Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church 2: Implementing Apologetics Ministry

Implementing Apologetics Ministry 
by Max L. E. Andrews

Incorporating apologetics as a seminal role in the ministry of your church may not be the easiest task. I had a teaching pastor internship in the summer of 2008 with my hometown Independent Baptist church in Richmond, VA. I entered my internship during my junior year as an undergraduate with the support of the two pastors I was working with, the senior pastor and the youth pastor. I was given the task of starting a college ministry from scratch and doing what I could to ensure that the ministry would persevere when I left. Most of the students were coming out of the senior high youth group; so what better way to deepen and strengthen their faith than through apologetics?

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Implementing an apologetics ministry takes much prayer, work, and patience. When praying for the ministry I ask God to send his Spirit upon us to illuminate our minds so that we may be critical and rational followed by a prayer of petition so that our hearts may be sensitive to the truth and the Spirit. The work involved in this kind of ministry is twofold: research and ministerial preparation. One cannot simply delve into apologetics without already having familiarity with the material. You must ensure your heart and mind has a firm foundation lest you doubt your faith and ministry. Those whom you may be ministering to may be in perilous times of doubt and questioning or they may simply need supplementation to their faith with intellectual vigor. Either way the leader must be firm in faith. This yields the ministerial aspect of the work and preparation. Not only must you have the intellectual and academic knowhow of the material but ministerial logistics is important as well. This could be included in the category of any other church ministry, which includes the time and location for meeting, audio/visual aids, handouts or material, references, etc. To be honest, you may not be met with joyful enthusiasm by the church or some of those in your ministry. Whether this incongruity is an intellectual hurdle or disagreement or a rejection of the ministry itself depends on the church. You may face extreme fideists—those who think apologetics is morally wrong and against the nature of faith. If the ministry is going to be fruitful and persevere the leader must be patient and handle these situations gently with prayer and tact.

There are two main components to an apologetics ministry that I have discovered to be pertinent for the growth of the church: variety and particularity. Though this seems paradoxical it yields fruit when properly sown. When I say variety I’m referring to the range of topics discussed. For laypersons who cannot wade in the depths of theology and philosophy for too long the monotony of one dense topic becomes a dreadful bore. Spread out the range of topics but allow for thorough and sufficient examination and discussion. My ministry met twice a week. On Sundays I would lead a survey of different books in the Bible. During this survey we would explicate the themes, historical background, and the theological importance of the contents. This would allow everyone to have a general knowledge of the book while delving into the theology. On Wednesday evenings we would examine philosophy and history. This ensued the family of cosmological arguments, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, the resurrection of Christ, the hypostatic union, heretical doctrines, etc.

The second component to apologetics is particularity. When I refer to this I am appealing to the depth of a topic. Whichever topic I would be discussing for the day I would get as deep as I could with the topic being covered. For instance, when I discussed the hypostatic union I would probe deeper with questions of Jesus’ self-understanding and the notion of reduplicated predication. In essence, don’t give surface level lessons and actually challenge the church on their beliefs. Probe as deep as you can while maintaining fruitful discussion.

I was given the opportunity to deliver a sermon to the congregation one Sunday. My sermon was an exposition of Acts 17, Paul’s visit to Athens. I used this text to bring out the axioms for apologetics and the importance of it while supplementing each point with other passages of Scripture. After the sermon several congregants approached me saying they didn’t really understand the depth of my exegesis but they still received the concept and purpose of apologetics. Too often the church seems to be looking for applications in their life, the question of, “How do I relate this to my life?” This was a way of slipping in an application of apologetics while stressing the need and importance for it in the church.

Apologetics has application in two respects. The first is evangelism. When evangelizing, Paul used reason to determine his method of evangelism. Reason consists of principles of logic and method; these principles consist of the formation of simple truths and axioms that may be used to overcome problematic thinking and doing. It is important for the Christian to be on their toes and ready to provide an answer for any question brought to them and be able to act appropriately when faced with any situation (I Pt. 3.15). A difficulty in evangelistic apologetics is when one encounters an intellectual debate or discussion; there is always the possibility of construing one another’s thoughts and points. Rational and intellectually persuasive dialogue is much more effective than some Christians give it credit for. Biblical evangelism is more than sharing one’s testimony. Not to discourage sharing the impact of the Trinity in one’s life but many societies need intellectual engagement, especially the western world of Europe and North America.

The second role of apologetics is for the edification of the believer. We’ve all had our existential confrontations when we doubt our meaning, value, or purpose in life. Additionally, apologetics serves to provide reinforcement of the truth of one’s faith when facing doubt. To be honest, I’ve doubted my faith several times. I went through a four month per period of questions, depression, and doubt due to physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings of a disease I have. It wasn’t religious experience of the presence of God that drew me back to him. What drew me back was my intellectual foundation. I used the truths I accepted as a foundation, i.e., objective meaning, value, and purpose, and allowed God to restore my trust in him. Doubt isn’t a biblical virtue and it’s not good. Critically thinking through your faith and challenging your thinking is virtuous. Sometimes apologetics is just as important for the unbeliever as it is for the Christian.

When one is doing apologetics correctly one will see the twofold effects of it: a rational reason for the truth of theism and Christianity for the unbeliever and the reinforcement of the truth of the faith for the Christian. If apologetics does not provide the Christian with the latter I would encourage him to allow the material to saturate his heart and mind prior to leading a ministry focused on such an endeavor.

1 comments :

bobseidensticker said...

For an apologetics ministry, why not connect with some atheists? They could give you some feedback on your message and tell you where they find your arguments flimsy.

It always baffles me when I see an apologetics conference that's like an echo chamber--lots of self-important apologists, but no atheists. How does it prepare you to talk to atheists ... if you never practice talking to atheists?

Come engage with me at CrossExaminedBlog [dot] com.

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