Apologetics conference provides principles and tools to ‘stand firm’
During Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual “Stand Firm” apologetics conference, March 22-23, attendees had the opportunity to hear from experts in the area of apologetics and gather tools to be able to live out and articulate the Christian faith well.
Travis Dickinson, associate professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics, emphasized these ideas in his introductory plenary session Saturday morning, saying, “Southwestern Seminary, in many ways, is about helping people to stand firm. And that’s certainly what we want to be about this weekend.”
In his opening remarks for the conference, Southwestern Seminary President Adam W. Greenway reiterated these sentiments. Reflecting on his own days as a Southwestern Seminary student, Greenway said, “I took everything I could in the areas of apologetics and evangelism, which I really see as two sides of the same coin.”
But as Christians present the Gospel and begin to answer people’s questions regarding the nature of God and other areas, Christians must ask, “Are we doing apologetics well?” Greenway said.
“It’s not just about winning arguments; it’s about seeing people’s lives changed,” Greenway explained. “That was the apologetic vision that took hold of my life as a student here at Southwestern Seminary.”
The conference began with a “Christian/Atheist dialogue” between guests Doug Geivett, professor of philosophy at Biola University, and Michael Ruse, professor at Florida State University, on the topic “Is there evidence for God, and does it matter?”
The dialogue was modeled in such a way to allow each individual opening remarks, followed by a time of discussion between Geivett and Ruse, and concluding with an audience Q&A session.
In his opening remarks, Geivett argued that the two questions presented in the debate topic can be further categorized into four groups of varying beliefs. The first category, he said, is the belief that there is evidence for God and that it does matter, which Geivett stated describes his view. The next two categories, he said, are descriptive of people who both believe and disbelieve that there is evidence for God, but neither think that it matters.
In the final category, Geivett said, would be someone who thinks there is no evidence for God’s existence, and it does matter. Geivett stated he believed Michael Ruse would identify with this category.
Geivett went on to briefly describe the type of evidence he believes exists for God and concluded, “I side with evidentialists in believing that no belief is justified except on the basis of good evidence,” Geivett said. “And I believe that that’s true in the case of belief in God as well.”
Next, Michael Ruse presented his argument in opposition to Geivett’s remarks. “I’m an evolutionist,” he said. “And I think that means one looks in the past for answers.”
Ruse described how this was made evident on a more personal level in his own life. Born into a Quaker family, he said his experience provided him with some worldviews that he has adapted into his life.
Those worldviews include a need to serve others, a “mystical view toward the godhead,” and a need to think for oneself. Particularly regarding the latter point, Ruse said that by age 20, he had decided he no longer believes in the existence of God, and that he has never “felt the need at all” to return to that in the nearly 60 years since.
Ruse later recognized that while he certainly defines himself as atheistic, he is also to some degree agnostic, stating that there are many unknown elements in the world.
Contrary to what Geivett stated, Ruse argued that for both himself and Christians alike, “it’s not really a matter of proof,” adding that to ask for evidence, although important, is to go about the question of God’s existence the wrong way.
“I don’t see the God question as primarily one of evidence. I see it much more of faith,” Ruse said. “It’s not evidence that makes you believe in God.”
During the conference’s subsequent plenary session, keynote speaker Doug Geivett delivered a talk on “building the case for Christian belief” and how this can be done.
He first defined apologetics, saying, “Christian apologetics is the systematic formulation and the winsome presentation of a rational case for the Christian worldview and its associated form of life together with answers to objections.”
Geivett explained that the “systematic formulation and winsome presentation” is a complementary pairing within apologetics. Preparation through knowledge is important, but it is not enough, he said. Apologetics requires action.
“It’s not just enough to know what justifies Christian belief; you also have to be out there doing something with it,” Geivett said.
As Christians build a case to present to others, they must do so not simply for argument, Geivett said, but they should be motivated by the desire to connect people to the transformational nature of the Gospel.
“When we commend the faith to others, we’re not just giving them a bunch of stuff to believe; we’re inviting them into a way to behave—to live.”
Geivett concluded with steps for making progress with people as Christians utilize apologetics. He articulated that each step is important in the process, but they must always work toward the goal of closing the case with an invitation to respond.
“It’s not enough really even to present the case. People need to be invited to believe. Not just given something for their consideration, but really seriously invite them to believe.”
In addition to plenary sessions with keynote speaker Doug Geivett and an introductory plenary session with Southwestern Seminary professor Travis Dickinson, conference attendees attended several workshops on other varying topics including workshops from Southwestern Seminary professors Keith Loftin (on “Who Made God”) and Ross Inman (on “Pascal on Seeking the Face of the Hidden God”). Other speakers included Katie Stout, Steve Lee, Charisse Nartey, and Corey Miller. The conference also included access to other resources, including the faculty-authored book Stand Firm: Apologetics and the Brilliance of the Gospel, released in 2018.