Don’t get a degree in apologetics

apologetics education

Seriously, don’t get a degree in apologetics.

These are thoughts that I have been dwelling on for many months now. Then Max Andrews told me that he was going to say it (and he did), so I was happy to offer a brief comment in support of what he was saying. And now I’m going to say it too. Don’t get a degree in apologetics. You shouldn’t do it. Could I be wrong about that? Absolutely, but at this point I’ll need to be persuaded of that. Getting an apologetics degree appears to be something of a new development in Evangelical academia, one that is being embraced with zeal, particularly in the United States. That fact alone means that even if I am dead wrong, it is only healthy that there be a good strong push back against this for the young and enthusiastic to consider before they commit to something like that. But I don’t think I am dead wrong at all.

I know that I am treading on toes when I say this because there are some beloved Christian colleges out there offering degrees in apologetics. The fact that I am saying this might also confuse or surprise some people, because they might see me as an apologist. It’s true, I am, in the sense that sometimes I offer people reasons to think that what I believe about God is true, and sometimes I offer responses to criticisms of those beliefs. I’m on record defending the practice of apologetics in general. If you really think that there are good reasons to believe as you do then of course it’s appropriate to share them. If people offer criticisms of what you believe and you think they are mistaken or unfair, then yes of course it’s appropriate to offer a response. So let nobody misconstrue me here as saying that you shouldn’t engage in apologetics. I am saying nothing of the sort.

Think for a moment about your favourite published defenders of the Christian faith of the 20th century or later, if you have any. Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others.1 Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics. “But there were no degrees in apologetics when my favourite apologist was at university!” Perhaps there weren’t, but that didn’t seem to stop them, did it?

Suppose that you had a friend who wanted to be a scientist. Actually, “scientist” is probably too broad a word. Specifically he wanted to get a degree called “A Master’s degree in proving that Darwinian evolution is true.” As he progressed through his studies, he learned about the parts of biology that are useful for constructing arguments proving that Darwinian evolution is true, and he took part in mock debates where the object was to verbally refute an opponent who was defending creationism. He studied the arguments of creationists and how to rebut them. He also learned about how to politically manoeuvre in such a way as to keep the teaching of creationism out of public schools.

I have a question especially for my creationist friends (but also for everyone else): Is this person an expert in biology? Would you find it meaningful or persuasive if a proponent of Darwinian evolution cited this fellow as an expert in science and therefore a credible authority? If you have no problem with evolution, what do you think?

I’m not saying that this person isn’t an expert in biology. Maybe he is, but for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t regard him as such because he had a qualification like this. Apologetics is a skill. It’s something you do. It’s the art of setting out arguments for a claim or point of view, of commending a point of view as credible, or of defending a point of view from critique (or anything similar). When a person’s innocence is defended in a courtroom, that’s an apology – a defence. That’s apologetics. But the lawyer who offers the defence didn’t invest years getting a BDP, a “Bachelor of Defending People.” They got a bachelor of law, spending years learning about law. In the courtroom they draw on the resources of their understanding of the law, applying to it their skill of speaking and persuasion.

Apologetics is the application of expertise across a range of subject areas to the defence of the faith. To do this, obviously you need the resources of expertise to draw on. Here is where you either gain the expertise yourself by being a scholar of philosophy, science, biblical studies or some other discipline, or you turn to those who have the expertise and you draw on their work. You go to the scientists to draw on their work in science. You go to the biblical scholars to draw on their work in biblical studies. You go to the philosophers to apply their insights. Or you become a scholar yourself, investing in training in (for example) New Testament studies so that you can (for example) grapple with questions related to the historicity of the Gospel accounts. But the thought of undertaking a higher degree to show that you know (or can draw on) just the bits of science that are useful for arguing that Christianity is true, and just the bits of philosophy that are useful for arguing that Christianity is true, and just the bits of biblical studies that are useful for arguing that Christianity is true and so on – this thought just horrifies me.

Surely the result of a manufacturing process like that can only be somebody who is not an expert in science, philosophy, biblical studies or any of the other fields upon which apologetics draws.

Surely the result of a manufacturing process like that can only be somebody who is not an expert in science, philosophy, biblical studies or any of the other fields upon which apologetics draws. Who is going to want to draw on an “expert” like that?

Go back to your list of your favourite apologists. What makes them an authority? What is their strength and what is their source of credibility? Take Richard Bauckham, whose most celebrated work among apologists is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Yes, it is a work in which Bauckham employs the skill of defending aspects of the Christian faith, namely the historicity of the Gospel accounts (he does this by arguing persuasively that eyewitnesses played a strong role in the writing of the Gospels). So it is apologetics, make no mistake about it. But what fuels the apologetics is a rich, in-depth background knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Or think of Alvin Plantinga, someone whose work might be thought of as apologetics of a very different sort: Analytic philosophy. In particular, philosophy of religion, epistemology and metaphysics (and perhaps a couple of other fields in philosophy for good measure). And these are the areas in which he got his degrees. The same will be true of most everyone in the list (with exceptions – C. S. Lewis didn’t get a degree in theology, but he didn’t get a degree in apologetics or anything like it either, so he’s no counter example). I don’t presume to stand in the company in that list, but there are people who appreciate (some of!) what I have to say and who have called me an “apologist.” I don’t have a degree in apologetics, so on what do I draw when I offer comment in defence of what I believe? A couple of theology degrees and a PhD in philosophy – and a good deal of the sort of thing I discuss that could be construed as apologetics draws on neither of these things but from my own post-degree research and reading the work of other people. Adding a degree in apologetics to this, as I see it, would be something like adding a degree to teach me how to take the knowledge gained from my studies and to use it to make a case for a particular set of claims, which is surely overkill. Do I not already understand the subject matter? Do I not already have a good idea of the implications of what I’ve learned? If not, then how did I manage to graduate? Am I just unable to communicate them? Perhaps a short course in public speaking or a couple of communication papers would help.

