How to Amaze Your Judges Before You Say a Word

I remember it well.

I was sitting in the Apologetics room, ready to go.

My pen was out.

My mind was sharp.

My blood was pumping.

I was ready to speak!

Oh wait…. I’m sitting behind the judges’ table. Guess I’m not speaking this time.

That is what it was like to go from speaking to judging. Sitting on the evaluation side of the table was very weird. But beneficial—and today I hope to pass that benefit on to you.

I learned a lot about Apologetics from judging it. One of the most surprising aspects was how judges evaluate students.

A common viewpoint is, “Content is king.” I’ve always held this opinion. While I don’t think it’s incorrect, judging has modified my perspective.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that content doesn’t matter. Better great content and poor speaking than the reverse.

But if you want to reach the upper echelon of Apologetics competitors, excellent content alone won’t be enough. How you deliver the speech matters too.

In this article we’ll focus on just one aspect of delivery: the first impression.

Studies reveal that you have 7 seconds to make a first impression.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, BAM!

That’s your one and only chance to make a good first impression.

And the judges’ first impression of you affects how they view your entire speech.

Yes, it’s true. The moment you enter the room, you predispose me to evaluate you in a certain way.

It may be good.

It may be bad.

It’s up to you to determine.

Four tips:

1. Project Confidence

When you walk into the room, do so confidently. Stride to center stage and face the judges. Keep your shoulders back and your chin up. Make eye contact with the judges who are looking at you.

Before you say a word, prove to me that you belong in this room.

2. Smile

You need to look like you’re having fun. The best speakers aren’t just good at Apologetics—they love Apologetics.

I remember judging a girl recently who was obviously enjoying herself. Her marvelous speech backed up her first impression—just as that impression prepared me for her speech. By the time she began, I was expecting her to succeed. And since I’m the one who decides if she has succeeded or failed, my expectation matters.

It took me several years to reach this point. About year 3, I became relaxed enough that I could really enjoy speaking. No longer did I enter “speech mode” and become “robot Caleb” who did his little presentation then left. Now it was just me and the judges, enjoying the event.

Enjoying yourself lightens the mood of everyone in the room. It sets the judges at ease and predisposes them to judge you favorably. If you’re happy, we’re happy. And if we’re happy, you’re likely going to receive higher rankings.

This might sound unfair. But I believe that how you present the truth matters. If you don’t love and enjoy the truth, you’re doing it wrong. Joyful ambassadors for Christ reflect their joyful king. Gloomy ambassadors do not.

Insofar as Apologetics intends to prepare you for the real world, delivery matters. This is a communication event, after all.

3. Speak Forcibly

“Forcibly” is a word I’ve always wanted to use, but never have. Strunk and White (in their famous Elements of Style) recommend it above “forceful.” Apparently it’s more forcible to say forcible. (I’m inclined to agree.)

Vocabulary discussion aside, you should speak forcibly. By this I mean the opposite of weak, quiet, meek, and small. Not necessarily loud—but assertive. Confident.

This comes into play very soon after you enter the room. In fact, if a judge is writing, their first impression of you may be auditory. You ask:

“Do the judges mind if I choose my topics?”

And of course the judges say yes (except on rare occasions).

You pick your topics and prep time begins.

Now I have four minutes to finish up my ballot. And to think about your first impression.

How did you speak? Were you respectful yet confident? Or did you seem nervous, uncertain, scared?

I’m already beginning to make up my mind about your character from those first 10 seconds.

Practical suggestion: In club or at home, practice as though you were at a real tournament. Have parents or friends sit at a table as judges. Enter the mock “Apologetics room” and act as you typically do. Then request an evaluation. What impression did you leave? How could you improve it?

4. Wait Patiently

This is technically outside the bounds of the first impression. Perhaps it’s the second impression: when you have concluded prep time and are ready to speak.

If a judge is still writing on the ballot when you ask “Is everyone ready?”, do not begin to talk until that judge makes eye contact or nods.

I’m speaking from personal experience here, but I assume other people like me exist.

As an introvert, I sometimes prefer to communicate via body language. If I’m looking down at my paper and writing, it obviously (right?) means that I’m not ready.

If you begin your speech without my verbal or physical assent, you’ve just ignored my communication.

It wasn’t verbal communication. But it was communication.

Now I have to finish writing (and thinking about!) whatever I was writing—before I can engage with you. So you’ve already lost me for the first 15 seconds.

A word to the wise: Wait. Ensure that each of your judges can bestow their full attention upon you. Then begin.

And amaze.

How to Fail Epically at Apologetics

 

cat fail.gif

Kinda like this

It’s an oft-neglected skill.

No one seems to talk about it.

Advice is hard to find.

And that’s why I’m here.

Yes, my friends, in this definitive article I will reveal how to fail epically at Apologetics.

You’ve read articles on Apologetics success by the dozen…

But do you know how to miserably embarrass yourself?

Soon you will.

The Most Important Strategy

Do not prepare ahead of time.

You want to be authentic, don’t you?

You want to be genuine, right?

Avoid preparation and you will surely accomplish both.

