The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Robert Bowman. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics315. Today’s interview is with Robert M. Bowman Jr., the Director of Research at the Institute for Religious Research. He is the author of nearly sixty articles, and of a dozen books, and these include, Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrated Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, Twenty Compelling Evidences That God Exists and also, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. The purpose of this interview is to learn a bit more about Rob and his work, take a look at apologetic methodologies, and get his advice for those defending the faith. Well, thanks for joining me today Rob.
RB: My pleasure.
BA: Well, first off, I want to thank you for your work. Two of your books that I’ve read have been a couple of my favorites — Faith Has Its Reasons, and Twenty Compelling Evidences That God Exists. And I think both are excellent, so I look forward to getting to some of your other titles in the future.
RB: Well, thank you, I appreciate that.
BA: First, and before we get started with the main area of our interview, I wanted to find out more about your background and your experience in Christian apologetics.
RB: Okay. I’ve been involved in Christian apologetics in one form or another, context or another, pretty much my whole adult life. Mainly because I had a need to pursue issues in Christian apologetics for myself, and wanted to know the answers to certain questions. And, as I dug into those and researched, and thought about things, and wrote down what my thoughts were, and so forth and so on, I developed an interest in the broad field of Christian apologetics and found myself having opportunities to share with others and do some teaching, and some writing, and so forth, and as people say, “One thing lead to another.” So, I’ve been involved in Christian apologetics really my entire adult life, beginning when I was in college and had questions once I became a Christian. I had questions about, how do we know the bible is true? And you know, so forth and so on.
BA: Now, you’re currently working with the Institute for Religious Research. Can you tell me about that organization and what you do there, and what the main focus of the work is?
RB: Yes. I’ve been with the Institute for Religious Research for about two and a half years. Prior to that, I’ve worked for various apologetics-related ministries, some of which people may have heard of, such as, The Christian Research Institute, or the apologetics department of the North American Mission Board. And then about two and a half years ago, as I said, I became part of the staff of IRR, which has been around for about twenty five years or so. The Institute For Religious Research is an apologetics ministry with its focus primarily on providing resources pertaining to Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and similar groups. And Mormonism would be their number one subject area although there’s a desperate need for general apologetics resources even for people that are coming out of Mormonism. In fact, something that we had a discussion about this morning in our staff meeting, because a lot of people come out of these groups, again any group that you can think of, and they have questions about, “How do we know the bible’s reliable? How do we know the right books are in the bible? How do we know this is historically credible?” Etcetera, etcetera. So, we deal with those kinds of issues as well as issues specific to Mormonism or to some other group of that nature. And, I’m doing a lot of research on Mormonism myself, in fact, the last couple years I’ve been doing research specifically on The Book of Mormon. And, that’s currently a major research focus of mine.
BA: So, if someone wants to find resources on Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, they can go to irr.org and they can find a lot of articles and things of that nature?
RB: That is correct, irr.org is our website, that’s irr.org, and we have a lot of resources on Mormonism. We have some resources on Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that’s growing a little bit. I myself have written four books on the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that’s when I was doing a lot of writing when I was first getting going at professional writing, if you might excuse the term, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, did a lot of work in that area. I’m trying to do the same thing with Mormonism that I did with Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is focus on the relevance of biblical studies, biblical scholarship to the claims made by these religious groups. And, that is a major need in Mormonism, because Mormon apologetics leans very heavily on a kind of misuse of biblical scholarship to try to defend really everything, the Book of Mormon, and the other Mormon scriptures, Joseph Smith’s unusual theology, and so forth. And so, that’s a major concern I have, is showing where they’re misunderstanding the bible, and misusing biblical scholarship to try to defend the Mormon scriptures and teachings.
BA: Well, excellent. Maybe someday in the future I may want to interview you along those lines, because that is such a deep topic. But today, I want to focus our attention on some of the content that you cover in the book that you co-authored with Ken Boa, called, “Faith Has It’s Reasons: Integrated Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith.” Which, for those that are listening I think is one of the best apologetics books about apologetics and methodology. So, can you kind of talk about why we should even study the methodology behind our defense of the faith?
