How Tom Wright Changed My Life

Yesterday (7 February 2020), St. Mary’s College of Divinity at St. Andrews had an event to honor and remember Tom Wright (a.k.a., N.T. Wright) for his tenure at the university. Professor Wright held a distinguished chair in New Testament for nearly a decade (a chair previously held by Richard Bauckham). As Professor Alan Torrance mentioned yesterday evening, he was responsible for millions of pounds being poured into St. Mary’s via student enrollment and grants. He was also instrumental in Logos (the program I study in) starting and being developed at St. Andrews. But I want to point out a few other ways that I have benefitted from his lifetime of scholarship.

When I was a high school student, I first heard the name N.T. Wright when my pastor and worship pastor wanted to take a group from the church to Oklahoma Christian University where he was speaking. The trip ended up being cancelled, and I didn’t get to go. (I would then meet him New Orleans some years later where he signed every book I had by him at the time, and then I would have classes with him some years after that.) Instead, I wouldn’t interact with Wright’s work for another couple years until I picked up the book Simply Christian and then Simply Jesus after that. Again, I wouldn’t interact with his work in any meaningful way until my undergraduate years.

The two primary things I learned from N.T. Wright which I should have known, but never did, were: the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament, and the Christian hope of future resurrection. I grew up in Christian communities that never spent much time thinking about how deeply Jewish Jesus was or the four gospel accounts which talk about him or Paul’s letters or any of it. Jesus is Jewish—not formerly or temporarily Jewish. Jesus continues to be Jewish, as does the New Testament. How are we to read the gospel accounts, Acts, Paul’s writings, the letter to the Hebrews, or the letters from Peter or John or Jude if not as profoundly Jewish texts? Yes, they often write to a wider audience—especially Paul’s letters, but they do so from a religious background and history of thought which is profoundly Jewish.

Finally, Tom Wright taught me the Christian hope. I always imagined death to be the end. I don’t mean that I thought we would just die and that there would be nothing. But I did imagine that we would die and go to heaven—some would go to hell—and that everything would just be disembodied and ethereal. However, in reading Wright’s works, I realized that the New Testament teaches something profoundly different. It teaches that God will raise us bodily from the dead in the end and bring heaven to earth. It teaches that if God doesn’t raise us like Jesus, then we ought to be the most pitied because we are wasting our lives. I can’t even recount the experience of reading The Resurrection of the Son of God for the first time. If I could get everyone to wade through its hundreds of pages, I would want every Christian to read it.

In summary, Tom Wright changed my life. His teaching impacted how my professors read the New Testament. In reading his work, I realized how profoundly he impacted my own professors. In reading his work, I realized essential truths of the Christian faith for the first time. In reading his work, I realized the Christian hope, and in reading his work, I realized that the story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel. I, like many, am forever indebted to the life and scholarship of N.T. Wright. May God bless him abundantly in his retirement (even if, it’s just “in name only”)!

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.

One Month in Scotland

One month. Thirty days. 720 hours. 43,200 minutes. I have lived in Scotland for a little over four weeks now. I have just finished my third week of lectures. I will turn in my first essay within the next couple weeks. I have attended four churches. I have drank so much tea. What will one month living in the UK do to you?

A quick aside… This is actually my second time to live in the UK for a month. I spent twenty-eight days in June 2019 staying in various places in the UK. However, the experience is quite different this time around, and it has a different feel when you are staying, mostly, in one place with plans for a longer period of time.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to drink tea a lot. I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned the tea, but I don’t think I have yet communicated the amount of tea that you will consume, or at least be offered, throughout the day. To remind my American readers of a story, there was once a group of rebellious (you might even say “revolutionary”) persons who dumped a shipload of tea in Boston Harbor. I can almost imagine the harbor with a tea bag steeping in it as it slowly turns the water black. Well, if you added some cream to that ocean-tea, it may be about the quantity that will be offered or drank by you when you live in the UK.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to hear a lot about Brexit and Boris. Before I move on, this is obviously not a normative experience, but over this first month I’ve my living here, it’s huge. Without going into political details, no one can stop talking about the unexpected roller coaster that has been the last month of UK politics and governance. I’ve overheard world-leading New Testament scholars and theologians, old ladies in cafes, and groups of blokes in pubs discussing these crazy, unprecedented times. I’ll just say that being here right now makes the US political system look rather tame. Perhaps it’s making me optimistic for my home country.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to never know what to do with trash. Once you get around the confusion of talking about “rubbish” instead of “trash” and “bins” instead of “cans”, you still have to navigate what items to throw away and what items to recycle. Personally I really enjoy the option of recycling, but for someone untrained, it can become too difficult when you just want to get rid of a food container.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to always have coins. The first thing to mention is that they have coins for one pound and two pounds instead of notes (like having dollar and two dollar coins instead of paper money). Plus if there is a place where small coins are basically useless, it’s the UK. When you purchase things here, there are no non-advertised sales taxes, so you often have items rounded to nice neat numbers. However, when you don’t have nice round numbers, you get stuck with one cent, two cent, five cent, and ten cent coins which you will rarely use. They will just sit in your backpack, or “rucksack”, and jingle as you walk everywhere. They also sound like toy coins, and that only makes it worse. Jingle, jingle.

