Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An army of tent makers

An army of tent makers

(Originally published at What's Wrong With the World. Link to original post at 'permalink' below.)

In my rather unusual situation as the wife of a Christian professor and as, myself, the author of a number of articles related to Christianity and the philosophy of religion, I have the opportunity to encounter a lot of wonderful men (and some women as well) who are passionately interested in influencing the world for Jesus Christ. This happens not only (and nowadays not even chiefly) in person but also through the Internet--first e-mail and now social media have opened up a whole world of people eager to "serve the kingdom" and to love God with their minds.

That's absolutely wonderful.

Let me take the opportunity, therefore, to give a couple of opinions that may be unpopular and that may run contrary to what others are saying. These are just my opinions; take 'em or leave 'em. But then again, this is a blog. I'm not publishing this in a journal or giving it as a lecture. So you can take my opinions with a grain of salt. But I have some reason to believe that, if I write this post and promote it on some social media sites, it will reach the type of audience I have in mind. So here goes:

Apologetics is wonderful and incredibly important. It's a wonderful thing that a revival of specifically evidentialist apologetics is happening in the United States and even, to some extent, in the Anglophone world at large.

Unfortunately, this revival of interest in apologetics and in being Christian philosophers is coming at a very bad time, economically. Even if you are a genius, your chances in 2013 and following of getting a stable job by the route of going to graduate school in philosophy (or almost any area of the humanities) are pretty darned slim. If you're not a genius, fuhgetaboutit. Nor were there ever all that many jobs in philosophy. It was always an iffy proposition, but it's much worse now than it was even twenty years ago.

As for starting ministries, a poor economy makes it extremely hard to do that, too, because people don't have as much disposable income to donate. Moreover, even in a more robust economy, if all the eager young apologists were to flock to start apologetics and/or campus ministries, they would be competing among themselves for a finite number of available dollars from donors. So that's not the best idea either.

Let me speak very bluntly here: In my opinion, God doesn't need a whole raft of impractical idealists out there getting themselves into debt or half starving (or really starving) with no idea of how in the world they are ever going to support even themselves, much less a family, out at the other end of their education. That just burdens the church with a large number of able-bodied but needy Christians who are in a seemingly unending stage of transition, "getting an education for the kingdom" or "hoping to do work for the kingdom" without a viable plan in mind or any fiscal light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead, I believe that we need an army of tentmakers. If you have a job or a marketable skill, for heaven's sake (literally), don't quit that job and join the ranks of starving students. Keep your day job, but enrich your mind and prepare yourself to answer people's questions about Christianity by studying on your own time. If you have entrepreneurial abilities and the capital, start a business. That will support not only yourself but others you employ, and if successful, you will have more money to give to Christian ministries.

But even if you aren't the entrepreneurial type or don't have that opportunity, at least make sure (to the extent that one can in today's world) that you can pay the rent and put food on your own table as well as supporting whatever number of additional people you plan to take on. (In other words, if you are a guy who would like to get married and have children, bear that in mind.) This will inevitably mean spending time at all that distasteful stuff like networking and making a resume. Bookish types don't enjoy that stuff, because it seems bogus, but it can't be helped. It will undoubtedly mean, for most people, not being full-time students beyond the undergraduate level, especially not in the humanities, not trying to become full-time academics as a life work, and not going into full-time ministry, even if you would ideally like to do one or more of those three things.

In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it's going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.

The world is changing, and there are unprecedented opportunities for learning on one's own. In a way it is almost better to learn things simply because one wants to know them than for a credential from which one hopes to make a living.

Inevitably, the course of action I am suggesting will mean a bifurcation for many between their day job and what they are most passionately interested in. So be it. Indeed, so it has ever been in the world. What proportion of people at any moment in human history have been blessed enough to spend most of their time working on what they are most passionately interested in? The question answers itself. So I think that bifurcation has to be accepted by a great many people and that doing so will lead to what I might call a healthier "Christian economy" among committed Christians than what we could otherwise end up with.

I realize full-well that in saying all this I speak as one of the privileged few. As a full-time housewife and home schooling mother, I'm one of that small proportion who can spend their time doing (much of the time) fascinating and worthwhile things. If you want to disregard my advice because I am privileged, you can do so, but please don't think I'm unaware of the greatness of the undeserved blessings I have received. Despite my speaking from a sort of specially padded bower within the ivory tower, I think what I'm saying is true, and I only hope and pray that it will not cause such offense as to do more harm than good.

If my saying it can contribute in some small way to the raising up of a successful army of tentmakers to do the good work of spreading the gospel and "giving an answer for the reason of the hope" that we have in Jesus Christ, then this post may well have been worth writing.

1 comment:

j-fish said...

This is exactly the situation I'm in. I received my undergraduate degree in software engineering, and God has blessed me and my family with abundant resources. I went back to receive a Master's degree in Apologetics part-time and now I wrote curriculum for and teach several classes in my church's Bible School for laypeople and teach in the youth ministry once a month on apologetic topics with my free time. I also have the resources to support many great ministries of full-time apologists.

So that's a long way of saying that I fully support this point of view and we need more of it!