by Adrian Urias
The apologetics group in my church was started by bringing the demand to light to my minister. Because evangelism is a very central part of my church’s identity, I had some of the other members of my church talk to my minister about a recent experience they had while sharing their faith on their college campus, where they were stumped, even scared, when they came across a skeptic. The skeptic might dismiss the Christian student by citing the popular Zeitgeist, or by accusing us of starting countless wars, being so “anti-this” and “anti-that,” and the Christian is left speechless, searching their brains for scripture verses to counter their claims, only to realize that its for these exact reasons they won’t even begin to listen to the Word. What’s a poor Christian undergraduate to do?
Basic economics tell us that successful people find a demand and supply it, and I applied the same principle for my church’s group. Because of the popularity of the short film Zeitgeist, demand was present, so we looked at some in depth answers like how some of the other “messianic figures” are not in fact parallels with Jesus, and we covered how we can easily communicate this in conversation.
But meeting demand is simply not all that is needed. To keep the members coming back, I needed to provide more services. We answered some of our basic questions (you can only talk about Zeitgeist for so long) but those were limited, and soon enough, we ran out of material, and thus, demand began to slip away. So attendance began to dwindle.
Bill Craig, in his fantabulous book Reasonable Faith, makes a distinction between positive and negative apologetics. I realized that our first segment dealt with negative apologetics, just “defending the faith” and not examining the faith our condemnatory skeptics held. So progress was made when I came up with a curriculum which included Natural Theology, Natural Atheology, Cults, and Popular Culture in order to not only know that what we believe is founded on solid ground, but to help others realize that their beliefs are built on sand. I guess you could say that this change was one of being more outwardly focused. This raised attendance and, to my surprise, highly raised enthusiasm.
With a new demand in place, I had to learn how to supply it. So I tried to make it more fun and personal. We organized fundraisers to help pay to go to conferences, and though we reached our goal perhaps 50% of the time, the time and energy spent together created some very strong bonds. For example, in a previous fundraiser, we got together to make cookies and ceviche. Something about making food together really reminds us of how much a family we are supposed to be under Christ.
To further supply this enthusiasm, it was helpful to make names (like Hitchens, Craig, Harris, and other people with a lot of visibility) familiar, to give them something of a celebrity. At the beginning of our group meetings, a conversation would sound like, “So did you see the interview Hitchens did with Anderson Cooper?” “I sure did.” “Ok, lets pray for him now…” Then we would pray, and it kept the energy of the group up. If someone like Craig would come to our area and give a lecture, the group would get excited, and they would jump up and down, and say something, “Oh, we have to go! We have to go! How much money do we have to raise?!” It would seem as if Bono or some other famous personality was coming to town. Promoting names like that can be very helpful in keeping interest, and once the group is excited and they actually get to go see lectures from people like that, a good and distinguished memory results, and they associate it with the apologetics group. Then, of course, they’ll come back for more.
Another lesson I’ve learned leading an entire group is firm leadership. Because the group is composed entirely of undergraduates, immaturity may be problematic sometimes. I’ve had to learn to really lead the conversation, shrewdly but innocently, and remind them of the real issue at hand, or else they wont learn anything, and if they don’t learn anything, then I haven’t taught anything, and if none of that has happened, then the purpose of having an apologetics group is diminished.
As a leader of an apologetics group, the testing of my patience helped reveal my heart to me. Proverbs 18:2 reads, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” I realized that if I was leading a group like this, I had to do it for the right reasons, namely because I loved the lost, and I want to make their transition to Christ as smooth as possible. I admit, at first, I was leading off of my own strength and that lead to disaster when my patience would be tested. I would just throw up my hands, and say ‘I give up!’ Apologists can have a notorious, though probably deserved, reputation of having problems with humility. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If you are leading a group like this, you have to be in it because you really love people, not because you want to show yourself off. If that happens, then nobody will come to the meetings anymore. As the saying goes, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
But regardless of the some of the irritations, it’s a very delightful experience and I recommend to everybody who has a passion, or maybe even just a small flame for it, to start something similar. The following is my advice, and may God bless your efforts.
Get a whiteboard. This could be one of the make it or break it factors. You can get a 20×30 inch whiteboard at Wal-Mart for about $20. It’s a wonderful resource, and it keeps the group on track and it makes it clear what the issue is, and gives it a familiar classroom feel.
Give books away. This can be very cheap. There are $1 books stores popping up everywhere, and if you browse through the religion sections, you can always find Strobel, C.S. Lewis, and medieval philosophers, and if you give one away say once every other week, it keeps members coming back, and they can’t complain that materials cost too much money.
Be active. Feel free to take the group on “field trips” to a conference, or to a museum for an apologetics scavenger hunt. It creates bonds, creates memories, and builds up family.
Be a leader. This means preparing lessons in advance, doing research, and controlling large groups. As a college student, this may not be easy, but it is crucial. Without you giving direction, the group won’t learn. Be strong, but be gentle, and don’t comprise either one.
Be evangelistic. This isn’t just about learning, it’s about saving souls. It reminds the entire group that apologetics isn’t just for fun (which can often be easily equivocated as “unnecessary”), but has real life application, and perhaps eternal consequences.
Noumenal Society of Apologetics meets in Long Beach, CA every Monday night at 7:30
We are affiliated with the LA International Church of Christ