Jan. 25, 2020
Apologetics training knows no bounds, as Mike, an inmate in Soledad’s Correctional Training Facility, can testify. With dozens of other inmates in California and elsewhere, Mike has been on a journey of being trained in how to defend why he believes what he believes as a Christian.
In 2004, Mike B.* obtained the materials for the Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola’s graduate program in order to enrich his faith and become a more resourceful person to his fellow inmates. He devoured the training and started to spread the word to other inmates about his experience.
Shortly thereafter, Craig Hazen, director of Biola’s graduate program in Christian apologetics, received an enthusiastic letter from Mike B. about his growth.
“God has a mysterious way of turning a prison into a monastery in the lives of men and women who devote themselves and their time to Him and to His word,” wrote Mike B. to Hazen about his training through Biola’s Christian apologetics program on June 30, 2009.
He wanted to “take the show on the road” and get permission to freely duplicate the Certificate’s audio and text materials for other inmates. Permission was granted.
“Clearly, Mike was having a transformational learning experience,” said Hazen. “He enjoyed letting others in on what he was learning and how he was getting skilled at defending what he believed.”
The Certificate Program uniquely facilitates quality university training and leadership formation in apologetics by making it an accessible resource to a variety of people regardless of their educational background.
“We want all sorts of people to experience the confidence that comes from realizing that their faith can actually be rooted in testable knowledge,” said Hazen.
Certificate students are treated to twenty-four audio talks ( approximately 60 hours of content) by seasoned apologists, philosophers, theologians, historians, world religion experts, and cultural critics speaking to topics intended to form people’s worldview in a fruitful and effectual way. In addition, students are given supplemental reading, lecture outlines, and a brief overview quiz that is graded.
“Knowledge, and especially Christian knowledge, is freeing for those imprisoned by law and imprisoned of soul,” Hazen said. “Such knowledge was meant to be let loose upon people and designed to mature them.”
Now nearly five years later, word-of-mouth influence from Mike B. and others has compelled inmates in facilities across California, ( Soledad, Corcoran, San Diego, Arenal, Bakersfield) Arkansas (Forrest City), Massachusetts (Ayer), and New York (Woodbourne) to earn the Certificate in Christian Apologetics. From Soledad alone, at least three- dozen inmates have completed coursework for their certificate.
“We did not set out to fuel interest in apologetics among inmates in California or elsewhere. That was not our agenda,” contends Hazen. “We were just trying to be responsive to people’s hunger for Christian knowledge and simply serve people where they were with whatever we had.”
These apologetically-interested inmates come from both juvenile and adult prisons. Most of them have been Christians for five to seven years, often regularly leading a small Bible study, theology or apologetics group with their peers, and they frequently encounter questions and objections from competing worldviews, world religions, and other alternative religious movements.
According to letters received from several inmates, they not only acknowledge the good that their apologetics training has done for them, but they evidence hunger for more training and eagerness to further pursue an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola.
Moreover, these letters also express gratitude that their training is associated with Biola as a knowledge institution equipping men and women with biblically centered education and not merely a parachurch organization that happens to produce apologetics materials.
“These students actually feel as though they are part of a larger institution of learning,” said Hazen.
Clearly, whether through Biola apologetics training resources or through ongoing prison ministries, the Holy Spirit is at work advancing the Kingdom of God right where people live in prison.
“We are firmly invested in seeing people’s lives and their environment transformed as a result of Christian knowledge that cooperates with the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit,” declares Hazen. “Really, what other more ultimate and compelling business should we be about at a Christian university?”
More than 5,000 students have experienced the Certificate Program across the U.S. and internationally, and they are drawn to this area of study from various stations and seasons in life including; studying as parents, church leaders, business influencers, media specialists, lawyers, homeschoolers, teachers, college students, missionaries, and of course, as prisoners.
*Last name protected for privacy of interviewee
Written by Joseph Gorra, Christian Apologetics. For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. Jenna can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
media [dot] relations [at] biola [dot] edu