Christian Apologists in Community: The Necessity of Fellowship for the Front Line

By Tyson James

As the Global Chapters Director for Reasonable Faith, the ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig, I supervise over 200 chapters across 35 countries on six continents. Part of my responsibility is to certify men and women as chapter directors. Through the certification process, I get to know these leaders personally—their backgrounds, testimonies of salvation, theological convictions, and visions for building the Kingdom of God in their local communities. Many of them share a particular story, the major features of which are the same whether they are life-long churchgoers, new to the faith, or somewhere in between: at some point, they start wanting answers to the big questions; they search in vain to find answers from their close personal contacts; their independent research provides a measure of satisfaction and they discover an empowered, reasonable faith; with an invigorated spirit, they find themselves longing to engage with others about these topics—to teach, to practice, to be mentored—only to find isolation because those around them think these things abstruse or uninteresting (or, in the worst cases, un-Christian). They are set free yet suffer the privation of solitary confinement.

This is surely a wound in the Body of Christ. What is the dressing? Though military references are generally bad for apologetics PR (I know, Greg Koukl, I know), it’s no coincidence that a disproportionate number of our chapter directors—and, I believe, Christian apologists in general—are military veterans (or come from similar high-risk environments, such as law enforcement or fire and rescue). The similarities are obvious. Apologetics, in practice, is often ideologically adversarial. Like serving in the military, being a good apologist requires exorbitant amounts of training, reconnaissance, precision, adaptation, courage, and a sense of urgency. In isolation, the constant vigilance necessary for effectiveness in this calling can be quite unbearable. Alister McGrath notes, “A theme that often emerges in [C. S.] Lewis’s writings in the late 1940s is that apologetics is exhausting and draining.”[1] Extended solitude can lead not only to burn-out, but also to depression or anger, and even moral catastrophe. The strong bonding that occurs between military members has been well-researched and documented in the field of psychology, as well as dramatized in widely acclaimed entertainment—the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, for example. Scientifically, what we find is that those who are exposed to acute stress engage in pro-social behavior as a coping mechanism.[2] As a healthy venue for the expression of this coping mechanism, fellowship, then, constitutes a treatment.

Having sought to foster fellowship among our chapter directors, I’ve seen firsthand the salutary effects. Here are just a few of the many positive remarks they’ve provided:

“It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Sometimes apologetics can be a lonely field (doesn’t seem like there is a lot of interest in the church). Connecting with others has helped me make friends, find speakers for my chapter meetings, and I will never forget the support I have gotten.” – Gaby Wigginton (Chapel Hill, NC)

“I have always yearned for being connected with fellow apologists in a personal way. There’s this desire to be guided or mentored by someone more experienced or established in the field, since I also have questions about the faith, and it’s difficult when you feel alone and you need answers to questions that you wonder about by yourself. Here with Reasonable Faith, as well as in my country, the Philippines, I have connected with other apologists and it has impacted me greatly.” –  Omar Rushlive Arellano (Quezon City, Philippines)

“Fellowshipping with other like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ who are engaged in defending the faith has been a source of personal growth for me, specifically with regards to character formation. It takes discipline, and frankly, hard work to be a thoughtful, responsible, knowledgeable, articulate, and above all, loving Christian apologist.” – Jeremy Walker (Denver, NC)

What does this fellowship look like? Reasonable Faith has more resources than many apologetics ministries, so we’re able to do more in this area than most. But much of what we do can be implemented at little to no cost. For example, we have several private social media groups where our chapter directors share their ideas, videos, articles, questions, personal struggles and prayer requests, memes, events—just about everything. To alleviate the burn-out-inducing strain of collecting and developing resources, we have a community Google Drive account bursting at the seams with PowerPoints, lesson notes, outlines, handouts, e-books, articles, social media graphics, and resource lists. No need for each chapter director to create every lesson from scratch. We offer networking services to help chapter directors connect with churches and other organizations in their communities in order to raise awareness of their presence and procure speaking engagements. We provide a “Chapter-in-a-Box” to new chapter directors so they can hit the ground running. This includes promotional support, such as a chapter landing page on our website, a “@reasonablefaith.org” email account, flyers, business cards, shirts, pens, and tablecloths.

Much of our fellowship happens remotely out of necessity, but it’s always great when we can get together in person. Every year, we hold a Reasonable Faith Banquet at the Evangelical Theological/Philosophical Society conference where we enjoy a catered meal together (à la Acts 2:42), Dr. Craig offers ministry updates and personal encouragement, and chapter directors get to rub elbows with invited scholars. This is something I look forward to every year and I always come away from it supercharged for the next year’s endeavors.

On a more personal level, our fellowship also looks like the normal support one hopes to receive from a close-knit community. Apologists deal with all the same drama of life as everyone else: troubles in health, marriage/dating, doubts, feelings of inadequacy, employment and finances, etc. I’m constantly impressed with how open and vulnerable our directors are when it comes to these things. But we also tackle field-specific issues together: overcoming apathy towards apologetics among both the laity and the clergy, analyzing cutting-edge developments both for and against the truth of Christianity, increasing chapter effectiveness, debriefing after apologetic failures and successes, finding resources and citations for time-sensitive projects, and more. It’s a blessing that with so many in our community from such diverse demographics[3], we have a wealth of experience and wisdom from which to draw.

Fellowship is necessary for the health and flourishing of the Church’s apologists, and I hope that those of you who feel alone and frustrated will avail yourselves of the unprecedented opportunity we have in this era to get connected. And for those of you who are already in fellowship, I encourage you to take every opportunity to bring in others, to remain vulnerable and available, and to strive daily to be a blessing to your fellow apologists. Reasonable Faith has a great environment for fellowship among apologists, but there are also other great apologetics ministries with slightly different focuses that have well-developed communities, such as Ratio Christi and Reasons to Believe. There are also excellent extra-organizational communities, such as the Christian Apologetics Alliance and the Christian Apologetics Support Group.

“And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Eccles. 4:12)

Notes

[1] McGrath, Alister, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 131.

[2] See, for example, Dawans, Bernadette von, et al, “The Social Dimension of Stress Reactivity: Acute Stress Increases Prosocial Behavior in Humans,” Psychological Science 23, no. 6 (2012), https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611431576.

[3] Age: teens to seniors; sex: male and female; race: just about all; religious background: late-in-life atheist converts to life-long Christians; denominations: Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants; education: high school to PhDs; occupation: too much variety to list here.

Tyson James is the Global Chapters Director and Director of Translations/Transcriptions for Reasonable Faith. For more information on starting a Reasonable Faith chapter or to find an existing one in your area, visit https://www.reasonablefaith.org/chapters.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay


A Master Class in Christian Worldview

Learn from world-class Christian apologists, scholars, and philosophers, and support our work of making these resources available, all for only $2.50 per month. There’s no obligation and you can easily cancel at any time. Be equipped, informed, and encouraged!

The Worldview Bulletin is a must-have resource for everyone who’s committed to spreading and defending the faith. It’s timely, always relevant, frequently eye-opening, and it never fails to encourage, inspire, and equip.”
Lee Strobel, New York Times bestselling author of more than forty books and founding director of the Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics

“I find The Worldview Bulletin very stimulating and would encourage all thinking Christians to read it.”
John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics, University of Oxford, emeritus fellow in mathematics and philosophy of science, Green Templeton College, author of 2084 (Zondervan)

“Are you looking for a way to defend your Christian worldview? If so, look no further. At The Worldview Bulletin you’ll encounter world-leading scholars dispensing truth in a digestible format. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to engage in this meeting of the minds.”
Bobby Conway, Founder of The One-Minute Apologist, author of Does God Exist?: And 51 Other Compelling Questions About God and the Bible (Harvest House)