How to Get Apologetics in Your Church 2: The ‘Reasonable Faith?’ Course at Highfield Church, Southampton
The ‘Reasonable Faith?’ Course at Highfield Church, Southampton
For five years now Highfield Church Southampton has run a yearly ‘Reasonable Faith?’ apologetics course. We have a presence on our church website (cf. www.highfield.org.uk/reasonablefaith), including a recording archive of talks going back to 2010.
We try to pitch our material to be useful both to Christians looking for a more grounded faith and for the non-Christians who come along. However abstract some of the discussions might get, we always try to tie our subjects back to the gospel and the choice facing everyone as to how they respond to Jesus.
The course is organized by a core team of myself (Philosopher in Residence at the Southampton based Damaris Trust www.damaris.org), Dr Peter May (former UCCF chair and a retired local GP) and Keith Fox (Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Southampton and Chair of ‘Christians in Science’ www.cis.org.uk). Between us we have a good spread of life experience, subject knowledge and the occasional collegiate theological disagreement! This is actually quite useful in that it helps us to make the distinction between Christianity and our own personal theology or way of being Christian. ‘Reasonable Faith?’ is an opportunity to explore the foundations and ramifications of the Christian ‘way’ (cf. John 14:6, Acts 11:26 & 22:4), not an opportunity for us to make Christian clones of ourselves!
In consultation with our church leadership we organize the course, invite guest speakers, give talks and take turns at chairing. In finding guest speakers we are aware of the fact that the vast majority of our speakers are male, but we do try to encourage female speakers to address apologetical issues through the course. Those attending are certainly a fairly even mix of male and female. We also try to provide younger Christians with a supported opportunity to give an apologetic talk. We have sometimes found it helpful to gather around us a small team of (younger!) helpers able to chair events and help with practicalities like setting out chairs and washing up.
In recent years we settled into meeting on a Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm for half and hour of tea and cakes before an hour’s meeting consisting of two twenty minute talks each followed by ten minutes of Q&A. Twenty minutes is about the minimum time in which one can say anything useful on any subject, but having two talks in a meeting allows us to cover more topics and have a greater variety of speakers. We have a cake rota that many in the church have signed up for and we meet in our church hall, which has a kitchen facility and a screen with projector for power point presentations. We seat people around tables, café style, and have a very informal atmosphere. We often break for extra tea half way through as speakers change over their notes and power points (we don’t always have power point, but we encourage it and try to set a good example in its use).
Since we end before the evening service some people come to both, while people from other churches in the area can come to ‘Reasonable Faith?’ but go on to their own meetings afterwards. We have also attracted some non-Christians, including (from time to time) members of the Southampton University atheist society! Numbers vary according to topic, the time of year, the weather and how much sport is showing on TV, but we get between 15 and 50 people each week for a ten-twelve week course.
The last few years have seen us alternating between a general apologetics course with a ‘classical’ topic structure (e.g. covering arguments for God, the historicity of the New Testament, the claims and resurrection of Jesus, etc) and a more thematic course such as ‘Apologetic issues through the Bible’ or ‘Ethics: Reasonable Answers?’—looking at a range of contemporary ethical issues from the Christian viewpoint.
The meeting is advertised in church services, the church newssheet and on postcard-sized colour flyers we have made up each term with a programme on the reverse side. We leave these in local pubs, café’s, etc.
Our main disappointment thus far has been the difficulty in attracting Christian students to attend, irrespective of when the course has been run or what topics we are covering. We also used to run a bookstall on sale or return from our local Christian bookshop, but the recession forced them to close and we lost our book-table. So, it hasn’t been plain sailing, but worthwhile things rarely are! On the plus side we have built up many relationships, considered many apologetic issues and recorded many talks available to the broader public.