How to Teach Apologetics
by Matt Walker
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.”
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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…