My Thoughts on Stoa’s Apologetics Updates

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[Photo credit: Got Credit]

As of August 1st, Stoa has made available the changes to Apologetics that will take effect this coming 2015-2016 competition season. I’ve downloaded and analyzed the relevant documents, and I want to share some thoughts that may help those of you in Stoa.

(You can view and download all the Apologetics documents at http://www.stoausa.org/speech-events.)

So here are my first impressions of the updates Stoa has made to the event of Apologetics as a whole. In this post I’m going to focus on the changes delineated in Stoa’s Executive Summary. Next time I’ll delve into the updated Apologetics Questions document and explain what has changed.

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A screenshot of the Apologetics section within Stoa’s Executive Summary of the changes made to speech and debate rules for the 2015-2016 season

Let’s address each update listed in turn.

  1. Change: Stoa reworded all of the questions to be in question format. Previously, some of the “questions” were not questions at all—they were instructions to define and defend or analyze and respond with no question mark in sight.
    1. My thoughts: This is a really good idea. After all, Apologetics the event is preparation for real-world apologetics. And in day-to-day interactions, unbelievers and skeptics typically don’t ask Christians to “define and defend” their position. This update in phrasing maintains the meaning of the topic while more accurately reflecting a real-life interaction.
  2. Change: Stoa adjusted the “target audience” of an Apologetics speech.
    1. My thoughts: Apologetics competitors are unable to ask questions of judges in order to ascertain their worldview. Based on the nature of Apologetics, the implied audience is a skeptic or questioner of Christianity. This change to the ballot makes that audience explicit.
    2. Note that this update is especially important because every Apologetics judge will see it—you the competitor will be judged by how well you address your speech to unbelievers.
  3. Change: Stoa also clarified that competitors should not assume that the audience accepts the Bible as the infallibly true Word of God.
    1. My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this update. On the one hand, competitive Apologetics is basically practicing to believers as though they were unbelievers. That is to say, all Apologetics judges must adhere to Stoa’s Statement of Faith, but are treated in-round as though they were skeptics and questioners. In order to treat the judges consistently, we must not assume that they believe the Bible.
    2. On the other hand, we don’t want every speech to become a Category 2 topic and have to delve into the nature of the Bible. That would be unwieldy and defeat the purpose of having 6 different categories.
    3. Here’s how I would address this issue were I competing. Before I quoted my first Scripture verse, I would add a quick aside to the audience of unbelievers: “I know you don’t accept the truth of the Bible, but I cannot abandon it as I answer your question. The Bible is my ultimate authority—I depend on it as God’s own Word and believe what it says. If I were to abandon that authority just because you don’t accept it, I would be left without any foundation for my answer. So while I don’t expect you to accept the Bible, I hope you understand that I have to use it—my answer would be groundless otherwise.”
    4. Okay, that’s a bit unwieldy, but you get the point. If I were actually competing I would spend half an hour on that and get it down to size. The main idea is that I don’t expect the unbeliever to accept the Bible, but because it is my ultimate authority I must use it to answer the unbeliever’s question. That takes care of the rule update while enabling me to quote Bible verses with abandon throughout the rest of the speech.
    5. As a side note, the response above is based on the school of apologetics known as presuppositional apologetics. The idea is that we can’t say “The Bible is the Word of God” around believers and then abandon it by saying “Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but I won’t use it because you don’t believe it” the moment an unbeliever appears. The authority of Scripture is our presupposition, our basic assumption that we never renege on. (A bit more on presuppositionalism is here.)
  4. Change: Stoa added into the rules the phrase “MUST DEFEND THEIR POSITION” to remind everyone that this is an Apologetics speech.
    1. My thoughts: Spot-on. Apologetics is a defense, not a presentation of opinions (1 Peter 3:15). If you cannot defend your position clearly and persuasively…work until you can!
  5. Change: Stoa gave examples of outside sources: “e.g. commentaries, literature, news articles, testimonials, etc.” (from the rules).
    1. My thoughts: If students have been confused about the meaning of “outside sources” (which surprises me), then this change is benign.
  6. Change: Stoa now requires all tournaments to use the official topics and not write their own.
    1. My thoughts: Because of Stoa’s tournament model, they have to address issues like this. (Not saying that’s bad or good—just stating facts.) I think it’s wise to ensure uniformity across-the-board with regard to topics. There are enough topics the way it is without tournaments writing their own.
  7. Change: Stoa clarified the purpose of competitive Apologetics: “Help students be able to formulate a defense of the truths of Christianity to any audience. Thus questions were formulated to aid in that process along with adjusting the ballot and rules criteria to reflect this goal.”
    1. My thoughts: Clear goals prevent muddied and aimless wandering. Stoa has formulated a solid purpose statement for Apologetics and updated the event to more effectively achieve that purpose, and I commend them for that.

Overall, I am quite impressed with Stoa’s updates. The leadership correctly identified areas in need of improvement or clarification and implemented appropriate changes. Next time: the Apologetics Questions list.

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