RB: Sure. Well, many people I think have this idea that we really don’t need to do that because we just kinda jump in and you know, defend the faith. But, the problem with that is, if you don’t think about method at all, and you may be making a lot of mistakes along the way. C. S. Lewis once said something along the lines of, we need to do good philosophy, if for no other reason than to counter bad philosophy. And, the point there is that if you just assume that you have a good method and you don’t ever examine what you’re doing and why you’re doing what you’re doing, then you may be hitting your head up against the wall, and not even realize it. Apologetic methodology is really about the study of understanding why there is a disconnect between what we say when we’re talking to non-believers, which we think is, you know, good reasons for belief, good solid facts to back up what we’re saying and so forth. Why there’s a disconnect between how we perceive the evidence that we’re presenting and how the non-believer perceives it, and what can be done if anything to help overcome that, or to use the way that we present the material to facilitate overcoming some of those obstacles to faith, some of those blockages or disconnects on the part of the non-believers and their thinking processes as they process and think about the same things that we’re trying to talk about. So, that’s really what apologetic methods or methodology is about. If it was a simple matter of saying, “Here is the Christian message, here are the facts that support it,” and the non-believer in perceiving those, and hearing that would immediately see that it’s true, and accept it as true, we might not need to look at methodology, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen a lot of the time, and there are reasons for it that the study of apologetic methodology seeks to address.
BA: Well, I want you to lay out if you could the different categories that you and Ken Boa use in the book to classify the various methodologies or approaches, and I know you could probably go into huge detail on these, but you don’t have to that at the moment. Lay them out in general, and then we can kind of go from there.
RB: Sure, absolutely. Well, there are four basic categories of approaches that we talk about in the book. The first would be what is commonly called “classical apologetics,” which is an approach to apologetics that emphasizes deductive reasoning, deductive rationality, logical argumentation as the crucial consideration, the crucial standard and approach to knowledge that is to be emphasized and be given priority in defending the truth of Christian faith. So, that would be the classical approach, and the term classical apologetics is used because, at least in the opinion of those who espouse this method, and in the opinion of many that don’t, this is the view or approach that has dominated most of the history of Christian apologetics. Not all of course, but, much of it if not most of it. And, the second approach, and really the other three approaches that I’m going to mention here are all modern responses to philosophical and cultural developments in the modern world that have made the traditional or classical approach to apologetics not always seem as persuasive or successful as we might like. Or, perceiving that there is a need for some change or some adaptation in light of the modern situation. And the second approach is called “Evidentialism” or “Evidential Apologetics.” Evidentialism in this context simply means an approach to the Christian faith that emphasizes empirical evidence – factual support, factual information presented and marshaled in a reasonable way to show that Christianity is true. Whereas, classical apologetics historically tended to be very oriented around philosophy and logic, evidentialism has tended to focus either on scientific evidences, or historical evidences, or possible both and other types of evidence as well. But, science and history would be especially relevant categories of study for those who are of an apologetic persuasion or approach that is classified as evidentialism. These two schools of thought, classical and evidential apologetics are very compatible with one another, very closely related in some ways, evidentialist apologists very often use classical arguments a vice versa. There’s a great deal of overlap between these two schools of thought. The third approach, is quite different in some ways, and is self-consciously intended to be quite different. The broad term that I like to use for this third approach is “reformed apologetics.” Reformed, meaning Calvinist in its theological orientation as well as self-consciously seeking to reform Christian apologetics in the light of certain theological truths that are especially emphasized and articulated in the Calvinist or reformed tradition.
BA: When you’re talking about reformed apologetics, would you say that if you’re reformed, then you automatically do reformed apologetics, or you would say reformed people may embrace this or they may not?
