The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with J.P. Moreland. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today, I’m speaking with Dr. J.P. Moreland. He’s the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California.
A quick look at his bio on his newly renovated website, and you’ll quickly realize why Dr. Moreland is considered one of the foremost Christian thinkers of our time. He has four degrees, covering Chemistry, Theology, and Philosophy. He’s been a church planter, he’s spoken and debated on over 175 college campuses, he’s served with Campus Crusade for Christ for 10 years and he’s served as a bioethicist. He’s published over 70 articles and journals, many of which are available on his website and he’s authored or co-authored about 30 books. Many will be familiar with Scaling the Secular City and Love Your God With All Your Mind. A couple of books we’ll be talking about today include The Kingdom Triangle and The God Question. So, in short, he’s made and continues to make a strong impact for Christ in his work.
So, the purpose of our interview today is to learn a bit more about his thoughts on apologetics and his insights, specifically the ideas that he has covered in the two books just mentioned, The Kingdom Triangle and The God Question.
Thanks for speaking with me today, Dr Moreland.
JPM: Great to be with you, Brian.
BA: Now, I know you have made an impact with a lot of people with your work and it’s also influenced me as well, so thank you.
JPM: Well, you’re welcome!
BA: There’s a lot I want to talk about, so I’ll just get right to the point. First up, how did you get into philosophy and apologetics?
JPM: I was a Chemistry major in the late 60s at the University of Missouri. I had been raised in a liberal Methodist church and so Jesus of Nazareth was basically a pale, white guy from the Midwest of America to me. I had very little interest in Christianity and I met some fellows with a campus ministry that talked about Jesus Christ as though He’d actually risen from the dead. So I began to look into Christianity at an intellectual level, because I wanted to know if it was true. I became convinced that it was highly likely that it was true and on that basis gave my life to Christ in 1968.
Well, I began to share my faith and I started getting asked questions that I couldn’t answer and so I began to try to find answers for myself and then to try to help other people. Lo and behold, there was one discipline that these questions seemed to usually find their way back to – not always, but usually – and that was the field of philosophy which I thought at that time was psychology misspelled.
I didn’t know anything at all about it! But I began to read on it and lo and behold, I found that philosophy dealt with some of the fundamental issues of knowing and of reality and of value that could help me in my witness for Christ.
BA: Now, [for] a lot of people, the walls do come up when they hear ‘philosophy’, so did any walls like that come up for you and what do you say to someone who says, “Well, philosophy no, no, I want to preach the Gospel, and that’s an obstacle to the Gospel”, and that sort of a thing?
JPM: Sure. I think the primary thing that we want to do is to help people. So, when we preach the Gospel, or we seek to witness and persuade people to become Christians, we want to do what we can to be of help to them. And I have found that there are people who do have questions, both non-Christians and then believers who are growing, have questions. My job is to simply try to help overcome their questions and give them answers that are helpful to them. That’s all. And philosophy is tremendously useful to that.
Now, Colossians 2 does say, “Be careful to avoid vain and empty philosophy”, but that’s the vain and empty kind, not the good kind. If I said to you, “Avoid the spoiled meat”, I’m not against meat, I’m against spoiled meat, and “vain and empty philosophy” would be not to accept and to be caught up into ideas and to believe things that are contrary to the teachings of the Word, so good philosophy can help counter that.
BA: Let’s talk about your book, The Kingdom Triangle. It speaks mainly to believers about a life of balance. I really like the book. It talks about reclaiming the Christian mind – the life of the mind, having a life of devotion and living in the power of the Holy Spirit, so sort of a three-pronged approach there, that’s the triangle. So what was your main goal in writing that book and sort of what strategy are you taking there?
