Sean McDowell | September 28, 2019

4 Critical Tips for Apologists

Along with my regular posts at SeanMcDowell.org, I am now featuring some of my former students in the Biola Apologetics Program. This post is by my friend Timothy Fox, who helped me with both the Awana Advocates curriculum and the updated and revised Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He also blogs at Free Thinking Ministries and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox. Enjoy!

4 Critical Tips for Apologists

By Timothy Fox

I’m no professional apologist by any means, but I’ve been around the scene long enough to have witnessed plenty of apologetics presentations. I’ve also seen many of the same mistakes being made by new apologists. Here are four critical tips to avoid common rookie mistakes:

1) Beware the curse of knowledge - Too many new apologists rush into presentations without realizing that their listeners have probably never heard of cosmological constants or Hilbert’s Hotel. When crafting your lectures, think about your target audience and their background knowledge. Take baby steps and explain things carefully. It’s better to teach more than you think you need to than to assume that your audience knows more than they do.

2) Be responsible with quotes and statistics - Statistics and scholarly quotes can greatly strengthen your apologetics talks. But you must be responsible with them for the sake of academic integrity and personal credibility. Because of the dreaded curse of knowledge, many new apologists give quotes without references and drop scholarly names without an explanation of who they are.

When providing a quote, you must answer three important questions: 1) Who said it? 2) Why does their opinion matter? 3) Where is this quote from? And don’t rely on second-hand references from other apologists. Find the source of the quote or statistic so you can verify it with your own eyes. There are many fake quotes and statistics circulating on the internet, so be diligent and verify everything you can. Thanks to smartphones and Google, your audience can instantly fact-check your every point, so make sure your quotes and stats are valid. If not, there goes your credibility.

3) Be relevant - While scholarly quotes bolster your apologetics arguments, pop culture references help engage your audience. But pop culture references can get old very quickly, so keep your presentations up to date. And what you may think is a great reference might be lost on your listeners, once again due to the curse of knowledge. Also, be careful not to try too hard to gain “cool” points with an audience, as it may backfire and make you look lame instead. Which leads to my final tip...

4) Be yourself - I’ve seen many presentations that were nearly word-for-word rip-offs of famous apologists. That’s fine when you’re just starting out and gaining confidence in your public speaking skills. But don’t just be an apologetics cover band; make your presentations your own. Find original examples and fresh illustrations. While the premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument will never change, you can still explain it your way. And whenever possible, provide examples from your own life. Authenticity and a personal connection can make a larger impact with an audience than impeccable logic or rhetorical skill.

These are four tips to avoid the common mistakes that I see new apologists make in their presentations. They will prevent you from looking like an amateur and will take your apologetics presentations to the next level.

For more tips on apologetics communication, see my articles How to Become a Better Apologetics Communicator and Why I Blog (& So Should You).

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.