In-round, you’ll be put on the spot with any topic you draw. Your powers of spontaneity will blossom.

You’ll grow more skilled in extemporaneous speaking (no, not extemporaneous the speech category…look up the actual definition).

Your stress levels will rise, your anxiety will skyrocket, and your already-frazzled tournament life will be more hectic.

Because you have not prepared beforehand, every word proceeding from your mouth will be from the heart. Possibly skipping your brain altogether.

Besides, why would you prepare? It’s really unnecessary. Who cares if you know the difference between atonement and reconciliation, between the sin nature and original sin, between Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, between the true gospel and abject heresy? Those distinctions are overrated.

When it comes to Bible verses, John 3:16 and Genesis 1:1 are applicable to every topic. Throw in a little Romans 3:23 and 6:23 for good measure, and you’re ready to rock.

Voilà! Authenticity.

Now, you may be authentically bad…but so what? At least you’re honest.

Now, national championships are coming up soon.

After that you’ll have the summer. To prepare for next season?

No! You have more important things to do. Like binge-watching your favorite Netflix series, lounging around, avoiding all responsibility, and definitely not investing in your future.

As those sages Phineas and Ferb say:

There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Problem solved! Yours truly has revealed how you should spend the summer: doing nothing profitable. Thank me anytime! (I accept both compliments and substantial monetary donations.)

So, to summarize:

Do not prepare.

Be authentically awful.

Epically fail at Apologetics. And set yourself up for a life of avoided responsibility, unfinished tasks, and meaningless existence.

This Student Competes in Seven Events. See How He Saves Time, Stays Sane, and Still Has a Life

How do you find time to prepare for seven speech and debate events?

A combination of raw skill, hard work, and a super effective system.

Meet Conor McNamara. He’s a 16-year-old sophomore in his second year of speech and debate. Conor competed in Apologetics last year without breaking, and this year he went into overdrive. He decided to participate in seven events: “I compete in Mars Hill Impromptu, Apologetics, Dramatic Interpretation, Open Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Monologue, and Original Oratory. And Lincoln-Douglas values debate.”

Because Conor had so many speeches to write, his mom Jaree knew that she had to find an Apologetics solution that was both effective and time-saving. She says, “[Conor] had so many things to prepare in a short amount of time…. I needed to be able to give him something that would give him the opportunity to be completely prepared, but at the same time maximize his time. He only had three months, to get ready in 8 events, before school started.”

Thoroughly Equipped was exactly what Jaree had been searching for: comprehensive, simple, and manageable. “[The curriculum was] really very user-friendly. It was very easy to follow the system. It was put into chunks that were doable rather than becoming overwhelming.”

Using one of the card-writing schedules included with the curriculum, Conor set himself a writing schedule and got to work. His results were impressive: “I was able to get pretty much all of my cards done (except for category 6) by the time that I rolled around to the first tournament.”

Immediately, Conor noticed a difference in his speaking ability and performance: “At the first tournament I didn’t break, but I was able to get a checkmark—which was the best that I had ever done. So the system really did work for me.”

But Conor’s success did not stop there: “At the very next tournament, the Arkansas tournament, I was able to break to Finals in Apologetics for the very first time. It was a really great feeling.” Conor attributes his Apologetics success partly to Thoroughly Equipped: “Honestly, I wouldn’t have even been able to qualify probably without the system.” Jaree echoes: “That’s absolutely true.”

Juggling seven events, Conor is grateful for the time he saved in Apologetics by using the system. He would recommend Thoroughly Equipped to any student, because it is a way to prepare “a good response for each one of the questions without actually having to go in and have to sit down and write every single question. It’s very efficient and very effective.”

Whether you’re an NCFCA wanna-be Marathoner or hope to win the Stoa Founder’s Award, you need a time-saving system.

Check out Thoroughly Equipped. It’s the only Apologetics curriculum that empowers you to master Apologetics—by writing just 25 cards.

Why You Should Read 1,167 Pages (in the Next 57 Weeks)

Question: Why did God create the universe?

  • A. Because he was lonely
  • B. Because he wanted to share his love
  • C. Because he was bored
  • D. Because he wanted to glorify himself

(Hint: there is more than one correct answer.)

Settled on an answer yet?

The correct answer choices are B and D.

Now, some of you (hopefully most of you) are celebrating: “Yeah! I got it right!”

Others of you are asking, “Really? Why are A and C wrong?”

By the end of this post, you’ll know why.

For a long time, I’ve been concerned about the theological depth (or lack thereof) in Apologetics.

Too many speeches are surface-level explanations of profound topics, delivered without insight and exposition.

And that’s the best-case scenario.

The worst case? Outright…

(choosing my words carefully here)

Near-blasphemy.

I won’t say blasphemy without a qualifier, even though I want to.

Does this occur often? Hopefully not. I don’t view enough rounds to offer statistical analysis.

But anecdotally, I know it does occur.

At a tournament a few years back, my dad judged an Apologetics round. One speaker touched on the topic of why God created the world.

The reason this speaker gave?

Because he was lonely.

So he made people, who are totally awesome.

Riiiight.

