Pastoral Theology with Matthew Halsted

In this article, I interview Dr. Matthew Halsted about pastoral theology. Halsted is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of McLoud, OK and a lecturer at Oklahoma Baptist University. His academic research has focused on biblical hermeneutics (i.e., interpretation) and the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament especially in Paul’s letters. He is the founder and director of Trinityhaus (a center for Christian thought). He has presented papers and given talks nationally and internationally, and he is passionate about bringing academia into conversation with the local church.

Thank you to Dr. Halsted for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for us. My questions and comments appear in bold font, and his responses follow them.

What is pastoral theology? And what interests you about pastoral theology?

Broadly speaking, “pastoral theology” can be defined as fleshing out theological truths within the context of Christian ministry—particularly at the local church level. It is, by definition, applying God’s unchanging truth to the ever-changing circumstances of the lives of a worshiping congregation.

I suppose what interests me most about pastoral theology is that it requires attentiveness to both the needs of the congregation and to the biblical text. This relationship between Scripture and congregation is fascinating to me. Pastors must remain faithful to the Bible as God’s Word and, at the same time, be creative in how the truth of the Bible is fleshed out into the life of the congregation. This relationship between the truth of the fixed text and its fresh application to the contingencies of parish ministry is the heart and soul of pastoral theology.

Because pastoral theology covers several different topics, I would like to give you space to share your thoughts on a few different ones. How about we start with the office of pastor? Do you think pastors have a special kind of authority? Why or why not?

That’s a good question. There is a sense in which pastors should recognize that their position is one of “authority.” It has to be remembered, though, that it is a derived authority. That is, pastors are not ultimately in charge of, or responsible for, the church (thank God!). Rather, a pastor’s authority is authoritative in so far as it is connected to the truths of Scripture. My Protestantism may be getting the best of me here, but under no circumstances is a pastor to be considered authoritative unless that pastor is operating within the boundaries of biblical, orthodox truth—which has been handed down through the ages.

I have to add one more thing, if I may. Our culture is obsessed with “authority” and “being in charge.” I immediately think of the situation in Mark 10. In that chapter, James and John requested positions of power and glory in the kingdom, but our Lord admonished them to be cautious. The pagan leaders, Jesus said, were too fixated on how they could “exercise authority” over people (v.42). This is not to be the way of Christ followers. Because I think Jesus remains the best mentor for pastors, I think his own model is worth following: Instead of being preoccupied with notions of power and authority, people would do well to become servants. Pastors ought to be the first servants of the church—if they desire to be faithful followers of their crucified Lord.

Prayer seems vital to pastoral ministry. How does your theology of prayer shape your ministry? And how do you teach your congregation to pray?

There is a huge temptation for pastors to reduce their entire ministry down to nothing more than “talking about God.” In many ways, this temptation is always present because—to state the obvious—the pastoral vocation seems to be about doing just that: talking about God. As pastors, we are expected to preach about God, teach about God, and talk about God. To make matters worse, we are expected to teach others to do the same! But if were are not careful, we will make God into an object to be analyzed instead of the One with whom we are to commune. Prayer helps us in this regard.

Indeed, prayer is communion with God. Of course, this involves making requests, lavishing praise, raising doubts, and confessing sin. But these things are not what prayer is; prayer is communion. If we are truly communing with God, then of course we will be doing these things.

Eugene Peterson made a statement once that prayer is not so much about being nice before God but rather about being honest with him. I also agree with Peterson that, if Christians want to develop a prayer life, the Psalter is necessary curriculum. It is indispensable.

Do you think prayer changes how God acts, and if so, in what ways?

I recall reading C.S. Lewis on this very question. His musings, as always, are helpful as we navigate this topic. Following Lewis, I think the ideal prayer request is a request for something good. But if God is good, then surely God would already want the good for which we are praying—independently of our praying or not praying. And if God is powerful, then surely he would be capable in his own strength to bring it about—again, independently of our praying or not praying. So, why pray?

I’ll be the first to admit that prayer is a mystery in this regard. But I think something along the following lines is true. First, because prayer is fundamentally about communion with God (as C.S. Lewis also observes, as I recall), then it only makes sense that God would want to involve his creatures—the objects of his love—to engage him in communal acts such as prayer. Second, if a relationship such as this is to be meaningful in any sense, then a person must be capable of making choices that are significantly free. This leaves open the possibility for God’s people to pray or not pray. And if prayer is to be one of these significantly free acts, it must be—in some way or another—effectual.

