Given that I’m currently writing criticisms of McGrew’s anti-Minimal Facts stance, and given my recent revelation, it seemed good to me to write on a concept I’ve talked about in online discussions and with friends, but never put in writing; the concept of a Credentialed Layman. Whatever McGrew and I disagree on, one thing we both DO agree on is that you don’t necessarily need to have a degree in a field in order to be able to speak or write on a subject. Lydia’s Husband Tim put it quite well;
“An advanced degree is indirect evidence that you know what you are talking about. It is useful as far as it goes. But indirect evidence must give way in the presence of direct evidence. Show me that you know what you are talking about, and I don’t care whether you have the degree. Show me that you *don’t* know what you are talking about, and I don’t care whether you have the degree.” As quoted in this Facebook status from Lydia McGrew on June 25th 2021. https://www. facebook.com/lydiamcgrewauthor/posts/pfbid02Rh2Eu37V4MWjvH6cu6aBVXTavFkVcSqZbsmaNEWQqM1FknyPPV5PunCAhkzcyUCFl
Lydia often gets flack for being a philosopher yet writing on New Testament scholarship issues. For this, I think she’s right to push back. Lydia is who I would consider a “Credentialed Layman”, a layman in the field of New Testament scholarship mind you, not the field in which she got her doctorate. One can be a layman in one field and a degree carrying expert in another. Other examples of credentialed layman I would tout are myself, David Pallmann who runs the Faith Because Of Reason YouTube channel, Caleb Jackson whose authored books such as “Undead: A Historical Investigation Into The Most Famous Miracle In History” and “A Solution To Suffering: A Christian Response To The Problem Of Evil” and Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy.
Yes, I included myself in that list. I have never gone to college. I don’t have any degrees in philosophy, theology, evangelism, Old Testament, or New Testament. This might come as a surprise to some people – and if it surprises you, then I’ve done my duty of being a credentialed layman. I have, at times, had people refer to me as “Dr. Minton” in Facebook comments or e-mails, though I quickly correct them as I don’t want to mislead anyone by remaining silent.
What is a credentialed layman? If you don’t have an M.A or PH.D in such and such a field, isn’t it the case that you have no right to talk about it? Shouldn’t I have waited to launch Cerebral Faith until I graduated with at least a bachelor’s in theology or apologetics? I don’t think so. Since I’m a Christian Apologist and a popularizer, most of my examples in this article will pertain specifically to being an apologist. But honestly, these instructions can be applied across a wide variety of disciplines – even law and medicine. There are 4 things you absolutely must do to be a credentialed layman;
1: Actually Study The Issues Before You Actually Say Anything
Perhaps the most important thing of all is to actually know what you’re talking about. If you want to write on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, for example, whether in defense or opposition of it, read what the actual degree weilding experts have to say. If you don’t know anything about the topic at all, start with popular level books and work your way up. In the case of arguments for God’s existence, great books to start with are “On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision” by William Lane Craig or “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist” by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler. Once you’re comfortable with that, move onto intermediate level material such as “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” by Wiliam Lane Craig. If your topic is gospel reliability, I can think of no better place to start than with books such as “The Case For Christ” by Lee Strobel and “Can We Trust The Gospels?” by Peter J Williams. Then move onto more scholarly works like Craig Blomberg’s “The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels”, for example.
Study, study, study, study, study, and study some more. Read books written by scholars from the pop level to the doctoral level. Keep reading until you feel like you know enough to actually say something on a platform like a blog, YouTube, a podcast, et. al.
Basically, what I’m saying in a nutshell is this; get yourself informed on the issue. You can get lots of valuable resources from Amazon.com, ChristianBook.com, or even your local Barnes and Noble. Academia.edu has research papers you can read also. Some of them are free while others are behind a paywall. Additionally, lots of scholars have podcasts in which they talk about subjects in their field. William Lane Craig has “The Reasonable Faith Podcast” and “The Defenders Podcast”. Michael S. Heiser has “The Naked Bible Podcast”. Peter Enns has “The Bible For Normal People”. Michael Licona has “The Risen Jesus Podcast”.
Besides reading books and listening to podcasts, another great way to learn is to attend Apologetics and Theology conferences. Listen to the lectures of the speakers. Bring a notebook and jot things down. Maybe even buy the recordings of the presentation later on so you can watch them again.
2: Be Open and Honest About Areas Where You Are Ignorant
Also, you need to learn a sense of humility. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about everything to be an effective apologist. I will admit when I don’t enough about an issue to speak on it. I don’t know enough about the arguments for the dating of the Exodus to come down on one side or the other, much less promote one. All I got by way of research was one episode of Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast in which he presented (in my opinion) very compelling arguments for both sides. And I honestly can’t remember what many of them were. So please don’t send me e-mails asking my opinion on the date of the Exodus. I don’t know. I also don’t know enough to have an opinion on Global Warming. Is it really a hoax like conservatives say it is? Or is it real like liberals maintain? If the latter, is it caused by humans which will bring about our destruction or is it a cyclical phenonenon not unlike the strengthening and weakening of the Van Allen Radiation Shield? I have no idea.
Being open and honest about your areas of ignorance will help build trust with your readers, listeners, and/or viewers (depending on your platform). If you have a track record of letting your knowledge blind spots be known, that goes some way of building trust. Because when you DO offer your thoughts on an issue, people will reason “Well, if he hadn’t done his homework, he wouldn’t be talking about.”