Now, maybe the apologists for degrees in apologetics will object to all this. Perhaps they would tell me that really a degree in apologetics is a degree in, say, biblical studies, along with a focus on applying that knowledge to the defence of the faith. I reply: So you take classes in the basics of biblical interpretation, and classes on chosen books or sections of the Bible, and a biblical language, and systematic theology etc? And a class in apologetics to top it off (as in, a study of the arguments that are used to defend Christian belief)? Yes? Then why would you call it a degree in apologetics, since its content is the same as what the rest of the world calls a bachelor of theology (or divinity)? So I won’t be moved by any answer that effectively tries to dismiss the differences between a degree in apologetics and a degree in theology or biblical studies. I’m talking about a degree that is called a degree in apologetics because it is not a degree in something else but a degree in… well, apologetics.

Maybe the apologists for a degree in apologetics will – as one did already – accuse me of “academic snobbery.” I’m saying, it might be said, that apologetics isn’t a “real” subject, but my degrees were in real subjects. But it’s no good to make this complaint, if this really is my point. And it’s not that I have said that apologetics doesn’t matter, isn’t serious, or doesn’t require any skill. But what I have said is that it’s not something that warrants a degree devoted to it.

Apologetics is, in the abstract, a specific skill that draws on subject matter to do a job.

Apologetics is, in the abstract, a specific skill that draws on subject matter to do a job. And the kind of thing that warrants getting a degree is the stuff that provides the knowledge that the apologist uses. In fact it is ironic to construe what I am saying as a case of academic snobbery. I am saying that being good at doing apologetics isn’t something you need a degree in apologetics for. Maybe the knowledge on which you will draw when doing apologetics is the knowledge of other people who have degrees in biblical studies, science, philosophy etc.

So what degree, if any, should an aspiring apologist get? If you want a degree that will help you be a good apologist, maybe some papers in communication, public speaking or critical thinking would help. Or if you want a degree that will help you get a grip on the material that apologists often draw on, how about a degree in philosophy, or science, or biblical studies? What is the best choice will depend on what subject area interests you more. But “using scripture, philosophy, history and science to argue that X is true,” while it may be a perfectly good thing to do, is not a discipline in which you should even consider getting a degree, no matter what X is. That is not a worthwhile degree (again, provided that’s really what the degree is in). Even if I had no idea what X is, I would be very unlikely (unless I had very good reasons to the contrary in a particular case) to recommend (in a formal academic context), hire (for an academic job), or invite as a guest speaker (in a context where there was an expectation that the speaker is an expert with credentials), somebody whose highest degree was in apologetics (not that it currently matters, given that nobody is likely to ask me to do any of these things!).

And now I brace for the response. I have been intentionally provocative, but I meant every word. I say again, I could be wrong. But I’ll have to be persuaded.

Glenn Peoples

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  1. The lack of women on this list is not intentional on my part, it just happens to reflect reality as many others have noticed I welcome a change here, and the likes of Mary Jo Sharp, Sarah Ankenman, Melissa Cain-Travis, Holly Ordway, Madeleine Flannagan and others are, in their various capacities, working to this end. See the International Society for Women in Apologetics if you’re a woman with a strong apologetics interest. You may find some great networking opportunities there. []
{ 46 comments… add one }
  • Alistair McNaughton March 31, 2014, 9:22 pm

    Hi Glen I doubt I’ll be able to persuade you otherwise 🙂

    But I think an apologetics degree is a great idea (in principle at least if taught by people like you !)- I have learnt quite a bit of apologetics from you and Matt, W.L.C etc by sort of osmosis yes this doesn’t make me any sort of expert in Philosophy because I have picked up a bit about pascals wager, basic beliefs, and kalam cosmological argument. But boy has it been help for me!

    I think that learning apologetics systematically in an apologetics degree is a great idea! Yes it doesn’t replace or for that matter should be seen as “good” as PHDs in Philosophy or science but distilling some of the multi disciplinary knowledge in defending the Christian faith would be a huge boon to ministers such as myself who would like up skill in the area of defending the Christian faith but aren’t able to put in 7 years to get a PHD.

    Maybe for me its not that I care about the piece of paper… or care about saying gee look what degree I’ve got. I more care about upskilling in an area of interest and a series of papers from experts that cover the topic would be a blessing to me.

    Maybe as a compromise for people like me instead of a degree on apologetics they could have a theology degree with a major in apologetics? or maybe an arts degree with a double major one in Philosophy and one in apologetics? (shrug) its the upskilling not the piece of paper that matters to me but maybe thats because I’ve never seen my self as an academic.

    Just a thought… thanks for your posts as always I appreciate it

  • Giles March 31, 2014, 11:47 pm

    If you want a woman on the historical list how about Dorothy L Sayers?

  • Nathan Tumey April 1, 2014, 4:30 am

    Interesting post. In one hand, I agree with you. But on the other hand, I think that a set of defined coursework in apologetics would be VERY useful for, say, a pastor, missionary, or evangelist. If someone is an aspiring pastor, campus minister, youth worker, or missionary, then why not have an emphasis (ie major or minor) in apologetics?

    I agree that it doesn’t give you credibility in the academic world – but it would give you “practical knowledge” of how to defend and articulate our faith in the “real world”. It’s sortof like a degree in auto mechanics. You’ll never design a new car if you have training in auto mechanics. But you could be a great mechanic. You’ll never write apologetic books or be invited as a speaker at conferences if your degree is in apologetics. But you could do some excellent evangelism work on college campuses, churches, or the mission field.

  • Nathan Tumey April 1, 2014, 4:38 am

    One other thing.
    Max’s original post about this was directed to someone who was trying to decide between a PhD in philosophy or apologetics. I agree with Max’s assessment, hands down.

