How do we best reach people with apologetics in the digital age?

Hi Jose,

I’m preparing an Apologetics course for a local church in southern California. The audience will be made up of high school and college age students. Here is my question/concern:

In teaching Apologetics today (as opposed to say 30 years ago), it seems to me that the epistemological landscape has shifted drastically with the rise of technology and the instantaneous access to information. What I mean is that let’s say you were at a church in 1985 listening to an evening talk on apologetics by J.W. Montgomery or someone comparable. You receive a heavy dose of arguments and evidence for the Christian faith. You feel confident in the rationality of your belief and perhaps even over-confident since you aren’t aware of any challenges to the material that has just been presented to you. You go home, watch the Incredible Hulk on TV and never think much about it again. If you were, by chance, an extremely curious Christian maybe you would try and find some counter-evidence or counter-arguments to the talk you just heard, but to do so you would literally have to go down to the library and start looking for books on atheism, agnosticism or what-not. Perhaps you find Russell’s “Why I am not A Christian” but by that point you’ve probably jumped through to many hoops to really care about reading it. You’re content with what the speaker presented to you at church the night before. You can rest assured that your faith is reasonable beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Flash forward to today. You (or me) are giving a similar presentation in a church (whether in India or the US, it probably wouldn’t matter too much, at least not with regard to the level of access to the Internet and Youtube, etc.) I present a version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It goes well, but within seconds some member in the audience has googled the KCA and found Graham Oppy (or someone elses’) response to the KCA. They don’t need to necessarily understand it, they just need to be aware of it to bring it up as a contention to what I have just taught. Now, Graham Oppy is far more intelligent than I am, and I cannot really respond (at least not right away) to his contention. So, my point is this, how can we present evidence and arguments for the Christian faith that 1) does not overstate the case, and 2) that takes into account the reality that our audience will be able to almost instantaneously access counter-arguments and counter-evidence by atheists, agnostics, or other types of skeptics. This is what I mean when I say that I think the epistemological playing ground has shifted dramatically. Counter-evidence to any apologetical position I teach can be produced right away simply by using a smart phone.

Any thoughts on this?

Tony

P.S. I have a MA in Apologetics from Biola and an MA in Theology as well, so I am fairly well informed with regards to counter-positions and counter-apologetics, but I am trying to develop a method that will not just present relevant arguments, but that will be more pedagogical for my students. Does that make sense?

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Dear Tony,
Thank you for your question. It’s such a crucial one.

One of things Dr. Zacharias keeps insisting, and we keep reminding ourselves of, especially when we are in our team huddles is that we are ministering to people, not just transmitting information. And so, we keep asking, ‘What will it take for this person to move one step closer to knowing the truth about Jesus.’

Now, it might sound daunting if one were required to ask this question as the baseline for every debate, lecture, talk, or even conversation. But, my experience (and that of many on our team) is that it not only becomes easier as we continue to seek to do this, but it is also a deeply soul-satisfying experience. It helps us bridge our intellect with our spirits, and open ourselves to staying in conversation with the Holy Spirit.

On a different note, this is also a reflection of, at a deeper level, the ‘post-truth’ culture. People seldom accepte anything because an ‘authority figure’ has said it. Like you have experienced yourself, if you go with Dr. Craig to establish your point, I will use ‘xyz’, and it matters very little whether that person even knows what he is talking about. I should, but sadly it does not.

Engaging at a ‘narrative level’ with propositions/ arguments, embedded in it is, in my view, the way forward. Actually, it is what we see in the Gospels, and in much of Church history. There is a draw towards because there is a willingness to step into.

Hope this helps, Tony

Jose

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Jose,

Yes, thank you very much. As I work through preparing my slides and my approach I realize I really need to speak existentially to the students as much as cognitively. I think you are saying as much when you reference the “post-truth” culture and engaging at the “narrative level.” My goal will be not just to present arguments, but to use Apologetics to develop the mind and the spiritual life of my students. One of my professors here at Biola, Clay Jones, used to say that apologetics should be more like a spiritual discipline. I agree. I want to train students so that they can meet challenges on there own as opposed to just receiving a bunch of data.

And, as you pointed out, it is the Holy Spirit that bridges the chasm between the head and the heart. God bless you in you ministry.

your brother in Christ,
Tony

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