There are also areas I have looked into, but not enough to be dogmatic. So sometimes I will say something like “I’ve only looked into this a little bit, and based on what I’ve read so far, here’s where I lean. I lean towards X, but I hold this view tentatively and it is subject to change.” This, again, is being transparent.
3: Always Cite Your Sources
If you’re writing a blog, doing a YouTube channel, a podcast, or all of the above, you need to cite your sources. How you go about doing this will differ depending on what kind of platform you’re using to communicate to your audience. Obviously, if you’re writing a blog post, you need to cite your sources via footnotes. But if you’re making a YouTube video, you can include references to scholarly works at one of the bottom corners of the screen or even in the description box. Michael Jones (of Inspiring Philosophy) usually makes the description box of his videos one massive bibliography, but he also directly quotes authors and puts the reference to where to the quote came from in the video. For example, his quoting of N.T Wright in his resurrection series or quoting John Walton and John Salhammer in his Genesis 1 video.
Always refer to the scholarly works of experts as much as you possibly can. I want to make it clear that you’re not commiting the “Appeal To Authority” fallacy by doing this, or the “Ad Populum” fallacy (i.e the fallacy of saying “The Majority of scholars believe X, therefore, X is right.”) Often it’s just a matter of saying “I think X is true. Here’s my argument for X. Btw, here’s a scholar in his field who agrees with me for this exact reason.” Other times, it’s so that people can see that you’re not just pulling things out of your rear end. If I make scientific claims about how hot the universe was in its earliest stages (which would occur in the context of the Kalam Cosmological Argument), I may cite a page from a book written by Stephen Hawking, a page from a book by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and an online NASA article. Maybe the footnote will point to all three! I’m not a scientist, but I can still repeat what I have learned from those who are. I just need to point my reader in the direction of those experts.
I have often likened this to standing on the credentials of others. No, I don’t have degrees in pretty much anything, but I can appeal to the credentialed-ness is that a word? of those are. I’m not a New Testament scholar, but I can rely on the credentials of people like Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, N.T Wright, Craig Keener, Craig Evans, and even Bart Ehrman to back up my claims. I don’t know Hebrew or Greek, but I can cite lexicons and commentaries (even via direct quotation). I’m not a philosopher, but I can cite those who are, like William Lane Craig, J.P Moreland, Joshua Rasmussen, et. al. I’ll either make the claim in my own words and cite one or several of their works in a footnote, or I’ll directly quote them, and put the source of the quote in a footnote.
Now, in a blog, footnotes are a bit tricky. I used to put big blue bold letters in the main body of text and then put the content of my footnotes at the bottom of the article with “Notes” in massive black letters separating the main body of text from the footnotes. However, if you’re on WordPress, there is an easier way to do this. I recommend clicking here to see a tutorial from WPBeginner-WordPress Tutorial.
4: Apply The Previous Three Consistently.
My philosophy is that you never stop learning. Indeed, the more I learn the more I realize how much I’ve yet to know. So keep doing step 1, even in areas that are well worn. I am at the point where I no longer read pop level books on Arguments for God’s Existence. I’m now at the level of where I really only learn anything from books like the Two Part Anthology on The Kalam Cosmological Argument (see here and here) and The Blackwell Companion To Natural Theology. Eventually, you level up in your knowledge so much that you have to keep moving to more and more advanced material to not just be told everything you already know. Though with some topics, I’m still at the pop level stage, or can get something out of it. At the very least, they’ll present me a model on how to relay complex info to a lay audience (which I recently have concerns I may be losing).
Do step 2 and 3 consistently as well. With regards to step 2, never ever pretend like you know something you don’t. Ignorance is often visible in what people say. I can always tell how much study of Christian truth claims an atheist has done depending on what kind of objections he raises. For example, a recent Facebook post said “Killing his own Son for OUR SINS instead of Satan, I swear the story is not clear.” Such a statement betrays incredible ignorance of basic Christian theology. This person doesn’t even know the basic outline of the gospel, much less why the gospel ought to be embraced. And yet, look at how confidently this objection is put forth! Click the link and you’ll even see that it’s accompanied by a facepalm emoji! And yet such an objection would be laughed out of any circle. A mere casual reading of The Bible ought to reveal what’s wrong with this objection! Don’t try to wing it. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’ll show.
This is how you can form opinions and state them without having a degree. I should also add that if your work is of high quality, even people who are scholars will take notice. I have been praised doctoral theologians like Dr. Tim Stratton of FreeThinking Ministries and philosophers like Ken Samples of Reasons To Believe. Dr. Stratton has even referenced my work a couple of times in his popular level writings, and even allowed me to repost a couple of my articles to his website (see here and here). And although I can’t recall specific words of praise or recommendations, OT scholar Ben Stanhope must think I’m doing something right. After all, he’s the one who designed all the logos I’ve been using from late 2021 to the present.
Eventually, you’ll develop a reputation of being a reliable source, and your reputation will precede you.
|↑1||As quoted in this Facebook status from Lydia McGrew on June 25th 2021. https://www. facebook.com/lydiamcgrewauthor/posts/pfbid02Rh2Eu37V4MWjvH6cu6aBVXTavFkVcSqZbsmaNEWQqM1FknyPPV5PunCAhkzcyUCFl|
|↑2||is that a word?|