RB: That’s correct, not all Calvinists, not all reformed thinkers, embrace what we’re talking about here as reformed apologetics — some do, and some don’t. Certainly, for example, if you were to look at someone like Charles Hodge, or B. B. Warfield, they were as reformed and Calvinist in their theology as you could ask, but they were not advocates of what we’re talking about as reformed apologetics. R. C. Sproul is an example of a contemporary reformed theologian, whose approach to apologetics is more or less in the classical tradition rather than the reformed apologetics tradition as I am using it, that expression. Now, reformed apologetics includes but is not limited to what is often called “presuppositionalism.” Presuppositionalism, and there’s actually a couple varieties of that as well, but presuppositionalism is basically a kind of reformed apologetics which was developed by a couple of American Calvinist, theologians and philosophers, Gordon Clark, and Cornelius Van Til. And those two men developed rather different versions of presuppositionalism, but they both argued that the only way to show non-Christians that Christianity is true, is to present a rational argument. It’s not being unreasonable here, but present a rational argument that proceeds on the assumption or the presupposition that Christianity is true. In other words, you don’t try to argue up to the truth of the Christian faith, but you argue, “Here is what Christianity says, it is true. When you see why it’s true, then you can see that you should believe it.” I’m keeping it here at a very popular level, but basically, it is an approach that says, “the only faithful way to defend the Christian faith is to argue on the presupposition that it is in fact true.” There’s a lot more to that, we could go into that later in the discussion if you’d like. Then the fourth approach is called Fideism, now “Fid-ee-ism,” or “Fid-day-ism” (some people pronounce it). The word Fideism comes from the Latin fide meaning faith, and Fideism is the position that Christianity should not be defended rationally or intellectually in a kind of philosophical or logical, or scientific, or dogmatic way. You shouldn’t try to present reasoned arguments to persuade non-Christians intellectually that Christianity is true. So in fact, Fideism is in fact a kind of anti-apologetic stance. And yet, the primary advocates of Fideism, historically, have presented what could be described and some of them have described, as a kind of indirect defense of the Christian faith. And I’m thinking here especially of someone like Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century Danish Christian philosopher. Or, the twentieth century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, is another example of somebody that does this. Fideism is often characterized as a form of irrationalism. But, Fideists, generally speaking, don’t admit that, or don’t agree with that. They see their approach as the only reasonable one, because in fact Christianity cannot be defended in a direct, rationalistic, or logical manner, because Christianity proclaims paradox; it proclaims mystery; it proclaims a person, Jesus Christ, who defies our sensibilities of what is reasonable and challenges us to rethink the way we view everything. So, Fideists are generally speaking not irrationalists, but they are suspicious of what they would consider to be rationalistic attempts to prove Christianity. They would say, “You can no more do that, and no more should want to do that, than you should want to try to offer three reasons why I love my wife. I’m a Christian because I love God, I love Jesus Christ, I trust him, and if you’re going to ask me to prove that he’s trustworthy, that would be like asking me to prove that I should have faith in my spouse.” They see that as really in opposition to, or antagonistic to what faith is really about. Which is a relationship of trust and love with God and Jesus Christ. So, those are the four major approaches, and then in our book, “Faith Has It’s Reasons,” we talk about integrated approaches that appreciate the elements of two, three, or even all four of these approaches that we’ve talked about, and try to integrate them in some way.
BA: Okay. Well, I like what you do in that book, because you’ve described here how these methodologies approach Christian defense, but in the book you demonstrate it by giving example conversations between someone who’s a skeptic and someone who’s using this different category of approach, and it really demonstrates how it would actually play out on the ground. Now, one other distinction you make in the book are between two sorts of questions, the apologetic questions, or the ones that are aimed at the Christian faith, and what you call “meta-apologetic questions,” those are the ones that deal with, how should be defend the faith? And some of those are for instance: On what basis do we argue that Christianity is the truth? What is the relationship between apologetics and theology? Or, should apologetics engage in philosophical defense of the faith? Can we use science to defend the faith? So, I want to ask you to talk about how we would use these sorts of meta-apologetics questions to arrive at or determine how we approach actually defending the faith?
