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Apologetics Workshop Equips Mississippi College Students to ‘Talk the Talk’ of Their Christian Walk

J.R. Wilbanks partnered with the BSU to present “An Exploration: An Apologetics Workshop” at Mississippi College.
J.R. Wilbanks partnered with the BSU to present “An Exploration: An Apologetics Workshop” at Mississippi College.

One of the most difficult challenges young people encounter in their Christian walk is understanding how to express their faith.

According to J.R. Wilbanks, area coordinator in residence life at Mississippi College and a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, in today’s world, more training is needed to help students in their journey of defending the faith.

“Students at Mississippi College have friends who would not call themselves Christian,” Wilbanks said. “Our students feel the weight and gravity of that, and I believe they feel a charge to share with their friends who are lost.

“The more we help train the next generation, the more prepared they are for what’s to come.”

An enthusiastic devotee of Christian apologetics – the defense of religious doctrine through systematic argumentative discourse – Wilbanks partnered with the Baptist Student Union at MC to present a workshop early in the spring semester to help train students to “defend the hope that is in all of us as followers of Christ.”

“An Exploration: An Apologetics Workshop” equipped more than three dozen students to present their beliefs on a myriad of topics essential to the Christian faith, from intelligent design to evil in a fallen world. The event gave attendees strong, Biblically focused arguments to help bring the Gospel of Christ to others.

“Equipping Christians with God’s word is one of the most important things we can do,” said Mandy Phillips, MC Baptist Student Union director. “A lot of Christians know it’s important to share their faith, but they’re afraid they won’t know what to say if questioned, or that by sharing, they might push their friends further away. Hearing those who are a little further down the road in their faith explain to them how to address these issues with their non-believing friends – how they can have conversations about their faith with others in a loving way – bolsters their confidence.

“The more we can help people feel equipped to share the Gospel, the less scary it will seem to them and the more likely they will have these conversations.”

Wilbanks and three other Christian leaders – Greg Pouncey, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Clinton, Scott Lucky, senior pastor at Parkway Baptist Church in Clinton, and Reid Vance, professor and chair of communication at MC – guided attendees through a series of half-hour sessions, including “A Created World,” “A Fallen World,” “A Distorted World,” “A Skeptical World,” and “A Brave Frontier.” The workshop concluded with a panel discussion about conversing with grace – how to articulate the Gospel in a manner that shows the love, peace, and gentleness of Christ.

“We’re equipping the students to answer some of the hard questions that have been asked about the Christian faith and the ‘bigger picture’ topics they need to be able to discuss,” Phillips said. “For example, people ask, ‘If God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world?’ That’s a fair question, and the Bible has a lot to say about it.

“Christians need to be able to articulate who God is, how He can be trusted, and how He is working in all things. We’re giving students a Biblical basis for having these conversations and articulating these points.”

MC students like Nathan Heard discovered that the workshop provided plenty of ammunition against doubt and uncertainty regarding Scripture. The sophomore nursing major from Clinton attended The Exploration to receive practical apologetics training. He left the workshop better prepared to stand up for the Christian faith.

“It is important for students at Mississippi College to receive apologetics training because of what it prepares you to do – defend your faith when the situation arises,” Heard said. “College is all about preparing you for life in the real world, so it is the ideal time to do training like this.

“Our campus has people from all different walks of life on it, and you never know when this knowledge could be important.”

He particularly enjoyed a unique viewpoint on creation shared by Pouncey.

“Many times, creation is used by people to ‘debunk’ faith,” Heard said. “It was interesting to hear how Dr. Pouncey uses creation to back up his faith.

“The thing that stuck with me the most was that apologetics is not about converting people to Christianity. That is what evangelism is about. Sometimes they go hand-in-hand. However, apologetics is about defending your faith and knowing why you believe what you believe.”

The BSU has hosted a weekly small group session that focused on apologetics. This was the first time a more in-depth workshop was offered for students.

To Phillips’ knowledge, the BSU at Mississippi College is the only undergraduate ministry that has offered an extensive seminar on apologetics for undergraduate students. She said the Christian University had a “deep bench” of Biblical experts from which to draw presenters.

“We have a great depth and breadth of people who have a lot to say about apologetics,” she said. “Most of the attendees were predominantly active Christian students who are trying to figure out how to articulate their beliefs. Our hope was to draw in students who may not have interacted with the BSU much, whether believers or nonbelievers.

“As they heard some of their questions confronted, we hoped this workshop could something that convinces a skeptic to look more closely at the word of God.”

She said the manner in which Christianity is communicated can be almost as important as the message itself.

“A foundational verse for this seminar is 1 Peter 3:15 – always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you, but do it with gentleness and respect,” she said. “Faith has a rationale. We don’t check our brains at the door when we try to identify who the Lord is and what he has to say about us.

“Students understand how to meet people where they are when it comes to their respective views on religion, faith, and the Gospel. Most of them will connect with someone on a personal level, and it would be incredible if this workshop helped them dive deeper in their discussions and articulate their beliefs in their own words as they share the Gospel.”

Wilbanks, who initiated the workshop as a seminary project, said he and the BSU staff were pleased to learn that MC students have a healthy appetite for this kind of instruction.

“The workshop opened our eyes to the fact that students want to be trained in apologetics,” he said. “I’m thankful for the wonderful work the Baptist Student Union does in reaching out to students and providing opportunities like this. The local pastors and speakers played an important role in the workshop, and I’m grateful for the knowledge they shared with us.

“Apologetics workshops like this have great potential, and it would be exciting to see the BSU host another one in the future.”

Phillips said the workshop would be valuable to any student, no matter where he or she may be in their Christian walk.

“I had a student walk into my office who had recently committed his life to Christ,” she said. “He wanted to learn about these topics and understand how to talk about them. There are plenty of seniors who have expressed the same thing.

“They have many questions and they’re excited to grow this area of their faith.”