Wycliffe College is a largely Anglican, evangelical training college connected to the University of Toronto, where I am a regular visiting professor. Over the last two years I have helped to put together and deliver a thirteen-week module which is part of their MA programme, and takes up to thirty students through a rigorous approach to apologetics.
The course begins with some foundational material such as ‘what is apologetics?’ and ‘the biblical basis for apologetics’, then moves onto some of the frameworks for apologetics and then looks at some of the practicalities of being an effective apologist. Core topics within the course were then, the person of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible, the problem of evil, what it means to be human (and the rise of digital technology, A.I. and transhumanism) and then other religions.
The course contained lots of assessments. My favourite one is where we task the students with interviewing someone from a different faith (or an atheist), and finding out about their worldview and how that operates. Significantly they were tasked to not preach at the interviewee, their first job was to seek to understand them. The students had to write the interview up in such a way that the interviewee agreed that the student had really understood them and summarised them well. That’s the formal part of the assessment, but what we find time and again is that conversations then develop from that, and interviewees say – ‘but what about you Christians, what do you think of all this?’ So it’s been great to see the way in which getting students to have these conversations in which they are sent out to listen, end up being gospel opportunities.
I love doing these courses, because the students are so enthusiastic. On one hand it’s an academically demanding course on which we examine some serious ideas. Then on the other students say at the end, ‘this has been great, I’ve had all these great conversations about my faith’. A new development in this course was that students could choose how they were assessed at the end. Some opted for the traditional 5,000 word essay; but others opted for the new oral exam. In this, the course leaders interviewed the student on Zoom for an hour – taking the role of three different personas; an atheist, a pluralist and a Muslim. So when I was adopting the role of the Muslim I raised common Muslim objections to the student, saying “You’re Bible has been corrupted, you should follow the truth as given to Muhammad (peace be upon him) and abandon your Christianity” – and the students had to engage; wisely, patiently and thoughtfully. Similarly we levelled atheist objections about origins, and pluralist ones about truth-claims to them, to see how they handled them. It was a hugely enjoyable way of assessing them – some struggled a bit, but several were outstanding; certainly their apologetics were better than my acting!
The students came from all across Canada from Alberta to Nova Scotia, from all age-groups and were both men and women. What was also encouraging was that Toronto, which is a very ethnically diverse city; that context was also well reflected in the makeup of the student body. That hasn’t always the case in these kinds of courses so that is progress well worth celebrating. Every community has its questions which need to be answered, and having people from those communities doing that work it so important.
This course is slated to run again in the Spring of 2023, by which time we will have rewritten some of the material to reflect some of the newer challenges which are emerging.