RB: Well, sure. Let me give a very concrete example so that people can understand what we’re talking about in a practical way. One of the apologetic questions that we talk about in the book that we illustrate with each of these approaches, is the perennial question: How do we know that God exists? Now, as an apologetic question, this invites the apologist, the Christian, to jump in and provide reasons or evidences to show that God exists. And these reasons might be for example, scientific evidence for the creation of the universe. Or, scientific evidence for the supernatural origin of life. And, these are often used arguments, evidences, that Christians of different apologetic approaches as well, may have used in various ways to explain how we know that God exists. But, the meta-apologetic question that would be relevant here is: Can we use science to defend the Christian faith? There are some Christians who would say, “No, because science is always changing; science is a fallible discipline, it is constantly in flux; yesterday’s scientific theories are tossed onto a scrap heap of discarded, obsolete, or discredited views, and we replace them every generation or two with new-fangled theories that will also eventually be discarded.” And so, there are Christians who are suspicious of, or are reticent to draw upon scientific evidences, or scientific arguments to try to show why it is reasonable to believe that God exists. There are other Christians who are very excited and passionate about using scientific evidence to show that God exists, to argue that modern science has actually provided an abundance of evidence for God’s existence that were not accessible until modern times, until the twentieth century. We are now able to prove the universe had a beginning, we’re now able to prove the universe is designed. And so, not only are they not hesitant to use these arguments, they are excited and passionate about using them, and so the meta-apologetic question is: Well, can we use science to provide reasons for faith? And, if we can, how should be go about doing that? And that is a question that would be worth thinking about before we simply jump in and say, “Let’s use this, no, let’s not use that.” The meta-apologetic question helps us to think clearly about what could we do, and what are the limitations in using scientific arguments or scientific evidence to defend belief in God?
BA: So, for instance, someone could take maybe various points of view and how they would arrive at their methodology. For instance, they might be somewhat pragmatic and they would say, “This was persuasive to me, I think this will persuade others, this is the method I’m going to use.” Or, someone might say, Here’s my theology, my main aim here is to make sure that I’m in line with my theology no matter what result, whether it’s accepted or not, I’m honoring God, so I’m going to take this approach because I think this approach matches my theology.” And of course, there are all kinds of places on that spectrum that someone can be on and they’re not mutually exclusive. But, what are the good questions that someone should be asking? We talked about, can we use science? But what are appropriate questions that one should be asking when they’re thinking about, “Boy, does my methodology first off honor God? Is it going to be persuasive? Is it demonstrated in the scripture?” What is your take on that?
RB: Well, there are several questions that we can ask here that can be helpful in coming up with a very workable, and sustainable, and practical use of science in apologetics. We could ask such questions as, “What is the relationship between science and theology? Does science confirm theology? Is it in tension with theology? Does it overlap? Do they deal with entirely different subject areas such as you really cannot cross from a scientific fact to a theological conclusion? Or, vice versa? There are those who would argue that science and theology are non-overlapping subject areas. Science tells us about the notions of the heavenly bodies and things like that, theology tells us why God made it that way, you know, why that is, because God made it. But, it doesn’t tell us how God did it. Theology on this view doesn’t tell us what to expect when we examine the heavenly bodies, it simply says, whatever you see there, if you ask the question why is it like that? Why is there beauty, and grandeur, and order and so forth in the universe? It’s because a loving and wise God made it. So, there are those who would argue that they are totally separate. Then there are those who argue they are not totally separate, because science deals with the facts of the world that God made, and those facts are: God created facts; He made the universe that way. And, furthermore, they would argue that the bible at least touches on some of these issues pertaining to the nature of the cosmos, and we have to ask the question, Can science and theology be shown to be in agreement if there is overlapping subject matter? I’ll give you an example of an obvious place where we might expect to find that: The bible teaches that God made the universe, that He created the heavens and the earth, it appears to indicate this was done in what was called “the beginning,” that is there is a beginning point in time when the universe comes into existence. So, on the basis of revelation in scripture, Christianity historically has held that the universe has not always existed, that it had a beginning. Now, science has investigated this very question, and there was a period of time in the nineteenth century in particular, when astronomers and other scientists studying cosmology, very often wanted to argue the universe was eternal, that it has no beginning, and when they started finding evidence in the beginning decades of the twentieth century that the universe had a beginning, this bothered many scientists. And, it turns out the evidence amassed throughout the twentieth century, that the universe did in fact have a beginning. So, there are Christian apologists who will say, You see, sometimes science and theology do overlap in their concerns, both science and theology ask questions about whether the universe has a beginning. Theology has always in Christianity answered, “Yes.” Scientists have had different views on this, but now it looks like the scientific evidence has swung our direction, and it would be appropriate to point that out. So, asking questions about the domains of science and theology, asking questions about the limitations of what science can demonstrate. Does science actually produce knowledge, or does it just produce sort of workable hypotheses that we can use to manipulate matter, to run experiments, and to create airplanes and things like that? But, it doesn’t actually give us knowledge of the real world. There are people that maintain that kind of non-realist view of science. Should we adopt a non-realist view of science; or, should we not? Christians often assume that their view of science is the obvious and only correct view. It’s helpful to be aware of the fact that there are different views on the nature of science and to think through the issues pertaining to that before trying to appeal to your understanding of science without having as it were, gotten a good understanding of the lay of the land. And also on both sides, there are Christians who you might say take a kind of naively realistic view of science, that whatever the scientists tell us, that’s true. And there are those that take a naively non-realistic view of science that science isn’t really telling us anything about the real world, it’s just telling us how to put things together so we can make stuff. Those are both uncritical and sort of naïve views of science, and it is important to sort that out if we’re to have a proper appreciation for the relationship between what science tells us, and what we learn theologically from the bible.
