Betsy McPeak created Introduction to the Art of Apologetics as a course for high school students, but the content might even be suitable for a college level course because it is so thorough. The course can be used for independent study, but suggestions are included for using it with a group class. I highly recommend using it within a group setting (meeting about once a week) since the interaction will almost certainly help students to think more deeply than if they study alone.
The course uses a combination of video lectures by McPeak along with student research (mostly online), online video viewing, reading, and writing, requiring about five hours per week for 30-36 weeks. Students will write a number of papers throughout the course. They write a “response paper” almost every week––a five-paragraph essay on a specific topic. In addition, they will write two or three five-page essays based on themes in additional books that they will read. (Brief instructions explain what should be in each paragraph of the five-paragraph essay, but students should already be familiar with how to construct an essay and how to write a lengthier paper before taking this course.)
The course incorporates three different approaches to apologetics: Classical, Evidential, and Presuppositional, but students learn that they will almost certainly use different approaches in different situations. McPeak continually reminds students that an apologist must always be gentle and respectful, trying to understand what the other person is saying rather than being argumentative.
McPeak draws upon the work of many well-known Christian thinkers and apologists for her lectures, and students use links that take them to websites, articles, debates, and other videos by many different people and organizations. While McPeak is Protestant and uses mostly Protestant sources, she also includes sites, articles, and books from Catholics. For example, a website that explains the supposed “contradictions” in the Bible was created by Catholics. Consequently, the course is suitable for all Christians in so far as it addresses the essentials of the faith shared by all. (There will be minor issues over the treatment of the Apochrypha, but the lesson on that topic thoughtfully addresses the issue, respecting different opinions.)
In addition to debates between Christians and non-Christians, McPeak includes articles and videos by anti-Christian apologists so that students learn to address the actual arguments made by some of the best non-christian thinkers. Many exercises require students to identify the key argument used by a speaker or writer. In the case of anti-Christian arguments, McPeak asks students to provide their own response or rebuttal to the arguments.
The course comes as a set of three DVDs and two ebooks: a student manual and a teacher’s manual. The three DVDs have a total run time of three and a quarter hours. In 30 brief lectures on the DVDs, McPeak presents the core material for each lesson. The videos by themselves would be rather boring, but the student manual presents the bulk of the material for each lesson with hyperlinks included for the many assignments that require online work.
For example, Lesson 21: The Accuracy of Scripture begins with McPeak's lecture about the reliability of Scripture based upon manuscripts for the Bible that have been discovered. Then students turn to their manual and answer questions based on the lecture: “What is the Septuagint? How and why was it written? When were the Old Testament Scriptures completed?”
The lesson then sends students online to a chart on one site and an article on another to search for answers to two questions. Another assignment instructs students to read an online article about the Apocrypha then explain the differences between the canonical books of the Bible and the Apocrypha. Students will also define the pseudepigrapha.
The next assignment is to read about the Qumran Caves and look at some photos. Then students go to another site to watch a video on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Students write a short response to the questions, “What amazes you about the Dead Sea Scrolls?” From there students travel to yet another website to learn how the Dead Sea Scrolls survived for two millennia. They will explain what they learned by writing in their manual.
The final assignment in this lesson is to read an online article, “The Great Isaiah Scroll & the Original Bible: An Interview with Dr. Peter Flint,” then write a response paper about it.
This is a typical lesson in that it makes use of a number of different websites and types of media on the web, requires students to read and analyze information, and requires a decent amount of written work as well.
While students are learning the art of apologetics, they are also learning about the evidence and arguments that support key elements of the Christian faith: the existence of God, the Trinity, the nature of God, the reliability of Scripture, the deity of Jesus, and the Resurrection. Lesson 29 brings it all together in a study of the Christian meta-narrative, and the final lesson deals with questions about heaven and hell.
The teacher’s manual has an annotated list of recommended books and videos linked to specific lessons to show one or two options per lesson. A few overarching options such as G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy are listed at the end. Any of these resources might be used along with a lesson. However, students will also choose two or three books from the list and write a five-page paper on a key theme from each book. McPeak says that students should be allotted two to three weeks per book to read it and write the paper. (The time allotted depends upon the length of the book.) The time spent on the books expands the course to 36 weeks.
The teacher’s manual has instructional information, suggestions for teaching the course in a group setting, the recommended reading list, and all of the student lessons with suggested responses overprinted. Many answers are not predictable. Also, a parent or teacher will need to evaluate student papers. Consequently, parents or teachers need to be familiar with or working through the material themselves to be able to properly evaluate student responses. This is another reason why a group class makes sense.
The course is simple for students to use since it lays out the steps of each lesson in order with links to websites embedded within the student book. While you will probably want to print out student pages so that they can write answers on the lines provided, it still makes sense to have the student manual accessible on a computer or tablet so that students can quickly navigate to the web links.
Introduction to the Art of Apologetics should serve well as a foundational course. In addition, many of the books, videos, and websites that students encounter through the course can take students to a much deeper level if they have the interest and the time. This is valuable information in itself! The course should certainly whet students’ appetites to learn more, and this course sets them up well to be self-educators in the apologetics realm.
Note: McPeak offers additional classes and coaching for both the Stoa and NCFCA competitions in apologetics for those who might be interested. Click here for more information.