Apologetics and the Importance of Listening: A Conversation with Mary Jo Sharp
by Trevin Wax
Mary Jo Sharp is an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is the founder of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry, and an experienced speaker in apologetics. I was impressed with her study, Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation, and so I invited her to contribute to the upcoming worldview edition of The Gospel Project. She is also author of Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry.
Today, I’m glad to welcome Mary Jo to the blog for a conversation about apologetics and the importance of listening.
Trevin Wax: Tell us a little about your journey from atheism to Christianity.
Mary Jo Sharp: As a teenager, I was not a Christian, nor a person who really thought about God. I was raised in a relativistic environment in the Portland, Oregon area. I was taught to respect people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
Generally, I believed church was for those who needed it. I had a distrust of the church due to my Hollywood-influenced perception of Christianity.
However, in my senior year of high school, a teacher gave me a One Year NIV Bible and told me, “Mary Jo, when you go off to college, you are going to have a lot of tough questions. I would like for you to turn to this for answers.” I respected this teacher and became curious as to what the Bible actually said. I read that Bible all the way through, and that is what brought me around to belief in God.
I was also beginning at that time to question things like “Is this all there is to life?” and “When we die is that the end of our existence?” Yet, I still did not trust in Jesus as my Savior. It wasn’t until I attended a Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma during college that I understood my status as a sinful human being and my need for a Savior. At age 20, I committed my life to Jesus as my Lord.
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Trevin Wax: In some circles today, engaging in apologetics gets a bad rap. What are the weaknesses of apologetic approaches in the past that have led to this disdain?
Mary Jo Sharp: I think the main weaknesses of engaging in apologetics lies in the misuse of apologetic arguments as a defense mechanism or as a weapon for attack. If a person is a defensive person, an apology can be used to recoil into his own presuppositions or to buttress comfortable dogma instead of investigating what is true.
If a person is an argumentative person, an apology can be wielded as a weapon of attack to make another person look bad. I recently saw a blog post concerning how to deal with a Christian “troll” on Twitter; that is how to block a Christian who is being completely abusive and obnoxious on the web.
Trevin Wax: What are the strengths of doing apologetics well?
Mary Jo Sharp: Our goal in utilizing apologetics is to make a case for why we believe in Jesus Christ, like the apostle Paul in Acts 17 and Acts 26. It is not to receive some kind of self-satisfaction in putting another one of God’s creation down.
I discuss the difference between arguing and argumentativeness in my study as the difference between contending for the faith (Jude 1:3) and engaging in foolish, ignorant controversies that result in quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23-24). The good news of Jesus is not a foolish, ignorant controversy, but it can result in quarrels.
The strengths of apologetics include maturing in your own faith and better serving others’ needs. In the study I list the strengths as answering doubts, building confidence, and changing lives…
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