Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church 2: Questions are a Good Thing

Questions are a Good Thing by Luke McKinnon

“Introducing a strong and aggressive apologetics program at our church was one of the single best decisions I have made in my ministry.”

That is a pretty strong statement for a pastor to make about any ministry or program his church has implemented, but I made the statement and I wholeheartedly stand by it. By creating an “atmosphere of apologetics,” we have challenged people within the church to dig deep into their faith and to question if what they believe is really true or not. One of the mottos that has become a mainstay in our church is “Questions are a good thing.” What we have found is there are many people that feel churches and/or pastors really do not like people to question the things they are teaching. We have created a culture in which people are comfortable knowing that questions can be asked and our faith will stand firm against any question.

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Several years ago, I began to prepare myself for making apologetics a key part of our church by earning my Masters of Arts in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. While this is certainly not a requirement for starting an apologetics program in your church, it didn’t hurt. One thing I would suggest is to become familiar with a broad range of apologetical topics. Notice that I said familiar and not proficient. It is impossible to be proficient in every apologetical area, but when studying apologetics, one topic invariably leads to other areas of study. This brings me to what may be one of the most important rules I have learned in my experience of teaching apologetics. Be prepared to tell people that you do not know the answer, if you truly do not know the answer. This may sound a bit elementary; however, I have come across some people that might make-up an answer rather than admit that they do not know. The way that I have handled this situation is by simply stating that I do not know the answer, but I would like to dig into the matter more to find an answer.

I began by offering a weekly Bible study for our folks that focused on different apologetical issues. These topics varied greatly, as the apologetics field does, but there was a hunger in our people for this sort of Bible study that really surprised me. People want to know that there are reasons and arguments to support their beliefs. This study lasted for about six months and covered everything from Creation/Intelligent Design and Biblical Archaeology to Philosophy of Religion and Arguments for the Existence of God. In my experience, in this sort of setup, variety is a key aspect of keeping a wide range of people engaged in the study. There are some people that find the biology aspects of Intelligent Design to be the most interesting aspect they have ever studied, while others are bored to tears with it. But those same people that are bored with biology may be fascinated with the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

The curriculum I use for my apologetics Bible studies is one that I wrote and researched myself. While I am sure there are many good apologetics books and studies that might have worked for this, I found that doing it myself had several advantages. The primary advantage of developing my own curriculum was that I had to study it in order to present it. I had a better grasp of the specific subjects because I had spent the time and effort to research and understand it myself. I have heard it said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. That could not be any more true in my experience. The second advantage that I saw to creating my own study was that I could custom tailor it to my group. There were many times that I let the group pick some of the subjects that we were going to study. They seemed to be even more engaged when I would be teaching on something they specifically requested.

The question maybe asked: how do you approach developing your own lessons? The first item I would mention is to use some sort of presentation software in conjunction with your lesson like Keynote or PowerPoint. There are so many great charts, pictures, illustrations and video clips that you can incorporate. When people can see photos of archaeological digs in Israel or see an illustration of the flagellar motor, it really engages them and gives them something to associate with when studying challenging concepts. As far as finding the information that you need to develop the lessons, you should be able to find any number of books or reputable websites to help you dig into the subject. While this may go without saying, I did mention “reputable” websites. While it may be shocking, not everything that is on the web is true! That can be especially true when it comes to information on apologetics. Take just a little time to make sure you are using the best, most accurate information you possibly can. Resources like can be a great clearing house for information and other helpful websites and books.

One major obstacle you are sure to encounter when dealing with any group of people and apologetics is that there will be some disagreements. Whether it is Young Earth vs. Old Earth Creationism or something like a philosophical difference, it can be something that is dangerous to a group. Here is how I deal with situations like this. The first study, and thereafter for new folks, I hand out what I call my Diagnostic Framework for Theological Differences. This one-page sheet basically says that there are going to be differences in opinion and I group these differences into Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Issues. Primary issues are ones that I believe your salvation is contingent on. Secondary issues may not be directly linked to your salvation but are necessary to have a cogent Christian worldview. Tertiary issues are ones that, in the scheme of things, don’t really matter and we can agree to disagree. There are some that will call me a heretic on both sides, but I teach both Young Earth and Old Earth Creation arguments in my class. Personally I feel that this is a tertiary subject and I will share my view with the class but also will share arguments from both sides.

One other project I would mention would be simply incorporating apologetics into current, more traditional Bible studies. While I have done the strictly apologetical studies a couple of times now, I am currently doing a study that dives into many of the well known, and not so well known stories throughout the Bible. In this study we use what I call the H.A.T. Methodology to look at the story. H.A.T. stands for Historical, Apologetical, and Theological. What we do is breakdown the story into three parts. The historical part will deal with timing, culture, region, other events, etc. The purpose is to “set the stage” for the story itself. History and culture is an important apologetical tool. The apologetical section looks at evidence or proof we may or may not have for the story or events surrounding the story. Lastly, we examine the theological implications and lessons of the story. We do not want to fall into the trap of sterilizing Scripture with apologetics. The ultimate end must be the personal application to strengthen our faith, or perhaps bring us to faith.

Finally, let me say a quick word about apologetic seminars and conferences. We have hosted two seminars over the last couple of years. They are a great way to have an intensive, in-depth look into apologetics. Both seminars have been two-day seminars, but I taught the first one by myself and the second we brought in two additional speakers. Seminars are a lot of work but it can be a great way to engage people from even outside your church. Having done it both ways, I would highly encourage you to allow someone like the Apologetics Department at Biola University to assist in the planning and execution. It made all the difference in the world for us. I do not recommend teaching a two-day conference by yourself if you can help it. We actually have had the seminar at a hotel and at a museum. If you have any questions about seminars or how we did ours, please feel free to contact me.

Churches in this day and age desperately need apologetics to remain real and relevant in this world. Do not be afraid but rather be “...prepared to make a defense...” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

Some links:

Our Seminar Website:
Our Church Website:
Biola Apologetics Dept:


Todd F said...

Great article! I'm interesting in your "Diagnostic Framework for Theological Differences" and can't find a reference based on a google search. How can I learn more? I generally say to speak loud where the bible is loud and softly where the bible is soft. People tend to try to dig out nuggets of gold, rather than focus on the stronger message. Any help would be helpful! Thanks.

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