    But you are taking this to another level. You are saying that even UNDERGRADUATE programs in apologetics have no value. By definition, an undergraduate degree (alone) is not going to get you into the academic world. As such, I agree that MS or PhD programs in apologetics are probably not valuable. But undergraduate degrees (these days) are often undertaken as training FOR A SPECIFIC JOB. As such, an undergraduate degree in apologetics could be great training for some jobs. It is also great idea to have apologetics classes available (perhaps as a minor or emphasis) for people studying other degrees – like science, philosophy, or history. Are you saying that even this sort of study is a bad idea?

    I’m all for studying apologetics on your own. But I have a day job and a family. It actually would have been quite nice to get a basic training in apologetics while I was getting my BS in chemistry. (at a Christian university) But I didn’t do it. So when my doubts and struggles came later, I had to start at “ground zero” and build up my knowledge of apologetics on my own.

  • Nate April 1, 2014, 6:19 am

    I’d never get such a degree because it would be an apologetical liability. I have, however, seriously considered going for the MA but intentionally not completing it, thereby gaining the knowledge but not acquiring such an uncitable and easily ridiculed certification.

  • Rodney April 1, 2014, 2:48 pm

    This is just silly. You seem to be failing to acknowledge that there are both generalists and specialists in ANY field – and they serve different functions for different reasons.

    When you visit a GP – does the thought “horrify you” that they are only a generalist who has completed no higher study in any of the medical science fields?

    Two of my personal apologetics heroes are Greg Koukl and Brett Kunkle who both have a Masters in Christian Apologetics. And it’s exactly their generalist – mile wide, inch deep – knowledge that makes them so valuable to bringing the higher-level-knowledge down to the lay-person in the pew. If anything – we have a distinct under-supply of such translators in the church!

    I agree with Craig Hazen from Biola who recently said “The church doesn’t need another million dollar apologist – we need a million one dollar apologists”.

  • Kyle Hendricks April 1, 2014, 4:34 pm

    Rodney, a small correction. Brett Kunkle has his Masters in philosophy.

    http://www.str.org/training/speakers/brett-kunkle

  • Glenn April 1, 2014, 7:47 pm

    “You seem to be failing to acknowledge that there are both generalists and specialists in ANY field”

    Rodney, it’s pretty unlikely that I’d forget a thing like that. 🙂 But a GP is absolutely not a person who has learned – and only learned – enough medicine to treat a broken arm (or pick another ailment, the principle is the same). A GP spent years learning fundamentals of medicine, and then on a case by case basis, he applies that learning to a whole range of cases because he has the grounding to do so.

    Brett Kunkle has a Master of philosophy degree, I believe. But you would be missing the point if you went hunting for somebody who is good at apologetics and who also has a degree in apologetics and then thought “Ah HA! That means Glenn is wrong.” I haven’t said that a person with an apologetics degree cannot be good at apologetics.

    “we need a million one dollar apologists.”

    I couldn’t agree more! You have misunderstood me if you think that I’m saying that only academically qualified people can be apologists. I said the opposite. Rodney, please notice that I went out of my way to say that you don’t need a degree at all to be an apologist. If you’re going to be “inch deep” as you put it, then you won’t be drawing on your own expertise in the various subject matter, you’ll be drawing on the expertise of others. I would never say that you need a degree in order to do a thing like that.

  • Glenn April 1, 2014, 7:50 pm

    “But on the other hand, I think that a set of defined coursework in apologetics would be VERY useful for, say, a pastor, missionary, or evangelist.”

    Nathan, I am inclined to agree that some coverage of apologetics should be required for some degrees. But ultimately it will always come back to this: When you do apologetics: be it biblical apologetics, historical apologetics, philosophical apologetics or what have you, then you’ll be doing one of two things. Either you will be reaching into your own personal expertise in biblical studies, history, philosophy or whatever the subject is, or else you will be looking to the expertise of others. In the former case, that is what your degree will be in (biblical studies or history or philosophy). In the case of the latter, you don’t need a degree at all.

    So sure, it can be a skill taught as part of a degree in theology or something similar – namely the skill of applying what you learn in your classes (on biblical studies or whatever it is) to real life issues. But there should not, in my view, be a degree in apologetics.

    Alistair, I think this applies to you too. 🙂

  • Daniel Wynne April 2, 2014, 12:39 am

    Glenn
    I can agree with you to a point. However, I think for those of us who are a little older and do not have the time or resources to pursue an advanced degree in philosophy, or a PhD in anything, getting a degree in apologetics can serve two unfortunate realities. One is the need to reverse the trend of anti-intellectualism that exists in the church. Having the general education in apologetics equips one to be an effective apologist for apologetics within the church. The other is the problem of credentialism. No one wants to listen to you if you don’t have some alphabet soup next to your name in a discipline related to what you are advocating. So a degree in apologetics gets you a little “street cred” in the church to advocate for and teach apologetics to the laymen. Is so doing, we can encourage believers to pursue your course of action.

  • Glenn April 2, 2014, 3:27 pm

    if I am hearing you, you agree in principle, but think that jumping through the hoop that is the formality of getting a degree will give you street cred.

    The thing is, if you’re going to go through the formality of getting a degree in order to get street cred, then we’re back to the question of which degree you should get. What I would like to see (and what I’m trying to promote by publicly writing things like this blog post) is a culture where the sort of degree that would get a person street cred is a degree that provides the raw material on which the apologist goes to work (for example, biblical studies or philosophy). A degree that is genuinely a degree in apologetics shouldn’t be viewed as something that gives a person street cred. A degree is supposed to be an endeavour of substantial scholarship. If you’re doing that properly, then you’ll be equipped to do specialist apologetics, based on your own areas of study (whether in biblical studies, philosophy, science or whatever).

