by Anthony Horvath
I receive a handful of emails a year from people who are interested in apologetics, recognize its importance, but struggle to have it seen the same way in their local congregations. Many of these people find me through my ministry's online apologetics academy, which is specifically geared towards 'lay' apologists. It is very often the case that apologetics is a recent discovery of theirs that has profoundly helped them, and they are shocked that others do not have the same perspective. This is, of course, after they ponder why it took them this long to hear about apologetics in the first place.
Most of the time, the obstacle is simply a lack of enthusiasm. Occasionally, it is outright hostility. Sometimes a lack of enthusiasm, especially among the staff and clergy, is a mask for deeper opposition. It would be wise to have some deliberate conversations to determine what the real hindrance to apologetics within the congregation really is.
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However, because of the nature of apologetics, there is no way to stop you from bringing your studies to bear, shy of locking the church doors and keeping you out. Apologetics does call to mind arguments and evidence and certain time-worn approaches to philosophical and theological issues, but more than that, apologetics engenders an attitude and approach. Some hall marks of the apologetically-minded person is an unwillingness to answer questions with "It's just a matter of faith" or, "Don't ask questions, kid. Doubt kills." When the apologetically-minded person is presented with a thorny issue, he does not shrug his shoulders and act as though there is no way to sort it out. He does not resign himself to ignorance and does not commend that ignorance as 'faith.' He gets out his books, he does some research, he looks at the relevant Scripture verses, he invests some time in critical thinking and bounces his ideas off of others who have the same attitude. Many times, what begins as a 'thorny' issue turns out to be easily resolved, as soon as facts and information are brought to bear.
As a case in point, when the movie The Da Vinci Code came out, many Christians wandered around in a daze, wondering how to reconcile the claims of the movie with their Christian faith. Those are the ones who took the claims seriously. Others dismissed it along the lines of "Well, that's why we have faith." The real travesty and crying shame is that anyone at all was flummoxed by the insinuations of the book, because even a cursory understanding of the history of the Christian church and how the Bible came to us is enough to deal a death blow to such wild-eyed conspiracy-mongering. A little knowledge quickly dispels the challenge the movie is said to represent, like the fog disappears on its own as soon as the sun comes up, just a smidgen.
There will be things that even the apologist walks away from scratching his head, but it will be much later in the process than many people often suppose.
This raises the important point that there are a great many things that interest the apologist that might not be strictly construed as 'apologetics.' Simply knowing the facts can count as 'apologetics.' Merely being aware that Jericho existed as a real city, and has been found, can be 'apologetics', if the person in front of you is insisting that the Scriptures are mythology, through and through. In short, any piece of information, evidence, or line of argument can count as 'apologetics' if the purpose of sharing it is to ground oneself or others in actual reality. For that is one of the core assumptions of apologetics: Christianity is real. Jesus was—and is—real. The events really happened, in history, not 'in faith.' Our faith is in a real God, in real promises made by Him that he really fulfilled in Christ... or really will fulfill.
This is an attitude, not a subject area.
Thus, there is no way to exclude 'apologetics' from the congregation unless you yourself are excluded from the congregation.
Hence, introducing 'apologetics' in your congregation need not necessarily be limited to such offerings as an 'apologetics series' during the adult Bible study hour for a month. If you teach a Sunday School class and you are apologetically minded, you will be doing 'apologetics' throughout the year, because your mindset and learning will be informing your lessons each and every Sunday.
Since more things count as 'apologetics' than one might normally think, you can also bring apologetics into the congregation without ever using the word. For example, instead of offering to do a four part series on apologetics, instead offer to do a study in the geography of Palestine. In the course of that four week study, you will ground the events described in the Scriptures in a real location that has a real history. You will orient people, so that they know that Jerusalem (for example) is a certain distance from Bethlehem which is a certain distance from the Sea of Galilee; in many minds, this is all 'old myth' and the cities just run together in their heads. The fact that people couldn't hop into their cars but had to walk these distances will add new perspective to the yearly trip to Jerusalem to attend the Passover- and since we mentioned it, let me tell you a word about the Passover and what that meant to the Jews at the time. You see how it works. Naturally, you'd also include some mention of interesting archeological finds that corroborate, substantiate, or even conclusively show (to the reasonable man) certain claims of Christianity are true... (for example, the Pilate Inscription.)
We tend to think of the whole work of the congregation in terms of the service, Bible studies, and youth group activities. 'Breaking in' on these functions may be difficult, because they require some consent and/or approval from the pastor, or a committee or board, or something similar. It may not be opposition to apologetics, per se. There may be enough volunteers (ha!) or the schedule might be all filled up. But these sorts of things are not the whole work of the Church.
I would argue that every man and woman's chief ministry is to their own family. If you are 'apologetically minded,' you won't wait for the Sunday School teacher to get around to presenting some of the lines of evidence for the (real) resurrection of Christ. You'll be doing it yourself. It may not have occurred to you that this is 'doing apologetics in the church' but it certainly is.
More to the point, the spiritual leaders of every family in the Church are, biblically, the parents in those families. Not the pastor, not the DCE, or youth director, or even you, the 'official' apologist. In your desire to bring apologetics into your congregation, you may wish to consider that the perspective you bring in your conversations in the narthex, at the potluck, or whatever, counts equally as 'doing apologetics,' and indeed can have as much impact (or more, obviously) as a Sunday morning 'apologetics' presentation. You can of course mention in those conversations your belief that as parents we have an obligation to transmit the faith to our children in a robust manner, and hey, aren't you a parent? but you don't need to be as direct as that. You can convey the attitude and approach that apologetics study engenders by the comments you make, the books you recommend, and the points you emphasize.
To my knowledge, there is no church in America that requires committee approval for having conversations in the church foyer where you just 'happen' to mention the newest book by Gary Habermas or the fact that William Lane Craig is speaking nearby that weekend ("Oh, you don't know who William Lane Craig is? Let's do lunch tomorrow and I'll bring you up to speed.")
In my years of apologetics experience, I have found that the little conversations turn out to have the biggest impacts, often without knowing about it. I recently had a phone call with someone who wanted to talk to me about something I said to him almost ten years earlier on the bleachers at a track meet.
Many people reading this may agree that what I have described sounds all well and good, but it doesn't quite seem satisfying. Doing really important work in apologetics surely means having your congregation view you as an authority on such things, or at least get you to speak on things on occasion, right? Surely it means snagging a debate with the local atheist at the community college? That is, don't we feel that if we're doing serious apologetics work, we'd be taken seriously? I admit, I have felt the same way. I cannot speak for everyone, but I suspect, if you are like me, this sentiment comes more from a certain kind of pride—and not the good kind. I suspect, when I feel this way, that it boils down to the simple sin of coveting, where I covet the apparent 'success' of other apologists.
But that just goes to show you why we need to distrust our feelings and 'take every thought captive for Christ' because I know intellectually that when the chips are down, what really counts and what really matters are the souls of our fellow man. That is the sort of thing that I wouldn't let a little congregational apathy on the subject of apologetics get in the way of. Nor should we let grandiose visions of ourselves, boldly contending for the faith, prevent us from seeing and acting on the multitude of small but important opportunities to strengthen the faith of our fellow Christians or whittle away at objections of non-Christians.
And for many of us, there will remain after everything else, our very own children.