What do one million dollars look like? Well, that depends.
If you want to see a million dollars in $100 bills, I am afraid it is not all that impressive, fitting into an oversized briefcase. If you wanted to see a million in $20 bills, it is a bit less underwhelming. At least it would be something that could qualify as an actual pile of money.
However, if you wanted to see a million dollars in $1 bills, now that actually looks like a lot of money. At Chicago’s Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum, a rotating “cube of cash” is on display. One million $1 bills fill a 64 cubit foot case and weights over a ton. As a single stack, it would reach nearly four hundred feet in height.
What does Christian apologetics look like? Well, that depends.
Are we talking about a few prolific thinkers who have written multiple books and done public debates? Are we talking about professors around the globe who have taught hundreds of students? Or, are we talking about the average Christian who is every bit as responsible as the professional apologists for being ready with an answer?
Homicide detective turned Christian apologist, J. Warner Wallace was at a pivotal time in his life when he first noted the difference between the “million-dollar” apologist and the “one-dollar” apologist. The million-dollar apologist has academic credentials and wide recognition. The one-dollar apologist has a particular interest and personal experience in apologetics—and usually dreams about becoming a “million-dollar” apologist.
But, here’s the thing…
We make a huge mistake if we assume that the Christian faith is most effectively defended by way of best-selling books and public debates. Certainly, there is a place for both of those. Books need to be written. Debates need to be held. Both have helped countless people. But, to what end? What have those countless people done with the help they received?
As Wallace states, “The impact of a single ‘million dollar apologist’ will not change our culture as powerfully as the impact of a million ‘one dollar apologists’.”
A Twofold Call
The idea seems to me to be a twofold call.
It is a call to those would-be apologists who have an affinity and an aptitude for apologetics. They have seen the need for apologetics through personal experience. They see worldview implications in everything—and I mean everything. They daydream about the books they would write, the lectures they would give, and the debates they would win. All for the cause of Christ, of course.
It is a call to those wouldn’t-be apologists who don’t particularly care much for doing apologetics. They can appreciate the subject for what it is worth to other people. However, they see the doubtful questions and endless arguments causing more frustration than assurance. Besides, they are not much for public speaking and philosophical debates. Leave all that to the pros.
The difference between these two groups is more than varying personalities. I have known extroverts and introverts to be on either side. The difference is not IQ or EQ. The difference is not their ability or inability.
The difference is that these two groups have misread the same issue from opposite perspectives. The one misses the forest for the trees. The other misses the trees for the forest. The would-be apologist sees apologetics as an end unto itself. The wouldn’t-be apologist sees apologetics as too big to be worth the effort.
How do we bring both of these back to center?
To the Would-be Apologists
I confess. I am a would-be apologist. Here I stand. I can do no other.
One of the most important realizations I have come to is that we would-be apologists should never try to obey 1 Peter3:15-6 without also obeying 1 Peter 5:5-6.
God forbid that we seek exaltation outside of God’s will. We would never be so bold to use the name of God to make a name for ourselves. We would never serve mammon under the guise of serving God.
But, let’s be honest, we do grow impatient. We get dissatisfied. Perhaps on our best days, we only want a bigger platform to gain a louder voice. Then we begin to enjoy the sound of that voice just a little too much. In an effort to give Christ the preeminence, we begin to seek it for ourselves.
Humility is the antidote. When we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God we become something God can use, something he can exalt if he sees fit. Nevertheless, exalted or not, we get people to the Gospel. Removing obstacles to belief and giving reasons to believe, we get them to Gospel as soon as possible.
Remember, apologetics is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. That end is the Gospel. The goal is not to earn degrees, publish books, or broadcast debates. The goal is to preach the gospel, edify believers, and win nonbelievers.
Take Christian apologist Greg Koukl for example. He has founded Stand to Reason, a widely recognized ministry, and written Tactics, one of the most important apologetics books in recent times. He is by all accounts one of those apologists which many of us aspire to emulate. However, he has not always had that status.
Early in his apologetics career, Koukl explains, “I had a very simple motto: Bloom where I was planted.”
Whatever our aspirations may be, the reality is that God has planted us somewhere. We may not have an audience of thousands, but we can find someone to help. Remember Jesus’ words: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10a)
God allowed the million-dollar apologists to be so only after they were content to be one-dollar apologists. I believe God gave them the platform they have because they showed themselves faithful in the platform they had.
Do we really think that God wants us to debate an atheist on stage if we are unwilling to talk to the skeptic next door?
Ask yourself who did a greater work: Peter at Pentecost or Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch? The answer: both. Because both were faithful in the place God planted them. May God grant us the humility to bloom where he plants us.
Hey, would-be apologists—Don’t miss the forest for the trees. There are books to be written and debates to be had. But, more importantly, there are people to be won.
To the Wouldn’t-be Apologists
I doubt any sincere Christian could honestly deny their responsibility to share the Gospel with people. Sure, we all fail in that calling more often than we would like to admit. However, we know our part. One of the most fundamental aspects of being a follower of Christ is telling everyone we can tell about him.
However, we should never try to obey Mark 16:15 without also obeying 1 Peter 3:15-16.
Many Christians never struggle with envying the limelight. They seek no platform. They appreciate answers to the questions they have, but Heaven knows they are not looking for an audience.
Yet, God has given them one.
Warner Wallace reminds us, “God uses each of us on the basis of our individual life experiences. There are people out there who need to hear your voice. You can reach them better than anyone else, including the people you think of as “million dollar apologists”.
Even if you have never thought of yourself as an apologist, the reality is that there are people in your life and you are in theirs. They may never read an apologetics book, but they will talk to you. They do not know—or care for that matter—who William Lane Craig, James White, or Joshua McDowell are. But, they do know—and probably trust—you.
The question is, are you ready to give an answer when they ask for a reason of the hope that is in you? Just as the evangelistic work of preaching the gospel is not confined to an elite few, the pre-evangelistic work of being ready with an answer is not confined to an elite few. Sharing the gospel is the responsibility of every Christian. Therefore, defending the faith is the responsibility of every Christian.
Author Joe Carter writes, “Obviously, pastors will need to play a role in shoring up the plausibility structures of those they are called to shepherd. But there is another group that can help take some of the weight off our already overly burdened ministers: lay apologists.”
He goes on to explain that these lay apologists do the work that pastors and professional ministers often cannot. They fulfill a much-needed function in the local church. They may not have a Pentecost audience, but they might have an Ethiopian Eunuch. May God grant them the eagerness to be ready with an answer.
Hey, wouldn’t-be apologists—Don’t miss the trees for the forest. Questions are difficult, and debates are endless. But, more importantly, people are asking.
Whether you are a would-be or a wouldn’t-be apologist, remember J. Warner Wallace’s encouragement: “The world needs a million ‘one dollar’ apologists even more than it needs one more ‘million dollar’ apologist.”
Thanks for reading!
If you find that this post was helpful, it would be a huge honor for you pass it along.