Shaping the Battlefield Part III – Operational Apologetics


Operational Apologetics – Preparing the Battlefield & Disseminating the Strategic Vision

In my last post I introduced a simple framework for understanding the world of Christian Apologetics. Using a military metaphor, I broke down this framework into a strategic, operational, and tactical levels of apologetical work. At the strategic level you have the highest level of academic scholarship in areas such as Philosophy, Theology, Biblical Studies and Historical Studies. However, the main difficulty for many Christian, and even non-Christian, seekers engaging at the strategic level of Apologetics, is that it often requires a lot of previous training before such content becomes intellectually accessible. Trying to jump directly into academic works from Plantinga, or Stump can be both frustrating and confusing. This could lead to an early, negative opinion about Apologetics in general  (“it’s far too heady!”), and discourage one from pursuing it at all. This reaction could demotivate the seeker and drive them into a sort of Christian romanticism, that relies only on subjective experience as its marker for truth.

But wait, there is no need to get upset or give up! It’s here that a large body of authors, speakers, and teachers comes into play at a level I call the operational. 

In the Army, the operational level is where strategic visions are translated into tactical (i.e. “boots on the ground”) action. Brigades and Battalions design large operations by accessing the higher-level visions of the Pentagon and larger military entities (Regional Commands, Divisions, etc.), breaking them down into manageable scenarios that smaller units (Companies, Platoons, etc.) will ultimately execute. This is where logistics, planning, intelligence, and administrative personnel construct a very real picture of the battlefield, the opposition, the environment, and the end state for specific battles to be fought.

The key to successful operational procedures is good communication and in Christian Apologetics it is no different. In operational apologetics you have men and women, who have sufficient training to access the scholarly content of strategic thinkers, grasp its meaning, but who have the ability to translate the deeper analyses for a broader audience. These operators relate academic material to the common experience of the man or woman on the street, or in the church. These apologists also tend to be the most well-known, and most accessible speakers in the  landscape of Christian “case-making” (to borrow a term from one of them). They are very visible, well-traveled, and well-rounded workers for Christ.

Many at the operational level will, therefore, be familiar to the average church-goer (at least the Evangelical church-goer). Some of those who have been around for a while are people like Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and Norm Geisler. Other, relative newcomers, are Nancy Pearcey, Frank Turek, J. Warner Wallace, and Sean McDowell. Greg Koukl, another great translator, also belongs in this group, as well as folks at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

What is interesting about these translators is their ability to take difficult concepts and present them accurately and simply. Not all of these communicators have PhD’s, yet something that makes them unique is that they come from very different walks of life, and can speak to a wide range of audiences (Wallace, for example, was a cold-case homicide detective in LA County). Thus, operators convey higher-level discussions about Christianity in ways not limited or restricted by what might be perceived as the “ivory tower of academics.” This is where the rubber hits the road, just as the operational tier of military operations unites the strategic and the tactical, so here communicators take real life experience and connect it to deeper, more abstract thinking.

Of course with any metaphor like the one I am proposing, there are people and groups that do not fit so neatly into one category. I will blog about these in a later post called “special operators,” akin to something like “spec-Ops” in the military world (e.g. Green Berets, SEALS, Marine RECON, CAG, etc.).

In sum, operational-level apologists are usually well-rounded speakers and teachers, who cover a broad range of arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. While some might specialize more than others, most are capable presenters of the philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments in favor of Christian theism, and excel in discussing hot-button issues relevant to the current culture. Sean McDowell, for example, has done a lot of good work in exploring the delicate issues that surround human sexuality and culture, especially  same-sex marriage. Therefore, at the operational level you have the most accessible form of Christian apologetics’ content, content that should not only challenge the novice without overwhelming him, but serve as a stepping stone for those who want to aim higher with sights fixed on the strategic level.

In my next post I will examine the final tier of apologetical operations, namely the tactical. It is at this level that Christian Apologetics is experiencing an absolute  explosion and most likely where the church will find its greatest resource for evangelism to an intellectually stagnant culture.


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