Now a Jew named Apollos . . . was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.
He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke
and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of
John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard
him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Apologetics is often discussed as if it’s some abstract body of knowledge, “He knows his apologetics” or “I don’t understand apologetics.” That’s fine. Apologetics certainly includes information and knowledge. But when we talk about apologetics that way it’s easy to forget that the term does not derive from sciencia (“knowledge”), as if apologetics referred simply to knowledge. In fact, apologetics derives from the Greek word for “defense,” or “answer” (apologia)–these are actions. Defending the faith is not an abstraction it’s an action. Having knowledge doesn’t qualify you to be an apologist. You become an apologist when you are using knowledge (and, for that matter, passion, wisdom, etc.) for the defense of that faith. Apologetics isnt’ something you know, it’s something you do.
Since apologetics is an action, that means we can gain or lose skill in it. If I want to play basketball, or change a tire, or cook an omelette I probably won’t be very good at it if I never practice. I might even have some inborn ability, just as some people have a better sense of taste or other people have natural athleticism, but we can always stand to improve.
(a) Just do it: You can’t steer a parked car. And no amount of book learning can replace hands-on practice. Sure, apologetics takes lots of facts and data, but all those abstract facts are like bricks in need of a craftsman to build them into something useful. Some apologists are so concerned about “truth” that they forget about “love.” Those are people who’ve forgotten the craft of apologetics. Rather than helping a person break down and rebuild their worldview, that sort of “apologist” just wants to dump bricks on them and let them figure things out. Rather than dumping bricks on people, why not practice listening, talking, questioning, and answering real people, showing real respect, and real humility as you learn how real people actually dialogue about spiritual matters. Most of the real skill of apologetics is not from books or classes, it’s from interacting with people.
(b) Keep studying: It’s true that head knowledge can’t substitute for practical skill. But likewise, no amount of practical skill can substitute for head knowledge. Even a master craftsman needs tools and materials to work with. As you are doing apologetics you will soon find that you have a lot to learn, so pick a topic that seems especially important or interesting to you and start studying it. Maybe for you it’s Mormon Apologetics, or the Resurrection, or the Problem of Evil. Maybe you’d like some general knowledge for teaching a sunday school class on “tough questions.” You might find you want some formal training (like Biola or SES). But you can at least start using the internet for good, finding articles, watching videos, scanning blog posts, or start reading a book on your subject.
(c) Model apologists who are doing it right: So far, the two suggestions are pretty general, but this suggestion gets more specific. In olden days people used to learn a craft through apprenticeships. Families would let their children shadow a master-craftsman, practicing the skill, and learning the tricks of the trade till they too are mastercraftsman. Apologetics is no different. Some of the most potent apologetics is imparted by modeling. Now, you won’t necessarily get to follow William L. Craig around, or carry Michael Licona’s luggage for him. But you can study the lives and practices of apologists you admire. Some of them are more than willing to offer some mentoring, or a phone call or two. And even if all that fails, you can still learn from their lives. For me, the two most influential apologists have been Norman Geisler and Ravi Zacharias. I’ve never spent much time with Ravi but I’ve taken his grace and tactfulness to heart. And he’s always one segue away the Gospel. Now, I’ve spent a lot of time with Dr. Geisler, and have imbibed a lot of his ideas, but any teacher does that. But his influence has been like a mentor in training me to think systematically, to organize thoughts, and test for consistency with orthodoxy. Moreover, both of these men are devoted ministers. They have stubbornly refused to surrender “Christian scholarship” as a purely academic enterprise. For Christians, everything is a ministry of some sort.