Let’s Play: Sean McDowell’s Reasons To Buy Apologetics Training

Let’s Play: Sean McDowell’s Reasons To Buy Apologetics Training April 24, 2020

Hi and welcome! Ever hear of Let’s Play videos? In them, someone plays a video game while streaming. People watch that stream and listen to the running commentary of the gamer. Just about every game out there has a Let’s Play associated with it somewhere. For example, here’s a Let’s Play of Sims 3! Today’s Christian-written listicle brought out my inner gamer, I guess. So Let’s Play: Sean McDowell’s Reasons to Buy Apologetics Training!

time to play!
(Books photo: Jonathan Simcoe.)

(Some related posts about apologetics and apologists: An Overview of Apologetics; Classic Apologetics Arguments; Bad Science and Junk History in Apologetics; Wishful Thinking in Apologetics (ft. C.S. Lewis); What Apologetics Accomplish (and the Faith Pool); Dismantling the Argument from X; Apologetics and the Burden of Proof; Moral Failings; WLC’s Four Facts of the Resurrection Aren’t; Ala-KALAM: Therefore Jesus.)

(By request, check out the very bottom of the post for links to the sourdough recipes I’m digging these days!)

Everyone, Meet Sean McDowell.

Josh McDowell is one of the most popular fundagelical apologists around these days. His son, Sean McDowell, seeks a bit of his dad’s fame and glory.

His biography page on Daddy’s website reveals a 30-40-year-old guy with a weird tryhard fundagelical-youth-pastor duckbutt haircut. Youth pastors adored that haircut in the late 1990s. Sean is married with kids of his own, boasts frequently of his extensive education in theology and apologetics. He wears the standard tryhard fundagelical-youth-pastor uniform: a graphic t-shirt under a blazer with jeans. I just can’t with this caricature of a guy.

(YIKES, he even has a TikTok account. Just NO. That is incredibly creepy, considering TikTok is almost exclusively populated by underage people whose their parents tend to know little-to-nothing about the platform.)

Looking across his Amazon author’s page, it becomes apparent that there is not a single critical-thinking bone in Sean McDowell’s body. He’s all-in on fundagelical folklore and mythology, right down to the streak of pseudo-archaeology running deep through the body of the church.

He Gets By With a Little Help From His Friends.

It also becomes apparent that Sean leans hard on his family ties. His dad describes him thusly:

“He has authored or co-authored several books on apologetics, intelligent design, ethics and youth ministry.”

Interestingly, Josh doesn’t mention that he himself is the other writer of many of those co-authored books. Josh’s friends co-wrote others.

These days, Sean’s running virtual apologetics conferences like this one next month. He’s attached himself to the likes of Natasha Crain (her again?!?), J. Warner Wallace, and Lee Strobel. It looks like business has been as good for Sean as it’s been for his dad!

A Listicle of Reasons.

In January 2018, Sean McDowell offered a listicle of five reasons why Christians should sign up for “apologetics training in 2018.” Amazingly, converting heathens appears nowhere on his listicle! They’re hilarious reasons all the same. These are his five reasons, verbatim from his post:

Apologetics training…

  1. Will Help You Serve the Church.
  2. Will Help Build Your Confidence.
  3. Can Be Fun.
  4. Helps Protect the Church from Heresy.
  5. Is Available.

My opinion of evangelicals as consumers of their own culture’s products just keeps plummeting, but nowhere near as far or as quickly as my opinion of their hucksters.

Reason #1: It’s Always Volunteer Time!

“Every church needs a trained apologist,” Sean McDowell declares, and gosh, it might as well be YOU. He says he tells his students at Biola to offer to help their pastor with research and whatnot, including offering to “counsel young people with difficult questions” and run apologetics classes for the congregation.

With the number of church volunteers already growing thin and tanking in many churches, I can easily imagine that some overworked pastors might welcome a properly subservient young lackey like that. However, I bet a lot more would look at such a person the same way that many Dungeon Masters look at rules lawyers in the gaming party (TVTropes Walkabout Warning!).