Real coins from my backpack. I thankfully spent about ten coins earlier today.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to forget that cars drive on the right side of the street back home. You will probably be riding a bicycle or walking everywhere, so even if you don’t drive a car, you will get use to riding your bike or looking for cars on the left side of the road. Sadly, a part of you will always doubt it. You will constantly be confused and paranoid. Such is the fate of an American (or German, so says my friend).

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to constantly not know where to walk on the sidewalk (“pavement”). If there is one thing that annoys me about living here, it’s that no one is consistent on picking a side of the sidewalk to walk on. People from American don’t know where to walk. People from Germany don’t know where to walk. And worse, people from here don’t know where to walk! There is just a constant mass of confusion any time you have to pass someone going the opposite way as you.

This is a joke. This is actually a crowd from an event I attended, not people on a sidewalk…

This post mainly serves as a joke and will, to some extent, misrepresent some things. So I want to end on this note: if you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to love the people, love the place, and be thankful for the opportunity. If you have ever had such an opportunity, you understand the feeling. If you haven’t, do whatever you can to get a similar experience. It can be transforming to engage a diverse world.

Living in Scotland

I keep waiting for a good time to sit down and summarize my life in Scotland right now. I keep waiting to get through one more event or activity to end my update with, but alas, things keep happening. If I wait any longer, I may just never write about my experiences. So today is my attempt for you to share in the story so far.

This month has been busy and exciting and nerve-wracking and overwhelming—all in the best possible ways. It has only been seventeen days since my last day in the US, so everything I share about my thoughts and feelings should be taken with a thick pinch of salt. However, despite the “new bike smell”, I do have thoughts and feelings about my lot in life. I live alone in a little studio apartment which will only feel smaller once I marry and get a new roommate. I have cooked nearly every meal I’ve had since moving in here, and I’m tired of washing the terrible pan that everything sticks to. I have two coffee cups which are on constant rotation in the washing because of my fondness for two or four cups of tea in the first half of my day. I ride my bike into town most times because it turns a twenty minute walk into a seven minute frenzy.

I fill my day reading, and watching an occasional Netflix show that isn’t available in the US—they have a better variety except for the devastating lack of The West Wing. I found a nice library and a couple other places to study. I have met kind people, wise people, strange people, and smart people. I have met Scotts, Germans, Indians, and far too many Americans. But I have loved it all.

I had plenty of welcome events the last week to attend, but I finally attended my first week of classes on Monday and Tuesday (16 and 17 September). I listened to N.T. Wright saying things that I completely agreed with and others that I completed disagreed with while I sat by his side. I had a couple Scottish lecturers lead riveting discussions on philosophy’s role in theology and the doctrine of Creation. I met a stranger and shared a meal with his family, and I saw a lifetime of wisdom face-to-face. I wrote an article, I read an essay, and I tried to not talk too much in class. I’ve had FaceTime calls, and I’ve had long messages. I’ve made friends and had fun. I’ve watched lectures (including my first Gifford lecture!). I have engaged great scholars, and I’ve let myself dream.

Picture by Vi Bui. Pictured from left to right: myself (Chandler), and Professor Wright. Edited to remove a fellow classmate.

Without diving into too much detail or boring you too much, this has been my first seventeen days.