    But if people are saying to you that in order to have cred as a person who can draw on the insights of others (others who have spent the years in biblical studies, philosophy, science etc), you need a degree in apologetics, then that’s absurd.

    We may well agree on this already Daniel, because what you refer to is a cultural phenomenon that you’re up against.

  • Daniel Wynne April 2, 2014, 3:44 pm

    Maybe I was unclear about what I meant by “street creed.” The hazards of misusing slang. I think as apologists we each have a niche as you allude to. My passion is waking the church up to the need to study apologetics. For that, I think a degree in apologetics is well suited. If I want to teach apologetics in Sunday school or small groups, a generalist knowledge works well, and having studied satisfies the cultural demand for credentials. So while I may rush in where angels fear to tread in engaging skeptics, my main target audience is Christians who are ignorant of the need for or existence of apologetics. I think the MA I am currently pursuing is well suited for that. If I were a younger man, and my goal was to engage skeptic colleagues in a profession such as science (of some sort) or philosophy, then I agree that it would be better to pursue a Phd in a related discipline. Since I need to work for a living, I cannot commit the time or resources to do so. Having a more generalist knowledge, once I have helped others gain interest in defending their faith, I can direct them toward the kind of thing you are advocating. Also, I think an MA in apologetics is well suited for teaching to high school and undergraduate level students to defend their faith in the face of challenges, such as the work we do at Ratio Christi.
    All this to say it may be that an advanced degree in apologetics may be the best option for those of us too old for a PhD.

  • Glenn April 2, 2014, 5:15 pm

    I agree that a generalist knowledge is OK for what you’re describing in Church, Daniel – In the sense that you don’t need expertise in anything, and you can draw on the work of those who do have the expertise.

    What I don’t really see is why a degree is a good idea for that. I mean surely what you’re learning is a little bit of biblical studies, and a little bit of philosophy, and a little bit of X, but just where those bits are handy for arguing that Christianity is true and reasonable. I’d just reiterate that this is not really a degree in anything. You walk away from it without expertise in those subjects, really only in a position to draw on the work of those who do have the expertise.

    Maybe one thing I would ask is this: You’re not too old for a Master’s degree, because you’re doing one. So why not a degree in biblical studies? As for the very generalist apologetics that isn’t based on your own expertise in the subjects you draw on, that’s always available to you (you don’t need a degree for that). So why not add some expertise to that in the same amount of time? It may just be that you prefer to get a handle on the generalist skills via a higher degree, and I guess there’s no arguing with that. Maybe my advice is best suited to those who see themselves heading to College (or beyond their Bachelor’s degree) to become a “scholar.” (Scare quotes are not intended to be derisive.)

  • Mike April 3, 2014, 5:38 am

    I agree 100% with Glenn.

    Having the expertise to understand the arguments being used against theism or Christianity would be a lot more useful than having a general degree in apologetics. Especially when engaging critics that typically have degrees in philosophy / science / Biblical Studies / etc. To me, 80% of apologetics is the ability to condense and convey advanced subject matter to a target audience. How are you going to do this without depth in knowledge regarding the particular topic that you are discussing?

    The field of apologetics is too broad to learn everything at the level of detail that you make you the best at presenting the information at hand. You see this quite a bit with scientists presenting largely philosophical opinions and with philosophers presenting their views on scientific research. When this happens…it typically doesn’t work very well.

  • Victor Reppert May 17, 2014, 2:02 pm

    I think I agree, at least in principle.

    Let me use C. S. Lewis as an example. Here you have the most influential figure in apologetics in the last century, and guess what? He pretty much backed in to the arena. He wrote books when he was asked to write them or when he was asked to appear on radio. He went from atheism through a long path to concluding that Christianity is true, and then became a Christian. He came to Christian conclusion by reflecting on various things, and then wrote apologetics to why he came to believe as he did.

    Today the word “apologist,” in many circles, has a negative connotation. The idea is that you we committed to begin with to Christianity and then went out looking for reasons why someone should believe it. My goal is to think as clearly and as carefully as I can about what is true, to do my “job”, which happens to be philosophy, and if there are apologetic implication to that, then “apologetics” is a matter of sharing those. If I really think an argument is indefensible, then I shouldn’t be presenting it even if I think it will be widely accepted by many people. I remember it took some time in graduate school before I was fully convinced that the argument from reason, which I ended up writing my dissertation and a book about, was a good one.

    I think you have to do philosophy, or science, or mathematics, or biblical studies first, as honestly as you can, and if think there are positive apologetic implications for what you say, then by all means share them and defend them.

  • John W. Loftus May 19, 2014, 2:30 am

    What Glenn is arguing for is specialization rather than generalization. One must be a specialist to do apologetics right, rather than a generalist who has a broad understanding of the issues. Well, then, there would never be a Socrates, Plato or Aristotle then either.

  • Glenn May 19, 2014, 6:50 pm

    “One must be a specialist to do apologetics right, rather than a generalist who has a broad understanding of the issues.”

    No, certainly not! In fact I said that you don’t need a degree at all to do apologetics right, because you can draw from the wide range of work done by many people. I’m sorry you got this impression, because it’s not at all what I’m saying.

  • Jeff Long June 19, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Hey Glenn, you posted this article a few months ago so I don’t know if you are going to see this comment, but I’d like to make an observation regarding the stance you take on pursuing an apologetics degree and I’m interested in your response.

    You write, “In fact I said that you don’t need a degree at all to do apologetics right, because you can draw from the wide range of work done by many people.”