If I were a responsible pastor, I’d also be downright alarmed at the idea of someone counseling young adults without a lot of training in the area.

Reason #2: Confidence Building.

Sean McDowell declares that learning apologetics will totally build Christians’ confidence. [citation needed]

I mean, what else can someone say? He tells us,

Our churches are filled with people who know truth. But there is a world of difference between knowing truth and knowing that you know truth. Confidence and conviction come not from having truth, but knowing that you have truth.

This is pure word salad. Not “knowing you have truth” is not why someone lacks confidence in evangelizing their friends. He also claims,

In my experience, when people are trained in apologetics, they become much more likely to live out the truth of the Gospel because they have a newfound confidence it is actually true.

In his experience? What is this nonsense? He just thinks this is the case? He’s seen it a few times?

How is this a trustworthy assurance that making an investment of occasionally thousands of dollars is totes reasonable?

Reason #3: OMG SO FUN!

Now we move on to the sure_jan.gif moment in the listicle, as Sean McDowell claims that “apologetics training can be fun.”

He tells us,

Some of you might think this point is crazy, but I have found it to be true.

Again, anecdotes are not evidence that a claim is true. It’s weird that a pRoFeSsiOnAL ApOLoGiSt might not know that. Don’t worry, though, because he soon qualifies this claim:

I do realize that apologetics training is not always fun. We have all sat through boring lectures that don’t connect to our hearts (In all honesty, I’ve delivered a few of those myself). But in my experience, apologetics training can be invigorating.

So usually, yeah, they’re totes boring. Gosh, even he himself can’t make some of this tripe seem interesting to anybody! But it can be invigorating, much like laying down the foundation of a huge Minecraft castle can be invigorating… but usually isn’t.


VERY invigorating! Are you invigorated yet?

Again, I want to know some stats here. I want to know if he surveyed students and what they had to say about the “fun” they had taking his courses. He offers none. Of course, if it’s not “fun,” the customers still paid their money and took their chances.

I bet he doesn’t refund anyone’s money if they were bored out of their minds.

Reason #4: Protecting the Church From Heresy.

Now Sean McDowell tells us that people should pay to take apologetics courses to stop heresy from infecting the One True Jesus Church Ever:

Every church needs someone carefully trained in apologetics to help it follow Jude’s admonition: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).

But… whose heresy exactly? And how? Wingnuts gonna wingnut, I mean. A lot of people would consider evangelicals to be the worst of heretics. Within evangelicalism, tons of doctrinal infighting occurs every single day between groups who see their opposition as out-and-out heretics.

The Christianity practiced by Sean McDowell would be absolutely unintelligible (language barriers aside) to a 3rd-century Christian. And as a Protestant, he’s an absolute heretic to the Catholics, who were the only officially-allowed kind of Christianity for centuries. He exists in his current form because Christian leaders lost the ability to stomp on heretics. How does he imagine his tribemates will manage that trick, with so much less coercive power than Catholics had for so long? Does he not remember how impossible it is to change another Christian’s mind about anything?

Not to put too fine a point on it, too, unless our lil apologetics graduates are the pastors of their churches, their rules-lawyering act won’t get them too far or make them a lot of friends.

Reason #5: This Training Is a Thing That Exists.

I laughed so hard here. What is this guy doing? What is this? He thinks if he offers a product, then people just hafta go buy it? Does he feel that entitled to other people’s money and time?

It seems so, because he writes:

There are more books, conferences, videos, resources, and opportunities than ever before. And with modern technology, people have never had more resources at their fingertips. Apologetics training is available, accessible, and affordable. There’s no excuse!

I wonder who paid for this guy’s multiple advanced degrees in theology and apologetics? Assuming he’s a tithes-paying Southern Baptist himself, that Ph.D. he leans so hard on currently costs about USD$26k (maybe just for a year?). He’s got a double MA in Philosophy and Theology from Talbot School of Theology (and Talbot’s part of Biola, incidentally). Talbot currently costs $654/credit hour for most of its Masters programs.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This guy’s either drowning in student loan debt or he’s so coddled he has no idea what “affordable” means for most of his flocks. (And remember, this got written in January 2018, which is wayyyy before the current crisis.)