What this means is that some things will not happen if we don’t pray. In other words, some prayers are acts that bring about change that, all things being equal, would not have been brought about except through prayer. This seems to be what is meant by certain passages of Scripture such as James 4:2 (“you do not have because you do not ask”). Here, something is not happening because of the lack of prayer.

It is reasonable to suppose that God, in his sovereignty, has set up this world such that his creatures have this sort of significant freedom. This does not imply, of course, that everything depends upon our prayers or that God’s overall plan is itself dependent upon our praying. I have certain metaphysical commitments that permit me to think God, as the Absolute Good, will always get his way no matter what his free creatures choose to do or choose not to do—a subject for another day!

To change the topic a bit, John Calvin argued that a rightly ordered church includes the Word and Sacraments. What are these two different things? And could you explain your approach to both?

I think Calvin is largely correct here. The Protestant emphasis on the preaching of the Word is absolutely important to maintain. It is God’s Word, for example, that brings forth faith; it is God’s Word which instructs, guides, and corrects the church. So the proclamation of the Word, if it is not central, will result in a church that is not rightly ordered. The same can be said of the Sacraments—that is, the Eucharist and Baptism. The Eucharist, mysteriously, functions in the life of the church as a gracious benefit. It is a reminder of God’s goodness—one that is loving and confrontational all at the same time. Baptism, too, is inherently confrontational. It is an initiatory rite into a Kingdom that is opposed to this world’s powers. Like the proclamation of the Word, if the Sacraments are not properly placed within the life of the church, then our witness to the world will go impeded.

For pastors young and old, how would you encourage them to develop their pastoral theology? What resources or biblical passages would you direct them towards? What mistakes would you encourage them to avoid?

Every pastor needs to be a praying pastor. It’s essential. Prayer serves as a reminder that we are insufficient to bring about the Kingdom of God. I think one mistake pastors make is to treat their ministry as if everything depends on them. As a result of this mindset, pastors get emotionally discouraged and burned out. The truth, however, is that the success of the church depends on God, not us. All we are required to do is be faithful to do what he has given us to do, and he will take care of the results.

Again, I think the Psalms are super important for pastors. The main reason is because they will teach us to pray. I also think becoming familiar with the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, would be good for modern pastors. I have found the prophets to be encouraging friends and colleagues. In terms of other resources, I highly recommended Eugene Peterson’s works. His insights are gold.

Thank you again to Dr. Halsted! Look for more interviews with Matthew Halsted and others in the near future! If you missed my interview with Tawa Anderson on “Christian Apologetics” or my interview with Timothy and Faith Pawl on “Mary, the Mother of God”, you can view them here: Christian Apologetics and Mary, the Mother of God.

Top Tens of 2019

For everyone who doesn’t care, here are my three top ten lists in books, albums, and movies and television.

I read many books in 2019, and I could have read even more if I would just finish them. But instead, I chose ten that I particularly enjoyed reading regardless of whether I agreed with everything (as evidenced by including two books with different views on atonement).

I also listened to a great deal of music, and like the books, I listened to many that are older. However, these were the albums I enjoyed listening to most this year–I chose albums because I tend to listen to whole albums.

Finally, I don’t watch a lot of movies, and many of the TV shows I watched, I had seen before. So, I combined the lists with a heavy bent towards things I watched within the last six months. I’m not a critique, so this list is mostly based on enjoyment (although I will argue with anyone on why #9 should be included).

*Disclaimer*: I suggest always checking content advisory guides before consuming books and other entertainment. Some of the content below might contain something you wish to avoid, and at times, it is as easy as skipping one episode in a series (for example, I chose to skip an episode of The Crown).

Books

1. On the Cosmic Mystery of Christ by Maximus the Confessor

2. Philosophical Fragments by Søren Kierkegaard

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo

4. Analyzing Doctrine by Oliver Crisp

5. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

6. Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble

7. On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

8. The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche

9. Defending Substitution by Simon Gathercole

10. The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright

Albums

1. The Crane Wife by The Decemberists

2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

3. Closer Than Together by Avett Brothers

4. The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

5. AM by Artic Monkeys

6. Kintsugi by Death Cab for Cutie

7. Revolver by The Beatles

8. Messenger Hymns Live by Matt Boswell

9. KIWANUKA by Michael Kiwanuka

10. Where Eyes Don’t Go by The Gray Havens

Movies and TV

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

2. The Good Place

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

4. Better Call Saul

5. The Crown

6. Spider-Man: Far From Home

7. The Irishman

8. James Acaster Reptoire

9. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

10. Cuckoo

Thanks for reading! Comment with your favorites from 2019, and give me some recommendations for 2020!