JPM: Sure, Brian. I became concerned that Christianity, in America at least, was not as vibrant and as impactful as it could be and I began to look for reasons why. So I re-studied the book of Acts and then I began to do some investigation in the early Fathers of the Church, particularly interviewing some experts on the early Church Fathers and asking them questions. I came to the conclusion that for the first three to four centuries of the Church they continued the emphasis in the book of Acts which I saw, as you pointed out nicely, was a three-pronged emphasis on maturing believers and developing the local Church.The first [prong] was to treat Christianity as a source of knowledge of reality, not just a set of personal beliefs. This involved learning how to think as a Christian, valuing the life of the mind, learning how to defend your faith and to know why you believe what you believe. The second was the formation of a tender inner-heart.
One way to get at these different points on the triangle, Brian, is to think about what it would be like to have one of these but not the other two. And so a person who is knowledgeable about his faith, but doesn’t have an inner-heart that’s tender and that is forming spiritually and a person who is not attuned to his emotions and his feelings, is going to have a tendency to be argumentative and arrogant. Then the person who’s only into spiritual formation, is going to be a person who cares about feelings and life transformation, but won’t know what he believes or why, and is very, very vulnerable to being sucked into the culture.
And then I think the addition of the supernatural power of the Kingdom. It became clear to me that healings and demonic deliverances and genuine miracles continued at least for the first four centuries of the Church. This isn’t something that stopped with the death of the Apostle Paul, or John – God is still performing things like this all around the world, and I go into churches and it’s amazing how many people have seen answers to prayer for example, that are specific, or who know somebody who has been healed physically.
Now my view was then, that if you have the life of the mind and the life of inner transformation, without an appropriate emphasis on the power of the Spirit, the Christian life will become a self-help movement that does not include power, and so I felt like all three were important. You can get off on any one of them in terms of a hobby-horse, but my desire was to just share the treasures that I’ve experienced in these three areas – which I do take to be biblical areas – with my audience to encourage them to continue to try to grow in all three areas.
BA: Kind of like power, love and a sound mind, in a sense.
JPM: Exactly, well put, well put, absolutely. Power, love and a sound mind and I think it is especially important for apologists because apologetics tends to attract people with a certain personality type. They tend to be Type A and argumentative and they like back and forth intellectual activity, and that’s a good thing. Not only is that not wrong, that’s a good thing, but that needs to be balanced out in terms of a holistic life.
BA: Now it struck me when I was reading the book that – you know – I can imagine certain people who emphasize one area over others, or perhaps leave out one area in favor of the others, that they could hear what you’re saying, or read what you’re writing, and almost be offended, or…
JPM: Yes, yes.
BA: And I’m wondering how in general has that content has been received, whether you’ve given it in talks or lectures, what the response has been?
JPM: Yeah, everybody anticipates me valuing the life of the mind so that came as no shock to people. I think the other two points of the triangle have had mixed responses. I’d say 80% positive, but regarding the life of spiritual transformation, there have been people who have seen my emphasis on the heart and on certain exercises that I recommend in the book as bordering on New Age Christianity, whereas in reality certain exercises that I recommend in the book come from the medical community, not from religious practices. These are strictly medical exercises that help a person train his heart to process anxiety and depression. So there have been some people who have seen the exercises that I recommend in the book, that I got from medicine as being ‘New Age-ish’, but they’re not New Age-ish, they’re medical exercises that I think are helpful ways to apply the Biblical teaching on meditating on the affective side of life and in terms of what God has done for us, rather than simply meditating on the content of scripture.
Because if you look at a full-orbed view of Biblical meditation, scripture has, in the Psalms and other places, the meditation on the great things God has done for you, in addition to meditating on the Biblical text. And the reason for meditating on what God has done for us is that builds faith and it builds a sense of emotional closeness to God, because He has reached out to care for us.
