This month the CAA has featured a series of articles on community apologetics. I throw my hat into the ring with this little piece describing the history of a community apologetics group I am involved in.
Back in 2009 the original “Atheist bus ads” came to Calgary, Canada. They were placed throughout much of Europe and North America. You may remember them, “There probably is no God…” etc, etc.
When the ads came out I was really curious what kind of response we could expect from churches in my city. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would be a whole host of excellent responses at the many high calibre Christian apologetics websites on the internet, maybe even a book or two by the many top-notch authors in the field, but what would be the local church’s response? Well, it wasn’t particularly good. In fact, it wasn’t particularly bad either. Frankly, it just wasn’t. There was virtually no concerted response, though I do recall that there were a few minimalistic efforts of a response here or there, but I do not recall them being widely applied, widely received, or well presented. I think the Muslims did a better job if I recall correctly, but it has been a few years for memory to fade.
That bothered me. Here I was, neck-deep in apologetics-related material, able to intelligently dialogue with those who attacked my faith, yet the churches around me seemed utterly disconnected from my world. Then it dawned on me, they were disconnected because of the very nature of my apologetics world. I read books written by authors from all over the world. I frequented websites from the USA, England, even Australia. My entire apologetics world was geographically nonspecific. It occurred to me that the vast wealth of apologetics material that existed in the virtual world of books and websites needed to be brought down to the local, geographic, church. A bridge needed to be built between the wealth of apologetics resources that existed in the “global village,” and the many souls that needed to hear about this material in my own backyard.
How dire was this need? At about the same time I did a little speaking in various churches around town. When I would speak I would tend to focus more on academic subject matter, often (though not always) with an apologetics spin on the material. In every single case, without exception, I would have at least one or two people come up to me after and thank me–deeply thank me–for sharing on these tough subjects. They had been thinking about these issues but nobody else ever talked about them. Their gratitude extended well beyond customary pleasantries one expects after being a guest speaker. Yes, the need was great.
As if these factors were not enough, I had another motivation for establishing a localized apologetics ministry that exists primarily off the internet; the possibility of face-to-face interactions. It has been observed (for example, here) that internet discussions tend to get far nastier far quicker than discussions over coffee. I concur on this tendency for I have seen it in myself. People have a tendency to behave themselves, more or less, when they are in the physical presence of another person, but will be much quicker to fly off the handle when they speak from their platform in the virtual world. Having a geographically-centered ministry brings the entire discussion right into the backyard of whomever you are dialoguing with, so it tends to stay far more cordial for much longer.
As soon as the suggestion was made to launch some kind of localized apologetics ministry, it took off and hasn’t slowed down since. The Network of Christian Apologists in Calgary (NCAC) was born and continues to grow.
What follows will be a few observations and reflections on the form that the NCAC has taken. How we chose to set up the NCAC is certainly not the only way to create a group like ours but this is what we did, for better or worse. The hope in sharing this information is to get the wheels turning in your mind to establish something like this in your city or town. You may like what we did in some areas and you may want to do things differently in other areas, but I think the most important point is that you get something like this running in your community, whether it looks like the NCAC or not!
Our primary goal in the NCAC is not to produce apologetic material but to share it. We have done some simple responses to local issues that relate to the Christian faith (like the proposed second round of Atheist bus ad that never transpired), but by and large we do not produce lengthy articles with detailed research, books, DVDs, or anything like that. We blog, but that’s the closest we get to content generation. The primary idea behind our group is to be a bridge that connects the local church to the virtual world of apologetics which is already replete with remarkable content.
When we set up the NCAC we also did not set it up as an official organization with a budget, constitution and charitable status. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. On the one hand the paperwork is remarkably simple; there is none! No voting, no budgets, no taxes, etc. That was easy. On the other hand, because we have no money we are very limited in what we are able to do. If anything needs to be purchased it must be done by individuals for the benefit of the group. There is an element of begging that goes on too. Secondly, I think an official organization could more easily advertise itself and ensure a more obvious presence. This would be advantageous, though I should point out that we continue to have newcomers join us so word seems to slowly be getting around even in our present situation.
Something else we did not do was become a Reasonable Faith chapter, or a Reasons to Believe chapter, or something of that sort. There were some obvious advantages to aligning ourselves with one of these groups, but we opted not to. One reason we chose not to do so was because we did not want to hitch our wagon to a single person / ministry. There are plenty of excellent thinkers and organizations out there and we did not want to limit ourselves to taking on the flavour of any single one of them. There are, of course, advantages to doing so, but we have not pursued that at this time. Maybe one day we will.
The NCAC is primarily a geographically centered group, but we do try to take advantage of the internet. As I mentioned previously, the internet is a great place for people to get mad at each other. Because of this tendency, we do not use the internet primarily to engage in conversations. The idea is this: if you want to talk to us, then drop by our meetings. Or go for coffee with one of our members. Get off the computer, step out your front door, and connect with us in person.
But we do use the internet. We have a website, complete with a Google calendar of upcoming events. We blog. We have a Facebook page. We tweet. We have also recently set up a YouTube channel to allow us to share interesting videos we find (and a few we create). How do we strike a balance between being internet based and being localized? The guiding philosophy is this: The internet is a great place to gather information, but a lousy place to discuss it. We use the internet to make people aware of our group, absolutely, but also to share many of the marvelous resources the exist elsewhere on the internet. From all these other resources people can research and investigate matters related to the truth of the Christian message. After they have done that the hope is they will take what they have learned and come talk to us about it. In person. Live. Face-to-face.
What does the future hold? God only knows. While he acts out his plans and purposes for us, though, we continue to enjoy gradual, but consistent, growth. We continue to connect with individual Christians, churches and Bible schools. We share ideas and challenge each other to grow in the faith and knowledge of God. We continue to defend the faith in our circles of influence and train others to do likewise. We do all this locally, and often in person. The local church is strengthened as we exercise the concept of iron sharpening iron in a way that isolated Christians in isolated churches throughout the city never could have previously.
It has been a growing and enjoyable process and we are excited to see what God will do next in our midst.