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The State of Apologetics

As creator of the best website for resources to defend Christianity, Brian Auten offers a unique perspective on the current apologetics scene—the good, the bad, and the hopeful.

Apologetics 315 features a terrific compilation of material for Christians to equip themselves to better define and defend the faith. It’s full of links to resources dealing with every imaginable area of apologetics. As a regular reader of the site, I became curious what its creator, Brian Auten, thinks about the current state of apologetics around the world—and he was willing to share his insights by answering a few questions.

• Every year, the U.S. president gives a “State of the Union” address to Congress. What’s your assessment of the “State of Apologetics” today?

The “state of apologetics” today should encourage us. Not only has there been a large proliferation of publishing on both the academic and popular levels, there is a growing online presence of apologetics resources and ministries. Within the last five years the number of apologetics websites, blogs, and podcasts has increased dramatically. We have now reached the point where anyone with an Internet connect has access to more resources for defending the faith than any time in the past.

In addition, seminaries across the U.S. are offering more courses in apologetics, with some featuring Masters of Arts in Apologetics, such as Biola, Southern Evangelical, and Liberty University.

• Your website is international in scope. How do you assess apologetics in the U.S. compared to elsewhere in the world?

The U.S. certainly seems to dominate in the area of book publishing in this field. Also, when it comes to the sheer number of ministries that focus primarily in this area, the U.S. is a leader. However, Americans should also know that there are excellent ministries and apologists based in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. With the rise of secular attacks on Christianity, there has also been a surge of apologetics-based ministries to respond in a powerful way.

The thing to note is that American apologetics ministries have a strong influence internationally through their published resources in print and online. However, as an American with mission experience and as a resident of the UK, I think it is very important that Americans realize they are not the only ones doing apologetics. There are a growing number of apologetics ministries globally that are contributing in a significant way to the mandate to defend the faith.

Ministries like Ravi Zacharias International have offices around the world. Campus ministries like UCCF Christian Union in the UK provide resources and support to young people in university settings. Ministries like the Centre for Public Christianity in Australia, the Solas Centre for Public Christianity in Scotland, and Thinking Matters in New Zealand provide a defense of Christianity in the public square. The European Leadership Forum brings together Christian leaders yearly in Hungary from all over Eastern Europe and beyond to equip and to train the next generation of leaders.

• What trends do you see in apologetics?

Consider books like The DaVinci Code, writings by agnostic professor Bart Ehrman, or the various publications of the so-called New Atheists. All these attacks on Christianity have generated a lot of buzz. However, each of these attacks has been met with a strong counter-response from scholars, theologians, and apologists. Christianity hasn’t been defeated. Instead, it has weathered storm after storm. In the meantime, the resources available that answer these challenges have increased dramatically. Over and over again, what has been intended to bring Christianity down has only served to strengthen it.

But the tendency is this: too many times Christians are only responding to the challenges. That seems to be the trend. Why are we not running to the battle? Instead of just reacting to the next challenge, I long for the day when more and more Christians would equip themselves with this vast armory of resources and use it to take the battle to the enemy’s camp, so to speak. Apologetic-savvy educators, scientists, public officials, businessmen, actors, novelists, movie-makers—all people with a heart of evangelism who are able to defend and contend for the faith in the public square could have an immense impact for the Gospel.

• What do you see as the shortcomings of apologetics these days?

First, as I mentioned, there can be a tendency to simply be reactive rather than proactive. The wiser approach is to immunize our congregations to contemporary challenges to our faith rather than fighting fires.

Second, it is often a shortcoming among apologists to treat everything like an apologetics issue. Instead of there being a balanced spiritual life, the apologist can become consumed with evidences, arguments, or doctrine. Spiritual disciplines can be neglected, the personal element can be forgotten, or the prayer life left by the wayside.

Finally, our tone must reflect humility and love. It becomes a shortcoming in our apologetics if we only do the first half of the mandate found in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be ready to give an answer to those who ask. Yet do this with gentleness and respect.”

