Can you share some insights for a talk on the theme of "Apologetics and the Church"?

(Daniel Paterson) #1

Hey friends! Thought I’d chime in for some collective wisdom. In 2 weeks I’ll be giving a talk at an apologetics conference. The theme of the talk is “Apologetics and the Church” - and after a whole series of apologetics talks on various topics, this one is meant to help Church and cultural leaders develop a practical strategy for implementing apologetics well. So, here are some questions:

  1. What is your dream vision for apologetics and the Church? What’s the goal?
  2. What strategies can you see leading to it? How would you develop apologetics in the Church?
  3. What stories do you have where this has been done well?

(Rob Lundberg) #2

@Daniel_Paterson This is a great endeavor, and I think it is a dream for all of us who are apologists in the local church. Let me see if I can tackle a couple of your questions and then look forward to seeing others chime in.

I am in Northern Virginia. I have been trained in apologetics and have made it is a major part of discipleship and my evangelism ministry. Getting it into the church is the big thing. I have a dream for our church and our area, as well. One of the biggest obstacles is going to be the pastors. There are three kinds of pastors: 1) the all in pastor; 2) pastor who wants to know more before he buys into it; and 3) the “just give me Jesus and the Bible” pastor. All of these are good scenarios, the first two are better than the third. I just did a two part podcast on this very subject during these last couple of weeks.

If there is a plan to incorporate a discipleship plan to teach the people and the pastor (in some cases) that we need to live the life we defend, with gentleness and respect, the pastor and the “board” need to be in the game.

This year I have spoken at two churches and one of those churches I asked a question. That question was, "how many of you here, have made an attempt to share the gospel with your loved one (parent, child, nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, grandparent). The show of hands was staggering. Over two thirds of a a forty people audience raised their hands INCLUDING THE PASTOR. We did a four Wednesday series addressing the four popular objections to Christianity.

I digressed. Once the pastor is on board, and you have a program (what that looks like is up to the one bringing it to the church), the church leadership needs to decide the frequency of the equipping. That may be a hurdle, and it may not be, it depends on what the equipping and materials are involved and the cost.

My recommendation is start slow and if there is a core group of people in the church, start with one, or two, and let the Lord bring the rest. My pastor just so happens to be “all in” but meeting in a school is going to provide creative ways to incorporate some of the vision. If there is an excitement with any church ministry, it could become part of the discipleship DNA of the church.

Let me recommend’s sources as they have two ebooks for resources.

(SeanO) #3

Hey @Daniel_Paterson, so glad you have the chance to share wisdom in helping the Church equip the saints. I think for me the goal would be:

To help both believers and unbelievers develop a Biblical view of God and understand how the truths of Scripture give us wisdom to live rational, moral and meaningful lives in an often painful and confusing world

My thoughts on how to go about this would be:

  • identify key adults with the intellectual ability / time / heart to teach others to understand the Scriptures and think about their faith
  • Till the soil - have the head pastor, elders and Sunday school teachers go through a book like J. P. Morelands ‘Love Your God with All Your Mind’ and if you are dealing with a crowd that does not even think evangelism is necessary, pull out Packer’s ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’ first. Do not try to launch until the soil has been properly tilled. Graciously address even the grumpiest saint and earnestly, humbly seek to have them on board - to show them why apologetics matters.
  • Understand the needs of your congregation - an urban Church in New York and a tiny Church in the Bible belt have vastly different needs. The Bible belt Church probably needs to help the adults live out what they claim to believe and understand the Gospel at a deeper level, whereas the youth need more of the apologetics angle. In the urban Church, both age groups may need both to a deeper degree.
  • Have a well defined plan for where apologetics fits within evangelism and discipleship. When a new believer gets saved, do they go to a foundations class? Do you have elders trained in apologetics who are available each service and intentional about holding monthly meetings where people can share their questions. What does this look like?

The best example I have seen was in Vancouver, Canada at a university there… The missionary on campus would go have lunch with people in the cafeteria and share Jesus, invite them to an Alpha course and then his sermons were very focused on issues directly related to their needs. He helped them navigate personal relationships, school, family issues - all from a Biblical perspective. He helped them grow into well balanced adults using Biblical principles as the foundation. He knew his audience well and he spent his time sacrificially.

Hope those thoughts are helpful and may the Spirit of Christ grant you open hearts and minds, as well as the right thoughts / ideas.


