Police officers train obsessively. Our state certification organization requires us to stay up to date and tests us consistently to see if we are still competent in a number of areas. From firearms qualification to driver’s training to legal updates, each officer is required to spend hundreds of hours learning and practicing necessary skills over the course of a career. Along the way, we spend many hours engaged in “defensive tactics” training. Beyond our academy preparation, officers must continue to learn how to fight, wrestle, and defend themselves. Sometimes I wish Christian case makers (apologists) were also required to train regularly in defensive tactics; there are a number of important things each of us could learn from the experience:
In a Pinch, Your Training Pays Off
In every on-duty tussle I ever encountered, I found myself reacting in a way that was consistent with my training. When the fight is on, you really don’t have time to think through every move. Instead, you find yourself resorting to the habits you’ve developed in training. In times of crisis, you respond as you’ve trained. If you haven’t been training, your response will most certainly be slower and less effective. This is true for physical altercations and it’s also true for challenging spiritual conversations. The key to training is repetition that engrains a movement in your memory so you don’t have to think about it in a moment of crisis. If you consider yourself to be a Christian case maker, how have you been practicing? How have you been repeating your defense consistently to make sure you are ready when the time comes? I find that blogging is an excellent way to practice for the “real life” conversations I have with my friends and family. In addition, there are quiet times of solitude (usually while I’m running) when I find myself thinking carefully and mentally rehearsing my responses to common objections. I practice because I know that training pays off.
In a Pinch, Your Trainer Won’t Be Available
In our defensive tactics training sessions, our teachers are by far the most capable men and women in the room. These folks are experts in their field; they are well trained and educated in all the techniques they try to pass on to the rest of us. There have been many times in a scuffle when I wished one of these trainers could be my partner. It would have been a lot easier if one of these folks had been present! But that’s never the case. In the end, each of us, as officers in the field, has to fight our own battle. That’s also the way it is with Christian case making. I wish I had William Lane Craig with me every time I engage a skeptic; but that’s never going to be the case. Instead, I’m going to have to learn from Dr. Craig so I can engage folks when he’s not around. Whenever I speak to parent groups, I remind them that their kids are eventually going to come to them with a question about Christianity. When our children come to us with a doubt, we can’t simply point them to the trainer; we can’t just toss them a book or video. Most won’t even take the time to read or watch what we’ve given them. They came to us. This is our scuffle. They need to hear the answer from us. Officers need to train because their trainers won’t be there to help them in the fight. We need to train for the same reason.
In a Pinch, Your Training Can Be Enough
No matter how much time I seem to spend in defensive tactics training, I never seem to come away as skilled as my trainers. In our practice wrestling matches, in spite of all they’ve taught me, I still end up losing the match and walking away with scrapes and bruises. I’m never as good as my trainer. But I’m good enough, and there are times in the field when good enough will do. Sometimes you can easily overcome your adversary; sometimes you just need to be good enough to hold on until your back-up arrives. I don’t have to master every move presented to me in defensive training in order to be effective in the field. Sometimes it’s just one small thing that ends up being enough to get the job done. This is also true in Christian case making. I may not have every argument mastered, I may not even be aware of every piece of evidence, but there is probably some small thing I can say or do to move the ball downfield. There is probably some modest move I can make to put a stone in the shoe of the person I am engaging. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes that will allow me to return to my studies, train a little more, and re-engage the conversation later.
So in the end, even though I never became a master fighter, my skills were sufficient to allow me to survive a twenty five year career in law enforcement. I took my training seriously and I learned just enough to get by in tough situations. Today I find myself training for a new challenge. I take my training seriously because I know that my trainers won’t be present when the conversations begin, but I am confident I can master enough to get the job done.