Regarding the third point of the triangle, I try to root the power of the Spirit in the Kingdom and in Jesus’s ministry, not in spiritual gifts and I think this is important. While I believe all the spiritual gifts are available for people today, the so-called miraculous gifts have been divisive in the body of Christ. So, I don’t tend to theologize about experiencing the power of the Kingdom through gifts, as much as I do through the reality of the Kingdom now. I believe there is a future form of the Kingdom that will be later, but I think the Kingdom was meant to manifest itself in power over darkness and in power in other ways. In that I also theologize it through extending the ministry of Jesus, where Jesus fundamentally ministered in the New Testament, not from His Deity but from His humanity as He was filled with the Holy Spirit, depending upon where His Father was leading Him – and we are to continue that ministry to some extent after His death.
So, those are my attempts to try to minimize the kind of red flags that people would see in reading the book and by and large, Brian, I think it’s been pretty successful.
BA: Now, earlier you were just talking about how some of these things and the concepts you are talking about are important for the apologist because he tends to be emphasizing the life of the mind and intellectual engagement. So, how do you see the other facets being deployed as something that the apologist would do on purpose? How can they develop devotional areas of their life and also employ the power of the Spirit in their evangelism?
JPM: Boy, there’s an awful lot to be said but maybe briefly I could say regarding the life of the heart – I would really encourage people listening to us today not to devalue the role of feeling and emotion in life. If you think about the fruit of the Spirit for a minute – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness – many of these are states that involve deep feeling and I’ve been around people who live in their heads, who run 180 degrees away from emotion, because they are afraid of emotion, they’re afraid to feel and in fact they use their intellects to protect them from having to feel. Now I think people who do that -I know I’ve done that before, and when I do that it’s usually because I’m afraid of my emotions because I’ve been hurt in the past and emotion can be something that a person’s afraid of.
Well, I would encourage our listeners not to run from their feelings. You don’t want to be led by them, but it’s a good thing to be capable of feeling appropriate emotions at the right time. If you’re witnessing to someone, for example, and they come from a background of abuse or hurt, it would be a good thing to be able to feel empathy for them and genuinely feel that. I think people pick that up, whether you feel it or not. So, the inner life of heart transformation isn’t simply about emotion but it does include that. And this is a powerful part of witnessing where people get a sense that you care deeply.
As far as the Spirit’s power goes, I think that being able to share stories with people that you’re witnessing to, about times when you’ve seen answer to prayer or perhaps times in your local Church’s assembly when someone was prayed for and actually got healed; a time perhaps when there was something demonic that you witnessed and you can bear witness that it was real and it wasn’t just multiple personalities or something of that sort. I think being able to bear witness to the things that we’ve seen and heard as a part of the supernatural journey, can have a tremendous persuasive power on an unbeliever.
BA: Yes. One of the things that strikes me there too, is just thinking about how easy it is to think of an encounter with someone that you’re having evangelistically or using apologetics and completely neglecting the fact that, “Hey, I need to be praying for this person”, and really trusting God to do this work, not just me you know, trying to remove all these intellectual barriers! I need to rely on the power of the Spirit to lead me and to speak through me and work on that person’s heart while I’m not talking to them, you know?
JPM: Well, yes, absolutely Brian! I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I can tell you that relying on the Spirit is not just empty words – that’s real! And when you go into a situation with that kind of a dependency, you don’t feel like it’s all up to you You can relax and leave the results to God and be available.
This is why, when we began talking Brian, I emphasized that apologetics is really a ministry of helping people. It’s not winning arguments, though of course I want to win arguments! We are to argue without being argumentative and so this is about arguing but it’s arguing for the purpose of helping people. And so I see apologetics as a ministry of caring for people and of trying to build them up.
You know it’s funny because in the Proverbs – the Proverbs identify three kinds of people: the simpleton, the fool and the wise man. The simpleton is a naive person who doesn’t know any better and the fool is a mocker who should know better by now but mocks. It is appropriate sometimes to be strong and confrontational with a fool who is mocking, in order to save the simpleton. So, I’m not suggesting that apologetics does not involve times of straightforward confrontation and a push-back. You know we have to do that! But it’s ultimately for the purpose of reaching out to those who haven’t hardened themselves, with care and aid. And so, yeah, I like the way you put that earlier. I think you’re right.
