Becoming a Christian apologist proficient at the popular, much less, the academic level, requires dozens of hours, even years of intellectual involvement depending on how deep one is willing to study. I remember when first reading “Time and Eternity”, a popular-level book by Dr. William Lane Craig. It took me two entire days to get a full recognition of just what was being said on the first page of that book alone! This kind of intellectual rigor is of the type Christian apologetics often requires and many Christians find this unpalatable. The untoward result of this negative perception is that Christians derelict their intellectual responsibilities thereby abdicating that realm of thought to the enemy.
If that weren’t enough, apologetics also often requires engagement with certain areas of study which may fall in opposition to one’s natural interests. Just as certain fields of trade attract certain demographics, so does apologetics attract a certain type of individual. Speaking from experience, it tends to be a certain type of white male. And so that taken in to consideration, along with ones genetic dispositions, cultural upbringing, and so forth, certain Christian demographics may be more difficult to reach in terms of taking their apologetic duties seriously in the same way one might, in general, find it difficult to get football players interested in knitting.
So then, how can those of us who are involved in apologetics, combat this apathy? The answer may lie in the recognition of exactly what we’re confronting. What needs to be understood here is that apathy is not a philosophical position. It’s not as if the person who is characterized by it is saying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in apologetics, rather apathy essentially amounts to a psychological state. It is an attitude an individual exemplifies. Therefore, the challenge involved in reaching those who are afflicted by it is primarily psychological and not intellectual. The question then is, “How do we get these folks interested in apologetics?”
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any all-encompassing answer to that question that can guarantee a change in a persons disposition. This is because apathy runs deeper in some individuals than others. It could very well be the case that a person be so indifferent towards something such that nothing can be said or done by us to change that persons attitude. However, to those people to whom psychological change is functionally possible, one solution that might motivate them to take apologetics seriously, is to relate their neglect of it as being destructive towards things which they do care about, such as their religious freedom, the cultural perception of Christians, the effectiveness of their own evangelism, or more appropriately, their pleasing of God. Just as being informed concerning the deleterious effects of unhealthy food products might motivate a person to change their eating habits, so might informing a person of the injurious effects of apologetic apathy might motivate them to rethink their attitude.
But what if that doesn’t work? What if a person is so obstinate such that no intellectual answer could ever motivate them to take their apologetic responsibilities seriously? In that case a relational approach to the situation might be helpful. Robert Cialdini, a prominent social psychologist, in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, identified six universal features underlying persuasion. These include: reciprocity, social proof, commitment (and consistency), liking someone, authority, and scarcity. For brevity’s sake, we shall only concern ourselves with two of these principles, namely the features of reciprocity and liking someone.
Concerning the first principle, it states that we tend to feel indebted to those who do something for us and we naturally want to return the favor in some way. This would explain why marketing techniques involving free samples can be so effective; because there is an unspoken quid pro quo which we unconsciously apprehend. Something similar might apply to our apologetic situation. Perhaps doing something nice for the apathetic individual, or more preferably, getting them to reflect upon what Christ has done for them will motivate them to reciprocate the kindness displayed towards them in the form of taking their apologetic responsibilities to heart.
With respect to the feature of liking someone, it’s the idea that people are generally more receptive towards those whom they like. Believe it or not, combating a person’s apathy may be as simple as just getting them to be your close friend or getting them to like you more than they already do. Recall, the situation at hand involves getting a person to simply care about apologetics and that is more likely to occur as a result of your genuine friendship. Whatever the case, one will be in a better position to influence a person’s attitude once they are able to apply the underlying principles governing persuasion.
Finally, we mustn’t forget that our prayers have a tremendous impact on the world. Were we not to pray for certain circumstances to obtain, then perhaps God would never actualize them. Therefore, if our goal as Christian apologists is that more Christians come to love the Lord with their minds as they ought to, our efforts will be most efficacious when coupled with prayer. Do that and perhaps, in time, the person who is neglecting their intellectual duties will come to think differently.