Mary, the Mother of God with Timothy and Faith Pawl

In this article, I interview Drs. Timothy and Faith Pawl on Mary. Tim Pawl is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. He has published two books In Defense of Conciliar Christology and In Defense of Extended Conciliar Christology, and he will soon release a book in the Cambridge Elements series on the philosophy of the incarnation. Faith is an adjunct instructor in philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. She is the author of numerous academic papers, and along with her husband Tim, she earned her PhD in philosophy from Saint Louis University.

Thank you to Drs. Timothy and Faith Pawl for taking the time out of their schedules to answer these questions for us. My questions and comments appear in bold font, and their responses follow them.

Why should we call Mary the “mother of God” instead of just the “mother of Jesus”?

In the history of the church, there have been some claims that have been theological lightning rods. They took on great importance as tools for demarcating the limits of orthodoxy. For instance, at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325, the promulgated creed included a final anathema which cursed those who, among other things, thought that “there once was [a time] when he [the Son] was not” (Tanner 1990, 5). This sentence, contrary to the full divinity of the Son, was affirmed by the Arian party; the orthodox bishops made use of it to counter Arianism.

So likewise, Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, claimed that while Mary bore the Christ in her womb, she didn’t bear God in her womb – that is, she was not the theotokos – i.e., the Godbearer. At the ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431, the promulgated documents include the claim that Mary is the theotokos. This claim, affirming the singularity of person in the incarnation, was denied by the Nestorian party; the orthodox bishops made use of it to counter Nestorianism.

Why is this affirmation of the singularity of person important? Well, it safeguards the claim that it was really someone divine who became incarnate, really someone divine who entered creation for our redemption, really someone divine who suffered the ignobility of the cross.

Finally, the claim that Mary bore God follows straightforwardly from the orthodox understanding of the incarnation. Not only is it affirmed in the ecumenical councils, as I noted above. One can see how the claim must be included, given the traditional understanding of the incarnation. Whatever happened to the man, Jesus Christ, happened to God, on the traditional view. For that man, Jesus Christ, was no other than the God-man, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity. And so, given that the man gestated in the womb of Mary, and given that the man is no other person than the Second Person of the Trinity, it must follow that a divine person gestated in the womb of Mary. But a divine person is rightly called “God” on traditional Christian teaching. So, God gestated in the womb of Mary. (For Aquinas on this question, see here.)

If we call Mary the “mother of God”, do we not make her greater than God or at least at the same level as God?

Mary is not greater than God or on the same level as God in any theologically pernicious way, even if we do call her the Mother of God. We must remember that when thinking of Christ, we can consider him with respect to his divinity, but we can also consider him with respect to his humanity. With respect to his divinity, no created thing is greater than him or at the same level as him. None could be.

With respect to his humanity, Mary and Jesus were at the same level in some senses. They were both truly human in a full and complete sense. In some ways, too, she was greater than him – again, with respect to his humanity. As a human son (but not a merely human son) of a human mother, he owed her obedience according to the Law. (For Aquinas’s take on Christ’s submission to the Law, see here.) This should not surprise us, as scripture itself notes Christ’s submission to his parents in Luke 2:51.

We might say that, as her son, she was above him in authority; as her God, he was above her in authority. If we measure greatness all things considered, the whole and entire Christ measured against the whole and entire Mary, we get the answer we expect: Christ is God, and God is greater than Mary in every respect. We should expect that there would be something difficult to wrap our heads around in Jesus’ relationship to Mary. After all, how could a creature be the mother of the Creator? As the 11th century Marian hymn, Alma Redemptoris Mater puts it, “to the wonderment of nature, she bore her creator.” But the fact that this really happened is no more shocking or awe-inspiring than the fact that God became man, that God entered into the ordinary human way of being in the world.

Can we learn anything about God because the Son of God was born of a woman?

Numerous things, no doubt! We see God’s faithfulness to his covenant. This might not be us learning a new thing, but it counts as yet another reason to affirm something we already knew about God. We learn God’s willingness to enter into the quagmire we’ve created for ourselves in being born to a woman, like all of us, and being born to a woman of low standing. (For Aquinas’s take on the value of being born to an espoused virgin, see here; for his take on being born into poverty, see here.) Were he to have simply appeared somewhere, full-formed, one might question his true humanity. Such a birth safeguards his lineage.