Nope-timon.gif

God lonely? GOD? LONELY?

What are we going to do in heaven for all eternity? Enjoy ourselves, with God thanking us for being there so he isn’t lonely any longer?

Me genoito! (“Absolutely not!” in Greek, e.g. Romans 6:2.)

No way!

Eternal life is not about us. Eternal life is about God. Jesus said so: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV).

And what about eternity past? You really think that God was lonely for all eternity, then suddenly realized that he could create people?

I better pause here to clarify my tone of voice. Paul had the same problem in letter-writing: “I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (Galatians 4:20 ESV).

Sounding harsh is not my intent. If you’ve thought (or said) that God created the world because he was lonely, I don’t think you’re automatically a heretic or an unbeliever. You may simply be poorly taught.

God was not lonely in eternity past. Before the foundation of the world, God was delighting in himself. The Father loved the Son in the Spirit: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24 ESV).

God created humankind (and the whole universe) for his glory: “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7 ESV).

John Piper (my favorite pastor) has a fantastic sermon on this if you want to learn more. Here’s a quick quote: “So, why did God create the universe? Resounding through the whole Bible — from eternity to eternity — like rolling thunder is: God created the world for his glory.”

God created the world to share his love, so that we might respond to it in kind and glorify him for his majesty and mercy.

Why do I know this? Because I’m so smart?

No. Because I’ve been well taught for many years. (AKA 20 years, 15 if you count from when I could actually retain information.)

I sit under fantastic preaching every week, straight from the text of Scripture. My parents have always taught me truths about God, and they instilled the habit of daily Bible reading when I was just a boy.

You may or may not have the same background.

But it’s never too late to start.

And now we finally get to explain the title of this post:

Why You Should Read 1,167 Pages (in the Next 57 Weeks)

Guess what book is 1,167 pages long?

No, not the Bible (although you might be able to find a version exactly that length).

Of course you should read that. But I’m talking about another book. And if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you can probably guess it:

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

My dad has always said that Systematic Theology is required reading before I leave the house.

Well, LORD willing, I’m heading off to seminary in August. So I realized that I really need to get reading.

A friend from church and I meet every Wednesday morning to discuss a chapter or two. We’ve been at it for about 6 months now, and we’re probably 3/5 of the way through.

Reading Systematic Theology has been personally beneficial. I consider myself to be fairly theologically astute, but I’ve learned much from the book. Moreover, Grudem writes devotionally. I am often led to worship by his explanations of key truths.

Will you join me?

Grab the book, grab a friend, and start meeting. Discuss one chapter each week and you’ll be done in 57 weeks. If you read about 40 pages a week instead of one chapter, you’ll finish in half that time.

The result: you will know your Bible better.

You will know the truth it contains better.

You will know your God better.

And your Apologetics speeches will sparkle.

So tolle lege. Take up and read!

You’re Not Smart Enough to Do Apologetics, Part 2

Warning: This is long and it’s personal. And you probably won’t read it all…

Last time, all you readers were horribly offended by my insulting your intelligence.

Here’s what I wrote:

Theologizing about books aside, reading will enhance your Apologetics speeches.

Why?

Because you’re not that smart.

No offense! I’m not either. That is, I’m not smart enough to figure out all of theology on my own. I need help.

Thankfully, lots of really smart people have written really awesome books. And we can read them for just a few dollars!

After you forgave me for my horrible manners, we discussed why Apologists should read—plus what you should read.

But now comes an even more difficult question.

WHO HAS TIME!?!

Who has time to read?

Life flashes by these days.

It’s Friday, then before you know it Monday is here.

Or worse, next Friday is here.

How does reading fit into such packed schedules?

Today we answer that question.

When can you read?

But I do need to begin with a caveat: some of you don’t have this problem.

Yes, there are a lucky few who are not busy.

If you wouldn’t describe your life as “busy”…

ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS!

For your day is coming.

In all seriousness, a less-than-overwhelming schedule is a blessing. If you don’t have any trouble finding time to do what you want to do, you can skip this post.

Or, since you have so much time, you could read it anyway!

But this post is dedicated to those of us who need a little help.

“I don’t have time to read!”

Join the club.

Asking my friends “How’s life?”, I most commonly get told, “Busy.”

My family is busy.

My friends are busy.

My coworkers are busy.

Everyone’s busy.

Are we cursed or something?

In a sense, yes.

But you know that curses are sometimes blessings in disguise, right?

Busyness is like that.

See, our world is filled with opportunity.

You can do almost anything you dream of, if you’re willing to work long and hard enough.

Because of this, your desires will likely exceed your time available.

And that’s okay.

If your bucket list is a million items long, and you only complete 3 before you die, guess what?

You have all eternity to do the other 999,997!

In this age, our job is not to do everything. It’s to do every most-important-thing.

That’s where priorities come in.

Among your other priorities, book-reading should be present.

Don’t ignore your responsibilities and read books all day.

But neither should you ignore books and elevate other priorities.

(If you need justification for this point, go see last week’s post on why to read.)

Sadly, I’m speaking from personal experience here.

