Part 4: Qualitative (Open-Ended) Research Results

The heart of the survey consisted in two open-ended questions:

  • “In just a few words, what one to three things in your life most sparked your interest in your apologetics?” and
  • “In just a few phrases or sentences, list some situations where you have found apologetics to be useful.”

Using keyword analysis, we found the following themes appearing frequently among the responses.

Fear, Concern, Frustration

Many respondents (20) expressed concern over the possibility of being wrong about spiritual matters in their own lives, or the frustration of not knowing.

Examples:

A crisis of faith in college as I encountered biblical criticism, other religions and evolution for the first time.

I had a crisis of faith while preparing to be a pastor and was close to giving up on it all when a friend (who didn’t even know about my doubts) suggested I check out Reasonable Faith. I did, and my faith was restored.

Others (7 respondents) spoke of their spiritual concerns over a friend or family member who needed answers:

Examples:

Our church organized a Q&A evening some years ago and though much good resulted from the evening, lots of opportunities were missed because those on the panel were unable to answer the questions posed. I knew the answers to some but not all. Also my children abandoning the faith as young adults.

Having a child who was being led astray by Bart Ehrman books.

Desire to Learn, Curiosity, Intellectual Bent

There were many (24 responses) whose interest in apologetics was spurred by their interest in intellectual matters generally speaking.

Examples:

I have a natural inclination toward intellectual things, and I was inspired by the persuasive and gentle ways I saw leading apologists speak and write (e.g. C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and John Lennox).”

My own bentness toward reason and integrity, hearing Ravi Zacharias, the call to evangelism.

Evangelism and Discipleship

For many (26 in this category), evangelism was a door-opener and/or motivator to pursuing apologetics. In some cases that included (or was hard to distinguish from) discipling new believers.

Examples:

Apologetics provided answers to the questions people were asking me when I spoke to them about Jesus.

Talking with prisoners in a Bible study class where I meet with a small group weekly.

There was also a significant and related category of answers (from 38 respondents) involving persons who were motivated by encountering issues and errors. These included issues related to science, other religions, and atheist challenges in general.

Examples:

A believing friend became an atheist and opponent to Christianity. Skeptics often come to my church.

My personal questions about God and disbelievers attacking my faith.

Apparent conflict between science and religion.

A crisis of faith in college as I encountered biblical criticism, other religions and evolution for the first time.

Living in a Muslim community as a Christian

Mormonism or Classic Christianity? Young earth or old earth?

It’s certainly no accident that when we asked where apologetics was useful, the overwhelmingly most frequent answer was evangelism. (Second highest? A tie between strengthening one’s own faith and equipping others in faith and understanding.)

Exposure to Speakers, Authors, and Other Great Sources

Along with all the above, many respondents’ interest in apologetics was advanced by exposure to great teaching sources in books, conferences, online, or other media.

Examples:

The movie God’s Not Dead and learning there was evidence for God.

I love books and came across Lee Strobel’s books (I was running a church bookstall) – The Unbelievable? radio show and podcast, which led me to William Lane Craig and John Lennox, among others – YouTube videos from Acts 17 Apologetics and others

Personal Introduction

Finally, for eleven respondents, a personal introduction to apologetics from a friend or family member was important in launching their interest in apologetics.

Examples:

A friend who owned a bookstore, active in the field, gave me books, including McDowell’s Evidence, etc. Friends who are ex-JW’s Science trying, origins issues, from University days; worked with Campus Crusade for Christ, introduced to Francis Schaeffer “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?”

Having friends who were passionate about learning, defending the faith Sharing my faith with others.”

Two Missing Factors

Biblical Convictions

There were relatively few (4) respondents who said they were led to apologetics by the Bible’s teaching to do so.

Examples:

God telling us to always be ready with answers for the hope that is in us.

1 Peter 3:15 Personal interest Strong influx of atheist thought.

Church

One response really stood out for its absence: Church. Only five persons out of 107 mentioned church as part of their reason for being interested in apologetics. Three of those mentions were negative: Their churches had discouraged them from continuing to ask questions and get good answers. One could almost say the negative church mentions more than canceled out the positives.

Did you miss taking the survey? Want to add your voice? We’ve still got a place for you to do that.

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