Could God have been born a woman?

Yes. Undoubtedly. The medieval disputes about the incarnation were often about whether rationality was required for assumption (“Assumption” is the technical term for what the divine person does to the created nature when that nature is united to the person in a hypostatic union; “hypostatic union” is the technical term for the relation that holds between the divine nature and the assumed nature in a case of incarnation.) This question was disputed. (For Aquinas on what’s required for incarnation, see here.) Whatever the answer to that question, the assumability of a created, rational nature was universally affirmed by Christian thinkers. And so, a female human nature’s being assumed is no more impossible than a male human nature’s being assumed, as both are rational natures.

How is Mary an example for Christian life?

In this time of Advent, we can learn from Mary about saying yes with joy to what God asks of us, and about waiting patiently to see how God will work out His redemptive purposes in our lives and in the world around us. It’s of critical importance that when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, Mary gave God her permission, her fiat, to cooperate with God’s plan for salvation. She used her freedom to offer all she had to be part of God’s work of bringing Christ into the world. There’s a venerable tradition of considering Mary the New Eve, acknowledging the unique way she is able to participate in God’s plan to unravel the harm brought about in the Garden. We see in that tradition both the affirmation of Mary’s freedom and dignity, and her exemplarity in giving her all to God. Twentieth century British author, Caryll Houselander, writes beautifully of Jesus and Mary while Mary was waiting to give birth, “By his own will, Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart…. In the seasons of our Advent – waking, working, eating, sleeping, being – each breath is a breathing of Christ into the world.” (Houselander, Reed of God) We, like Mary, are called to bring Christ into the corners of the world we inhabit, and to do so with joy and patience.

Thank you again to Drs. Timothy and Faith Pawl! Look for more interviews with the Pawls and others in the near future! If you haven’t read it yet, you can read my interview on Christian Apologetics with Dr. Tawa Anderson here.

Reflecting on the Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel wasn’t so bad…

Have you ever heard of the Tower of Babel? The story comes from Genesis 11. Genesis is the first book of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. This book relays the story of the world’s creation by God and God’s calling a people to himself starting with Abraham. However, before Abraham is introduced, the book has this story about a tower. The story goes something like this:

A long time ago, the whole earth had one language. After finding a place to settle, the people invented bricks. They used the bricks to build a tower which reached the “heavens” (i.e., sky). They did this with the intention of making a name for themselves (a task later shown to be God’s alone). Therefore, God confused the language of the people and spread them across the earth. This is why it’s called the Tower of Babel—Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for confused.

There’s a lot that could be said about this story. So I want to note a few things I’m not doing. I’m not addressing whether this event happened as a real event in history. Historians, biblical scholars, and theologians disagree within their own fields about this issue. I prefer to focus on what this story means. But I’m also not focusing on many common interpretations. I think some of them are right. For example, Acts 2 seems to obviously draw on this story as a reversal of it. This seems right, but it looks at things differently than I want to here. However, this is not the most common translation in my circles. The common interpretation goes something like this:

The people were evil and wanted to be like God. They couldn’t actually reach heaven, and they couldn’t actually become like God or take over his realm. But they tried, and that’s why God came and confused their language and spread them across the earth. Now we have such a hard time communicating with each other that we will never unite and attempt to take over the world from God. If we could have just avoided screwing up, people would be more similar, and this would be better.

This interpretation has some truth to it, but it also has some problems. I suggest that God’s action here is a good thing. Is it a punishment? Yes. But is it wholly retributive? No. Is it or its results wholly bad? No. Maybe the Tower of Babel is a story of God’s ability to take bad human actions and make them good. As another character in Genesis says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20, ESV).

Why might I argue something like this? Well I take it that God makes us diverse for a reason. I assume God’s actions are done intentionally, for various reasons. I also know that he plays an intimate role in the creation of every human (e.g., Psalm 139:13). Because of his actions in showing generosity to people of all nations in the Old Testament and his desire for non-Jews to join the family of God as explained in the New Testament, I know God likes ethnic diversity. God doesn’t prefer anyone on account of their ethnic background. God doesn’t consider the whole world condemned for speaking different languages despite the common interpretation of the Tower of Babel presented above. Therefore, if God likes ethnic diversity and diversity of other kinds, then perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that God uses humanity’s evil actions (like the Tower of Babel) to bring about good things (like ethnic, geographic, and linguistic diversity).

