I remember when Jurassic Park first came out. I think it was in 94′. Great movie. It was the first movie that was really able to capture new Hollywood special effects with the world of dinosaurs. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Loved every seen. Will, my son, calls the intense scary moments in movies when something makes you jump a “pop out”. Jurassic Park had enough “pop outs” for a life time.

I remember driving home after watching the movie. It was a Summer evening. Dusk was the setting. As I passed by a non-industrialized area close to my house, the trees took on a life that two hours ago I would not have thought possible. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something move. Do you know what my brain interpreted it as? You got it. A Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sure, my rational mind did not engage in this activity, but my disposition was set differently. Due to two hours of exposure and wonder at the possibility of dinosaurs, rationality was not in the driver’s seat. The increased adrenaline and the slightly elevated heart rate demonstrated how the irrational, impossible, and bizarre can grab a hold of our imagination to such a degree that some part of us begins to doubt the reality we know and tips the waiter of unlikelihood.

Over-exposure to these type of things can do that. They can tear the very fabric of reality and what we know to be the truth can suddenly be on the market competing with new ideas that  had no market value before.

I have seen it too many times to count now. Young scholars. Young apologists. Young theologians. They all qualify. You know the type. You may be the type. You have been exposed to the reality of the Christian faith, understand its intellectual defensibility for the first time, are set sail to change the world. But something must come first: you have to prepare yourself. In doing so, you seek to face every foe and every enemy which which could to lay siege to your faith. In order to defend your faith properly, you immerse yourself in the study of worldviews which are not your own. You think to yourself, “In order to be prepared, I am going to read every atheist book ever written. The titans of the alternatives will come under my critical eye. I will not stop until completely demonished their arguments. I will not slow down until I can say that I have been to every lion’s den and survived. I will bring people confidence by my own stories of victory. Every battle scare will be a testimony to the faith I defend.”

However, this is not how it aways works. Please forgive me here and just hear me out. Often our pride and confidence work against us. Our method becomes madness. Our feet begin to slip and we don’t know why. Suddenly we slowly begin to succumb to “the other side” bringing our faith to the brink of disaster. We find ourselves doubting the very faith we set out to confirm. The fact that we doubt our worldview—what we knew to be reality—makes us begin to fall apart inside. Disillusionment is not far behind. “If, due to intellectual engagement, I can doubt what I knew to be true, what does that say about the truths I knew? What does that say about my ability to instill confidence in others when I don’t have confidence myself?” Disillusionment gives way to despair and despair to spiritual depression.

At this point, some people stop studying. They stop engaging in the alternatives. They may give up the whole pipe dream of apologetics. They close their eyes, close their ears, and close their mind. They emotionally tell themselves that the Christian view is true and all the other alternatives are wrong and rely solely on the “burning in the bosom” they have in their heart. 

Others move into a life long struggle of doubt and depression. Life becomes meaningless in so many ways. Suicide is sometimes the hope, but the fear of death and uncertainty keep us from pulling the trigger. With no where to turn, hope fades and a new life of either perpetual instability or outright unbelief take over.

In short, in both cases, what we set out to destroy has destroyed us.

Let me give you a bit a permission here. No, let me give you advice. Don’t spend so much time in the enemies camp. You can’t handle it. No one can.  

Hang with me.

You don’t want to stop studying, but you have to keep your studies moderated or they can have a very negative effect. Don’t stay in the apologetics stuff too much. Don’t ever leave it, but don’t think you can be continually, day in and day out, challenging yourself with every alternative all the time. You are not all that. No one is. Dive in for a time, then take a break to process.  No matter how strong we are, we begin to take on the characteristics of those whom we surround ourselves. Like with the Jurassic Park illustration, no matter how irrational the alternative reality is (i.e. their was a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the trees), it can become your worldview when you have been over-exposed. I often tell people if I hang around the Flat Earth Society (yes, there is one) too long, I will start to doubt whether the earth is round.

