The other day, somebody emailed me requesting advice about starting an apologetics group in their church. I thought some other folk might be interested in the question and so I offer my musings here.
Too often, I see church apologetics groups become a self-insulated group where individuals share like-minded interests … like watching and discussing Bill Craig debate videos and reading Lee Strobel books. But beyond that, it never goes anywhere. This isn’t necessarily bad, of course, but an apologetics group could be so much more.
So I would suggest two things: first, as a group, you should consider actively how you can serve the church and help equip people. That means not simply talking to each other within the group but finding ways to reach out and equip the laity. Talk to the pastors or church leadership. See how you can work together in a common vision of equipping people to have a reason for the hope within.
Second, and perhaps even more importantly, I would suggest actively reaching out to other groups from other belief communities to facilitate dialogue so as better to understand one another. Too often, novice apologists want to get to arguments without first devoting sufficient time to listening. They read what Christians have to say about Muslims or atheists, but they never actually talk to a Muslim or atheist. And so, when they finally do, their cup is already full of assumptions about the other person and a long list of rebuttals to whatever they might say.
Here’s my philosophy on apologetics and dialogue/debate: There is no better way to get to know what you believe than to spend time talking with folks who don’t believe it.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know some people at the Society of Edmonton Atheists here where I live. I’ve spoken at their group a couple of times and participated in a debate that they co-hosted. I’ve also participated in dialogues with Catholics at my seminary and other ecumenical events. (Ecumenists are not that keen on debate, however, so I leave that for other times!) I also have participated in debates and dialogues at churches (including my own) both with atheists and Muslims. Afterward, we always made a point of hosting a reception to encourage participants to speak to one another.
So the Bill Craig debate videos and Lee Strobel books are fine. But it’s important that you’re intentional about moving out of the insular group and into a spirit of service and potentially life-changing conversations.