Book Review: Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry by Mary Jo Sharp
When Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl introduced apologist Mary Jo Sharp on his radio program, he called her a “strange bird” because she is one of only a few women actively engaged in the field of apologetics. However, if Sharp has anything to do with it, the numbers will increase drastically in the near future. To that end, she has written Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry, a book aimed at getting women fired up about apologetics.
In chapter 1, Sharp focuses on why it is necessary for us to know the reasons behind our beliefs about God. She begins by sharing her personal story of how she came to Christ and why she embarked on the study of apologetics. Although she grew up in a “non-church, non-religious, non-culturally Christian” environment, she says many atheists mistakenly think she must have been raised to believe in God and encouraged her to “take a more honest look” at her Christian beliefs (20).
It was after she became a Christian that she did just that. It wasn’t enough for her to just believe. She had to know whether her beliefs had merit. This led her to dive “into a search for answers . . . reading not only the arguments for God’s existence, but also engaging the opposing arguments” (20). When she took what she had learned back to her church, she discovered that far too many people lacked answers to the difficult questions about God and failed to grasp the necessity of finding them.
Sharp concludes this chapter with an exploration of honesty – honesty with ourselves and with others, and the impact of honest investigation of belief on one’s ministry. She notes that the study of apologetics leads to “changed lives and transformed hearts”(34). This statement leads nicely into the second chapter in which the author explains how we only live what we truly believe. Therefore, it is important that we believe what is true.
However, Sharp notes that “Christians are becoming less and less a people who desire to know Biblical truth” (37). Citing a study from The Barna Group, she states that fewer than one out of five persons claiming to be born-again has a Biblical worldview and half of the people calling themselves Christians aren’t sure if the Bible teaches accurate principles (50). Therefore, Sharp says, we need to return to the basics and get to know the Lord, acquiring both a heart and a head knowledge of him.
Chapter 3 is entitled Your Beliefs Affect Others. For those women who are mothers, the people who are most affected by their beliefs are their children. Sharp says studies show that “a mother’s beliefs, as demonstrated through her attitude and actions, will influence what her children ultimately believe is true about the world, especially with regard to God” (70). And beyond the home, we influence friends, neighbours, employers/employees and co-workers. Wherever we go, whatever we do, Sharp says that people will notice our commitment to the truth about God in the way we speak and conduct our lives.
So where does a woman begin? Sharp tackles that subject in the fourth chapter. The first step for the would-be apologist is to study the essential doctrines of Christianity. This includes learning about the attributes of God and coming to an understanding of “Jesus Christ as truth personified” (79). The second step involves developing listening skills. Thirdly, we need to learn what questions to ask the people with whom we’re conversing. Lastly, we must learn how to respond to the questions that non-Christians may ask. Sharp explains each step, using examples from her own experiences as an apologist for illustration. Once a woman has grasped the essentials, she can then proceed to implement apologetics studies into her ministry. Sharp explains how in the next chapter.
She lists four basic goals. The first is helping people understand the need for and importance of apologetics. She offers a number of practical suggestions for encouraging the study of the discipline. Then, she says, we must establish a safe environment in which women can learn. Again, Sharp lists several ways that can be achieved. Thirdly, the leader must either create or obtain a program of study. Sharp provides several examples. Lastly, the author notes a number of objections that people might raise against the very idea of studying apologetics, including the insistence that it’s wrong to argue. She discusses how she has handled such objections in her ministry.
In the final chapter, entitled The Testimony of Women, Sharp suggests there is a tendency for women to view their faith, church and ministries as “providing a neat, tidy package of safety and security in this life” (121). She encourages us to be like Priscilla who Paul commended for “risking her neck” for him (Rom. 16:4). She concludes that there is no excuse for us to hang back since women in the West today “have the most freedom and power to influence as we have seen in the history of humankind” (129).
Sharp grounds everything she writes in Scripture. She also makes a point of stating that, while it is the Holy Spirit who draws and converts, not us, that doesn’t mean we can avoid witnessing to others as the Great Commission is still very much in effect today.
While this book is aimed at women, it contains information that is of value to men as well. Sharp says it is important for male pastors/leaders to encourage the women in their congregations to get involved in apologetics. Sharp’s book can help them do just that. In fact, every church library should have a copy of it on the shelf.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist currently working on a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. She holds three other degrees, including one in history, and writes poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction.