HOW TO TEACH APOLOGETICS
The great author and poet William Arthur Ward once remarked, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” We see this even in the life of Jesus. He did all of these things and inspired and is still greatly inspiring believers in the world.
The art and science of defending the faith, what we know as apologetics, is something that must be taught. Its not an easy task by any means, and we have to be mindful that we don’t focus merely on the science (the hard facts) or only on the art (connecting these truths to a person’s heart). In much of academia we see a stronger focus on the former, and in much of the church we see a dominant focus on the latter. As Christians we’re to focus on both – to love the Lord our God with both our mind and heart and disciple others to do the same. It’s not a 50/50 agreement where we focus 50% on the mind and 50% on the heart. Its a 100/100 deal where we love God with 100% of our mind and 100% of our heart and teach others to do the same.
So, what does it look like to begin this process?
In my experience I’ve learned that our job as teachers, speakers or trainers is to inspire and to allow the way people learn determine how we teach. John Milton Gregory gives us a concept of teaching that involves exciting and directing a learner’s activities, yet to avoid doing anything for the learner that he can do on his own. It clearly delineates between the two roles involved in the learning process: Teacher/Instructor: primary role as a stimulator and a motivator in the right direction; Learner/Student: primary role as “an investigator, a discoverer, and a doer.”
A good teacher must focus on what his students are doing rather than himself. He must understand a clear goal that he has for his students, and inspire and direct them towards that goal. In our case, we want our students to first know, understand, and fall in love with the gospel, and how to defend it second. In education today we see a much larger focus on memorizing facts and figures, rather than developing deep understanding and wisdom. In fact, I’ve met many people who’ve never set foot in a university lecture hall, yet are some of the wisest people I know. They may not know everything, but they live what they know, and God is using that for his glory.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow has discovered four main levels of learning: unconscious incompetence (you just don’t know it), conscious incompetence (now you know that you don’t know), conscious competence (you’ve learned something – like learning to drive a car), and unconscious competence (you’re so competent that you know without thinking about it, such as knowing how to drive a car so well that you can pretty much think of anything besides driving a car while driving a car). Where you and I want to get people is to the unconscious competence level in apologetics, but this takes a lot of work (work that isn’t entirely up to you, remember?).
Now that we know where we want to go, we need to have a strategy to get there, right? So, here are three levels or goals for you that I suggest as you train others (and possibly even yourself) in apologetics:
1. Teach People How to Think. If you want to change a person permanently, then you want to change the way they think, not merely the way they behave. Behavior is merely a symptom, but just as a surgeon would, we need attack the root of the problem because “as a man thinks so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). We’re not talking about rearranging prejudices. We’re talking about an exacting process of planting seeds in their hearts and minds that will germinate later. You can’t get hung up on one lesson. This is a process with much fertilization by other sources besides yourself, but what you can do is give them a starting point. Sow seeds into your students’ hearts and minds as you go. Connect the truths of Scripture to their lives. Take them to events that will challenge them, such as a debate or a skeptic’s club at a university and have a group discussion afterwards where you can encourage and correct their thinking. Remember, you’re trying to get them to think on their own.
2. Teach People How to Learn. You want to create learners who will perpetuate the learning process for the rest of their lives. Learning is an exciting process, yet we can make this more complex than it needs to be. There’s a process I like to use that I call the Diamond Process (like on a playing card) or Hammock Method. It starts with one point, spreads out where you can fit more parts, and comes back to a point. So, you want to go from the whole (the big picture of the topic) to the parts (break it down, explain it and get technical where you need to) and back to the whole (synthesis, where you review what you’ve said and relate it all back to the big picture and to the learner’s life). With this method a person will leave thinking, “Now I understand this and can use it.” After all, what good is apologetics if we can’t use it for shoring up our own faith and using it in discussions with others? You not only want to use this method when teaching, but you want to teach this method to your students. Nothing sparks a fire for continual learning more that personal discovery.
3. Teach People How to Work. This brings us back to not doing anything for a student that he or she is capable of doing for himself. If you do, you do your student a great disservice by making him an intellectual cripple. In our society of instant information with Google, YouTube, and everything else, its easy to think you need to spoon feed your students, but resist the temptation. We want to train students who desire to work hard to find answers and to understand concepts. We want lifelong learners instead of students who fall into the 42% of students who never read another book again after college. Spend more time questioning them than answering their questions. Love them enough to make them think for themselves, yet, on the other side of that coin, love them enough to give them assistance, encouragement, and direction where needed.
I have the luxury of having many students who have been very well educated, and it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I began to really learn how to study, learn, or bring a sense of order to my understanding of the Scriptures, life, humanity and other things. I have used these methods on myself and with others, and it has tended to be extremely helpful in creating lifelong learners who know what they believe, why they believe it and continue to honor God with their minds, hearts, and lives as they continue to learn (on their own) the Scriptures and how to defend their faith.