Atheism is about the most irrational worldview that there is. I truly believe that. But if I did nothing but hang around atheists with no intellectual contact with fellow believers, I would begin to see dinosaurs moving in the trees. Don’t laugh. You will too.

Be careful.

Like when you are exercising (yes, another illustration!), you do not decide that you are going to conquer your muscular atrophy by going into the gym and working out non-stop, 24/7. One hour a day of intense training is about all your body can handle. The rest of the time your body is processing your work out through healing. When doing apologetics, take time to heal, get the nourishment you need, study with those who do agree with you, fellowship with other like minded people, and process what you have learned. I can’t tell you how important this is.

Paul sought the company of other like minded believers. He did not see this as a weakness, but as a necessary component to building up your faith.

Rom. 1:11-12
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

This is not simply a suggestion. This is an imperative. No matter how good your intentions, no matter how tough you think you are, your reality will begin to unravel. Dinosaurs will become more reasonable. A flat earth will become viable. And, yes, even something as irrational as atheism can become an option.

Do not stop studying, but don’t think you can take the world of alternative ideas on your shoulders non-stop. You cannot. Read Erhman, Dawkins, or Hitchings. Read those who disagree with you. Challenge yourself. Head to the intellectual gym. But take breaks. Read those who agree with you too. Take breaks from the battle.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    45 replies to "A Warning to Young Apologists: Take Breaks from the Battle"

    • JephRBNY

      I’ll take that advice Mike. God bless!

    • Stephen Dawe

      Very good advice. Humility is a very good thing in apologetics like in every facet of Christianity

    • bethyada

      I would not do what you suggest some do. Where does such an idea come from? I read some anti-Christian material (like the appallingly bad God Delusion), but I spend much more time reading material written from a Christian worldview.

      If you read material that denies a Christian belief, always read at least one Christian response to that topic. Exposure to both sides of an argument reveals the strengths of both.

    • JephRBNY

      Who wants to read Rob Bell’s book?

    • Betty Wham

      Michael: I love your writings! But, about the question; Do you doubt your Christian faith? I sometimes doubt the translation of a word here and there, or a concept here and there in the Bible but I have never questioned my faith.

    • Ed Kratz

      Good stuff. I think there is some application here too for Christians that experience paradigm shifts. When that happens the tendency is to feel so wronged that compels a crusade against the camp/or tradition they once found themselves in. Wielding the sword of truth and justice against the error ends up defeating the Christian because they don’t take time to learn, grow and approach the differences in a beneficial way. It is no surprise to me that folks who take this approach end up with a very imbalanced theology that in some ways can also destroy their faith.

      I think it is also a pride issue that says I must take this on and be the corrector, leaving the Holy Spirit in the dust.

    • JIm

      Thanks for this artical, I was getting onto CARM’s websight too often and debating the atheist there, Many Christians do not do to well there talking with those guys, and i was really getting weary, so I took a break, and dove into some Christian apologetic material, Giesler, Strobel, ICR, ect. “Hangin” with atheist DOES wear you down, ya feel “Vexed” and your mind gets twisted with their “Scientific evidences and arguments” Then when they call themselves the “rational” ones. Taking a break and walking closer to God is such a rest! Here is a pilug for the latest apologetic book that I have read, “Earths Catastophic Past” by Geologist Richard Snelling, it’s probably the best Christian, and Geology book I have read in a long time.