    Based on this line of reasoning, it seems that one of your main criticisms is that a degree in apologetics is too broad as it focuses on several diverse disciplines but does not enable a person to become well established in any one particular subject. However, that is the way that all humanities degrees are designed. I just finished my bachelors pursuing a double major in history and philosophy with a minor in Jewish studies. In my history classes we covered everything from ancient to modern history, but in order to learn about what took place in so many diverse time periods I had to draw from a wide range of work written by many authors. Likewise, for the philosophy major I read Plato, Aristotle, Berkeley, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, etc, covering a variety of disciplines in epistemology, ethics, logic, politics, metaphysics and so on. In fact, I start my MDIV in the fall and I’m sure I’ll read a wide range of works covering several branches of theology by authors like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Barth, etc.

    My point is, given your criteria for what is deemed a worthwhile academic pursuit, all humanities degrees are wiped off the table. Liberal Arts degrees by their very nature are meant to be general because they are meant to give you a basic understanding of the subject. No one earns a bachelors in history by focusing merely on World War II or a bachelors in philosophy by reading everything written by Kant. To get specific and become an expert is what PHDs are for. I believe a PHD in apologetics would be too general, but an undergrad or masters in the subject would be acceptable.

  • Glenn June 19, 2014, 9:44 pm

    “given your criteria for what is deemed a worthwhile academic pursuit”

    Just for clarity and to stay with what I actually said: I never said anything about what is and isn’t a worthwhile academic pursuit. I said you don’t need a degree in apologetics to do apologetics – and I said that a degree in apologetics isn’t really worth getting in itself.

    I actually think a degree like the one you described: Majoring in history and philosophy, is an ideal qualification for a person who wants to engage in apologetics. And I don’t think that anything I have said wipes that off the table. But now, and this comes right back to the point: Imagine that you just studied the snippets of philosophy containing arguments for theism, or just the snippets of history that are good for arguing for the Christian faith. You would, in effect, have had no good preparation in history or philosophy at all.

    Of course nobody earns a bachelor’s degree just by focusing on World War II, but I’m not sure there’s any analogy here – or if there is, what the analogy is.

  • Jeff Long June 20, 2014, 4:16 am

    Ok, let me clarify, by academic pursuit I meant pursuing formal education in a university setting. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘scholastic’ pursuit to make that more clear.

    I understand what you’re saying, the only point I was trying to make is that dismissing an apologetics degree because it is too general is an unfair criticism as it can be applied equally as well to other subjects in the humanities. For example, a history degree is very general rather than specific, as my World War II analogy was meant to illustrate. In an apologetics degree a person can learn philosophy of religion, historical criticism, comparative religious thought, critical thinking, persuasive communication skills, etc. I don’t see why earning a degree in the material that reinforces the Christian worldview would fail to equip a person for apologetics ministry if that’s what he or she feels they’re called to.

    You write, “Imagine that you just studied the snippets of philosophy containing arguments for theism, or just the snippets of history that are good for arguing for the Christian faith. You would, in effect, have had no good preparation in history or philosophy at all.”

    This raises two questions in my mind:
    First, what makes you think that an apologetics degree only covers material that favors theism? I could be wrong, but I think a large portion of the degree would be focused on studying ideas that are contrary to the Christian worldview so that the students can understand them and can counter them coherently. Every apologetics book I’ve read explains both the Christian and non-Christian perspectives. To presuppose that an apologetics degree would be so shallow as to not deal with opposing arguments is fallacious.

    Secondly, why does an apologist need to know more philosophy or history than is necessary for his or her line of work? Earning an apologetics degree may not expose a student to several realms of philosophy like the epistomological dispute between foundationalism and coherentism or the debate between rationalism and empiricism, but if their goal is to learn how to effectively persuade people to take the gospel seriously then they don’t need to know that stuff. Of course I would always encourage further learning, but it isn’t necessary to be a good philosopher or a good historian to be a good apologist.

    With all that being said, the only reason I think pursuing a degree in apologetics might be a bad idea is it may limit a person and make it hard to earn an income. I would suggest that anyone who desires to earn the degree add another major in a subject that is more versatile like business, economics, teaching, etc.

  • Jeff Long June 20, 2014, 4:48 am

    * That is, add another major in addition and earn a double major in apologetics and some other subject.

  • Glenn June 20, 2014, 7:52 pm

    Jeff, I’m not certain that the objections are really connecting to the argument I’ve raised, and that could well be my fault. So I’ll just have one more swing at it.

    Your first question doesn’t matter too much. Sure, OK, include arguments for *and* against theism. The point is, a person doesn’t accrue enough of a background in philosophy when they’re just looking at the apologetics related arguments within philosophy, taken alongside the snippets of all the other subject matter (e.g. just the snippets of biblical studies that are apologetics related, just the snippets of science that are apologetics related and so on).

    As for your second question, let me recap, because the question really has been answered in this article:

    Apologetics is not really an independent field of study. It’s a practice. It’s something that you can do in a couple of ways. Either you can specialise in a field of study and become an expert in it – say for example, biblical studies. Then you can draw on your own expertise in that field of study, using your knowledge of the field to show how it can be used to defend Christian belief, or to respond to objections.

    Or you can be a generalist. If this is what you do, then you don’t need to be an expert in any particular field of study, you just basically use those experts as witnesses.

    Of course, you can also do both.

    Now, in your last comment you say that a person studying the useful bits of philosophy for apologetics doesn’t need to consume time on things like fiddly issues in epistemology. So let’s model an apologetics degree around that sort of principle. They look at biblical studies, but just the snippets that are relevant for arguing for the reliability of the Gospels and refuting liberal objections. And they look at science, but just the little bits that are useful for, say, constructing an argument from design or the origins of the Universe. And they look at history, but just the little bits that are useful for…. and so on.

    This is a basic and very important misunderstanding of education – and especially an undergraduate education. it turns the learning triangle (I think I just made up) on its head. Good education – and the sort of classical education of the world of liberal arts in particular! – means building the foundation first, before moving to more specialised application. An undergrad degree in the humanities is preparatory. (And as I explained earlier, I did not set out any criteria of a worthwhile academic or scholarly pursuit that would rule out a humanities degree – Indeed, your own degree majoring in history and philosophy is a perfect foundation for apologetics.)

