Apologetics: How to Speak Beyond the Competition Room by: Matthew Harper

We all know how much fun a Speech and Debate Tournament can be. And we know how learning the skills we practice in a classroom setting will give us opportunities to enhance our future as better communicators. But have you ever considered how practicing and participating in Apologetics could enhance or effect someone else’s life? For the past five or so years, Lasting Impact has come together on Tuesday nights to grow and build students and families up in the journey of Apologetics. This semester, starting tomorrow night, another group will begin (for more information CLICK HERE). Matthew Harper, one of our group leaders, shares his experience why participating in Apologetics is time well spent….

I walked with two of my cousins through the busy convention center, past the various vendors and exhibits, and approached the atheist, agnostic, and freethinker’s booth. It wasn’t large – only three or four people staffed it. Armed with tracts and wordless prayers, I thought back to my competition days and wished for four minutes of prep time. Would we hold our own, or would we crumble against the inevitable onslaught of rational, intellectual verbosity? Would they be courteous or mock our apparent ignorance? Would they acknowledge our faith as a misguided quest for truth or declare it a plague to be eradicated? Would they even talk to us?

You might not find yourself careening toward a worldview collision at the atheist, agnostic, and freethinker’s booth, but I guarantee you’ve had a similar experience in the past and/or you will in the future. If you’ve competed in Apologetics, you know how difficult it can be to answer certain questions and address certain topics. If you haven’t competed in Apologetics, or competed in it very little, you still have a general idea what it’s like to talk with someone of different or opposing views. However, we often don’t realize how important it is to have an answer until we realize it too late…

Just like when I walked up to that atheist booth, we all will one day find ourselves in a situation where we find ourselves in need of an answer – and wished we had one. In my situation, however, my cousins and I chose to engage these atheists in conversation. I began talking to a middle-aged man, who accepted the tract I offered him and agreed to discuss the merits of our worldviews. I came to discover that he was a former Southern Baptist deacon who had left his faith and decided to help others do the same. We discussed various objections he had to Christianity, and I could hear my cousins doing the same with two other people next to me.

As our conversation continued, I realized that this guy probably knew the Bible better than I did, and most certainly had rehearsed his arguments more than I had. I thought I was outmatched. I breathed a silent prayer, remembered the creator of universe loved me, and began looking at his arguments from both a biblical and critical standpoint. We had a robust conversation, and by the end we agreed to disagree. My cousins and I went away rejoicing, but also sobered – how easy the mighty can fall.

Apologetics and Impromptu are two categories that every Christian will encounter during evangelism and daily life, as I discovered while talking with my atheist friend, but the speech competitor has a unique opportunity to practice in a safe, controlled environment. Cultivating these skills will help you win trophies, but ultimately they should be done for the glory of God and the edification of the saints. How can we use apologetics and impromptu beyond the competition room? Let’s look at four methods…

Encourage and exhort your Christian brothers and sisters …As you learn more head knowledge and stories to use in apologetics and impromptu, use that knowledge in ways that can build up your fellow competitors, people at your church, and other believers you might encounter. Paul tells the Thessalonian believers in 1st Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” One of the worst things that can happen during your competitive years is cultivate a prideful, apathetic attitude that makes you look smart and wins trophies, but makes you cold and dismissive of others. Your preparation and speaking should help you love the Lord and love others, not puff you up.

At tournaments, pray for your fellow competitors before and after they compete. Talk about things that build up, and don’t criticize the judges or how you think your last speech went. Show respect to one another .

Eagerly pursuing spiritual disciplines…This past winter I took a class called “Personal Spiritual Disciplines,” and it changed my life. Dr. Donald Whitney taught the class, and he also wrote a book that I would highly recommend, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.” One thing that most impacted me from it was the exhortation to not pursue holiness for holiness’ sake, but instead for the glory of God. Likewise, we must pursue excellence in competition not for its own sake, but for the purpose of godliness. One of the verses Dr. Whitney emphasized was 1 Timothy 4:6, which says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Notice the two parts there – watch yourself (your life, your habits, your thoughts, etc.) and your teaching (in this case, apologetics and impromptu).

