We've had a lot of success talking apologetics with students over the years. From Apologetics Moments at Large Group gatherings to Apologetics Small Groups, we've seen students enjoy digging into the conversations.
Lately, I've found apologetics to be an easy on-ramp for potential volunteers. Interested people can train themselves in apologetics by reading books and watching lectures on-line. I've also discovered that several local churches have taken the time and money to train church members to have apologetic conversations. So, how do we figure out if they're ready to engage students?
Here are the questions I ask potential apologetics volunteers:
What have you read? Who are some of your favorite apologetics writers?
This is one way to surface which tribe of apologists the potential volunteer belongs to. Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, Greg Bahnsen, Amy Orr-Ewing, David Kinnaman, Ken Ham and Thomas Aquinas belong to different tribes. They each offer something unique to the conversation.
I need to know where my volunteers are coming from before I toss them into life on campus. Some will fit in great with what we're doing. Others will really struggle. And still others will make me want to pull my hair out.
And for the ones who will fit in well with what we want to see happen on campus, different apologetic tribes work better in different arenas. A Zacharias person would fit well with philosophy majors. A McDowell person will fit great with new believers. An Orr-Ewing person would fit with a student raised in a Christian home asking questions as they consider making their parents' faith their own.
It's important to get the right volunteers on campus.
It's important to get your volunteers in the right place.
What apologetics topics do you expect to come up more often on campus?
This is a way to check my profile from the previous question. I may expect a Bahnsen fan to angle toward presuppositional questions, but they may talk about hypocrisy (something that I would profile as a Kinnaman topic). Tribes aren't absolute and stereotypes aren't always right. We use stereotyping to help us efficiently navigate a complex world, but we frequently need to check our stereotypes to see if they hold true in specific cases (this is also a great principle for cross-cultural ministry).
This question also gives me a gauge on the potential volunteer's experience with this generation of college students. Some questions were really popular in the 90's and aren't being asked on campus anymore. Churches are still training people to answer these questions (and perhaps they're being asked in some circles, even if not on campus). If a volunteer has current experience and extensive experience, it will show up in this question.
How would you tackle that topic?
I usually pick one of the topics they mention in the previous question. Listening to them work gives me a gauge for how they would do with students. Is their answer combative? vague? abstract? narrow? sensitive? relevant? focused?
I had a conversation this week with a potential volunteer about the problem of evil. Though he was a McDowell fan, he didn't shift the conversation to Jesus. Instead, he launched into the free will theodicy (which is a fancy way of saying that God isn't to blame for evil because he just gave us free will and we abused it). His answer was great and true. I'd be happy to have him give it in a Q&A session. But it needed some work. It didn't account for natural evils, like floods and earthquakes (an important conversation with Haitian students). And it didn't account for the pastoral angle on the question (there's small comfort in theodicy).
I recommended some additional books to read (Evil and the Cross and How Long, O Lord?) and explained how I think they would help.
Asking this question does two things:
- It helps me get a feel for their level of competency
- It helps me identify developmental areas
One of the best things about working with volunteers is that we get to help them do what they love even better.
What sort of students do you think would benefit from apologetics on campus?
This opens the door for the expectations conversation.
A lot of people expect hard-core atheists to be attracted to apologetics on campus. And I've met a few. But atheists are rare on college campuses nowadays. More often than not, the sort of student who comes to an apologetics event or Small Group is a Christian student wrestling with questions. If volunteers aren't prepared to receive Christian students, disappointment and conflict will flare up. And if the expectations are really off, students can get hurt.
We have to confront expectations early. This will help volunteers have a great experience on campus.
There are, of course, more questions that we use to screen and position volunteers for campus. But I've found these questions to be really, really helpful. I've been impressed by the quality of the volunteers God's sent our way and really grateful for their service on campus.
If you were assessing apologetics volunteers, what questions would you add?