Reflections on the State of Women Apologists
In November of 2017, I met Rachel Shockey, who is the current President of Women in Apologetics (WIA). At the time, WIA was a fairly new ministry, organized just a few months before.
Rachel and I struck up what would become an important friendship. She invited me to attend the inaugural WIA conference at Biola University in January 2018. Many of the talks prompted me to reflect more deeply on my own journey in apologetics, as well as on the unique contributions that women can make to the larger enterprise of apologetics.
I began seminary in the early ’90s. I believe that I was the only woman in my program (but I could be wrong about that). I do know that I was the only woman in many of my classes. I spent countless days wondering what I was even doing in the male-dominated world of theology. What possible career would this lead to? Thankfully, I had some male professors who kept encouraging me, even though I honestly didn’t know if being a “lady theologian” could ever be a thing.
I’ve now worked professionally in the realm of theology and apologetics for almost 30 years. For most of that time, it has remained largely a male-dominated field.
But that’s changing.
It has been encouraging to see so many women, many of them younger than me, and from a variety of backgrounds, coming together to talk about how apologetics connects to their lives as women, wives, and mothers. It is also gratifying when I learned that I’ve played a small role in their journey, through my teaching and writing.
Later in 2018, I joined the Board for WIA and spoke at a few of their events. A few of their presenters over the years have PhDs or hold academic positions at universities—but most do not. The highest degree many of them have is an MA in Apologetics (or similar). This means that most of them probably wouldn’t be considered qualified to hold positions in academia. However, I think that these women are still making a 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. Voices such as Natasha Crain, Elizabeth Urbanowicz (Foundation Worldview), and Alisa Childers are connecting traditional defenses for the faith to conversations that impact women. Women have a huge need for deeper, more substantive answers; for instance, moms need apologetics to aid in their discipleship of their children. (Dads benefit from these resources, too.) I think the work Monique and I are doing through the Center for Biblical Unity are part of this effort, too.
Most parents don’t have time to take classes, read philosophy books, and then translate all that information into a conversation with a seven-year-old who is asking, “If God made everything, who made God?” or “Does God love my dark skin?” So women like us are doing some of that heavy lifting by writing conversation-based books and developing podcasts to fill this need.
Inspiring the Next Generation
I have had a long-standing concern about the lack of qualified women on the apologetics speaking circuit. Men dominated the field. While that is changing, I’ve still been curious about why most of the women who do speak at apologetics conferences don’t have PhDs.
There are likely many reasons for this. Some don’t have an aspiration to teach in academia. Some women start graduate degrees but don’t finish because their education gets interrupted by child-rearing. (As a mom with grown kids, I generally counsel young mothers to focus primarily on their children; that season is short.)
And as every aspiring professor knows, simply getting a degree is not enough to advance your career in academia. Engaging in scholarly publications and research are also necessary steps, and these 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, and it’s the main reason I will never have a PhD. (I don’t regret it.)
Add to this the hard work of developing a national speaking presence on top of family and education commitments, and, for women who want to pursue greater involvement in apologetics and theology, the obstacles can be staggering.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about the issue of “representation.” One stream of thought says that we must have women on stage at apologetics conferences in order to encourage other women to go into apologetics. While I can see the value of that thinking, I am skeptical that it’s as important as advocates say. I appreciate that the leaders of WIA have pioneered an approach to apologetics that wasn’t being met by existing conferences. I’m also grateful that women like Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain have grown large enough platforms that they are headlining a multi-city apologetics tour, speaking to thousands of women AND men! That’s the free market at work, and I’m here for it.
As a whole (yes, there are exceptions), female apologists remain currently behind the men, educationally. Many of the female apologists are what I call education apologists—not research apologists. But I want to highlight a couple notable exceptions. One is Nancy Pearcey. Mrs. Pearcey is arguably the godmother of modern female apologists, but not simply because she’s a woman. Mrs. Pearcey is an influential Christian apologist because she has spent more than thirty years doing ground-breaking research and writing a shelf full of influential books.
I would also say that my friend Alisa Childers is arguably one of the most important apologists of our decade––female or male. Although she doesn’t have a college degree, Alisa is a unique blend of both research apologist and education apologist. Why? Because she is writing and commenting about a topic that hardly anyone else is covering––and doing it better than those who are. Alisa has a platform at apologetics conferences, but that wasn’t given to her simply because she's a woman. Conferences hire her because she is a quality apologist, an exceptional communicator, and a researcher who is working on an important issue.
If female apologists want increased visibility, then they need to look no further than the examples of Nancy Pearcey and Alisa Childers. While neither has a PhD, their work stands out from the crowd because they are doing important work and quality research. This is the path forward: work hard, do unique research, and get published.
It’s my hope as more young women catch a vision for how they can be part of this conversation, they will focus their energy on asking the Lord what level of involvement they should have in public ministry (it's not for everyone), whether it’s appropriate to pursue doctoral studies in light of their family responsibilities, and where they can make their own unique contribution, even if that’s simply as a resource person for their homeschool co-op, or whatever path their apologetics journey takes. They can know that they're part of a growing tradition of women who value apologetics and see it as an important tool for educating Christians, strengthening their own faith, and advancing the gospel.
Back in 2018, I wrote a blog post for my former employer about the rise of women apologists. My thinking has continued to develop since then, so I wanted to rework the post. I’m publishing the update on my own website.
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