There’s lots of excuses, actually, for even a fervent Christian to reject his product. Unfortunately, and as much as it must pain him to realize this, King Him is not actually in charge of anybody else’s wallet or appointment book.

Where Shall Our Young People Get Educated?!?

Sean McDowell offers several different options for people who’ve become convinced that they need to undergo apologetics training — or at least that they should make their kids undergo it.

For underage folks, he tells them to attend Summit.

Lysa TerKeurst (whose name I don’t recognize) opines alongside on Summit’s front page that she “can’t imagine a more important investment for parents to make in their child.”

“Investment.” Of course. This ain’t free.

So Hypocritical and Self-Serving.

See, Summit is a scare-quotes “ministry” that sells apologetics programs to parents to make their kids attend (up to 22 or 25 years old; Sean says 22, but Summit says 25. Both are 100% cringey). One of their programs offers online “peer engagement” and “leadership training” for this age group for five “live and interactive days” for the bargain price of USD$497. They have a lot of programs, one running two weeks long!

And none appear to be free.

Beside TerKeurst’s recommendation, we find glowing statements of approval of this “ministry” from the likes of Sean’s dad’s pals, Ravi Zacharias and J. Warner Wallace. We also learn from Sean McDowell’s post that he himself would be working at Summit “next summer.” 

We are coming back around to Summit. Oh yes, we are.

I’m Sure There’s No Self-Interest Going On Here At All.

For adults, of course, Sean offers up Biola Universitywhere he teaches apologetics as an associate professor. I am profoundly unimpressed with the Biola apologetics lecture I streamed, so whatever.

He also generously offers as options:

  • Stand to Reason (whose founder appears to be close friends with his dad as well as his dad’s friends, and has had Sean on his podcast as a guest)
  • Cross-Examined (which features stuff by fellow Biola teacher William Lane Craig as well as a bunch of his dad’s apologetics friends, himself, and his dad)
  • Cold Case Christianity (run by J. Warner Wallace, and featuring plenty of stuff about Sean)
  • Impact 360 (which he himself works for; I spotted some familiar names from his other ventures there too)
  • Southern Evangelical Seminary (where a bunch of his dad’s pals work, like Gary Habermas and Frank Turek)

He only discloses his personal connection to Biola. No other disclosures get made.

Nope! No self-interest at all here! None!

What Might Make Apologetics Worth Learning, for Christians.

If I were a Christian and heard this advertisement for apologetics training, I sure wouldn’t be tempted. I’d get as far as the cost of these programs and nope right out.

But that’s not the only reason these programs skeeve me out.

An apologist’s job is to explain why reality doesn’t line up with Christianity’s promises about it. As you can imagine, as humans keep discovering more about our universe and world, apologists’ jobs get harder and harder!

One of the reasons I deconverted — the main one, in fact — was that Christianity itself is not based on reality and facts. If it’s not true, then I’m sure not going to fuss with it or the horrible people in it!

Over time when I was Christian, I began seeing the presence of apologetics in Christianity as a problem in and of itself. If someone has to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on apologetics training to massage that mess of a religion into some semblance of coherence, to buy and read tons of books in the right particular theological camp, and to take hours of training in learning all these arguments, that says some really awful things about Christianity.

Ultimately, these advertisements only remind me anew, every time, that apologists make money in Christianity precisely because there’s no support for any of their claims.

I guess I just have very high standards for omnimax gods these days.

NEXT UP: REALLY bad news for Jim Bakker and a whole lot of fundagelical pastors. Also in our near future: A peek at Summit and their “ministry,” as well as a look at Sean McDowell’s work. See you soon!


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Links to sourdough recipes I’ve been enjoying. I’ve made all of these, unless I indicate otherwise.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a gentle-but-squawky orange tabby named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. You can read more about the author here.

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