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A Besmirching Blunder: An Awkward Moment As A Budding Apologist

By Marilyn Joy Tyner

My big moment had nearly arrived. Three short hours to go.

With a brief surge of pink-faced panic, I hustled downstairs from my bedroom, not wanting to be late for my first debate in my grad course: “Apologetics by the Case Method.”1 When I reached the entryway, I looked up and noticed a vivid display of rainbow colors on the walls—a prism effect created by a light beam from the upstairs window reflecting through my chandelier.

“YES!” I shouted with a hint of humor. It’s a sign from heaven that I won’t drown tonight during my presentation. My shifting confidence stabilized a notch or two.

I stuffed my carefully crafted documents in my briefcase and drove to the campus while mentally practicing my arguments. I was to present them like a legal case. Not in a courtroom before a judge, but in a conference-sized classroom before the dean of my graduate school.

The stakes were high. I was a newish believer in a student body consisting mostly of pastors and theologians, and I was one of only a few females in the apologetics program. I needed to earn an A on this final exam.

Though I had worked as a litigation paralegal in a top-notch law firm for a few years, I was not licensed to practice law and therefore I could not try a court case. The few times I had assisted attorneys in the courtroom made me wish I could, and this class assignment would likely be the closest I’d ever come to that sort of scenario.

In this forum, I’d step up to a podium and defend the truth claims of orthodox Christian theology against the claims of contrary theologies. I realized that serving the Lord as an advocate for spiritual truth was a higher cause, and a greater thrill, than trying a litigation case. God had used apologetics in a significant way in my own salvation journey,2 so I wanted to give back by helping many other unbelievers advance to the cross.

As I entered the classroom and took a seat near the back, I began to question myself. Had I prayed enough about this challenging assignment? Did I refine the wording of my papers sufficiently? Was my research thorough enough? Unfortunately, one question that hadn’t come to mind was, “Did I double-check all of my quotations?”

I’d heard from a classmate that the dean of the school (a noted lawyer and apologist extraordinaire) was going to critique my presentation on the spot, and he would be clothed in an intimidating black courtroom robe traditionally worn by English judges. It was true!

When my time to present finally arrived, my lines of argumentation seemed to go well, despite the slight quiver in my voice. Then I sat down to await the verdict.

The dean’s critique was only three sentences. “Very well done. However, I’m quite sure that the final quotation you credited to me was not mine. To become accomplished apologists and scholars, we must always quote our sources accurately.”

Chagrined, I hurried to the library and retrieved the source book of the quotation in question. Sure enough, the dean was not the author but the editor of the book. My research blunder had compromised the quality of my case and besmirched the credits of the author and editor.

Although it was too late to correct my mistake, I’ve made it a practice ever since that day to double-check all my quotations—as well as my footnotes, credits, and Scripture citations—to maintain credibility as a speaker and writer who advances the cause of Christ.

Effective apologetics is increasingly needed in today’s world and not just with unbelievers. Anne Graham Lotz points this out in her book, Storming the Gates of Heaven: Prayer that Claims the Promises of God:

“Even within churches, we can see a moral ‘twilight’ and encroaching darkness. Entire denominations have turned off the light by denying that Jesus is the only way to God … the Bible is God’s infallible, inerrant, inspired Word … there is a hell and there is a Heaven … and the list could go on.”3

Someday, when we stand face to face before Jesus our Judge, I believe He will acknowledge faithful believers who spoke the truth in love and upheld the truth claims of Christianity—all because they double-checked and properly quoted the divinely revealed Word of God.


1 The class goal of “Apologetics by the Case Method,” as stated in the 1994–95 school catalog of Simon Greenleaf School of Law (later named “Simon Greenleaf University”), was “to provide practical experience in evidential apologetic argumentation on topics of vital evangelical concern.”

2 To read a condensed version of my personal testimony, go to

3 Anne Graham Lotz, Storming the Gates of Heaven: Prayer that Claims the Promises of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 80.

Disclaimer: All views expressed by those associated with this ministry or on our platforms do not necessarily represent the opinions of Women in Apologetics, Inc. or its individual team members.

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