    But in this apologetics degree, there is no foundation – nothing. Just a little snippet of each subject, and actually a snippet which really has not been earned yet. The student would have been better off not getting that degree, but simply reading the work of those who are experts and appealed tot hem as witnesses.

    “Of course I would always encourage further learning, but it isn’t necessary to be a good philosopher or a good historian to be a good apologist.”

    As I hope is very clear, I agree fully with this. Gaining academic expertise is not necessary in order to be a good apologist. There is so much good work out there to draw on.

    Hopefully we’re not still mishearing each other, and I’ll leave the right of reply to you, and then leave it there.

  • Jeff Long June 21, 2014, 9:53 am

    Ok, but I still don’t see how apologetics is any less foundational for someone who wants to make a career of defending the Christian faith if it successfully prepares them for their future. In addition, although apologetics may be a skill that can be acquired without a degree, that’s true of most subjects – architecture, nursing, accounting, computer programming, the list goes on. All it requires to be self taught in a subject is dedication and a library card. It seems to be the advantage of majoring in a subject is the dialog, instruction, discipline, and structure that comes from a classroom environment. Nevertheless, I agree it would be unwise to only have a degree in apologetics, but not for any of the reasons you give. My concerns would be more on the practical and financial side of things. Anyway, we can agree to disagree on the rest haha. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my objections. Take care!

  • Glenn June 21, 2014, 2:10 pm

    No problem Jeff, I do appreciate your input. 🙂

  • Glenn June 25, 2014, 5:35 pm

    In a recent blog article article, J. Warner Wallace argues that my overall claim is not correct, because in addition to expert witnesses (namely, people with a degree in the field to which they appeal to offer evidence – like history, biblical studies, science etc), we also need case makers – that is, people who themselves are not expert witnesses, but people like attorneys who draw on expert testimony from a range of different fields and make their case in court.

    Of course – I agree! Indeed, this is what I have said in this very blog post. This is entirely consistent with my contention that no degree is required in order to be a case maker, and I have offered some considerations that, I think, suggest that it is better not to get such a degree.

  • Roger Morris June 25, 2014, 6:28 pm

    I agree with you general gist here. The one problem I have – and this may be due in part to an exposed nerve as a medical General Practitioner – is that I fear you may be arguing for obtaining qualifications in a speciality area carries more academic prowess that a qualification in a generalist area of expertise. Apologetics – at is very best – is performed by someone with a broad working knowledge of all of the relevant components coupled with the ability to draw the wide areas of knowledge together into a coherent, unified presentation. A specialist in any one area, with only cursory knowledge of other relevant areas would not be as effective in the role. Are you arguing for specialist knowledge over generalist knowledge?

  • Glenn June 25, 2014, 6:43 pm

    No, not at all, Roger. As I said, you can do two things in apologetics. You can be a specialist in a field (like science, biblical studies etc) who draws on their own expertise to make a particular argument – and you need a degree for this (probably, although some people do it as a hobby) – or you can be a more general case maker, someone who doesn’t have expertise in any particular field, but who is an apologist, who drawing on the work of specialists and makes a cogent general case. You don’t need a degree for that.

  • Andrew June 25, 2014, 8:55 pm

    Hi Glenn,

    I think we can both agree that what’s needed is a degree of specialisation. We want quality Christian academics who can do the hard academic work, and then we want people who can convey that material effectively, case makers as you’ve called them. But surely we want to ensure that these case makers are of a high quality? don’t we want the assurance that (a) they understand the material that Christian academics have produced and (b) they can convey it in an effective manner? After all, while the Christian academics are in the background producing their scholarly material, the case makers end up being the public face of this material. They are the ones representing to the public the work that Christian academics put in. Surely we want a guarantee that they’re not going to humiliate themselves or the Christian community as a whole by misrepresenting the work of our Christian academics?

    So then, shouldn’t the case makers be trained in making their case? You say that you don’t need a degree in being a case maker to be a good case maker. I suppose that’s technically true in the sense that there are some very able case makers who don’t have degrees in apologists. But imagine a public debate between a case maker for Christianity and a case maker for Atheism. Suppose the case maker for Christianity has had no formal training whatsoever. What guarantee is there that he’s a good case maker? What guarantee is there that he’s not going to humiliate himself or the Christian community as a whole? Don’t you wince, for instance, when Ray Comfort gets up and tries to do apologetics?

    Surely as a Christian community we want our case makers are of higher quality than that. How can we ensure these quality control standards?

    Moreover, it seems to me that if sound, your argument proves too much. It proves that Personal Trainers don’t need to go and do the 6 month courses offered by the New Zealand Institute of Health and Fitness (NZIHF) or the New Zealand Institute of Sport (NZIS). One has merely to replace the word ‘apologist’ with ‘Personal Trainer’, ‘apologetics degree’ with ‘Personal Training Certificate’ and the relevant experts with ‘Medical Practitioners’, ‘Physiotherapists’, and ‘Dieticians’, and we can draw the conclusion that people like myself don’t need to seek 6 month qualifications before marketing ourselves as Personal Trainers. But I think we do want to say that, people like myself, SHOULD seek these 6 month qualifications before marketing ourselves as Personal Trainers, that way we can ensure that the industry doesn’t become chock full of cowboys who haven’t the faintest idea of what they’re doing. In short, I think your argument proves far too much.

  • Andrew June 25, 2014, 9:04 pm

    I apologise if this violates the blog policy on linking, but I thought it would be acceptable in context.