BA: So you might need to steal someone’s stereo in the process of (…)
JPM: Yeah. (Laughs).
BA: Well, you never know, do you! I’m sure many of our listeners will catch that, but (…)
JPM: That actually happened by the way (…)
BA: (Laughs). It’s not just an urban folk-tale of some sort (…)
JPM: No, no, that was a real event that really happened.
BA: Now I want to move on to the other book, The God Question, but just before we do why don’t you just speak to the apologists who are listening, and exhort them to develop and keep and focus on their life of devotion and not neglect that.
JPM: Yeah, the most important thing about us is who we’re becoming, not fundamentally what we do. And what we do actually should flow out of what we’re becoming, rather than the other way around. So, I would say that it’s easy for us to get adrenalized by the apologetic quest because it’s exciting, it’s confrontational, we can get adrenalized by the battle, the war. All of that’s OK provided it doesn’t distort our souls and it’s far more important that I am becoming a whole person that’s balanced and is becoming like Jesus and allow my apologetic activity to flow out of that, rather than conversely. So keep your eye on the ball, my dear brothers and sisters, as I’m trying to do, doing the best I can as well. I get my eye off the ball occasionally too, so let’s keep our eye on the target and keep on focusing on what matters most and then let our ministries flow out of that.
BA: Excellent! Alright, so The God Question. It’s called An Invitation to a Life of Meaning, and from my reading it seems to me that The God Question is aimed mostly toward the seeker, or the sceptic or the unbeliever who is open to exploring and discovering authentic, classical Christianity. So it takes a more evangelistic apologetic approach with the strong emphasis on meaning and life and the human experience.
So, you know, as we’re talking about both these books, they seem to both take this holistic approach to classical Christianity like the full scope – heart, soul and mind. How would you describe what you’re trying to do in The God Question?
JPM: Well, I’m impressed Brian! You’ve done your homework! I couldn’t have described the book better myself. I have been concerned in my own ministry over the years, to have a book that could be loaned to an uncle or to a coworker at work, who is cynical about Christianity, thinks religion is largely a bunch of bunk, but would be willing to read something if he or she were given something stimulating. Now, Mere Christianity is a great read and that’s served but it’s a little dated, not irrelevant but a bit dated and then Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, is an excellent tool but it only focuses on the historical evidences.
And so what I wanted was to write a book that was a conversation with a seeker, where I basically sat down with him and said, “Look let’s be honest! I’d be willing to bet your life isn’t going real well, bet you’re not happy, I’ll bet you don’t find a whole lot of meaning in life and I’ll bet you face a ton of boredom, and you’re lonely! Now, the truth of the matter is these symptoms are the result of a worldview that you may have internalized because worldviews have implications. And what you’re experiencing is a natural implication of the abandonment of the Biblical God”, and I try to show why that’s true.
Then I’ll say, “So, whether or not the Biblical God exists, is a matter of great momentous importance, because as you’ve demonstrated in your own life, there’s a lot at stake in giving this idea up but that still doesn’t mean it’s true. So, is it true? Does the Christian God really exist?” And I try to lay out a case that God exists and that Christianity is true.
And then the latter third of the book is basically over the question, given that I think this is true, how do I become a student and follower and apprentice of Jesus without becoming religious? How can I become an authentic Christ-follower and Christ-lover, without having to become a legalist and things like that? So that’s the holistic part of the book and I think it has a conversational tone to it by and large, where I’m not preaching at the reader but I’m trying to say, “This is my take on life! Here’s why I think the way I think. If you disagree with me, show me where I’m wrong and … but if you don’t, you know, follow this out in your life”. That’s what I’m trying to do.
BA: Now, do you think that from the apologists’ point of view that they can read this book and they can kind of use it in a sense like a template for personal engagement? I mean – because I think you cover an interactive approach as you’re talking about, that I think there’s a lot to learn for the apologist just in reading it that. There could be some content you’re neglecting by just saying, “Hey, here’s the Kalam argument”, you know?