(Rob Lundberg) #4

@SeanO I think you shared another Tim Keller talk on engaging the culture in a godly manner (I forgot the title) on another thread, but I think that video too would be ideal for this thread.

(SeanO) #5

@roblundberg I am uncertain as to exactly which video it was, but perhaps one of the ones below? I certainly think helping the Church understand the significance of culture and how to engage humbly with it is a helpful step towards a fruitful apologetics ministry.

Why Culture Matters

Humble Cultural Engagement

Cultural Transformation

(Rob Lundberg) #6

It was Tim Keller’s talk on “Humble Cultural Engagement.” When I was watching this from the other thread I was thinking about how I see some Christians in the workplace behave, with a triumphalism that expects something from their employer. I am thankful that my supervisors understand the ministry we have here and have had with the changing of owners. My General Sales Manager happens to be a Liberty grad, but has been tainted by the battlefield serving our country. There are hints of his faith that shine through, but the cool thing is that if I have a talk or a weekend event like we had in July, I have no problem getting the time to go and do what I need to do there. I am always on time, and do not abuse company policy, but at the same time I do not have to compromise who and what I am, which is a huge blessing.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi @Daniel_Paterson,

I am excited about your ministry in Australia - I’m looking forward to hearing how God works at the upcoming Understanding and Answering Islam conference and the Apologetics Symposium at Hillsong! Keep it up mate! :slight_smile:

To your questions:
1. What is your dream vision for apologetics and the church?

For the past four years, a number of apologetics leaders have met for a biannual gathering in the US to discuss this question. At our last meeting, we discussed that we believe apologetics leaders in the United States should take responsibility for at least three objectives:

  1. For apologists to be mature in Christ,
  2. For apologists to serve the whole church, and
  3. To pray for revival.

If that sparks any comments, wisdom, questions, or thoughts from you, I’d be very interested to hear your perspective!

2. What strategies can you see leading to it? How would you develop apologetics in the Church?

One area where I think that apologists - including myself! - have often been foolish in their wisdom is a myopia about history, sociology, psychology, and anthropology. For instance, a very narrow focus on logical arguments for and against theism, plus some discussion on the resurrection, is characteristic of some approaches to teaching apologetics.

This approach gives insufficient attention to who the apologist is. Are they mature in Christ? (How do we understand what maturity in Christ looks like?). There’s a tremendous difference when the apologist is humble and when the apologist is arrogant.

It also addresses a very narrow spectrum of the church. How do apologists humbly come alongside pastors, to serve them, as they teach the whole counsel of God? How do apologists work side by side with youth ministers as they pastor teenagers through the complexities of the adolescent experience? How do apologists serve with hospice care workers as they comfort and minister to families and individuals in a time of grief? How do apologists equip university students to lead evangelistic movements on their campuses and business leaders to start investigative Bible studies in their workplace? And so on…

Finally, I think that apologists need to see that apologetics is a tool that needs to serve a greater purpose. In addition to the discipleship needs within the church, apologetics is one of many effective means of evangelism. As apologists pray for revival, I believe God will provide opportunities for the apologetics community to serve as evangelists and in support of evangelism.

From my point of view, I think if apologists will start with repentance for the ways we have not participated well in the life of the church, if we will listen to godly counsel from pastors and church leaders, and if we will demonstrate that we are here to serve as Christ has served us, for the glory of God, then we may be granted opportunities to bring our unique gifts to strengthen the overall working of the Body of Christ.

In brief, I think the best strategies will come as apologists are mature in Christ, which includes a depth of relational trust with leaders in the church, and they demonstrate a humble desire to serve the church and pray for revival, with a clear and shared desire to honor God. I think the theological angle is most fruitful here; the diversity of ways that we will see the church flourish as apologists increasingly serve well within the Body, showing honor to the other parts of the Body, is well beyond what we can imagine.

3. What stories do you have where this has been done well?

I know that you and the RZIM team have so many stories of pastors who are leading with excellence in this area. There are so many brave, winsome leaders in the business, art, university, and political communities who have partnered with our team. I would celebrate their talent, maturity, and capacity to introduce people to Jesus. I think of the OICCU at Oxford, Tim Keller in New York City, the Business Leaders Conference at the Zacharias Institute, the Still Point Gallery at our headquarters, and all the stories we hear at Founders each year… stories from the Middle East… positive reviews of the Everyday Questions small group curriculum… there are just too many stories here; the main problem will be narrowing it down?