I could be wrong about interpreting the story this way. I also am aware that even if I’m right, there’s more going on in this story than just that. It’s also true that ethnic diversity brings with it many issues and opportunities for human sinfulness. I just want to suggest a possible interpretation where God actually brings about something good from the sinful actions of humanity. I do not pretend this is a correct response, but I would love to talk more about it with you. Please leave a comment or send me a message with your thoughts.

Christian Apologetics with Tawa Anderson

In this article, I interview Dr. Tawa Anderson about Christian apologetics. Anderson is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Assistant Director of the Honors Program at Oklahoma Baptist University. He co-authored An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralistic World which released in 2017. Anderson frequently speaks on issues concerning Christian apologetics, worldview, and philosophy for churches, seminaries, universities, and schools.

Thank you to Dr. Anderson for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for us. My questions and comments appear in bold font, and his responses follow them.

Could you please define and briefly explain “apologetics”? What are its purposes and goals? How does it relate to Christianity?

Apologetics, in general, is the reasoned defense of a particular position, belief, or worldview. An apologist provides evidence and arguments for their stance. Christian apologetics, then, is the explanation and defense of the Christian faith, in fulfillment of the Apologetic Mandate in 1 Peter 3:15 (Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have).

There are, I think, four primary purposes/goals of Christian apologetics, which can be related to the thrust and audience of apologetics. There are two thrusts of apologetics: positive and negative (or offensive and defensive). Positive apologetics sets forth reasons to believe that Christianity is true, while negative apologetics responds to objections (or doubts or questions) that others have with respect to Christianity. There are also two audiences for apologetics: evangelistic and devotional. Evangelistic apologetics focuses on those outside the Church and seeks to provide reasons for them to consider the claims of Christ. Devotional apologetics focuses on those within the Church and seeks to strengthen them in the faith.

1. Positive evangelistic apologetics seeks to give non-Christians reasons to believe that Christianity is true: this is the evangelistic function of apologetics.

2. Negative evangelistic apologetics seeks to respond to the doubts and objections that skeptics bring against the faith, providing them with reasons to not disbelieve in Christianity: this is the pre-evangelistic function of apologetics.

3. Positive devotional apologetics seeks to give Christians reasons to continue believing that Christianity is true, providing them with more confidence and boldness in holding and sharing their faith: this is the discipling function of apologetics.

4. Negative devotional apologetics responds to the natural questions and doubts that arise in the minds of believers, providing reasons to not start disbelieving in Christianity: this is the preservative function of apologetics.

So, in summary, I think apologetics serves as pre-evangelism, evangelism, discipleship, and preservation.

As Western civilization becomes increasingly post-Christian, there will be an increasing need and call for strong apologetic ministries of all four types. Christians find their beliefs under intellectual and social attack at every turn, and need to be able to see strong rational and evidential defenses for the core tenets of orthodox Christianity.

What led you to study apologetics?

I had the privilege of serving for seven years as the English Pastor at Edmonton Chinese Baptist Church. Our congregation was nearly all younger than me (and I was young at the time!): junior high, high school, and university students. These were predominantly sharp and thoughtful young men and women, who had lots of questions and doubts about Christianity. They would also bring friends to the church who were not Christians, and these friends would also have lots of good questions about the faith. I also served as part-time chaplain at the University of Alberta, where I would meet and talk regularly with dozens of college students with, again, lots of good and deep questions about life, the universe, and everything.

In the context of ministry, I was basically ‘forced’ into apologetics. The Holy Spirit made it clear to me that it was my responsibility as their pastor to walk alongside people amid their questions and doubts, and seek to help them find reasonable answers to the questions and resolutions to their doubts. So as they would ask questions, I would read and study in order to help them answer those questions. I found the process, frankly, both exhilarating and exhausting. I loved mentoring and shepherding young adults with serious questions and doubts—the answers I found were not always satisfactory to them (or to me), but the process of questioning and seeking was very rewarding.

So while serving as pastor and chaplain, I fell in love with apologetics, and became convinced of the necessity of apologetics in contemporary ministry.

Eventually, that love led to a calling back to school, to pursue a doctorate in philosophy and apologetics.

You are currently writing a book on apologetics. What material do you hope to cover? And what has been your approach to the topic?

The book I’m currently writing is intended to be an accessible lay-level introduction to apologetics. I am primarily focused on positive apologetics—that is, presenting reasons to believe that Christianity is true—which will hopefully resonate with Christians and normal people (those who are not Christians) alike.