JPM: Yeah, well put Brian! I think that the existential dilemmas that people experience deep within their souls on a daily basis really do flow from their worldview. You know, I really do think that, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”, and so I believe that the reason that there are so many people today that are depressed and they’re not happy and they’re deeply, deeply bored and lonely is because they have accepted a view in the world according to which there is no purpose to anything.
And so many times apologists think, well, there’s the truth question and there’s the practical, existential question about this and I’m trying to weave those together and say that the existential component of people’s dilemmas are the result of abandoning the truth. So I do think that this, hopefully … I mean I hope that it will be helpful to people, especially in knowing about how do you make contact with an audience today and to create a need in their hearts to hear what you’re going to say about the truth, the Gospel. And then, how can you give them hope about “where would I go from here if I end up signing on to this thing?” That’s what I’m trying to do.
BA: One of the things you talk about is life transformation and becoming a disciple of Christ. So how do you spell out what that looks like? What do you think the 21st Century disciple of Jesus looks like?
JPM: Well, I think that this, first of all comes … this perspective comes from adding the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Gospel of justification by faith. The Gospel of justification by faith is clearly the core of the Gospel and we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. But the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is a larger perspective that answers the question, “So what?” “What do I do now that I’ve come into this relationship?” And the Gospel of the Kingdom is the promise of a source of power to live a new life in a new realm that is out of the ordinary. It is a hope-giving Gospel about the possibility of real transformation right now and so my attempt is to root this as a journey in the Kingdom of apprenticeship to Jesus, so that Jesus becomes my teacher, my instructor about how to live my life. And I fundamentally learn from Him, through study and obeying His teachings in the Scriptures, and those of His apostles. And then of course, I try to learn to be sensitized to the presence of His Holy Spirit in my life as He guides, and prompts and directs me, and gives me energy and so I try to tease this out as a cooperative walk with Jesus in the school of life as He becomes my teacher about how to live my life.
By the way, may I say one other thing about that, Brian? The most important thing to me is that I’m not trying to live Jesus’s life, I’m trying to live my own life, but I’m trying to live it as Jesus would, if He were in my shoes. And this isn’t just “What would Jesus do?”, it’s more how would Jesus go about loving my wife and caring for my students because I happen to be a Professor, you know, in your case how would Jesus shape your website and the ministry you’re performing? How would being His student inform the way you go about what you’re doing? Those were the kinds of things I address in the latter part of the book.
BA: Well, it’s definitely a book that I’ve recommended already and that I’ll continue to recommend, so…
JPM: Well, I appreciate that.
BA: Now, I’m going to shift and talk finally about a couple of things for equipping apologists. It’s one of the goals of the site, the website, and so you’ve, in teaching at Biola and Talbot and your various teaching roles and the things you’ve written, if you could isolate, say, one or two main words of advice for the next generation of apologists, what would that be?
JPM: Number one, realize that we’re a team and that you have a role to play. You don’t have to be everything. This is important. You don’t have to be Bill Craig. You can play a role, you find your role on the team and you play your role. And I believe that there are an awful lot of apologists that will be listening to us that have been called by God to be really good generalists. Now what that means is they’re not going to be specialists in any particular area and there is a certain frustration, Brian, that comes with that because you feel like you’re always vulnerable to better people in a certain area because you’re not an expert in that area. My word to people would be … my first piece of advice is learn to feel comfortable with your limitations and realize that there are other people on the team that can handle those bigger questions if you can’t. And that’s OK. You’re not a failure. You haven’t been derelict in your duty. You’re called probably – maybe not – but probably called to be a skilled generalist and to keep up on seven, eight, nine, ten areas and to learn, basically, how to navigate those but, good Lord, you know, you’ve got 24 hours a day, you’re not going to be able to become an expert, the first thing is we’re a team. Feel comfortable with your role on the team, and that’s the first thing.
