Five Tips for Teaching Christian Apologetics

written by Dr. Doug Potter

I have taught Christian apologetics to seventh graders through seminary students. I have done this in a Christian school, church, home, and graduate school; in-person and online. I even helped put it in print. I still find teaching apologetics challenging. Sometimes I feel I have forgotten more apologetics than my students will ever know. 

Over the years I have found that apologetics, in the realm of Christian education, is often misunderstood. For example, apologetics while related to these subjects is not a study of Creationism, Worldviews, Christian Doctrine, Ethics, Evangelism or the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to any student studying these vital subjects. What I am opposed to is calling the study of all or any of these an education in apologetics. So, what is Christian apologetics education? It is a distinct subject of study that concerns the “application of knowledge to demonstrate that Christianity is true.” 

As such, this applies knowledge from three distinct but interconnected subjects: truth from philosophy, the existence of God from natural theology, and Christianity from history. The foundation of philosophy establishes the absolute nature of truth. Upon that is built a theistic worldview that is grounded in the reality of God and miracles. Upon this is the historical claim of Christ to be God incarnate, His resurrection from the dead and teaching that the Bible is the word of God. 

Reasons to teach Apologetics

If asked, I offer three reasons why every Christian school, church, and home should start teaching a systematic course in Christian apologetics. First, the Bible says every believer needs to prepare to give reasoned answers. 

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

(1 Pet 3:15) NASB; emphasis added.

The justification for Christian education incorporating the study of apologetics hangs on the hook that it can help a student be prepared more effectively and efficiently than any other way. 

Second, history demonstrates its use and success. In the 1st century, the Apostle Paul used arguments to respond to Judaism, Hellenism, and early Gnosticism. In the 3rd century, Origen used it to defend the resurrection. Augustine (335-430) used it against Paganism and Thomas Aquinas (1224/5–1274) used it against the intellectual spread of Islam. There are no reasons today’s apologists cannot experience the same level of success if it is used.

Third, a contemporary need exists. Today’s critics leave no room to ignore their objections to Christianity. The thinking person must take them seriously. Apologists must strive to give good answers. Many Christian youths go into the world not knowing why they believe. It does not take long before they question a faith for which they never hear well-reasoned answers. If they go to the University they will be taught so-called “scholarly” views contrary to the Christian faith. If they go elsewhere their non-Christian friends and the media will promote such “scholarly” views as established facts. 

In view of these reasons, I offer the following five helpful tips that may pave a smoother path towards the educational goal of demonstrating the truth of Christianity

1. Apologetics education must be geared towards the believer.

This may seem obvious, but I have watched a teacher, who gets all the answers right, talk right over the heads of their students to the intellectual atheist who is not even in the room. My apologetics teacher was a master at taking the complex and making it understandable. Not simplistic or dumbed down, just understandable. He instilled in me the desire to develop and practice that same skill set. Apologetics education is not about creating a professional apologist anymore than our goal in teaching physics is to create a professional physicist. Teaching apologetics must defend the faith, but it must also strengthen those with faith. The Gospel of Luke shows the careful planning that goes into preparing and delivering knowledge to and for the benefit of the believer:

“I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, …Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”

(Luke 1:1-4 NIV)

2. Apologetics education must be age-appropriate.

I take Jesus’ words and warning in Matthew 18:5-6 seriously,

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

(Matthew 18:5-6 NASB)

As a professional teacher of apologetics, I don’t think we have any business teaching apologetic arguments to children below the age of developed abstract reasoning. Just let a normal Christian education take its course. Let nothing, including apologetics, disrupt the authoritative faith structure the child has between their parents, teachers and the Bible. That does not mean there is nothing related to apologetics to teach at this age. But even when they are older, don’t dumb apologetics down and don’t let reason replace faith. When they’re old enough move to tip #3.

3. Apologetics education must follow a systematic plan.

Not all approaches to apologetics are created equally. Given the definition and reasons above, an educational approach must use a method that shows there are sound and valid systematic arguments to make from ground zero to the absolute truth of Christianity. As shown in the verses above this educational approach must build a positive case for Christianity (Luke 1:1-4) geared towards the believer and answer questions or objections (1 Peter 3:15) of the unbeliever.

Everything one would experience in studying any other subject should be a part of learning apologetics. It is a branch of knowledge to be mastered. On the part of the teacher that includes, objectives, lesson plans, creative teaching techniques, and evaluations. On the part of the student that includes reading a text, writing, listening, working on projects—individually and in groups, as well as taking tests.

4. Apologetics education must be activity-based.

We learn best when we put into practice what we are taught by a respected and knowledgeable teacher. The teacher must provide students the opportunity to succeed and the security to fail with apologetics, all with a view of developing a lifelong apologetics learner. One thing I realize; I really do not “know” something until I use it, repeatedly. The more I use it, the more it becomes a part of me. My students often tell me that the most meaningful thing I did was “force” them to use apologetics and then reflect and report on it. This can be done in many ways. For youth, I use games and role-playing. For older students, I use in-house debates, mock radio or TV programs or have them talk with someone with a non-Christian worldview. Learning apologetics is also a great opportunity for integrating knowledge from many other subjects.

5. Apologetics education must recognize its limitations.

Apologetics can only show that Christianity is true in its central claims such as “truth is absolute,” “God exists,” “God raised Jesus from the dead” and “the Bible is the word of God.” It cannot cause someone to believe in Christ. That is left to their will and the work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrine discovered solely in Scripture must be accepted on the authority of God and His word. But as my apologetics teacher always reminded us, “God never bypasses the mind on the way to the heart.”

Sometimes I am asked if apologetics will keep a son or daughter from leaving the faith. People may walk away from the faith for all kinds of reasons. All I can say is that if they received apologetics education, especially as outlined above, at least it was not because of a failure to teach them good reasons why Christianity is true. 

Keep in mind, young people tend to be what their parents are. The most important person to help youth stay in the faith is you. Don’t forget to ask yourself, what are you doing to improve your knowledge and skills in Christian apologetics?

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