I don’t think we have seen tremendous success yet, but I have been very encouraged by the Ask Your Question Sunday community that I lead at my church home. We have about 20-40 people participate in a conversation around a different question each week. I co-teach the class with another member of the church. Every four weeks or so we have a panel Q&A where we take any questions from anyone in the class. We’re very grateful that some skeptics and seekers have consistently participated in the community. Our senior pastor has been supportive of the initiative. One way we try to serve is to coordinate some of our talks with the sermon series of the church, speaking in other Sunday communities, and being available to other leaders in the church as needed. But we are still in the early days; we will celebrate our one year anniversary of starting the class in a couple of months.

Dan, when your talk is given, if it is possible, I would personally love to be able to see the text or listen to you deliver it. I think this would be an invaluable resource for the RZIM family in Connect!

(Anthony Costello ) #8


Dan, awesome questions. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about just how do we get clarity on what exactly we are defending when we do apologetics and how apologetics should shape us. Obviously there are more questions about Christianity than one can possibly address, or, at least, address with any degree of expertise. For example, someone just asked a question on Connect about “Christdelphians.” I mean, who knew, right? I thought I knew a lot of cults, but there is always some belief system or novel interpretation lurking around the corner that just surprises you. So, we cannot know everything, yet we must seek knowledge. In seeking knowledge about things, that exercise or practice will also shape our life in Christ.

That said, at some point I could start getting depressed about how much one would actually have to know in order to be prepared as an apologist. The task seems insurmountable. Still, as apologists we are in a difficult vocation, because we are called to be generalists in a way, but generalists about the things that supposedly matter most to the human person. Therefore, we do need to know a little bit about everything, and then, when we cannot speak authoritatively on an issue, we also need to know where to point people. That is actually quite a burden to carry.

So not only do we need to master some content, we need to know a little bit about many different intellectual areas or disciplines, or at least we need to know who does know about those disciplines, so we can guide people in the right direction. I think, therefore, that in the end apologetics becomes a kind of lifestyle, or better, a spiritual discipline for us. As I said, if we engage in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of defending the historical Christian faith, that pursuit will shape our souls. Good apologetical work and apologetics-based evangelism will take serious effort, time, attention to detail, and a lot of intellectual activity. That activity could lead us to experience all kinds of emotions, and not always positive ones. It can be wearisome…for even Solomon points out to us that “to the making of books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Eccl 12:12)

So, cultivating a mind that can handle the project of apologetics is one thing we need to think about. This mind has to be shaped by scripture, prayer, and philosophical thinking. Moreover, I think we need to be engaged in the history of the Church, a history that is our own history, and we need to be aware of the men and women who came before us. So, in sum,1) engagement with scripture, 2) spiritual disciplines, 3) philosophical thinking, and 4) a knowledge of church history are, in my opinion, foundational for an apologetics ministry. But then, we also need to be aware of the practical burden this puts upon us. This kind of study leads to a lot of abstract thinking, and abstract thought can often become a distraction from the concrete realities around us. So, we need to find time for breaks, especially if we have spouses and children that we need to attend to. We need to stay real and in the moment; so part of the apologetics discipline will entail knowing when and how to “turn off our brains.” Lest others perceive us as just being distracted all the time. And yes, this is a sort of personal testimony.

I’m going to do this in two posts, since I want to share more with you. The next post will add something about what I think are the minimal things we need to defend as “mere Christianity” apologists.


(Anthony Costello ) #9


So, another thing that I think is worth emphasizing about the project of Apologetics in the church, is that we want to cultivate apologetical thinking and work at various levels. Not everyone can be a research professor in philosophy of Religion like William Lane Craig, or write on Religious Epistemology like Alvin Plantinga. However, without men and women (for female examples I would point to the likes of Elanore Stump, or Marilyn Adams) at the top echelons of academic philosophy and theology, we would be lost as to how to offset the larger, paradigmatic philosophical systems that are antithetical to the Gospel message. Let’s call this level of engagement the Strategic level of apologetics (I like military terms, since I was in the military). So, you need Strategic level apologists who are interacting and responding to philosophical systems being hatched by major thinkers at top universities.

However, most of us in the church cannot just pick up Alvin Plantinga and start reading away. It takes years of study before you can access that level of knowledge. So, we need people working at what I call the Operational level, where apologists act as translators or messengers of higher-level academic work. The operator apologist (e.g. Ravi, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, Sean McDowell, etc.) can read and get what Craig, Plantinga and others are saying, but message it in a way that makes sense to the rest of the church. I think most of us here are operating at this level; however, some might also be doing their own research as well (that’s you @SeanO!)

But, I like to think there is also another, equally important, albeit neglected level of apologetics. Let’s call this the tactical level. This is the average pastor, youth pastor, college pastor, Sunday school mom, etc., who reads and accesses the works of those at the operational level, and just teaches it to his or her church kids and young adults. This is the day-to-day work of getting as many people in your church interested and excited about thinking apologetically. Every church should be trying to develop apologetics teams like this, that access the mid-range stuff and do their best to disseminate it out into their communities.

In sum, I think all three levels of engagement are necessary. If you don’t have the folks at the top, the Strategists, developing sophisticated arguments or doing top-notch historical research, then the folks at the operational level have little to work with; they are left unsupplied to fight the evangelistic battle. Moreover, if you don’t have those folks at the operational level, the average church-goer is lost, because they don’t have the time or resources to access and grasp the Strategic folks at the top. They need the Operators to do the job of translating apologetical content to them. Finally, without the Tacticians, the people who need apologetics the most never get it. Without the Sunday school teachers and High School pastors actually teaching the stuff on a regular basis, we leave our kids with no intellectual weapons to go out onto the spiritual battlefield.

Hope this helps,

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #10

Hello @Daniel_Paterson. I’ve seen you speak in our church before in Christ’s Commission Fellowship. You talked about “Where is God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering?.” I pray that the Lord would give you wisdom on how you would best address your coming talk. I’ll try to answer your questions, and I hope that they would somehow be of help to you.

“1. What is your dream vision for apologetics and the Church? What’s the goal?”

This question reminds me of what I learned in ekklesiology about the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church is threefold: Ministry to God (Worship), Ministry to Believers (Nurture), and Ministry to the World (Evangelism and Mercy). My dream vision for apologetics in the church is for it to be used in making sure that the purposes of the church are fulfilled.

“2. What strategies can you see leading to it? How would you develop apologetics in the Church?”

There are many ways that could lead to the purposes of the church being fulfilled through apologetics. One thing I could think of is to look at the reality of the world and the local church where we are situated. Being familiar with the idols of the culture and the people in the church, and also their misconceptions about God could help us develop good apologetic topics, which could help the people of God worship Him for who He truly is. We need this, because it’s primary in apologetics that we set apart Christ as Lord.

We should be familiar with the needs of Christians in the culture where we are situated. To nurture them is to build them up to maturity in the faith. Like we should know about the common questions that Christians deal with in their Christian life. Based on those needs, we can develop theologically sound, and existentially relevant topics that could help them in maturing more in their faith. This will help them see that apologetics is not merely an abstract idea which does not help them in their daily lives. We can develop ways as well where we could teach others on how to live an apologetic life, so that they would be able to do it on their own, and be equipped to train others.

Being familiar with the reality of the culture where a local church is situated could be beneficial in evangelism and mercy as well. Like Jesus, the church would be able to serve the physical needs in case for outreach, and familiarity will help us know how to communicate the gospel well. We will be able to know what topic to best train Christians for evangelism, like for example, if the church community is situated in a secular city, then arguments related to secularism would be the best topics to be used for training Christians, so that they would be more effective in addressing the arguments. If a church is situated where the main thing that keeps people away from the gospel is Roman Catholicism and cults, then in order to be effective, the church would formulate and teach topics related to that.

“3. What stories do you have where this has been done well?”

I’ve been helping my Chapter Director in Ratio Christi in the University of the Philippines for a number of years now. We both advocate grassroots apologetics where we make it understandable for everyone as much as possible. He formulated a method, which is easy to be reproduced, and I saw how he had talked about it on some churches. For me he has produced a material, which would start from doubt to doxology. For me, his method helps in making sure that the dream vision I have for the church regarding apologetics is to be realized, because it addresses things which makes a Christian unable to worship God properly, aside from addressing the intellectual objections. There’s a personal aspect to it as well, which really helps in a Christian’s sanctification.

(Daniel Paterson) #11

Thanks everyone for your thoughts! I’ll be gleaning through these responses to draw out what I can that will serve the Church well. Perhaps I’ll work on putting the talk / manuscript into a workable format for everyone as a resource.