    • Jim

      Forgot to click the notify button …

    • […] You Saved? – John Meunier How to Love Your Enemies – James Martin, Huffington Post A Warning to Young Apologists: Take Breaks from the Battle – C. Michael Patton Celebrating Superiority – Tim Challies Do You Need to Get Over […]

    • george57

      great post, its all so true, maybe if b graham, and c colson and others had just taken a break years ago we would not have such wide differences in the church ,we are truly in a war for truth, and j macarthur, piper and likes have been fighting this battle for long time, even in our family and work mates, the atheists thinking is your dead your dead,its so sad ,,looking across last night to my sister, i had tryed to get her just to listen to me on the gospel,,, atheists DOES wear you down , well at least in my end it does, what a savour,,,god bless

    • jim

      So true Michael. I often express contrasting bibical viewpoints so as to strenghten their faith. You have to be all so careful. Am currently reading Rob Bell’s new book. I’m looking for some solid truth that Hell may not be what I’ve been taught and have believed in. I certainly want it to be true but so far nothing but generalizations, nothing substantial. I have to go there for my own growth but absolutely need to feed with like minded christians. Good article!

    • Susan

      Very wise advise. The enemy would love to sway our minds and replace assurance with doubt. We’d best not give too much of our mental attention to his lies. Must stay ever in the Word which is God-breathed.

    • Mike

      Thanks for your wise words. I am one of those young guys you reference who needs to be cautious.

      God bless.

    • Ed Babinski

      Xn apologists see themselves as battling against Satan, Sin, and Hell, against eternally damned souls (predestined to be such, or headed that way).

      Atheists/Agnostics/Mystics and various inclusive spiritualities only see people. People who share universal fears of death, people who are mixed up about various matters, due to indoctrination, self-delusion, but people none the less.

    • M Burke

      Gnosticism!!! Oh… wait… sorry… guess what I’ve been reading up on?

    • Daniel

      “In order to be prepared, I am going to read every atheist book ever written. The titans of the alternatives will come under my critical eye. I will not stop until completely demonished their arguments. I will not slow down until I can say that I have been to every lion’s den and survived. I will bring people confidence by my own stories of victory. Every battle scare will be a testimony to the faith I defend.”

      I could sign my name after this quote.
      Thank you for this advice. It should be included in every apologetic class…. in my opinion. =)

    • Howard Pepper


      I went through a process in some ways like your description, over a many-year period, during and after being an apologist working with Dr. Walter Martin. I won’t take space to give my story here — merely say that it was not gut-wrenching nor highly emotional at any point, and that I eventually came to a place that I “know” (in the sense I think you mean that) to be “right” (limitedly, of course). It doesn’t partake much of the dichotomies you mention so often — an important factor.

      Yes, certain things are either “yes” or “no” but traditional theism vs. atheism (yes or no on God) I never thought to be a meaningful, helpful issue on which to focus. It’s not even close to the best among many important questions to seek answers for. There are a great many of us who began with an orthodox faith and now have, with the kind of extensive study to which you refer (or not, in some cases), come to a very workable, joy-enducing kind of “Process” or similarly open…

    • Luke N

      We need to remember the point of apologetics. It is to give a reason for the hope that we have. We are talking to everyday people. It is good to know other worldviews generally, but it is best to speak to people to know how they defend their own worldview. I have yet to meet an atheist who actually argued like Machio Kaku or Michael Ruse. We can be familiar with their arguments and how to address them, but we need to focus on those who we are talking to. If we don’t, we run the risk of setting up a strawman of the worldview of the person we are trying to reach. We should never go to someone and say, “…THIS is what YOU believe…” without listening to them first.

      We also need to recognize that apologetics is not a weapon; it is a tool. Like all tools, it is dangerous if used improperly for both the user and what it is used on.

      We have to provide a negative argument against their worldview and a positive one for ours. If we are not immersed in our own, how can we do the later?

