Tom Gilson

How to Use Apologetics In Your Teaching Without Scaring Anyone Away

First in a series.

Apologetics. In church. How many times have I heard people say, “Apologetics? What’s that?” I’m still talking about people in church, you understand.

Not to rush too quickly to judgment, though, there are reasons people react that way. They think it’s a dry subject for intellectuals, if they think of it at all. Maybe they’ve heard it taught that way; some of it can be pretty academic, after all. Or they think it’s an affront to faith: “Why should I have to prove why I believe? God’s word is all I need!” Or they’ve associated it with unseemly arguments, and they’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t do any good anyway.

Project 360 is a new initiative run by a team including Tim and Lydia McGrew, Mia Langford, and me, whose purpose is

To combat the erosion of the Christian faith, utilizing the best content of the past and present to create high-quality, low-cost resources that will make an enduring impact on the future.


To create a community of passionate, articulate defenders of the Christian faith who use our resources to engage with honest seekers and to build up the character and confidence of believers, one person at a time.

Our most central, unique resource is the Library of Historical Apologetics.

Apologetics doesn’t have to be like any of that. In fact, there are lots of reasons that kind of thinking is wide of the mark. We could try to talk people out of thinking that way — or we could teach apologetics anyway, without frightening them off with any of that. We could even do it without even letting on that’s what we’re doing.

With this post I’m starting a series in cooperation with Project 360 on using apologetics in Christian teaching, without scaring anyone away.

Facing the Questions

My favorite model in this is recently retired pastor Timothy Keller, whose sermons I’ve listened to often via podcast. Keller was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. If you’ve been to New York, you know how seriously New Yorkers take themselves. The King’s College, located in the Empire State Building, used to advertise itself as the “college at the center of the known universe.”

Not much pride there. It’s a Christian college, I hasten to add, and the advertisement was thoroughly tongue-inc-cheek; but still it worked, and it wouldn’t have, if New Yorkers didn’t have a certain air about them. That air includes a healthy dose of skepticism toward all things religious, along with a fairly respectable level of creative and intellectual prowess.

Keller knew that, and he was wise. So frequently in the course of teaching his way through a topic or a passage of Scripture, he’d pause and say something like, “Now, here’s where New Yorkers sometimes have a problem with that.” He’d name the problem, and he’d address it square on.

The problem might be an issue with believing something could be true. It might be about believing it’s good; that is, being skeptical that biblical ethics are better than contemporary progressive tolerance and the like. It might be a matter of, “Suppose I believed that — I could still never do what you’re saying.” Keller didn’t force any questions on the text or on his audience; he just identified ones that were bound to be there.

Building on the Model

That’s the model I intend to build on, and branch off from, in this extended series on teaching with apologetics. It’s not going to be about New York, obviously; it will be more oriented toward questions we’re all likely to run into anywhere, on the Internet or through the media. It will be Scripture-based but audience- and question-aware. I won’t just draw from Keller, good though he is, for I intend to make this my own opportunity for study and teaching.

I think it’s going to be interesting. Hope you’ll come along!

Image Credit(s): Pixabay/3dman_eu/Tom Gilson.


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