BA: One of the things that I noticed when I read “Faith Has It’s Reasons,” or other books on methodologies, such as, “Five Views on Apologetics,” was that it is immediately evident that you see an overlap between the various approaches. As you mentioned earlier, the classical approach overlapping in many ways with evidential approaches, and you see them borrowing from one another. And they’re not in their own individual lanes, and so notable proponents of each of these approaches would agree, and I suppose many people though would notice as you pointed out, that one of the biggest differences between these approaches is that presuppositional method, and you talked about how that sort of stands out. One question that would be in my mind, and maybe in other people’s is, When an approach comes to the point of saying, this is the biblical way of doing things, how do most presuppositionalists arrive at saying, This is the biblical way, or the only God-honoring way. Where would you stand on that issue, and how would you reason through that?
RB: Well, the presuppositionalist approach to this question that you just raised is to say something like this, “Look it, in the bible, God is the creator of everything that is not God. He is the creator of the universe. He is the creator of its order, if it’s rationality. He gives the world meaning. He gives the world purpose. He makes facts what they are, facts are what they are because God is the one who makes the world what it is. So, God is the source of fact, of meaning, of purpose, of value, of logic, of reason, and all of these things. And so, all of these things are reflections in our world in our experience, and our thinking, they are created reflections of the uncreated creator of all things.” And so, the presuppositionalist says, “Any argument trying to reason up from specific facts or specific logical arguments, or things of that nature to prove God exists, are trying to reason as it were from the lesser to the greater. They’re trying to reason up to the absolute origin of all these things by looking at specific facts, or specific issues. From their perspective, you really can’t do that, and it’s not even really faithful to God to do that because it’s treating these things as the givens, as the certainties, and treating God as the uncertainty that has to be proved. From their perspective, God is the certainty, and our empirical observations, and our opinions and our forms of mental reasoning and so forth, those are the things that need to be tested, that need to be assessed, that need to be weighed, against the revelation of the absolute certainty of what God is and what He has said in His word. So, from their perspective, this is a theological argument from the nature of God and the nature of creation as revealed in scripture, but this is how apologetics ought to be done. Now, interestingly enough, whereas the presuppositional case from scripture for this approach is based on sort of the macro-theological world view, you know, deduction from what scripture says about God and man, and so forth. Whereas, the presuppositionalist argues from this macro-theological perspective of what the bible says about God, and the world, and man. To their apologetic approach, the evidentialist and classical apologist will typically appeal to specific biblical examples of people defending the Christian faith, of people defending the truth as it were, in the real world in the field. And so, for example, they will appeal to other kinds of reasoning that Jesus uses when He’s talking to Pharisees, or they will appeal to Paul’s speech in Athens as a paradigm or a model for evangelizing gentiles, evangelizing those that do not have a background in biblical truth. So, they will appeal to these specific examples of people defending truth in the bible, and not base their apologetic method on a sort of overarching theological scheme. Now, in my opinion, if I may venture my own opinion on this, we need to consider both. We need to consider the theological world view perspective on apologetic method, and we need also need to look at how Jesus, and the apostles, and the prophets in the bible actually defended the truth in the field. And, I think that a whole, well-rounded apologetic method is going to take both of those under consideration.