While we don’t have the same responsibility of Timothy as pastoring a church, we are tasked with speaking truth. We must keep a close watch on ourselves and on our teaching, so that we might win some to Christ. If you are not living a holy life and/or have unrepentant sin that you need to confess and turn from, do so now! Don’t wait to be found out (for you surely will), but instead seek forgiveness from the Lord and those you have wronged. Have regular quiet time in the morning of Scripture reading, praying, meditation, and solitude that no one else knows about.

Something that many Christians neglect is the spiritual discipline of fasting. Jesus does not command it in Scripture – instead, He expects us to already be doing it! Consider Matthew 6:16 – “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Do all of this, not so that you might appear more holy before your fellow competitors or get a better placing because you’re devoted to the things of God, but because the Lord is worthy to be worshipped, and He commands it. Love the Lord with all your heart! Show it by engaging in the spiritual disciplines.

Building up your own faith

  • Ask tough questions, find good answers
  • Talk with your pastor regularly
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss your fears or doubts with trusted believers
  • Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

Make it a regular practice to ask tough questions, but don’t let the tough questions remain unanswered. Many of the apologetics questions you’ll need to create cards for ask difficult questions or deal with challenging topics. Research them! James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Become intimately familiar with your Bible, with historic Christian thinking, and contemporary ways timeless Christian truths have been applied.

If you’re struggling with evidence for the existence of God, whether Christianity is rational, or whether Christianity is just another religion, build apol cards for those questions and find out the answers. Look deeply into Scripture, science, philosophy, and apologetics. Don’t do this apart from your parents, your local church, and your fellow competitors, however. Build up your faith in the context of biblical community, and don’t be afraid to discuss any questions or doubts you might have about your faith. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined faith is not worth dying for.

God does not demand childish faith from you, but instead child-like faith. Child-like faith asks questions and trusts the answerer. Child-like faith seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and trusts that all the rest of these things will be added to them. Use apologetics and impromptu to build up your faith and find answers to your tough questions. Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Having regular times of evangelism/worldview conversations

  • Don’t let your faith grow stale – talk to unbelievers
  • Share the Gospel if you can
  • At the very least, have a worldview conversation with them
  • Grow in confidence, but don’t grow cocky

The final way I’ll look at for applying your apologetics and impromptu skills outside the competition room is having regular times of interaction with unbelievers. Apologetics as a form, not a category, is meant to be used with unbelievers. All your judges (hopefully) have signed and agree with the Nicene Creed, which means that they already pretty much believe what you’re telling them. As you’re preparing to give apologetics speeches or practicing your impromptu, use those skills outside the competition room.

Don’t let your faith grow stale by being around believers every waking moment of every day. Find some time to talk with unbelievers – perhaps people you work with, people at stores you go to, or just people you could walk around the nearest town with. Perhaps you are friends with unbelievers through a 4-H club or some other extra-curricular activity. Whatever your context, don’t let the opportunity slip away to share the Gospel.

If you are a Christian, you are commanded to share your faith. As Jesus says in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 – “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” As believers, we have the Holy Spirit, and we have the words of life. This is the very reason you’re giving apologetics and impromptu speeches! You are training for a reason – to be a bold witness for our Savior, Christ crucified. Peter commands his readers in 1 Peter 3:15: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Let our fervor to share the hope of our salvation imitate that of Charles Spurgeon’s: “‘If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.’”

Use your time and your skills wisely. Don’t just let your speaking be for trophies that fade, but for a kingdom that will last forever.

If you want to practice and grow Apologetics in a safe environment… I encourage you to join our Lasting Impact! Second Semester Club. Here, is where your journey can all begin! STARTS TOMORROW NIGHT… Tuesday February 19. All sessions will be recorded. CLICK HERE.