My approach to positive apologetics is known as the ‘classical’ or ‘two-step’ approach. The first step is providing evidence and arguments for the existence of God (the classical God of western monotheism—omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent). The second step is providing evidence and arguments for the deity, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—the central historical and doctrinal claims of Christianity specifically.

I should mention that I do not believe the evidence and arguments for God or for Christianity to be what philosophers would call demonstrative (or conclusive). That is, the reasons I present do not arrive with 100% certainty at the truthfulness of the conclusion. I don’t think that any apologetic arguments can do that—for Christianity or for any other position or worldview!

What role do you think apologetics plays in belief formation?

In general, I think apologetics plays a relatively minor role in bringing people to Christian faith. William Lane Craig draws a helpful distinction between knowing and showing that our faith is true.

Craig argues that most of us know our faith is true primarily via ‘the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit.’ That is, we come to faith in Christ through experiencing the redemptive power of Christ in our lives. Oftentimes, however, apologetics lurks in the background of that personal experience. For example, in my own life, my conversion to Christianity was very immediate and experiential—God reached down and grabbed a hold of me, convincing me directly of my need for a Savior. But in the two years prior to my conversion, I had four Christian friends who were answering questions I had, and providing reasons that I ought to consider Christianity. In terms of conscious awareness, their apologetic and evangelistic efforts did not play a part in my coming to faith; but behind the scenes I have no doubt that they were instrumental in paving the way for me to come to the cross of Christ.

Thus, again, in terms of coming to faith, or (in Craig’s words) knowing that our faith is true, apologetics plays a more minor role.

But when it comes to showing that our faith is true, apologetics is front and center. If we are going to share our Christian faith with those outside the walls of the church, we need to be able to identify good reasons and evidence that supports the truthfulness of Christianity—and this is increasingly important as society continues to move in a post-Christian direction.

Furthermore, while apologetics may have relatively little to do with becoming a Christian in the first place, I think apologetics is essential in remaining a Christian, particularly in a hostile post-Christian culture.

In what ways do you think local churches ought to promote apologetics?

In every way possible. First, church leaders must always be cognizant that there are non-Christians in their midst, who will not just take their word for things. Skeptics need to be given reasons to consider the faith, arguments that support the contention that Christianity is true. Second, church leaders (pastors, preachers, teachers, etc.) must also recognize that the most difficult questions and doubts may exist in the hearts and minds of the most faithful Christ-followers in their midst. So, taking these first two pieces together, we must always preach and teach with the awareness that there are people with doubts, questions, and objections who are listening.

Third, because of that, we can and should cultivate a church culture of openness, where it is safe to share one’s doubts and questions and thoughts. We as church leaders should never feel threatened or attacked when people in the congregation (Christian or not) ask difficult questions—the questions are out there anyway, and it is far better if they can be asked and answered in a healthy, faith-nurturing fashion by church leaders.

Fourth, we need to live a life of constant growth and study, seeking answers to people’s questions and resolutions to people’s doubts. That will mean reading works by snarky skeptics, honest doubters, wavering disciples, and confident apologists. If people in our congregation are reading Richard Dawkins, we should read Dawkins to be familiar with his thoughts and arguments, and we should read Alister McGrath (or others) who respond forcefully to Dawkins.

Fifth, there are tremendous apologetics resources available, in print, online, via video, etc.—we can and should make these resources available to folks as readily as possible, so that they have the means of seeking answers to their own questions and resolutions to their own doubts. The long-term goal should be discipling a congregation of confident apologist-evangelists, who are solid in their faith, who grasp the rational and evidential foundations for orthodox Christianity, and who are passionate about defending and sharing that faith in the public marketplace.

What advice would you give someone interested in apologetics who’s unsure of where to start?

I’ll mention a few very helpful resources that can get someone started in apologetic equipping.

First, in print, the series of books authored by Lee Strobel are accessible, and provide very helpful introductions to major questions while also pointing readers in the right direction if they want to dive more deeply into particular subjects. The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for Easter are particularly helpful.

Second, for online apologetics ministry, the cream of the crop is http://www.apologetics315.com – an apologetic clearing-house which has helpful articles as well as links to apologetic ministries around the world. You can find literally everything there!

Here are a few more helpful suggestions:

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – excellent communicator with some persuasive arguments.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God and Making Sense of God

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition – also his website, http://www.reasonablefaith.org

Thank you again to Dr. Anderson! Look for more interviews with Tawa Anderson and others in the near future! If you liked the content, please like this post and leave a comment. To receive updates when more interviews are released, subscribe to the blog with your email.