    • Matt

      One of my fav movie quotes is appropriate here:

      “You were so concerned with whether you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

    • incunabulum

      I found this site from TheFriendlyAtheist. This seems like some strange advice to me. “Don’t examine the other side too frequently, lest you find their argument persuasive and be tempted to join them.” Would you give the same advice to a non-believer? Would you tell them to be wary of too much bible-reading? That they limit their exposure to apologetics? Would you give this advice especially to young and impressionable non-believers? That they not spend too much time in church or around believers because “they can’t handle it?” This entire idea seems to reinforce the stereotype that believers are not willing to question their own beliefs in a vigorous or honest manner and indicates that the other side has a good argument. If hanging around people from the Flat Earth Society makes you start believing the world isn’t round – maybe the problem isn’t with either side, but rather with your reasoning. Perhaps you have a tendency to ignore evidence in favor of a sense of…

    • Thegoodman

      “Atheism is about the most irrational worldview that there is. I truly believe that. ”

      There are 20 very significant (the smallest has several million followers) separate religions in the world. There are countless less significant ones with a smaller following. There are hundreds that once existed that do not today.

      Which are we to choose? Isn’t it in fact very rational to assume that all of these religions are incorrect (rather than arbitrarily choosing just one).

      Being an atheist has freed my mind to look objectively at these religions to realize they are all, every single one of them, very irrational.

      None provide proof. Nearly all of them ask for money. They all promote good things but their ranks are littered with corruption and hypocrisy. Most of them treat women as less than men. Most shame and guilt people to bend them to do their will.

      Atheism is the ONLY rational worldview. Any other claim is…irrational.

    • jim


      Odly enough the bible says there is none GOOD no not one. From nature to morality there is evidence of God all around. Pick up a few books such as evidence for GOD / William dembski and Michael Licona, read it and get back to me.

    • Ed Babinski

      Jim, I’d like to read what Michael has to say about the view that “the Bible says there is none GOOD no not one.” Jewish commentators did not arrive at the idea of “original sin” in the story of the expulsion from Eden, only Christian commentators came up with that interpretation. According to Jews there was,and is, always a choice, choose this day, and there is forgiveness as well if one repents, direct forgiveness. Christians came up with the idea of everyone being born with the stain of something they called “original sin.” Augustine refined that idea so much that he taught even infants were damned if they died prior to being baptized. But Jesus put a positive spin on “the heart” when he taught that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45 & Mat. 12:35), and when he taught that people ought to “Love God with all their heart,” (Mat. 22:37). How is that possible if the “heart” is “wicked and deceitful above all things?”

    • JSug

      Jim –

      I’ve read Dembski. Not that particular book, but some of his work on intelligent design. He’s an utter buffoon who argues against straw men. He uses statistics to try and disprove evolution. The problem is that he starts with the assumption that evolution is a purely random process, which it is not, so his entire argument is flawed. He also made a complete fool of himself when he recently debated Christopher Hitchens. He completely ignored the topic and anything Hitchens said, and kept spouting off lame assertions and logical fallacies, reusing arguments that had already been refuted, like he was reading a script. If hope he’s not the best you’ve got.

    • Ed Babinski

      Jim, Dembski is not a biologist. Behe is the most prominent biologist at the Discovery Institute, and he admitted in his second book that he accepts common ancestry of humans and chimps. Another biologist, author, and former Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, Michael Denton, also accepted common ancestry in his second book, and left the Discovery Institute. Even young-earth creationist biologists like Todd Wood have admitted that the genetic evidence that favors human chimp common ancestry is strong and raises difficult questions for creationists. See Todd’s paper: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/09/creationist-admits-problem-chimpanzee.html And after the film Exposed! came out, another biologist and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute left, and even wrote a detailed rebuttal to the film! http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/08/the-evolution-o-7.html The Discovery Institute is a shaky house of cards.

    • Ed Babinski

      Michael, I saw that you cut off people in a post in which you compared a talking serpent to the evolution of human speech. You claimed “conceptually they are not that different.” I suggest you read more biology, starting with the evolution of the larynx which is based on more evidence than exists for “talking serpents.” Laryngeal evolution can be traced from fish to amphibian-like fish (Tiktaalik), to amphibians, to reptile-like amphibians, to reptiles, to mammal-like reptiles, to mammals, monkeys, chimpanzees (upright hominid species in the fossil record) and humans. The embyrological development of the jaw and larynx is also very similar in all such cases, arising from the same pharyngeal pouches in the embryo. BUT IT’S THE DIFFERENCES that alert one to the larynx’s evolutionary origin. SEE THE DIFFERENCES LISTED BELOW

