Advice To Young Aspiring Apologists
by Jonathan McLatchie
I am sometimes asked to offer advice to up-and-coming young Christian apologists. As one who is of the younger generation myself (having just turned 25), and who has been active in the public apologetics arena from relatively young (from around 20 years of age) I have some experience to speak of when it comes to being a young defender of the Christian faith.
In this article, I want to address those who are young, perhaps in their late teens or 20′s, and who aspire to do public work in apologetics. In particular, I want to reflect on what I have learned over the past five years of involvement in apologetics and what lessons I have learned in the process — sometimes, unfortunately, the hard way.
Lesson 1: Be Careful How Early You Enter into the Public Arena
It’s perfectly natural that, when you have a new idea, you want to share it with the world. Over the last decade or so, there has been an explosion in the popularity of online blogging, which has given people the ability to spread ideas and information quickly. This has its obvious advantages, but it also has some significant risk factors and draw-backs, especially for young people. Among these is the fact that what you publish publicly on the internet is effectively public material forever.
Why might that be a risk-factor for young people? When you’re young, your views and ideas are still in the process of crystallising. Being less wedded to a given paradigm than those of the older generation means you are more likely to revise your position or change your mind on certain issues. I, for one, have seen an evolution in my own views and arguments over the past five years. Your arguments also become more refined and sophisticated over time as you learn from the experience of defending them and conversing with people who are better acquainted with a given field than you are. You also become increasingly better informed as you read more and more about a subject. Imagine the frustration, then, when someone Googles your name, and the first hit is to an article you wrote some four or five years ago, articulating views or argumentation which you would no longer defend. You may well have expressed your current views and better refined arguments elsewhere, but that is not necessarily the first thing people will see. Things you said years ago can come back to haunt you for years. So, exercise caution!
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A second danger here is that some areas relating to apologetics present particular risk factor when seeking employment in certain professions. For example, in the academic environment in which we currently find ourselves, being overtly public about your views on biological design may land you in seriously hot water when it comes to building a career in that field. The modern formulation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has become so entrenched in modern academia that people do not want to put their own careers in jeopardy by being associated with someone who has public affiliations to intelligent design. Similarly, as we have seen with increasing frequency, public criticism of same-sex marriage may land you in hot water in certain career paths.
My advice would thus be to give careful consideration to how early you enter into the public arena to express your views. Think about allowing them to crystallise first. Otherwise, a pseudonym or alias may be a relatively safe option.
Lesson 2: Never Cut Corners — Research Your Argument Thoroughly
This should go without saying, but you would be surprised at the number of people who do not take the time to hunt down a primary source, relying instead on what other people have said about that primary source. This is a very bad habit. When you read a quotation in a book that has been taken from another source, try to avoid using it unless you can trace it to the primary source. If the quotation has been lifted out of context, or has been misinterpreted by the author, you are just as culpable if you do not check it for yourself. Always be ready with primary sources to back up points you make in debate. In addition, read the relevant sections of primary sources carefully. You would be amazed at the number of people who think they are engaged in good scholarship by basing their interpretation of a scientific research paper on its abstract, or even (far worse) its title! Never proof-t
ext a passage of which you aren’t familiar with the context. Exercise great concern for factual accuracy. As Christians, we believe that Christ is ultimate truth itself (John 14:6). We are thus committed to a very high standard of accuracy and fair representation…