It came to a head at the end of January.

I felt totally overwhelmed.

Job and internship I had handled. But my personal time was in shambles.

My to-do list kept increasing, and I couldn’t stay on top of it.

So I decided to stop something.

See, time is like closet space. At some point, you can’t fit any more clothes in.

But because time isn’t physical, we like to imagine that we can fit infinite “time clothes” into our finite time closet.

How do you get more room in your closet? You throw clothes away.

How do you get more room in your time closet? You throw time-consumers away.

So I decided to stop attending a Thursday night get-together and seize that night back.

After testing the idea in February, I believe it has been a success. I’ve enjoyed spending my Thursday nights with my family or reading by myself.

And I don’t feel bad about quitting.

I follow an internet marketing copywriter named Ian Stanley. Recently he sent an email out, defending quitting. In it he listed some of his personal goals, then wrote:

Those were the primary goals outside of income.
And guess what. I didn’t hit any of ‘em.
You know why?
I QUIT. I quit for a reason.
Now let me be clear. There’s a difference between QUITTING and GIVING UP.
Quitting means you didn’t want the goal anymore.
Giving up means you wanted the end goal but weren’t willing to do what it took to get it.

Feel free to quit.

If something is occupying too much of your time—or doesn’t belong there at all—quit it.

Quit it purposefully.

Not because you don’t have the guts to achieve it.

Because you don’t want the goal anymore.

I’ve just realized that my outline is rather lacking for this post.

So I’m going to retroactively make the last few large chunks of this post…

Time Tactic #1: Quit

And then move immediately on to…

Time Tactic #2: Think Long-Term

Pull up from the trenches and take a look around.

What will you really enjoy doing tonight?

How can you act so that, tomorrow morning, you wake up and say: “I’m proud of myself for choosing to do _______ last night!”

Maybe this is just me…

(so if it doesn’t apply to you just ignore it)

…but I generally feel unsatisfied after wasting a few hours on the internet.

Spending a few hours on a good book?

Tiring, but satisfying.

Writing my last post, I was happy that day because I read A.W. Tozer the day before.

Never have I been happy today because I wasted time on the internet yesterday.

And I’ll bet 1,000 Monopoly dollars that neither have you.

It’s an issue of long-term difficult pleasures vs. short-term easy pleasures.

Think long-term.

What will make you happiest?

Time Tactic #3: Seize the Gaps

We all have little gaps in our day. Maybe you have 15 minutes between two events, or half an hour after dinner.

Seize the gaps! Use them to read.

One major gap for lots of people is commute time.

Do you have a part-time job? (Around here every single homeschooler works at Chick-fil-A.) If so, you probably have to drive at least 20 minutes round-trip every time you work. Use that time to read!

Not read with your eyes. That’s dangerous. (And probably illegal, though I haven’t checked the laws.)

Read with your ears! Listen to audiobooks.

You can get a lot of good ones for cheap. Go sign up for Audible.com‘s free trial and get an audiobook. Or go to ChristianAudio.com and get a free Christian audiobook every single month.

I listen to audiobooks or sermons first thing in the morning when I get up. My morning routine—from getting up to finishing breakfast—takes 30 minutes, so I can get through an entire audiobook in just a week or two!

When my brother and I owned a lawncare business a few years back, I would listen to books while mowing lawns.

Anytime your task doesn’t require intense mental focus, you can be reading…er, listening.

If you seize the gaps, you’ll get a lot more reading done.

Time Tactic #4: Schedule Your Reading

Sometimes I find myself thinking:

“Once I get everything else done, I’ll go hole away and read for 10 hours.”

The problem?

Everything else never gets done.

So at the end of the day…

If you want to read…

Find a time to read…

And do it.

Block it out on your calendar.

Tell people you’re already busy (because you are).

Tell them you have an appointment (with yourself).

Go curl up with a book.

And read.

You’ll be smarter because of it.

And your Apologetics speeches will sparkle.

You’re Not Smart Enough to Do Apologetics, Part 1

What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself. In coming to Him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood. He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith. He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one. Neither does He change His mind about anything. Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Chapter 9: The Immutability of God

Go back and read that quote again, slowly and thoughtfully.

Go! Now!

Did you do it?

Good. I hoped you would.

I came across that quote this past Thursday evening, as I was reading in my bedroom. It had been a long time since I’d picked up The Knowledge of the Holy, and I was in the mood to re-read it. After reading through 50 pages or so of Tozer’s theologically astute and worshipful prose, I stumbled upon the gem of a quote above.

How wonderful that God never changes! He “does not keep office hours”! He feels toward you today the same way he felt when he sent Jesus into the world to die. What comfort to the soul!

If you don’t feel the wonder yet, don’t worry. Having spent an entire hour reading by that point, I was in a good frame of mind to be struck by truth.

Oh, to be in Apologetics again! How I would love to include that quote in my card on God’s immutability and speak it to the judges.

I don’t get that chance anymore.

But you do.

So this article is an exhortation: Read great books! Find great quotes! Give great speeches!

First off, let me explain the title of this post. (You have to wait until Reason 2, but it’s worth it.)

