Last November, while working for Reasons to Believe (RTB) at the annual meetings for the Evangelical Theological Society, I met Rachel Shockey from Women in Apologetics (WIA), a fairly new ministry organized in May 2017. We filmed Rachel about WIA for RTB’s 28:19 show. You can check out that segment here.
Then in January, I attended the inaugural WIA conference at Biola University. Sitting in on many of the talks caused me to reflect more deeply on my own journey, as well as the unique contributions that women can make to the larger enterprise of apologetics.
I entered seminary in the early ‘90s. For the first few years, I was the only woman in my program. I labored in relative obscurity, wondering most days what I was even doing in the male-dominated world of theology. Thankfully, I had some male professors who kept encouraging me, even though I honestly didn’t know if being a “lady theologian” was even a thing.
I’ve now worked professionally in the realm of theology and apologetics for almost 25 years. For most of that time, it has remained largely a male-dominated field.
But that’s changing.
It was so encouraging to see so many women, many of them younger than me, from all different backgrounds coming together to talk about how apologetics connects to their lives as wives, mothers, worship leaders, and teachers. It was also deeply gratifying to see what role RTB had played in the journey of many of the speakers. Several have even taken courses through Reasons Institute.
I noticed that most of the presenters at the conference did not have PhDs or hold an academic position at a university. A few did, but most did not. The highest degree many of them have is an MA in Apologetics from Biola. As such, many of them probably wouldn’t be considered academically qualified to speak at most of the larger apologetics conferences or do big debates
with atheists. However, I would like to suggest that these women are still making a very valuable contribution to the field of apologetics. Here are two critical results that I see emerging from this movement.
Widening the Audience
In my opinion, the most important thing these women are doing is helping to widen the audience for apologetics. Leaders such as Natasha Crain and Hillary Ferrer are connecting traditional defenses for the faith to conversations that impact mothers. They realize that many Christian moms are seeing the need for deeper, more substantive answers that they can incorporate into their discipleship of their children. (Dads benefit from these resources, too.)
Most parents don’t have time to take classes, read philosophy books, and then translate all that information into a conversation with a 7-year-old who is asking, “If God made everything, who made God?” So women like Crain and Ferrer are doing some of that heavy lifting by writing conversation-based books, developing podcasts, and even writing new worship songs. For example, one of the highlights of the conference was a mini concert where musician Aryn Michelle performed songs she had written based on the traditional arguments for the existence of God.
Inspiring the Next Generation
One of my long-time concerns has been the lack of qualified women on the apologetics speaking circuit. Men continue to dominate the field. And the women who do speak at some apologetics conferences usually don’t have PhDs. It made me reflect on why that’s the case.
Here’s one theory. There are a certain number of women who start graduate degrees, but don’t finish because their education gets interrupted by child-bearing. Children are definitely a blessing, but life gets exponentially more complicated after children, especially when you’re trying to go to graduate school. While it’s not uncommon in the realm of academia for a family to relocate so the husband and father can finish his PhD, it’s very rare that a family will relocate so the wife and mother can finish her PhD.
And, as every aspiring professor knows, getting a degree is not enough to advance your career in academia. Engaging in scholarly publications and research are also necessary steps that generally happen in your late 20s to early 30s, which for women are also prime child-bearing years. Women generally have to choose one path or the other: motherhood or academia. That was the choice that I faced at that age.
Add to this the hard work of developing a national speaking presence on top of family and education commitments, the obstacles facing women in greater academic involvement in apologetics and theology can be sizable.
This social dynamic often creates an unfortunate catch-22 situation. There isn’t a large pool of educationally qualified women to pull from to put on the apologetics speaking circuit. Many
women choose motherhood rather than finishing their education. The resulting lack of female voices in apologetics can, in turn, discourage younger women and girls from persuing academic roles in apologetics.
Adding “diversity” to the field of Christian apologetics will require intentionality. More specifically, it will likely require some men who hold decision-making positions to consider how they can actively promote women into areas of leadership and increased visibility. In the meantime, however, the leaders of WIA aren’t merely waiting for more women to be included at the table of the apologetics leadership. They are creating their own table.
As a whole (yes, there are exceptions), women apologists are currently a little educationally behind the men. Most of the presenters at the WIA conference were, what I call, education apologists, not research apologists. However, the efforts of WIA to provide a network of female apologists is a critical step toward providing visibility to female speakers and inspiring the next generation to become research apologists.
It’s my hope as more young women catch a vision for how they can be part of this conversation, more will get inspired to get the proper education and begin to make their own unique contributions. My hope is that in 5 to 10 years, we will have many more women with PhDs who are able to add their voices and develop new strategies and lines of evidence for belief in the God of the Bible.
I look forward to following this group of powerful women and see how the Lord will use them to continue to broaden the audience for apologetics.
Disclosure: Between the time this article was accepted for publication and its posting date, the author was invited to serve as a theological advisor for the board for Women in Apologetics.