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Apologetics as an outreach strategy
Answering questions, promoting discussion
apologetics: the branch of theology concerned with the defense and rational justification of Christianity (Collins English Dictionary)
Although many non-Christians have no interest in discussing apologetics issues with Christians, there are some who have the mindset to ask questions and debate issues. Indeed, in the modern world where there is no longer any consensus about truth and values, apologetics can still be strategic. However, we must recognize that the world is changing fast. Apologetic methods which worked 20 years ago may no longer engage with people; apologist Lee Strobel explains why the face of apologetics is changing and becoming more relational and story-driven in our new digital communication culture.
The evangelical world is often not equipped to answer these questions.
There are two little-noticed verses in Acts which shows that Paul spent two years running an apologetics discussion ministry in a secular meeting hall in Corinth. And in many other incidents in Paul’s ministry, we find the word ‘discuss’ appearing again and again. It is very significant that research into adult education shows how people learn best in an interactive discussion environment in which their current views are respected. A preachy dogmatic approach is neither effective not biblical. Alpha-style courses are also in part an apologetic outreach.
Apologetics websites which are designed for non-Christians, or allow Christians and non-Christians to debate issues through bulletin board postings, can be very effective.
Unlike bridge strategy sites which address secular issues or felt needs first, most apologetics sites can engage immediately with questions of faith. Of course, apologetics answers can be a component of other types of evangelistic site – for instance Power to Change.
Apologetics, no bulletin-board discussionThese sites aim to answer questions about the faith and may be written either for non-Christians or for a mixed Christian/non-Christian audience:
- Christian Answers – very comprehensive resource in a range of languages from Eden Communications, aiming to offer answers to a broad range of questions at a popular level. Part of the RBC Ministries site is apologetic: Reasons to Believe.
- Rational Christianity – reasoned answers – including for skeptics.
- Leadership University – a very comprehensive set of pages which are mainly apologetic in character. Many pages are written particularly for non-Christians, though there is material here to help believers too. Target readers are student level and above. LeaderU is a ministry of Campus Crusade. Sign up for the occasional newsletter focusing on new site material.
- Ocean – an evangelistic apologetic site which also aims to meet people through felt needs.
- Mente Abierta – Spanish language apologetic-approach evangelistic page aimed at those seeking intellectual answers. One of very few pages aimed to reaching the 400 million Hispanic community.
- World Religion Index a look at different religious beliefs from a Christian viewpoint.
- Answering Islam and Into the Light address apologetics issues for Muslims – who, being absolutists, are often eager to discuss points of belief.
- All about God – answering common hangups of inquirers
Apologetics discussionThese sites major on discussion and interaction between Christians and non-Christians, usually by means of online bulletin boards. Frequently, they are targeting those with quite an intellectual mindset.
- Jesus.com.au is a growing resource with helpful discussion of apologetics issues, including other religions and science.
- The Debate is designed "to give Muslims an opportunity to discover the Truth about Christ and what Christians believe".
- Unravelling Wittgenstein's Net – fairly intellectual discussion.
- Debating Christianity and Religion – Bulletin Board forum.
- St. Johnny.com – Bulletin Board and articles
Evangelistic apologetics on CDThe Quest is a unique outreach approach to apologetics on a CD. Its target readership is young thinking people and students 16+. With a low-key, non-confrontational, unpreachy communication style, it takes readers through an imaginary desert quest “into the heart of spirituality”. Quest areas to explore include: The Quest for Meaning, Ultimate Reality, Right and Wrong, Self-Understanding, Knowledge, and Real Spirituality. Readers can drill down into any subject in increasing depth if they wish, and also follow external web links too. The CD is using the principles of permission evangelism in an effective way.
Check The Quest site for more information, sample pages and reviews.
Questioning FaithMany (maybe most) Christians have unanswered questions or serious doubts about areas of faith. Some find these conflicts so severe that they may cease church attendance. Inquirers too may have highly legitimate questions, yet find no answers. Yet to voice these questions, or attempt to find a way through, is seen as highly threatening by the church at large, sinful, or ‘rocking the boat’. Rarely do sermons address such issues. There are few forums where people can raise such questions in a safe environment. It really is a ‘love that dare not speak its name’. Questioning Faith was created by Ruth A. Tucker, the author of Walking Away From Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2002). Christians can submit their difficult questions, and read those from others. Primarily for Christians, but may touch inquirers too.
Making apologetics meaningfulWriters of apologetics sites should be aware of the danger of presenting the faith only in impersonal intellectual or doctrinal terms. The goal is still to offer Jesus as a friend who wants to meet people’s deepest needs. Take note of the style used in Lee Strobel’s books The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. He says:
“One of the scholars I interviewed for The Case for Christ predicted nobody would read the book. His theory was that we live in a post-modern culture of radical relativism, and therefore nobody is interested in historical evidence any more.Strobel was a journalist with the Chicago Tribune before becoming a pastor, and therefore understands the vital importance of using journalistic rather than preaching techniques in his communication.
As it turned out, he was wrong. People are still interested in what’s true and what isn’t; whether ChristianitY is a faiRy tale or based on history; and whether there are good answers to tough questions about the faith. In fact, the biggest single group of people who have come to faith through the book have been 16-24 year-olds. That is why we subsequently published a Youth Edition of the book.
However, I definitely agree that we need to present the evidence in a new way for a new generation. I believe one of the reasons for the success of The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith is that they incorporate story. They are not explanations of facts; instead they tell the true story of an atheist who took the time to systematically investigate where there’s any substance to Christianity. They use techniques of narrative and testimony to communicate the essential truths of the Christian faith.”
Apologetics for ChristiansThere are also many apologetics sites designed to equip Christians to understand their faith better, and to know how to answer questions they are asked:
- Questions and answers – how to answer those problems that non-Christians raise
- CARM – detailed resource
related pages within the Effective communication menu links
recommended books including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry