Years ago, you could not have convinced me that I’d be entering the ministry, let alone as a trained Apologist. I mean, I didn’t even know what the term “apologetics” meant back then! I was one of those touchy-feely Christians who road on the coattails of my experiences with God, without developing much of an intellectual side to my faith.
To find myself standing in a line of intellectual Christians about to receive a graduate degree in Apologetics was, to say the least, unreal. In my wildest dreams, this wasn’t even on the radar.
Now that I have the degree, I’m a bit stuck as to the exact direction I am headed into this ‘ministry thing’. I called the Director of the Apologetics program at Biola, Dr. Craig Hazen, upon graduating (December 2017), and asked his advice on the next step. He chuckled and said, “Well, Lisa, you’re not really the Apologists’ type.”
Dr. Hazen is a funny guy, and he meant well in this statement. I’m fairly certain he was referring to my outgoing personality, my goofy sense of humor, and my casual, friendly approach towards people. Chuckling aside, he gave me some good advice that I am pursuing, hoping things will pan out. But yeah… I think Dr. Hazen is right. I am not your typical Apologist, whatever that might be.
I come from a secular upbringing, and had no formal training (i.e. catechisms or doctrinal education). I was one of those Christians who got saved, and then simply began to read the Bible, trusting that God would speak to me through it. He did.
Nonetheless, as I continued in my faith journey, questions were aimed at my faith that I had no good answers for, except to share my testimony. Not all of the skeptics I shared my testimony with were convinced, chalking it up to personal, subjective experience. (There were a couple of conversions, however. So, God can use personal testimony to woo a seeker’s heart.) The stubborn skeptics didn’t see my testimony as fact, or evidence, that what I believed was true.
I needed answers. Back in 2009, at the suggestion of my pastor, I started pursuing an AA degree in Christian studies. This gave me a basic overview of the faith. (I think my pastor wanted me to go back to school just so I’d stop bugging him with so many theological questions.) Back in the ‘80s, I’d received a BA in Communications ,and I had a brief yet successful journalism career. So, going back to school in my midlife years wasn’t planned. Yet I wanted to be able to answer those difficult questions that skeptics kept hammering me with.
When I finished the AA degree, during the graduation ceremony as people prayed for us, I sensed God wanted me to go into the ministry. I was nervous at this prospect, and felt I needed more education before I could answer that call. That’s when a friend recommended the Masters in Apologetics program at Biola. This top-rated program is not cheap. When I researched the costs, there was no way I could afford it. My hopes were dashed… temporarily.
Little did I know, my sweet mother (who’s always lived frugally), had been stashing away savings bonds to give me as a modest inheritance. When she heard of my desire to continue my education and enter the ministry, she approached me with the idea of an early inheritance to help pay the tuition. WHAT!? I could barely believe my ears. My little ol’ mama had money stashed away for me? Wo… I’m so blessed!
Feeling encouraged that God’s hand of provision was with me, I thought He must be leading me to Biola. Naively, I applied. I didn’t think it would be a challenge to be accepted because I had received good grades (straights As ) during my studies at Christian Life College. But I had conveniently forgot that back in the ‘80s, attending a state college in California, I wasn’t a Christian yet. I partied a lot in college, and my GPA suffered for it. To be admitted to Biola, one needs the minimum of a 3.0 GPA. My 4.0 at Christian Life College did not raise my previous GPA high enough. But God’s will be done, and miraculously, I was accepted! If it wasn’t for the two letters of recommendation by my pastor (Tom Flaherty) and professor (Elliot Pollasch), I would not be writing this blog to you today. Their letters gave the Biola admissions staff pause to consider me, despite my lower GPA. I was accepted into the program on “probation.”
Not the apologists’ type? Um… Okay, perhaps Dr. Hazen knew more than he let on.I was scared out of my whits when I began the online program at Biola! Click To Tweet
I was scared out of my whits when I began the online program at Biola. There were so many smart people enrolled, from engineers to pastors, and then there was me: former party-girl and now stay-at-home mom. How was I going to participate intelligently with such a high caliber of classmates?
When I got saved, I went to a Vineyard church. The Vineyard was started by John Wimber, a former singer for the Righteous Brothers. It makes sense, then, that this movement was based on excellent worship music. It also had a focus on the spiritual gifts. Vineyard folks are very ‘experienced-oriented’ in their relationship with Jesus, and that’s what I came to know. I wasn’t raised in the church, and so, at 25 years old when I finally accepted Christ into my life, this was the only church I knew. I quickly found out that many apologists are not the ‘charismatic type.’
With little theological training, I stepped into the Biola courses flying by the seat of my pants! I was open and honest, very spiritual, and because of my background, I got into some heated, but friendly, debates. (Yeah, I guess you can say I broke the mold for apologists.) As I learned more, my confidence grew. I began to feel accepted by my classmates as we journeyed together in a quest to know more of God.
I hid the fact that I was on probation out of shame. To be removed from that probation list, I had to receive at least a B or higher for the first 12-units completed. That was no easy task. I studied like crazy and worked late into many nights. (Coffee became my friend.) How delighted I was to finally see, after a couple of semesters, that my name was no longer on the probation list!
During this same season, God called me to homeschool my then 5thgrade son. Yikes! I was walking down a road that wasn’t even paved yet. With God’s help, I was determined to succeed. With God’s grace, I did. I earned my Master’s four years later, albeit not having much of a life outside of studying. I graduated Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors) to honor the Most High; a statement of my love for my Savior. This is God’s grace.
I am still not sure what the “apologists’ type” is, but I know one thing—God doesn’t care. He only cares that I have a heart to serve Him and to further His kingdom. That I can do! And trust me, if an ex-party girl can learn to be a “Case Maker for Christ,” anyone can! Apologetics is a great evangelism tool in the hand of our awesome God, helping people to believe in an age of skepticism. It’s also learning how to love God “with all your mind” (Luke 10:27) which deepens your faith because you can trust God even when you don’t “experience” Him. Apologetics helps you to remain steadfast in faith during seasons when God seems hidden because you know the evidences for why you believe. I thank God for this opportunity and am eager to see what doors He opens.
I am the “Unexpected Apologist” — didn’t see this coming — but there is one thing I can expect…
that God will lead me as I lay my life down, submitting to His will, knowing His purposes are far better than any I could have planned.
“…my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24