    The link is of Ray Comfort giving the infamous ‘Banana Argument’ for the existence of God. The unfortunate fact that Christendom has case makers such as this shows, I think, that as a faith community, we need quality assurance standards on those who would profess to be case makers for our faith.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igui2YoHXs8

  • Glenn June 25, 2014, 9:59 pm

    Andrew, sure we want case makers to be good at what they do. But that stops very far short of showing that there should be a degree in case making (I’ll revert back to calling it apologetics – case maker was Jim Wallace’s term).

    When you get an undergrad degree, you start with first principles and then build upon them, getting a good grounding in the subject matter, and the fruit of having acquired the necessary background material is that you delve into the deliverances of that discipline, the aspects of the discipline that presuppose and draw on all the background knowledge that you gained in the first couple of years (so for example, having built up a good foundation in hermeneutical principles and a biblical language, you might then, in the third year, do a specialised paper on the Gospels where you look at controversies around authorship, dating, textual transmission and so on). Then you get a Masters, where you show a mastery of the field in which you’re writing, and then in a PhD you make your own original contribution.

    So what is the basic background material – the undergrad stuff – of apologetics? What do you think, Andrew?

    (So that it doesn’t seem like I’m leading you into the darkness, Andrew, here is where I’m going: I’m trying to lead towards the conclusion that if there’s a degree that it would be good for an apologist to get, it’s not in apologetics.)

  • GEORGE Esler April 29, 2016, 1:54 pm

    Hey Glenn, thanks so much for your blog. I just stumbled upon it and I really love the content and your heart for some of the issues that you are bringing up. I don’t follow a whole lot of blogs like these but your site has been one of the few that has inspired me to seriously study this more and engage those who don’t know Christ in meaningful conversations that touch the heart. That aside.

    This article really helped because I was thinking about looking into getting a degree in apologetics. So far I’ve been leaning more towards Biblical studies on eastern biblical languages with a focus on Hebrew and Greek exegesis.

  • Drew May 5, 2016, 9:54 am

    The following Apologists, which you named, teach in Graduate Apologetics Programs:
    Ravi Zacharias, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig , Mary Jo Sharp, Sarah Ankenman, Melissa Cain-Travis, & Holly Ordway

    These Apologetics giants that you did not mention also teach in Graduate Apologetics Programs:

    J. P. Moreland, Sean McDowell, Gary R. Habermas, Nancy Pearcey, Norm Geisler, Paul Copan, Lee Strobel, Douglas Groothuis, Greg Koukl, & Craig Hazen, to only name a few.

    You can not claim that theological education is unimportant because Surgeon and Moody were uneducated because, while they were not formally educated, they both set up schools for formal theological education. The same logic is at play here. It would seem that the major brunt of Professional Christian Apologists today teach in Apologetics degree programs.

    I encourage you to strengthen you argument instead by looking at the requirements for Apologetics degrees and evaluate them accordingly. Also admit that there are different types of Apologetics degrees, such as Bachelor’s, Master’s, or even Doctorate. Each level has it’s own rational that you can critique.

  • Glenn May 5, 2016, 2:05 pm

    “These Apologetics giants that you did not mention also teach in Graduate Apologetics Programs:

    J. P. Moreland, Sean McDowell, Gary R. Habermas, Nancy Pearcey, Norm Geisler, Paul Copan, Lee Strobel, Douglas Groothuis, Greg Koukl, & Craig Hazen, to only name a few.”

    I’m not certain what you’re getting at by adding to the list, Drew. Are you listing these other apologists because they do have degrees in apologetics, unlike the ones I listed?

    “It would seem that the major brunt of Professional Christian Apologists today teach in Apologetics degree programs.”

    Sure, people who are involved in the “apologetics industry” feed back into it, teaching for apologetics programmes. That industry is a very thin slice of what I’d see as really useful apologetics, mind you, and the fact that they teach in such programmes hardly seems (to me at least) like a good response to the considerations I have outlined in this post.

  • Glenn May 5, 2016, 2:10 pm

    Hi George, and thanks! I’m really pleased this article provoked / helped you as you think about your plans.

    The truth is, whatever you choose, at some point you’ll have doubts or regrets about whether or not it was the right thing. Even if it was the right thing! 🙂

  • Chase Higgins May 19, 2016, 11:29 am

    Thanks for the time you’ve spent on making this point, Glenn. As a student in the final semesters of a general Christian Ministries undergraduate degree, I’ve been looking forward to enrolling at NOBTS and pursuing an MDiv specialized in Apologetics. After reading your post here I’ve completely altered that plan. I think a lot of the commenters here have missed the point that you’ve been making, basically that you can be a subject matter expert in (for example) the resurrection of Christ by specializing in New Testament studies/history, or you can be a subject matter expert in referencing those who are subject matter experts on the resurrection of Christ through their own study of New Testament history.

    Now the issue for me is determining what to become a subject matter expert in for the purpose of becoming an effective and credible apologist. You can either be the subject matter expert, or you can be the guy who knows where to find one. Great point and thanks for the direction, don’t stop what you’re doing here!

  • Daniel July 10, 2016, 3:42 am

    Hi Glenn

    Saw Max Andrews’ article on this topic as well and posted my thoughts about degrees in apologetics. I will soon have one. It was not the most academically rigorous thing I’ve ever done, but that by no means diminishes its legitimacy. The body takes all kinds. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you”! Everyone has a place at the table!

    Something from my master’s thesis I wrote under the supervision of Dr. Michael Ward on Lewis and the syncretistic nature of some of his favorite writers (Spenser and Milton).