Why should I read?

Reason 1: God Writes

God wrote a book.

Do you ever think about that?

God wrote a book.

He could have done something else.

He could have established an oral tradition.

He could have had angels stay on earth to deliver his words.

He could have spoken his words to each person individually.

But.

He wrote a book!

So we should read it.

And that one Book changes all other books. They are not its equal; not even close. But as the glory of the Cullinan Diamond (the largest in the world) lends dignity to even the smallest flawed diamonds, so the glory of this Book makes all other books shine in reflection.

Cullinan_Diamond_and_some_of_its_cuts_-_copy.jpg

Nine diamonds cut from the original Cullinan Diamond

We read because God wrote.

Reason 2: You’re Not Smart Enough to Do Apologetics

Theologizing about books aside, reading will enhance your Apologetics speeches.

Why?

Because you’re not that smart.

No offense! I’m not either. That is, I’m not smart enough to figure out all of theology on my own. I need help.

Thankfully, lots of really smart people have written really awesome books. And we can read them for just a few dollars!

Wanting to write a card on miracles? Check out C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles.

Writing about Jesus’ sacrificial death? Try John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.

Need to write a card on the reliability of the Bible? Get Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

More generally, you can read almost any Christian book and find something beneficial for Apologetics. With 100+ topics, you’re bound to run across something relevant.

So don’t limit your reading to only Apologetics-related books. Feel free to read any Christian author, always on the lookout for good quotes and ideas.

As the weeks and months progress, you’ll begin to have books come to your mind when you’re writing a card. “Hey…didn’t I read something about this?” Yes. Yes you did.

And now your card will be more amazing.

You’re not that smart. So get smart and read books.

Objection: “But I don’t like reading!”

Yes you do.

You just don’t know it yet.

Reading is similar to classical music. It is universally enjoyable, but too few people know how to enjoy it.

Check out this 20-minute TED talk to see what I mean. Benjamin Zander plays a typical piece of classical music for the audience, then notes that most everyone zoned out at some point. He then explains some basic principles of classical music and plays the same piece again. And everyone is hooked.

Same principle with reading. You may not now experience reading as a pleasure, but you can.

And I believe you will.

Granted, reading is a difficult pleasure. That’s what Tony Reinke calls it in his excellent book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books.

“Reading is a difficult pleasure because it requires discipline, diligence, and focus. But like in any pleasure, it is a pleasure that can be done for God’s glory.” (p.104)

But aren’t difficult pleasures often the most lasting ones?

Take writing a blog post.

Why do I choose this example?

Because I struggle with it.

I try to post biweekly: two posts a month. Now that doesn’t sound so hard!

You try it.

This post is a month from my last post. Two weeks late. I totally missed the last (self-imposed) article deadline.

I know I should write regularly, but my brain seems to marshal all its resources against me. “Do it some other time! Do it tomorrow! Right now you should go browse the internet and read some interesting articles! It will be hard! Now is the time for ease!”

Yet the joy of seeing a finished article far exceeds the joy of wasting 90 minutes on the internet.

So that’s why I’m writing this article. It’s a difficult pleasure—not an easy pleasure—but it is a deeper, more profound pleasure than I could find on YouTube or Wikipedia. (Or any of the other black holes the Internet endlessly generates.)

One Help for Those Who Don’t (Yet) Like Reading

Read the right books.

If you don’t read much currently, you may want to start with some fairly easy books. Now, easy doesn’t mean simple or recent or unimportant. It just means that some books require extra effort to enjoy, and you may want to wait on those.

For instance, if an inexperienced reader wanted to learn about prayer, I wouldn’t recommend Don Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation. It’s a solid book, but a bit heady at times. Try Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible or something similar.

(Side note: Searching on Amazon, I saw that A Call to Spiritual Reformation has now been updated into a 2nd edition with a new-ish title: Praying with Paul. It’s a great book in either edition, well worth checking out, and this new edition might make it easier to read.)

Another Help

Get some coffee.

If you have trouble reading, grab some coffee before you settle into the easy chair. Caffeine helps, but even more so, there’s something about the aroma and experience of coffee that helps me focus.

Now, I’m only an occasional coffee drinker. I don’t chug gallons a day—more like a cup of it 2-3 times a week. But earlier today I read some more of Tozer with a mug of coffee in hand, and it was wonderful. So try it!

Side note: Real men drink their coffee black. None of this fru-fru not-really-coffee-but-actually-pure-sugar stuff while reading books. Black and strong.

cartoon-business-man-holding-a-cup-melted-by-strong-coffee-by-ron-leishman-11078.jpg

If the coffee burns through the cup, it’s strong enough.

Okay, now that I’ve got you all mad at me, let’s move on.

(All those comments are partly tongue-in-cheek. If you like cream and sugar, that’s cool. And if you’re a tea drinker, that’s cool too—I actually drink more tea than coffee. We okay now? Good.)

What should I read?

Read the classics.

In chapter 10 of Lit!, Tony Reinke gives six tips for finding enough time to read books. One of his tips is Read Great Books. Why? Because you’re more likely to love reading if you read really good books instead of mediocre ones. And we all find time to do what we love to do!