    • Ed Babinski

      Why does the rear of the jaw bone develop into the three middle ear bones? There are reasons traceable through evolution beginning with amphibian-like fish like Tiktaalik through transitional mammal-like reptile species. But one potent reminder of the evolutionary origin of the larynx from fish to mammal to human is the way the recurrent laryngeal nerve dips down into the chest and then has to go all the way back up to the larynx, even in the case of giraffes! See the book, Your Inner Fish for starters and also google laryngeal evolution or larynx evolution in Google scholar or some other scholarly database. Find out why the evidence for evolution is more than “just a concept.” Also, the evolution of the larynx (especially in humans with their upright posture) is related to such things as the mammalian threat of choking and suffering sleep apnea. The larynx evolved at a cost, because human evolution like all evolutionary processes, resembles a tinkering process.

    • Ed Babinski

      Lastly, Michael, There is no science in Genesis 1. Even Evangelical O.T. scholars who have thoroughly studied the ancient Near Eastern milieu of Genesis 1 have come to the same conclusion as Catholic and secular scholars regarding the flat earth, firm firmament depicted in Genesis 1. I can mail you some material if you wish. Not email, but regular mail.

    • Wayne Greulich

      Good words, Michael. I would like to add one more word of advice. It is my understanding that when counterfeiting experts in the USA are training law enforcement personnel that they spend very little time studying the counterfeits, because there are literally 1000’s of variations. Instead, they put most of their time into teaching them to know the genuine money inside out. When one knows the true in detail, the counterfeits are easy to spot. I would encourage those who want to “be prepared to give good reason of the hope which lies within you” to study the Bible more than anything else. Eat, sleep, meditate, and live the Word of God. It will never lead one astray – and it will equip such a one to counter the counterfeit with the Truth. The Psalmist testifies in Psalm 119:99, “I have better understanding and deeper insight than all my teachers, because Your testimonies are my meditation.”[Amplified].

    • Jakob

      This was a great post. I’m in a very hard time of my life, have been for a little more than a year now. I recognize myself in the things you write (quitting faith, thought of suicide and especially the meaninglessness of life), and when I’ve been trying to predict what these thoughts could lead to, in a probable, future I’ve been thinking these exact things myself. It felt good to here it from someone else, then there might be some sense to my concerns.

      I don’t think it’s only due to apologetics stuff, but I believe it has some part in it. The last spring I felt my faith had become somewhat “over-intellecualised” which resulted in me spending the whole autumn in silence and solitude, in daily prayer at a place by the ocean, to focus on the more spiritual parts of my faith. The struggle continues still though.

    • Jim

      “Flat Earth society?” Are you guy’s claiming that Christians believe that the Bible teaches a flat earth? because we dont. In fact it was the superstitious pagan “intillectuals” who taught this in the Dark ages, not the Believers who studied the Bible.

    • Shrommer

      Excellent article, Michael!

      The two main points I love are : 1) “… no matter how irrational the alternative reality is, … it can become your worldview when you have been over-exposed.” 2) The analogy with the gym, that recovery is important for mental exercise.

      I wish the typos were fewer:
      seen vs. scene
      their vs. there
      scares vs. scars

      I’d like to see the typos cleaned up, and I’d like to see a huge audience for this article.

      The comments drift into evolution and get off topic. Nobody here is saying that the Bible teaches a flat earth.

      I agree with the different apologetics definition which includes any good reason – not just intellectual – that leads men to repentance and faith in Christ. Apologetics should not be so focused merely on worldviews and logic. It can be an appeal to the heart; a word to a nominal Christian who shares your basic worldview; an act of service or generosity or forgiveness; a personal testimony, a miracle, etc.

