Apologetics: To Degree or Not To Degree?

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-11-41-48-amI have notice several posts about getting a degree in apologetics or not.  I find the discussion very interesting.  For clarity, I do not have a degree in apologetics (see my CV here).  I have a degree in history, education, philosophy, and theology.  There are now a host of schools that offer degree in apologetics, so there seems to be a demand for them.  But, several posts have discouraged getting the degree in apologetics.  Interesting debate.  Here are some of posts with a short taste from each:

Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics by Glenn Peoples

Dr. Peoples is adamant on his blog Right Reason that one should NOT get a degree in apologetics.  He and Max Andrews (who he started this discussion about a degree in apologetics at his blog Sententias Blog which is now dead link), Andrews is a doctoral student in Edinburgh, both discourage a degree in apologetics.  Since Max Andrews site is down, here is a bit of Peoples thought on the subject.

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.

His reasoning that someone should NOT get such a degree is illustrated by a list of great apologists who DON’T have a degree in apologetics:

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. 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.

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree in Apologetics? by J. Warner Wallace

Wallace, author of two excellent books on apologetics (Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene) using his training as a cold case detective, differentiates between expert witnesses and case-makers.  Expert witnesses specialize in a particular field such as the New Testament or philosophy, while a case-maker make expert testimony accessible.  His article is reacting to Glenn Peoples post above and to Max Andrews post which is not available anymore.  He elaborates on the role and function of each:

There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.  . . .If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people.

Wallace make a great point for the need for both expert eyewitnesses (specialization in a particular field) and excellent case-makers (apologists).  I thought this was a nice even handed understanding both the benefits and limitations of a degree in apologetics.

Should I Get A PhD in Apologetics by Travis Dickinson

Dr. Dickinson serves as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary which offers a MA in Christian Apologetics.  I guess since he argues against a PhD in Apologetics, the program that he teaches in that offers the MA in Apologetics does not incongruent with his thesis in the article.

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian has (or should have) Apologetics in it.”. . . My advice: don’t get a PhD in Apologetics since the field is just simply too broad and too interdisciplinary.

How Can You Make a Career in Apologetics? by Sean McDowell

Sean McDowell, who has  PhD in Apologetics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, lists several career options for those “degreeing” in apologetics in the context of Biola’s M. A. in christian apologetics:

Part of the vision of our Biola M.A. Christian Apologetics program is to train apologists to be a resource for the local church. In fact, our dream is that churches would consider the need for a “Pastor or Apologetics” as important as a men’s ministry leader or a youth pastor. Until this dream becomes a reality, here’s a few ways to make a career in apologetics (If you think I have missed any, please let me know): [1. Professor of Apologetics. 2. Ratio Christi. 3. Author. 4. Blogger. 5. Speaker. 6.Christian School Teacher]

I do four out of the six (3, 4, 5, 6) that McDowell lists.

Should I Get a Degree in Apologetics? by Josiah Batten

Josiah Batten, who completed an MA in Apologetics at Luther Rice College and Seminary, makes the excellent point that our goals should help inform us on whether to pursue a degree in apologetics.

In pursuing any degree, we should align our education with our goals, and our goals should be informed by our calling. For the person called to teach at the university, they obviously should pursue one specific discipline and earn a PhD (or the equivalent terminal degree) in that field. I have no argument against that. However, not everyone is called to do that, and so we should not become ensnared into thinking this is the only possible route for apologists.

While a professor should obviously specialize in their field, other goals such as a campus minister for Cru, Ratio Christi, etc. might be perfect for a degree in apologetics.  He concludes:

I am quite ready to admit that not everyone should get a degree in apologetics. Yet for many people, such a degree will prove extremely useful. And for some, it will even be the ideal means for pursuing your calling. As with any degree, we need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Yet, the fact that an apologetics degree is not tailored to helping one earn a PhD does not mean that it is not tailored to helping one do a great many other things which constitute worthy work in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Apologetics Training – Advise to Christian Apologists by William Lane Craig (part 2 here)

William Lane Craig, who is the model par excellence in apologetics and needs to introduction, has provided some helpful advise to Christian apologists: select an area to specialize and get a PhD.

Some popular Christian apologists make the mistake of trying to be a jack of all trades, and so they are master of none. As a result, their knowledge of the field may be very broad, but it is not very profound. While they may be able to present an initial argument for Christian truth claims, they soon wilt under the pressure of critique, especially on the part of specialists. Speaking on a university campus, they may find themselves ridden with anxiety lest a non-Christian faculty member should show up in their audience and raise an objection they are at a loss to deal with. If that does happen, they may not only embarrass themselves but also injure the credibility of the Christian faith. A merely generalized knowledge of Christian apologetics is fine for certain contexts, and certainly better than nothing, but it will limit the horizons of your ministry.

Who am I to disagree with Dr. Craig 🙂

Academic Apologetics Programs by Jacob Allee

Finally, Jacob Allee, a teacher in the Logic & Rhetoric Schools at Christian Heritage School, writer/speaker on Christian worldview at Thinking Christianly blog and podcast, has provided a list of schools offering degrees in apologetics along with some commentary on each.  He starts with programs offering certificates and moves from undergraduate to graduate degrees.  Nice list with commentary.

The Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics by TheBestSchools.org

TheBestSchools.org’s list of 10 top graduate programs in apologetics along with overseas programs and other notable programs.