Confession: I don’t read as many great classics as I should. I’ve read some from C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce. I’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

But there are far more classics that I haven’t read. At the top of my list:

  • The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m trying to improve, at least. I recently read St. Athanasius’ book On the Incarnation, which is a really old classic. Like, it-was-originally-written-in-Greek classic. He lived in the 4th century A.D.

And it was a good book! Just as good as the book itself was the introduction, written by none other than our good friend C.S. Lewis. If you want to feel inspired to read the classics, go read Lewis’ introduction here. It’s fabulous.

Read good recent books.

Recent books are good too! Last year I read Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity, a marvelous exploration of why God’s three-in-oneness is a beautiful truth. I highly recommend it. Plus he’s British, so you get some of that quirky British humor.

ChristianAudio.com gives away a free audiobook each month, and all you have to do is sign up for their newsletter. I download the book every month and listen to most of them. The book for this month (February) is Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, and I am really looking forward to listening to it.

Read great Apologetics books.

I know I recommend this all the time, but Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is really the second book any Apologist should own. (The first being the Bible.)

Have question? Grudem has answer.

The other book I recommend all the time is the one I was reading last Thursday: A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. It’s a readable, devotional, short theology book about God’s attributes. Truly wonderful.

Objection: “I don’t own any good books!”

First off, your parents probably do. Go look at their bookshelves. In fact, my copy of Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy originally belonged to my parents. Somehow it migrated to my shelves. Thankfully they’re okay with that.

If you don’t own any good books, buy some!

How much money do you spend on Starbucks?

Okay.

How much enjoyment do you get from those drinks, and how long does it last?

Now.

How much enjoyment could you get from a great book, and how long would that enjoyment last?

Hey, I like Frappuccinos as much as the next guy, but I don’t sit around discussing how amazing my drink was. I do sit around talking about truths that I learned from books, though!

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This could be a book instead. Less yummy, but more filling. Metaphorically. Because you shouldn’t eat books.

 

If you don’t have any good books, stop making excuses and start making purchases. Get Systematic Theology and The Knowledge of the Holy and get to reading!

The End…sort of

Okay, this article has covered enough for one day. Part 2 is coming soon:

How on earth can you find time to read all the books you just ordered?

Is Religion a Private Matter?

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No religion allowed past this point

Should you stick your religion in people’s faces? Or keep it to yourself like a nice, polite Christian?

The world asks believers those questions. And we must be prepared to answer.

This topic was recently brought to my attention by a young lady who is a very skilled competitor and a regular reader of this blog. She messaged me and asked:

I’m traveling to a tournament tomorrow, and am finishing up apologetics cards, but I’m stuck on C4S3 (Stoa): How would you respond if someone told you: “Religion is a private personal matter”? Wondering if you’d have any thoughts?

I spent some time thinking and replied with my comments. Since at least half of you are Stoa competitors, perhaps my musings will prove helpful. (And for those of you in the NCFCA, you can likely tie these thoughts into one of the Category 4 topics. “Why does man need salvation?” would be an excellent choice.)

So without further ado, here are 3 reasons that religion is not merely a private personal matter, but a public interpersonal matter.

1. Religion deals with ultimate reality.

The most important questions we could ever ask are all religious questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is right and wrong, and how can we know? Where did the universe come from? What will happen after I die? What is the meaning of life?

All of those questions are religious questions. Every human being is concerned about them. How are we ever supposed to figure out the answers if we’re prohibited from discussing them together?

I’m using definition #1 of “religion” from Dictionary.com in these answers. It seemed good enough for the purpose: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Plus, that definition alludes to a lot of the questions I listed above.

2. Religion is an eternal matter.

Assuming that one religion is right and the others are wrong, it matters a lot which one you choose. If you follow a wrong religion your entire life, you end up in hell.

Unless the universalists are right, in which case no big deal. (Sorry, theology joke.)

Because the effects of who you conceive of God to be and how you relate to him matter for all of ETERNITY, religion is the most significant discussion topic we have.

If your neighbor’s house is on fire, do you consider that to be a “private personal matter” for him to take care of? No. You shout at him to get out! Similarly, if we’re only here for a few short years and then eternity, it’s foolish to say “deal with religion yourself”. We should talk about religion publicly NOW because it matters a great deal LATER, for eternity.

3. Keeping the true religion to yourself is unloving.

Penn Jillette (of the magic duo Penn and Teller), an atheist, made this point well in a YouTube video a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwm7EwijOY4. If we really believe that unbelievers go to hell, why don’t we evangelize? He shares the story of how he really respected someone who gave him a Bible.

Unbelief in eternity is the only justification for keeping religion personal and private. If you believe in eternity, not sharing the truth is unloving.

The Answer

I began this post with a rather biased set of questions:

“Should you stick your religion in people’s faces? Or keep it to yourself like a nice, polite Christian?”

Let’s rephrase them. The difference between shading and illumination is the angle of the light; likewise, change the angle of the question and it moves from dark to bright.