The second would be to really give people the space when you’re witnessing to be honest with where they’re really at, and to give people permission to have doubts, to raise questions and to treat them with respect as you try to answer what’s troubling them. And those would be two pieces of advice that I think are very important.
BA: And one of the things you talk about in The Kingdom Triangle, is the life of a disciple, being disciplined, and disciplining different areas of your life.
BA: So, let me ask you a question about daily disciplines and one of the things I try to think about a lot is the idea of lifelong learning and creating habits that keep me on autopilot so that I don’t have to think too hard but if I just keep plugging away, you know in ten years maybe I’ll know a little bit.
JPM: Yeah, you bet, you bet.
BA: So, talk about how someone can develop certain habits of lifelong learning and things that have helped you and real keys that you would not want to lose.
JPM: Well, one of the things that you have to do is to become a student of yourself and by that I mean that you have to learn your own bio-rhythms and when you’re freshest. So, for example, I know some people who really love to study at night. They’re most effective when their day is finished and they’ve been able to kick back a little bit after dinner and then they dive in at night time.
I tend to be freshest from nine in the morning until about one in the afternoon, and so I try to take the time in the morning and to continue to read … continue to read … the apologist is called to the discipline of study, study, study. I mean, I’m sorry but that’s just all there is to it. If you’re going to be a defender of the faith, you’re going to have to read and study and listen to CDs or download things and just keep learning and I think that you said it so well, Brian, that it is a matter of nipping away at this, week in and week out, and just being faithful so that, over a 12 month period, you look back and say, “My gosh, I’ve grown! I’m not the same guy I was 12 months ago. I’ve learned X, Y and Z”. That’s not going to happen overnight and by the way, I would suggest that people form the habit of reading things that are a little bit over their head because that stretches you and it will force you to have to grow intellectually. And you might want to get a dictionary of philosophy, like the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy by Robert Audi, or just go online and Google philosophical terms that you don’t know. But master yourself, find out when you’re fresh, try to reserve times to study during the week when you are fresh, and nip away at it, and study things that are a little bit over your head that make you have to grow as you’re reading.
BA: Excellent. Well I remember reading Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and thinking this is really over my head.
JPM: That was a tough book, I know that.
BA: I tell you though it is one of the books that has helped me most, just really helped, it was – and I find that a lot of your books are kind of like that where they’re just… “man, you’re deep man” – but you come out on the other side thinking, this has really been beneficial, so…
JPM: Well listen, that just means the world to me for you to say that and isn’t it a good experience when you’ve read something that’s been a little tough and you’ve worked through it and you say, “You know what, I think I understand twenty to thirty percent of this!” I mean, that’s what happens to me. I read stuff and if I can get twenty percent of it, I’m happy!
BA: Well excellent. One thing I wanted you to point to before we move on is, you’ve got a newly updated website which looks really good, so point our listeners to where they can find it, what they can expect to find there and your blog and stuff.
JPM: Sure, www.jpmoreland.com. It’s going to have my … it just was launched this last week and we’re in the process between now and the next month of getting more of my materials on there, so it’s not all on there yet. But the goal is that over the next handful of months, we will have a large number of my videos and my audios and my articles and chapters from my books available. If you go on there now, you’ll learn a lot about my passion. There are short articles that are already there. There are materials about me and The Kingdom Triangle and some of the things I’ve written and there are links to some of my materials, even already. But this is in motion. It’s not fully developed yet, but we had a nice launch this week and we’re in the process of adding more materials and I hope it will just get … it will be a clearing house for my information and the things I care about and my materials, where people who want to know, you know, if I’ve written something on something, will have one place they can go to get it if they are interested.
BA: Great, well I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together and what I see there now is great.
JPM: Thank you, my friend.
BA: Well, thanks for taking the time to do the interview, Dr Moreland.
JPM: Listen, keep up your work, your website and your ministry is so important! I bless you in the name of Jesus and want to urge you to continue to be faithful in the work that you’re doing, it’s so important.
BA: Thank you.
JPM: Alright, God bless.