Christian apologists must be thinkers. That means they must also be readers. Thinkers read. Readers think. The goal is to become a better thinker for the purpose of becoming a better truth communicator with both Christians and non-Christians. The goal is not to keep what you learn to yourself or amaze your friends with “feats” of knowledge. The goal has not changed since Jesus and His apostles told Christians what to do with the gifts the Lord gave them: 1. glorify God, 2. make disciples (teach them to obey Christ), and 3. equip the saints for their work of ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ (to name a few).
Your passion for representing Jesus Christ to the world will drive what you read, how often you read, who you talk with, and what you tell them.
Here is the first part of a “Top Ten” list for reading based on what I’ve found most helpful through the years.
#1 .. The Bible
The Bible is more than just a Christian textbook. It is the personal communication of God to His people. I think of reading as internal listening. I “listen” to the author as I read what they wrote. In the case of the Bible, the author is God.
“… for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-13
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:11-12
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is much more than the history of what God did in creating and ruling the universe. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have spoken to us. They have communicated their love and will for us. When you read the Bible, think about the Author who inspired it. He loves you deeply. He has great things to teach you. He has wonderful plans for your life and ministry. There is no writer who could ever write something to you that is more important than the words you read on the pages of the Bible.
How Often Should I Read The Bible?
How often would you like to hear God’s voice? How often would you like to hear Him tell you about His love for you and other people in His world? How often would you like to learn more about what pleases Him? How often would you like to get answers to your most difficult questions? How often would you like to improve your knowledge and abilities to talk with people about God’s love for them? How often is your choice, but I certainly recommend often for a Christian interested in being an apologist.
By “often” I don’t mean weekly. I don’t even mean daily. Often means as “often” as you can. Read in the morning. Read during lunch. Read in the evening. Read the Bible often!
A Christian apologist should become very familiar with both the Old and New Testaments. God revealed all of the Bible to us so we can know Him. We should read it, understand it, believe it and obey it. That’s not being legalistic – it’s being wise.
One of the primary messages of the Bible is “hear and obey.” It sounds easy enough, but it has tripped up generations of God’s people for thousands of years. The key is not just “hearing” the Word; it’s also “doing” the Word. I’m reminded of the words in Hebrews in the context of God’s people who had become “dull of hearing” –
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14
Notice the last verse – “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Solid spiritual food is an important part of true spiritual maturity. The goal? “to discern both good and evil.” A major role of the Christian apologist is to help the Church in the area of discerning both good and evil through the process of using “reason” to exercise their senses.
A Common Sense Bible Reading Plan
Step One – If you have never read the Bible from Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 22:21, I recommend you do that to get a good sense of the BIG Story God has revealed to the world. Make notes as you read about things you want to come back to later to “study.” If you can commit 40 minutes a day to reading (e.g. 40 minutes at one sitting or 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening), you should complete it in about 4 months (including taking notes). If you want to read longer than that each day, you’ll finish sooner (e.g. reading the Bible two hours a day takes about a month to finish).
Step Two – Refer to the notes you took during your first read-through of the Bible and study those passages of Scripture. Depending on how many notes you took, that may take you 2-3 months to complete the study portion. Try not to get side-tracked. Stick to studying those areas of Scripture that you had questions about from your first full-read of Scripture. Studying will include using other reading materials that we’ll look at in future parts of this series.
Step Three – Make your own “big picture” outline of the Bible. You’ve read the entire Bible from beginning to end. You’ve taken notes and used those notes to get answers to your questions. Now, take a step back and think about the Bible from God’s perspective. God knew what He was going to say and do “in time” from “before time began” (Ephesians 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 1:1-3). God thinks logically and plans accordingly. Knowing that and having just read the Bible from front to back and studied those areas of greatest importance to you … why do you think God said and did what He said and did? In other words, what was God’s thinking and planning “before time began”? What is God’s “big picture” purpose for what He did in creating the world and what has happened since? You may want to draw a literal “picture” of what you believe God’s plan is or you may want to put it into words. The important thing is to think about it and record your thoughts in some way that you can refer to easily.
By the time we finish reading the entire Bible and studying the parts that interested us most, we should have a good sense about who God is, what He did, when He did it, where He did it and how He did it. Every Christian should know those basics about God and the Bible. What Christian apologists want to know in addition to the who, what, when, where and how is “why.” Why did God do what He did? Why did He say what He said? Many of the toughest questions apologists hear from critics and skeptics are “why” questions. Having a good “big picture” view of the Bible will help lead us to both the questions and the answers to those tough “why” questions.
Step Four – Take your “big picture” view of God and the Bible and divide it into “smaller picture” views. Smaller picture views can include how the Bible is organized (e.g. Old Testament, New Testament, Books of Moses, Books of History, Books of Wisdom and Poetry, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, Apocalyptic/Revelation), how God works with people (e.g. Covenants, Dispensations), etc. Other “smaller picture” views include memorizing Scripture. That is helpful for your own spiritual growth and the growth of others as you share God’s Word with them.
Step Five – Keep reading! Reading and studying the Bible should be a continuing discipline of joy for Christian apologists (and all Christians for that matter).
In Context, Please!
If you choose to follow this plan, or something similar, you will learn how to read and study the Bible “in context.” That’s why Step One is to read the Bible in order from first verse to last verse. I don’t believe I can over-emphasize the importance of reading and studying the Bible “in context.” If you learn how to do that and then continue to do it consistently for the rest of your life, you will know how to find answers to the “why” questions people are asking every day. More importantly, you will know the importance and process of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And, in the context of that statement, you will be “approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed.” In the larger context of that statement, you will follow Paul’s admonition to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and take those things you learn and “commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” and “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:1-3).
In an even larger context of the statement about “rightly dividing the word of truth,” you will “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” and will “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:8, 13). In an expanded context, you will know how to deal with “perilous times” that will come in the “last days” when men will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” You will also know the importance of turning “away from “such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Those statements in the same context lead to an understanding of the importance of being ready to “preach” God’s Word and be ready at all times to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” The reason for that is that there will come a time when people “will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” What’s a Christian apologist to do? “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
That’s the power of context! Context is not just about referencing a few verses in the Bible to defend the Christian faith. It’s about knowing and understanding what was written before and after the referenced text. Knowing the textual “context” helps explain its meaning. Context is absolutely vital to “getting it right” and that’s what God has called us to do. Christian apologists must get it right.
Join us soon for the next part of A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”