    Lewis analyzes the work of Edmund Spencer whose Faerie Queene had a profound impact on him both literarily and spiritually. Lewis notes that Spencer attempted to bring together a great deal of what appears to be incongruous subject matter. “It is this that may easily arouse distrust in the modern reader,” Lewis says. “We feel that a man who could weld together, or think that he had welded together, so many diverse elements, Protestant, chivalric, Platonic, Ovidian, Lucretian, and pastoral, must have been very vague and shallow in each.” The suspicion of the modern reader toward Spencer, Lewis believes, is due in part to modernistic assumptions, a “despair of objective truth, which has trained us to regard diverse philosophies as historical phenomena, ‘period pieces’, not to be pitted against one another.” Spencer’s prose, Lewis explains, was much more holistic and “assumed from the outset that the truth about the universe was knowable and in fact known.” It should be obvious, Lewis says, that if Spencer were correct “then of course you would expect to find agreements between the great teachers of all ages just as you expect agreements between the reports of different explorers. The agreements are the important thing, the useful and interesting thing.” In Milton’s Paradise Lost Lewis also sees this literary syncretism, noting that “There is fusion, or integration. The Christian and the classical elements are not being kept in watertight compartments, but being organized together to produce a whole.” Christians are thus “free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” Orthodox Christianity teaches that “God made the world – that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story.”

    My lengthier reply to Max’s article:
    http://sententias.org/2014/01/23/qa36/#comment-714174

  • Daniel July 10, 2016, 4:13 am

    There were wonderful things, very academically challenging aspects to the program, and there were some not-so-challenging things, but overall, it truly helped me to think more holistically. I have an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies, so the MA in apologetics was a compliment to that. Plus, my own life has been a veritable plethora of experiences. My professional education and my life experiences “match”.

    It was a delight to discover during my thesis research that the authors who influenced Lewis the most were likewise holistically oriented (read Lewis’s magnum opus The Oxford History of the English Language – 16th Century, Excluding Drama). In fact, Narnia, what Tolkien thought a mishmash and a hodgepodge, was really Lewis emulating his favorite writers!

    Now I realize Lewis was an expert in English Literature and that his “apologetics” were more akin to a side hobby than his actual vocation. Well and good. But the authors he admired were by no means “experts” as the modern term is understood. They were much more holistically oriented to their environment in ways the modern west has completely lost. “Expertise” in our scientifically straightened era of niche-specialization has actually rendered us nearly blind as to how it all might fit together. Why don’t more physicists and biologists talk to each other? Why don’t astronomers talk more with psychologists? Why not have astrophysicists sit down with theologians (it’s fascinating when they do, isn’t it?).

    Yes, the fact that they are subject matter “experts” is part of the equation, I grant you. But we’ve lost the interdisciplinary vision in the sea of all this expertise. Who is going to step up and try to put all these pieces together? And so what if we rely upon others? What academic discipline DOES NOT stand on the shoulders and tomes of giants? Even if you’re an expert in your field, you’re still quoting others, relying on others, backing up your research with the research of others! Whether you’re a history expert or an astrophysicist, you’re still pulling from the wisdom and work of people who’ve come before you. I see no difference really between that and what thoughtful apologists do.

    How many theology experts today can name even one star in the Big Dipper? How many literary experts can accurately describe the phases of the moon or trace out the stars of the constellation Draco by sight? How many “experts” can navigate 2,000 miles of open Pacific in an outrigger canoe with nothing but Arcturus and the surrounding stars to guide them? How many experts know what a copperhead snake looks like, how to pour concrete, teach kindergarten or tile a living room floor? How many “experts” can operate a CAT 925, bake apple pie with a perfect homemade crust and also be right at home writing essays for an Oxford don? The greatest minds of antiquity knew a lot about a lot. Today, “experts” are so narrowly focused on ONE particular area, they often fail to see any sort of integration with other aspects of life in the universe. Good apologists, I think, try to find the overlap, the similarities, the things that a wide variety of subjects and disciplines have in common.

    There is a desperate need in our culture to be interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, to see the cultural and ecclesiastical ecumenicalism in the heavens and the earth as they are all held together in Christ (Col. 1:16-17).

    Can anything good come out of Nazareth,…

  • Daniel July 10, 2016, 4:51 am

    One last thing, since you did say you were being provocative, perhaps then this little post-script is worth at least two cents!

    You mention yourself, “I”, over 40 times in this essay.

    You mention Jesus once, at that only in a book title.

  • Glenn July 18, 2016, 4:19 pm

    As I look though your comments, Daniel, how many times would I find you referring to yourself? How many times explicitly to Jesus? And what should I infer from that? Not a lot. 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  • Daniel Ray July 19, 2016, 12:34 am

    Glenn

    The implicit point is that Jesus calls people to different minitries. The article did not seem to allow for that. We are all living in the cult of self and with all the ways in which social media and the Internet encourage self promotion, it has become increasingly difficult not to constantly reference ourselves and leave off taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. His thoughts are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-10). Even posting comments in blogs becomes a battle for having the last word, of which I have often been guilty (as you duly note).

  • Daniel Ray July 19, 2016, 1:21 am

    Knowledge puffs up Glenn, no matter the degree! I know it. You know it and Jesus knows it. Our egos sent Him to Golgotha. Here is to love that edifies.

  • Daniel Ray July 19, 2016, 4:34 am

    Truthfully, Glenn your article angered me. It came across as arrogant. It did not apoear to take into account what Jesus can accomplish through guiding people through an apologetics degree. My comments in turn were indeed a bit self-centered as a result, as you noted. And I repent and apologize for the hypocrisy in which my comments was written. There is obviously still a plank in my own eye as I ruminate over the specks in the eyes of others. Jesus says we will be known for our love for one another and I confess I do not often seem to have that kind of love, especially when I get upset or frustrated. We are exhorted not to let our anger turn into sin, but it is clear that I have. I repent Glenn and I am truly sorry.

  • Glenn July 19, 2016, 2:03 pm

    That’s kind of you Daniel, but I don’t know that there’s anything to repent of. I understood you and didn’t take your comments to be inappropriate.

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