BA: In your book, you basically outlined what you call a “integrative approach,” and that’s what you’re alluding to there. Can you go into what that looks like and how all these different approaches can contribute to having this holistic answer?
RB: Sure. I think I need to make a qualification here, and that is that what we are advocating or encouraging in “Faith Has Its Reasons,” is not what might be described as a fifth approach that we describe as integrative, like we have come up with the right way and it’s some combination of the other four. People have taken this that way, that’s not what we’re saying. What we are saying is this, that every one of these approaches, even the Fideist approach, that may be the hardest one to do this from, every one of these approaches can learn from the others, can be enriched by bringing in perspectives and insights from the other approaches, and that the more we do that, the more we integrate into our approach perspectives and insights from the other approaches, the more well-rounded and whole, and potentially successful our defense of the Christian faith will be. We’re not trying to convert evidentialists to a non-evidentialist position, for example. We’re trying to encourage evidentialists to draw on the classical approach, to draw on the presuppositionalist approach, and even to learn something from the Fideists, that they can sort of put into their arsenal of arguments for the Christian faith. We’re not trying to tell the presuppositionalists they shouldn’t be presuppositionalists, we’re trying to encourage them to see that there is a great deal to be learned from, and to accept, and to utilize, from the other approaches, from the classical and evidentialist approaches for example, within their suppositional, theological approach. So that we’re not advocating one integrative approach that everybody is supposed to jump on that band wagon, but rather, we’re encouraging a plurality of approaches. We’re recognizing that there already are a plurality of approaches, we’re not fight that, but we’re trying to encourage Christians of whatever approach they happen to use, to be enriched from the other approaches.
BA: Would you find any apologists, past or present, that you think would embody a good example of this sort of approach?
RB: There are several that come to mind. Francis Schaeffer would be a very famous example of a Christian apologist who embodied the desire to have an approach to apologetics that was sensitive to some of these different issues and drew on different approaches. Schaeffer probably would have been most comfortable being described as a presuppositionalist, but ironically, the presuppositionalists generally didn’t view him in that way, they thought that he was muddying the waters because he wasn’t pure from their perspective in advocating that approach. So, Francis Schaeffer, his approach famously included in what might be described as very rational elements that would be very compatible with the classical approach, and very pragmatic, personal, so called “existential” elements that would be very compatible and resonate with Fideists. And yet, he also drew heavily from, maybe even primarily from, Cornelius Van Til, and the presuppositionalist tradition. So, he’s an example of somebody that did that, and he’s one of the two most famous evangelical Christian apologists of the twentieth century. And, I think one of the reasons why he was so successful, or why he was able to help so many people, is that he was comfortable drawing from these different approaches, and pulling them together in a way that worked as he talked with different kinds of people. Another example of a Christian apologist who is very integrative in his approach is C. Stephen Evans. Stephen Evans is a scholar who’s done a lot of work on Soren Kierkegaard, and the Fideist tradition, and yet, he’s very comfortable with evidentialism. Now, you would think Fideism and evidentialism would mix like oil and water. You would think that it just wouldn’t work, and yet, an evidence approach, Fideism in not irrationalism, and it is open to the use of evidence, but it has to be put within a particular context, and so he integrates both of those. In fact, he really finds something from all four approaches that he can use, and that’s an example of somebody that tries to do that. And there’s several others that have self-consciously gone about trying to integrate two or more of these approaches.
BA: I’m curious what apologists may have been particularly influential to you personally.
RB: Oh gosh, well, I’ve been influenced probably by so many that if I start singling some out, it might lead to some misperception of where I’m coming from. But, I’ve been very influenced by, theologically, by Calvin, and the Calvinist tradition. I don’t know if I’m a card-carrying Calvinist for some people’s money, I’m not a Presbyterian for example, so I don’t fit very neatly into that theological tradition. But, I’m more or less Calvinist in my theological persuasion on a number of issues. So, I’ve been influenced by that tradition. And I went to Westminster Theological Seminary, which was a bastion of presuppositionalism, and learned it from those that were closest to that school of thought. I’ve also been heavily influenced by people like Norman Geisler, who was, you know, kind of the dean of classical apologetics to this day. I’ve been influenced very much by people like John Warwick Montgomery, who’s an evidentialist, in fact, again, probably the dean of evidentialist apologetics for the last forty years or so. So, I’ve been influenced by thinkers of very different approaches to apologetics. I’ve also been influenced by people who were not self-consciously advocating an apologetic approach, but would normally fit into one of these or the other. I’ve been influenced by various local scholars and philosophers, for example. And, I appreciate the different kind of approaches that they had taken to defending various aspects of the Christian faith, and so those have all become part of the way I think about it.