“Should you keep the most precious message in the world hidden? Or share it with other needy people?”

Answer the question to yourself.

Then go—don’t keep the message to yourself.

Lyrical Apologetics (Part 2)

Hymnbooks, obviously for use in Apologetics speeches

Songbooks, obviously for use in Apologetics speeches

Last time I introduced the concept of Lyrical Apologetics, and answered a lot of preliminary questions. What on earth is it? Why is it useful? How can I do this?

But I left some questions unanswered:

“When in your speech should you present the songs? What songs have I personally used? What songs would I recommend to other Apologists?”

In this post I’ll answer those remaining questions. Let’s jump right in and get to it!

When should you sing?

Anytime.

Really, there’s no bad time to introduce a song. You can start with it, make a particular point with it in the middle of your speech, or end with it.

Personally, I tended to use songs at the end of Apologetics speeches. The lyrics give a nice oomph and sense of conclusion.

Let me illustrate with two examples of songs I’ve used in Apologetics.

What songs have I used?

This first one is from my card on the Immutability of God. These are the last lines on the card:

  • I’d like to leave you with one stanza from a hymn by Charles Wesley“And all things as they change proclaim / The Lord eternally the same.”

Short and sweet. I only quoted two lines, but that was sufficient. You don’t necessarily have to sing an entire verse, especially if it’s lengthy—like this next one.

Here I chose to present an entire verse, despite the length. The card is for the topic of Jesus as the Messiah. Again, this is the very end of the card.

  • Jesus is who he said he was, the savior of the world or the chosen one; the Messiah.  The great hymn In Christ Alone summarizes the true meaning and significance of Jesus Christ’s role as the Messiah.
  • “In Christ alone, Who took on flesh, / Fullness of God in helpless babe! / This gift of love and righteousness, / Scorned by the ones He came to save. / Till on that cross as Jesus died, / The wrath of God was satisfied; / For ev’ry sin on Him was laid— / Here in the death of Christ I live.”

Those are a few songs I have personally used. Now you might be wondering what songs you could use for other topics. Without further ado, here is…

Caleb’s Definitive List of Apologetics Songs

Category 1: Existence and Nature of God

  • Holy, Holy, Holy
  • All Creatures of Our God and King
  • Doxology
  • A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
  • Great is Thy Faithfulness
  • How Great Thou Art
  • O Worship the King
  • 10,000 Reasons (Matt Redman)

Category 2: Scriptures

  • How Firm a Foundation
  • Ancient Words (Michael W. Smith)
  • Speak, O Lord (Keith and Kristyn Getty)
  • Every Promise of Your Word (Keith and Kristyn Getty)
  • O Word of God Incarnate

Category 3: The Nature, Purpose, and Destiny of Man

  • Before the Throne of God Above [would be good for ending on a happy note, if you’ve given a rather depressing speech on the sinfulness of man]
  • I Need Thee Every Hour
  • Kyrie Eleison (Keith and Kristyn Getty)
  • Jesus, Thou Know’st My Sinfulness
  • All I Have is Christ (Sovereign Grace Music)

Category 4: Salvation or How to Know God

  • Amazing Grace
  • Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  • It Is Well
  • Jesus Paid It All
  • Rock of Ages
  • Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling
  • There Is a Fountain
  • When I Survey

Category 5: The Person of Christ

  • In Christ Alone
  • Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?
  • Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery [this is my favorite Christian song of all time—it’s really fantastic]
  • Crown Him With Many Crowns
  • O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • Christ is Risen (Matt Maher)

You can find lyrics to many of these songs at this website: http://popularhymns.com/.

You’ll notice that most of these songs are hymns, not contemporary worship songs. This is not because I have some inherent aversion to contemporary worship songs, but because they can rarely match hymns in verbal punch and lyrical skill.

Hey, I love 10,000 Reasons as much as anyone. But unfortunately it’s the exception, rather than the rule. Most contemporary worship songs rely on the music to boost up adequate lyrics. Since you don’t have a band with you, your options become more limited.

Exceptions: Keith and Kristyn Getty write modern hymns, all of which are incredible. Some modern songs have powerful lyrics—you just have to choose carefully. Matt Redman, Matt Maher, Matt Boswell (lots of Matts!), Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, Rend Collective, Sovereign Grace Music, The Village Church, Michael Card, Kings Kaleidoscope, Citizens, and Rich Mullins all write good modern songs.

My absolutely favorite Christian musical artist is Matt Papa. If you do nothing else from reading this article, PLEASE go listen to some of his music. If you don’t know where to start, go with “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”. Basically every song in at least his last two albums is phenomenal.

So, we come to the end of this article. Go find some songs! Go sing some songs! And be amazing in Apologetics.

Lyrical Apologetics (Part 1)

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You probably shouldn’t bring a microphone into your Apologetics round. Singing is okay, though.

I was watching her Apologetics speech when I heard it.

It had been a fairly typical speech: explain the meaning, explain the significance, so on and so on.

But then…

She started singing.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

As she sang, I was deeply moved. Hearing spoken words that affirm Christ’s worth and glorify his sacrifice is always beautiful…but listening to these sung words was simply incredible.