    • Shrommer

      John 7:17 is powerful. We’d think that one figures out with reason that Jesus is of God, and then choose to obey him with the heart. John 7:17 says that those who choose God’s will first, will consequently know that Jesus’ words are true.

      The Roman soldier at the foot of the cross saw the same signs, except for the veil being torn in two, that the Pharisees saw (earthquake, darkness). He says, “Truly this is the Son of God.”

      The Pharisees are given the ultimate sign, the sign of Jonah, that Jesus rose from the grave, as the guards at the tomb testified. Their response to this most convincing evidence was to say, “Take this money and lie about it, lest people believe in Jesus.”

      Luke 16:31 is so true. Those who seek evidence in the form of a sign, or ironclad arguments, will still not believe in Christ if their hearts are hardened. It’s futile for us to be consumed with finding the perfect way to convince others about Christ. It is good to persuade people, but not to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of apologetics. Apologetics as an idol is a cruel master.

    • Greg West

      Great advice. I take it this also aplies to us middle aged apologists 😉 BTW, just letting you know there are a few typos in this. Don’t feel bad as it happens to me all the time. I’m always glad when someone points them out to me. Sometimes it just takes a fresh set of eyes.

      Keep up the great work!

    • GoldCityDance

      A timely advice. Thanks Michael!

    • ChrisB

      “Another illustration!” — weightlifting makes a great analogy. Thanks!

    • hoverfrog

      I am shocked that you are promoting ignorance over honest exploration of differing points of view. Your justification is that your point of view might be changed. Surely this is a good thing. If an idea cannot stand criticism then it is a poor idea and should be rejected as such. If an idea is good then it can only be strengthened by criticism and argument.

      You are saying “don’t test your ideas, don’t be open to criticism, be closed minded, remain ignorant”. I find that more than a little revolting.

    • Ed Kratz


      Did you even read the post? I am shocked that you are writing your comment in obvious ignorance to the argument of the post. You obviously did not read it and have not hung around this site too long.

      Reread it and get back to me. Thanks for stopping by!

    • […] Patton at Reclaiming the Mind wrote a refreshing article for young apologists that I wish I had read 5 years ago. Here is an excerpt, You don’t want to […]

    • Mark

      Reply to #21
      If there are 20 religions in the world we don’t have to say that 19 of them are wrong. We only have to say in areas where two or more disagree, one of them must be wrong on that point. They may all 20 have a lot in common, such as whether “the spiritual” or “the divine” is a meaningful concept.

    • J.W. Wartick

      Fantastic post. Good advice. I really need to make sure I take it to heart, I could see this happening to me.

    • stacy

      I personally know someone who left the faith because of the very thing you described above. Very good advice!

    • AP

      Mr Patton, I am 20 years old and consider myself a “young apologist” of sorts and I can tell you that your description of what can happen with too much studying of opposing worldviews described me for the most part quite well. Perhaps you could elaborate on helpful things to do once you’ve begun to have doubts like you mentioned. Thank you for this excellent and encouraging article!

    • Elwen

      I understand exactly what you mean. I can attribute much of my current doubt to the fact that I spent every spare moment online around people who didn’t agree with me.

    • Joseph O Morrow

      There is much more value practicing truth than in merely academically studying truth and/or error. When our senses are thoroughly exercised through constantly using them with the truth in mind, then it’s no sweat and effortless when discerning evil, whether that evil is outside us or within.

      The best soldier is one who is so well-trained that an outsider will be amazed at how effortlessly he destroys the enemy. When the Pharisees came at Jesus with hard questions, did He break into a sweat, or did the Pharisees?

      I’m not a critic, but an experienced practical deeply-informed optimist. Iron cannot sharpen iron if we appease and call it “speaking the truth in love”. That passage actually has to do with practicing the truth in love’s context – the translators used some license there. Therefore we must thrust our iron out there to the iron in others and not be afraid of the names we get called when we are simply sharpening one another for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

      Thanks for your much-needed advice.

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