BA: Well Rob, as we begin to wrap up here, you’ve done a lot of work in Christian defense. You’ve taught it, you’ve done it, and you’ve written books all about it. Now, if you’re speaking to students of apologetics, what sort of advice would you want to leave them with, or what advice would you want to give the next generation of Christian apologists?
RB: Well, what I’m about to say now might help to balance out a little bit the emphasis we’ve placed on method, because it does deserve some emphasis, but I want to say to the younger generation, I think I can say that since I’m in my fifties now, that we desperately need numerous, many, many, many Christians, to become excellent in their respective fields. We need Christian philosophers. We need Christians who are physicists, who are biologists, who are chemists, who are engineers, who are artists, who are theologians, of course. We’ve got a lot of those, but we can use some really good ones every generation. We need a lot of good ones. So, we’re always going to need that. We need good biblical scholars. We need good Christian, evangelical old testament scholars who are not afraid to do primary research. We need good evangelical Christian archaeologists. We don’t have as many of those as I’d like. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but we need more. And we need those who are really willing to pursue excellence in those fields, because very often Christian apologists find themselves settling for kind of recycled exclamations, or recycled arguments from decades gone by, that really need to be updated, in some cases may even need to be abandoned, because the evidence has now shown that that approach didn’t work. We need to have people who are current in the field who know what they’re talking about. And we need people who are not only excellent in their fields, but we’re always going to need people who are “big picture” people. Who look at the different fields, look at biblical studies, and science, and philosophy, and try to see how they relate to one another and try to see how they can have some mutual reinforcement and feedback into one another. Because if the physicists are just doing physics, and the old testament scholars are just doing old testament, guess what? We are not going to succeed in addressing apologetic issues very well pertaining to the origins of the world, and what Genesis says about those kinds of subjects. We need people who can bridge their disciplines between science and biblical studies, for example. So, those are the kinds of things that we need, and of course we need people to do that who are sensitive to these methodological concerns. Who will at least give them enough attention so that they’re not making fundamental mistakes, or being overly narrow in the way that they go about what they’re doing. We really need people who are saying, “You know, I’m going to be the best physicist I can be for the glory of God, and I’m going to use my knowledge and my expertise at this discipline to advance human knowledge in this area in a way that will bring glory to God.” This is what Christians historically used to do all the time. And, we’re not as well known for that now as we used to be, but there’s still some that are doing it, but we need to be on the cutting edge of these areas of thought. We need to be making the discoveries and doing the pioneering work that shows that Christianity is not retreating from the world of knowledge and science and so forth, but is actually helping to advance it. If we could be doing that, it’d bring great credibility to the Christian faith in a way that has been kind of lacking for many people over the last couple of generations. So, those are some things that I would say we desperately need. We need Christians who are willing to go into the halls of academia and face down the skeptics and the cynics and the secularists and get their PhDs, and become skilled at what they’re doing. Of course, we need people who are not academics as well to pick this stuff up, to learn Christian apologetics, and teach it at their Sunday schools, teach it to the kids, the children’s Sunday School. We need pastors to teach the stuff from their pulpits, to encourage the Christians in their churches, to learn why they believe what they believe. So, there’s a lot of needs where everybody can play a part in Christian apologetics. You don’t have to have a PhD in philosophy or science, you don’t have to be a theologian. Wherever you are, mothers, fathers, kids going to school, whatever it is, guys working on the job. Apologetics can be a useful part of the Christian witness to a world that needs to know that Christianity is true.
BA: Well, that’s excellent insight and advice Rob. I commend all your books and materials to our listeners, and I want to really thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
RB: Okay, you’re very welcome.