The judges were moved as well. One lady even shed tears.

That was my introduction to Lyrical Apologetics.

Lyrical Apologetics: “An Apologetics speech in which part of a song or hymn is sung by the competitor.”

Singing in Apologetics?!?!

Admittedly, this article is a bit more off-the-wall than most I write. Most of you have probably never heard of Lyrical Apologetics (likely because I just made that term up).

But I promise that you’ll benefit from reading…even if you can’t sing.

(Because I have ZERO musical ability, and I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t personally benefited from Lyrical Apologetics. Apparently the Good Lord has seen fit to reserve my singing voice for heaven.)

So sit tight and enjoy the ride!

The Biblical Basis for Singing in Apologetics

Singing in Apologetics rounds is in perfect line with a proper theology of singing. Believe it or not, the Bible has quite a lot to say about our singing.

In Psalm 100, the Psalmist calls upon the entire earth and everyone in it:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2 ESV)

This verse is a favorite for people like me: “Look—we’re supposed to make a joyful NOISE! It never says it has to be on-key!” 🙂

In Psalm 150, the Israelites are called to accompany their singing with loud crashing cymbals:

Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 150:5-6 ESV)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to say you should bring cymbals into your Apologetics round. 🙂

Paul mentions singing multiple times in his epistles. Notice the connection between the Word of God and singing in Colossians 3. Great truths (like the ones you share in Apologetics) should lead us to sing:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
(Colossians 3:16 ESV)

 

Moreover, in Ephesians 5 Paul specifically commands us to sing to one another.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
(Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV)

This last passage is where I believe singing in Apologetics rounds most naturally fits in. It’s “addressing one another in…spiritual songs”, in competition.

Now, I’m not saying that Paul originally had this in mind. Nor would I argue that Lyrical Apologetics is a Biblical command. Instead, I would submit that using spiritual songs as part of your Apologetics speech is a God-glorifying action, fully in line with a proper theology of singing.

Why Would I Do This?

A couple reasons.

1. To differentiate yourself. Singing in Apologetics is very uncommon. If you do it, you will stand out.

Speaking from my personal experience as a judge, it is hard to distinguish between speakers. At the end of a 90-minute round in which I’ve listened to 8 speakers, I struggle to remember who said what. My notes help, but even then the speeches begin to blur together. I typically rank the speakers because of 1-2 things they said or did. (And I don’t think my approach is unusual.)

Lyrical Apologetics is memorable and distinctive. Being remembered by the judges as “that person who sang” in and of itself increases your chances of a high ranking.

2. To add emphasis. God has wired us so that music moves us. The same words sung rather than spoken have a different effect.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Now listen to it sung by Kristian Stanfill [first verse starts at 0:32]:

Why is that more powerful? It’s the nature of music. Martin Luther had some incredible thoughts about music:

The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…

Then, as only Luther can, he gives his opinion of people who fail to understand that God created music for our enjoyment and his glory:

A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of [donkeys] and the grunting of hogs.

Singing is memorable and gives emphasis to your Apologetics speeches. That’s why you should consider doing it.

So How Does This Work, Anyway?

It’s pretty simple, actually. Here’s my proprietary Lyrical Apologetics 2-Step Process for you!

Step 1. Find Songs

You can do this while writing your cards. If you’re writing a card on the holiness of God, search Google for songs about holiness. (Maybe “Holy, Holy, Holy”? Just a suggestion.)

Sit and think about your favorite Christian songs and hymns. What themes do they include? How can you tie those themes into your Apologetics cards?

Selecting songs is also a great waiting-outside-the-competition-room activity. The friend whose singing I described above would do this: I remember sitting outside a competition room with her and brainstorming hymns that she could sing in that round.

Step 2. Present Songs

Next you must present the songs. That is, actually use them in-round. You can do this in two ways:

1. Sing them!

They are songs, after all.

2. Speak them!

This is useful for people like me. I have many gifts, but singing ability is not one of them. I shall sing perfectly in heaven, but for now my singing is a reminder of how far I have to go.

That said, I have used songs in Apologetics rounds before. Speaking is not nearly as powerful as singing, but the lyrical arrangement of truth is still incredible.

More Questions

When in your speech should you present the songs? What songs have I personally used? What songs would I recommend to other Apologists?

All good questions.

All too many to be answered in this one post!

Next time, in Lyrical Apologetics (Part 2), I’ll answer those questions. You’ll finish reading with a firm grasp of singing in Apologetics, and a list of songs you should consider using.

Til next time…

Sing your heart out!

Announcing the Master Apologetics Podcast!

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I’m very excited to announce the newest resource from Become Thoroughly Equipped:

The Master Apologetics Podcast!

It’s not available on iTunes (yet), so for now it’s an exclusive to you my loyal readers.

Disclaimer: I recorded this into a flash-drive-sized recorder while driving down a noisy highway. So the audio quality is not so great. Hopefully, the quality of the content more than makes up for the lack of quality in the audio.

 

Episode 1: Don’t Be an Apologetics Statue

Download Episode [right-click and choose “Save Link As”]