Does setting up an apologetics blog make a person an apologist? What about a large collection of well-read apologetics books? It is easy for a Christian to self-identify as an apologist.
I have been reflecting on this in the context of other areas.
How does someone qualify to be called a philosopher? Is having an interest in reading and talking about philosophy enough? Perhaps, but many people who are called philosophers have some sort of credentials. We think of someone with a PhD or at least an MA in philosophy, who is active in an area of philosophy.
What about a theologian? I have been publicly called a theologian and it has always made me uncomfortable. Even though I have taken five theology courses at the master’s level and two at the doctoral level, I do not feel qualified for that description. We think of a theologian as being more than a Christian who has an interest in theology.
What does this mean for apologetics? I am not suggesting that you need a PhD to be an apologist. What would the PhD even have to be in? You don’t have to possess a degree in apologetics, although it is a good idea (see this page for some suggestions).
I am suggesting two things:
- There is a difference between apologists and those who do apologetics. I believe all Christians are to do apologetics (1 Peter 3:15). But not all are to be apologists. This is the same argument as those who are evangelists and those who evangelize. There are Christians who have apologetics as a major part of their ministry or even career that it is natural to describe them as apologists.
- We should hold apologists to a high standard. Just as we should not too easily handout the labels of philosophers or theologians, we should be discerning with the apologist label. This may include a certain level of education, although there are very talented apologists that are self-taught. I am saying that we should expect apologists to be operating within a certain level of knowledge and skill. This last point is important. You can’t be an apologist if you are not doing apologetics.
My purpose in this is for us to reflect deeper about the nature of apologists and apologetics. If you want to be an apologist, aim high and take the necessary steps. Meanwhile, do all the apologetics you can while serving in your vocation.
Looking to learn more about apologetics? I Recommend Alister McGrath’s Mere Apologetics.