by Brian Auten
A Reasonable Faith Chapter is simply a study group focusing on the rational defense of classical Christianity. Reasonable Faith Chapters are the result of an initiative by Christian theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig (www.reasonablefaith.org) to help equip believers to be able to give a confident defense of their faith.
Chapters can be small, medium, or large groups of people who want to explore important issues about Christianity more deeply. Through the use of apologetics materials and tools (books studies, DVDs, lectures, etc.), each group has the freedom and flexibility to develop programs suited to their local needs and interests. A group meets at least once a month.
Chapters can be based in churches, or non-church-based. Both are encouraged. However, the steps outlined below reflect a church-based group.
How Do I Start a Chapter?
There are a few steps involved in getting started. Although no particular credentials are required to start a group, there is an application process involved to ensure that the chapter leader is adequately equipped for the task.
First, one should check out the Reasonable Faith Chapters website.
Four steps are described:
1. Complete and submit the application. The application asks for your name and contact info.
2. In the chapter application, affirm your belief in the theological distinctives.
3. Provide a narrative of how you came to faith in Christ and describe your spiritual walk today.
4. Submit thorough answers to the Study Guide questions for Reasonable Faith 3rd Ed.
This initial application process is not a difficult task. But the study required in completing the Reasonable Faith Study Guide does take time and a good deal of study.
The Study Guide is based upon the book by William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith. This is Dr. Craig’s signature apologetics text, covering a rich amount of material. Perhaps the description of the book from the Study Guide website will provide the best overview of what the reader and potential Chapter Director can expect:
Each chapter systematically and carefully positions each main apologetic issue within its historical development and then interacts with formidable contemporary scholars on relevant topics. Each chapter ends with a closing reflection, intended to show the real-life applicability of what has been discussed. All chapters provide a resourceful list of cited and recommended sources for further study.
Given the immense diversity of topics, questions, and concerns in Christian apologetics, immaturity of leadership is not an option. It is paramount that a reliable guide, a wise influencer in the arena of apologetic ideas, and an experienced trainer, leads us. William Lane Craig is exactly that author to lead other hearts and minds. The arguments in Reasonable Faith have been tried, tested and found to work because they are sound; they have been honed in rigorous debate, peer-reviewed and critiqued in scholarly publications, and refined by the precision and calmness of a seasoned philosopher.
Craig’s approach of “positive apologetics” gives careful attention to crucial questions and concerns, including: the relationship of faith and reason, the existence of God, the problems of historical knowledge and miracles, the personal claims of Christ, and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Craig shows that there is good and convincing reason to believe Christianity is true.
The amount of time it takes to complete the reading along with completing the study guide questions will vary from person to person. But rest assured, it will be a rewarding investment. Once you submit your study guide answers via email, Chris Shannon (the RF Initiative Director) will assist you by going through your study guide to see if you have mastered the material. Depending on your answers, you may have revisions to do.
Casting the Vision
Before, during, or after this application process, you will need to cast the vision for this group to those who will be involved in it. This includes pastors, elders, church members, and the like. It is imperative to have the full support of your local church leadership if you want your group to be in order, successful, and well-supported.
Speak to your pastor and/or elders. Express your interest in issues defending the faith and your desire to see the local body adequately equipped. If they are not already familiar with the work of William Lane Craig, it may be helpful to introduce your pastor or leaders with some of his materials in advance. Your current relationship with your pastor as well as the leadership structures within your local church will play the main role in assessing what the best approach is in casting your vision for the Chapter.
In my case (Reasonable Faith Belfast), I presented the idea to our main pastor and he was open to the idea. He suggested I also present this to some of the elders for their input. They were also excited about the idea, and it seemed to be perfect timing with some of the goals they were already working toward.
In our case, we agreed on a preliminary 6-session trial. We thought this would be a wise approach for a few reasons. First, if you put an indefinite time frame on a recurring meeting, people will drop out too easily, as momentum is lost. You need to have a clear outline or goal. Second, if the initial angle we took did not work well, it would allow us to stop and reassess our approach. Finally, we realized that summer would be coming and many people would be away on holidays during that time. Some seasons don’t work well for recurring small group meetings.
Getting the Word Out
The next step is to let the congregation know what the plan is. There are a number of ways to do this, but here are a few that worked for RF Belfast.
First, we put an announcement in the bulletin describing the group. We didn’t call it a “chapter.” We called it the Reasonable Faith Group. The word group is easily understood. The word “chapter” is not clear. We also did not include the word “apologetics” anywhere. This is another word that people either don’t understand or they misunderstand. All that can be avoided by simply talking about “is Christianity rational?” – “Can we know God exists?” – “How do you respond to the tough questions?” – “Has science buried God?” – and the like.
I made an announcement in church using a powerpoint that included three quotes from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Bart Ehrman. I presented their views and then asked questions like, “Are they right? How do you respond to that? Are there good answers?” I then briefly talked about the fact that we do have good answers and we must be equipped in these important issues. Then I told them about the Reasonable Faith Group.
Response was good, with people signing up at the back of the church at the end of the service. Emails were gleaned as well in order to remind people of the upcoming meetings.
What Does it Look Like?
If you have been reading the “How to Get Apologetics in Your Church” series, then you already have an idea of what a group like this looks like. But each group will look different and does have the freedom to create a format that is the most conducive for group study and teaching.
At Reasonable Faith Belfast, we meet in a medium-sized room with chairs and sofas. The powerpoint projector points toward the far wall and is used for outlining the topic for the evening. Tea and coffee are outside the room. There is dialogue, questions and answers, and teaching. Video clips (Case for Christ, Case for a Creator, Case for Faith, Privileged Planet, etc.) are used to introduce or illustrate certain points. Whatever apologetic topic we are studying, we use scripture as our foundation and aim to keep Christ at the center.
Our meetings are every two weeks, meeting on Monday evenings from 7:30pm to 9:30pm. We have a ten to fifteen minute tea break in the middle to chat and stretch our legs.
Our first 6-session group was well-received. After the summer break we resumed for another 6-session series. Our first series covered a wide overview of apologetics topics, including arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the New Testament, the resurrection, and some hard questions. We have also tried to keep the practical aspects of “how this plays out in real life” at the forefront. This means always bringing the theoretical back to practical application in soul-winning or evangelistic encounters with friends and family.
This second series, we are working through William Lane Craig’s newer On Guard book, which is well-suited for group study. We have also incorporated videos to augment the material and will also be conducting a skype conference call with Dr. Craig for question and answer on some of the tougher issues.
Although there are other means of starting apologetics groups within the church, I have found that being under the “umbrella” of William Lane Craig’s ministry initiative has been a very good thing. For one, it provided initiative for me to start something that I may not have done “on my own” at the time. Second, it provided a sort of template that I could follow. The combination of the small group idea along with the study material and application process allowed me to take tangible steps in the right direction. Finally, having a community of other Reasonable Faith Chapter directors popping up all over the globe with the same passion and goal is a real encouragement. To know others are tackling the same challenges and enjoying the same victories gives me added motivation.
If you have read through (or listened to) this short essay and you think this is something you should do, then here is my encouragement to you: move forward and take the first step. Be prayerful, be wise, but take action — and may God bless your efforts as you advance His kingdom.
For more information, you may be interested in my interview with Chris Shannon here.