This past week, I had the privilege of interviewing my former band director, Mary Jo Sharp, for a class writing assignment at the University of Oklahoma. The assignment was meant to capture the day-to-day work of a current professional, a sort of “on the job” piece if you will. Immediately I thought, who better than the first woman to become a Certified Apologetics Instructor? No one, that’s who.
Although I never meant to publish her replies outside of the assignment, I found her thoughts and commentary on apologetics too good to hide. If – like me – you’re not entirely certain what an apologist does on a day-to-day basis, then maybe you will get a clearer picture of this small but powerful ministry through my Q&A with Mary Jo.
Q1: First off, what led you to apologetics?
Several years into ministry in the church with my husband, I began to have doubt about the existence of God. This doubt was born out of hurtful experiences with people who claimed that the Bible was the truth. I wasn’t finding people who were making a concerted effort to live like the Bible was true and this caused me to question whether there were any real believers in God at all. Then I began to question my own belief and wonder why I believed in God. I went looking for answers to these questions and in doing so, I had stumbled into a field called apologetics.
Q2: What is the most challenging part of your job?
My job entails a lot of public speaking in which I must answer numerous questions on the spot at conferences. At times, the people who ask me questions vehemently disagree with me. Handling these questions thoughtfully, while demonstrating grace and love, can pose a major challenge.
Q3: What do you do on a typical work day?
I have three kinds of typical work days: 1) an on-campus day at the university, and 2) a research/preparation day at home, and 3) an event day. Typically, I eat breakfast with my husband in the morning hours, if I’m at home. Then I spend the rest of the afternoon preparing for upcoming events, writing posts for social media, researching for my next study, answering emails and Facebook messages, and prepping for my courses at the university. After dinner and walking the dog, I return to my preparation, study and answering mail typically until 10 o’clock at night, but sometimes as late as one o’clock in the morning.
Q4: What is the most unusual experience you’ve had while working?
There was a festival in Michigan at which a couple of friends and I were engaging in conversation at an Islam Q&A booth. We were filming our conversation—which the people at the booth said we could do—when the festival security guards assaulted us. They hit our cameras, told us we couldn’t film, and bullied us out of the festival.
Q5: What type of person does best in apologetics?
The best type of person seems to be one who is not seeking any kind of affirmation from other people for their work. A person can get verbally abused in attempting to argue for a Christian worldview. Therefore, apologetics can be rough on the one who is seeking affirmation from the approval of men.
Q6: How do you juggle being an author, public speaker and professor?
I really have no idea how I make it from week to week! It must be the support I receive from friends, family, and my trust in God that get me to the next airport on time with my sanity in place. These three roles become extremely demanding at certain times of the year. I have moments when I feel overwhelmed. However, my husband always reminds me that the craziness comes in spurts and only lasts for a short amount of time. Plus, I try to create routines that intentionally calm my soul and center my mind.
Q7: Why do you think apologetics is an important discipline?
Studying a defense—or building a case—for what a person believes can greatly aid the person in understanding not only what they believe, but also why they believe it to be true. The process of reviewing evidences and reason for a belief can aid in peeling back presuppositions, biases, and traditions. For people who claim to love logic, reason and evidence, an open investigation of what they believe and of what has been informing their view of the world is essential. The Biblical text says ‘though it cost all you have, get understanding’ (Prov. 4:7) and also to always be ‘prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Pet. 3:15).
If you’re interested in learning more about Mary Jo’s work, including books and upcoming speaking engagements, you can check out her personal ministry site, Confident Christianity.