• You’re passionate about churches starting apologetics ministries. Are you seeing more of them doing this?

I want to see churches start their own apologetics ministries because it is our scriptural mandate to “always be prepared to give an answer.” Yet there often is very little preparation going on! When challenges to faith come, people struggle to find substantive answers. This may cause some believers to resort to a sort of “believe it anyway” mentality; for others it causes them to abandon the faith altogether.

Research by the Barna Group has shown that a majority of young people walk away from the faith around the time they go to college or university. They simply have not been equipped to deal with the secular challenges that come against their faith when they go to college. But what if they had been properly equipped to understand and answer these sorts of challenges? They would not only be able to stand up under the attacks, but they would also be able to share Christ with more confidence, knowing that they have good reasons undergirding their faith.

So I think it’s so crucial that our churches become training grounds where believers learn why they believe what they believe. Apologetics ministries and small group studies provide a venue for discipleship where people can work through the tough questions that they constantly face from the secular world. And what’s more, our faith is enriched to even deeper levels when we experience the joy of loving God with our minds.

Thankfully, I think we are seeing a rise in the number of churches that both see this need and are beginning to equip their congregations through apologetic teaching, small groups, conferences, and resources.

• Who are your favorite contemporary apologists and why?

Apologists who have an attitude of Christlikeness in their tone and character—along with demonstrating wisdom and integrity—really earn respect from me and make me want to learn from them and emulate those characteristics. Although I could mention a large number who have had an impact on me, let me just share three who I find to be good examples.

William Lane Craig is among my favorites, not only for his intellectual clarity and brilliance, but also for his humility, tone, and consistency. On a scholarly level, he is certainly worthy of much respect, but I wouldn’t place that above his personal manner, carefulness in properly representing views, and being a faithful teacher in the local church.

Ken Samples is another favorite. One will immediately notice his love of learning coupled with a humble tone. He has a clear, careful, and charitable style. Ken is both extremely knowledgeable and a great communicator.

I would also point to pastors like Tim Keller (New York) or David Robertson (Scotland) as examples of pastors who are excellent apologists. They both have been engaged on the front lines with contemporary issues for quite some time, they have a broad knowledge base, and they communicate warmly and effectively with a wide variety of audiences.

• What’s the mission of Apologetics315? How did the website get started? How many people are involved? What are your favorite features of the site?

The mission of Apologetics 315 is to provide a growing resource of material designed to equip the next generation of Christian apologists. On a practical level, if someone wanted to get equipped to defend the faith, they could come to Apologetics 315 and find everything they needed to get them started. They can get audio lectures, interviews with top apologists, daily resources, debates—you name it. It’s a great starting point as well as a means to stay current on apologetics issues and resources.

When I began studying apologetics, I started searching the Internet for apologetics audio and podcasts. At the time, there was a certain amount of material out there, but unless you knew exactly what you were looking for, it was hard to find. And even then, I wasn’t sure which resources were ones I could trust for being the best quality. As I found excellent resources, I started blog posting them. That became an everyday practice. And now the blog has been going since 2007 with posts every single day. Apologetics315 has grown into a vast resource for apologetics content, especially audio. It’s the go-to place for the latest debates.

Certainly my favorite part of Apologetics 315 is the apologist interviews. These are a chance to interact and gain insights from some of the best Christian thinkers today. Past guests have included William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, J.P. Moreland, Frank Turek, Paul Copan, Michael Licona, Greg Koukl, Sean McDowell, Craig Hazen, Douglas Groothuis, and many more.

Although the content found on Apologetics 315 comes from some of the very best apologists today – whether it be audio interviews, lectures, articles, or other resources—the ministry until this point has only been a one-man operation. However, at the time of this writing, Apologetics 315 is in the process of obtaining non-profit status in order to allow it to continue to grow as a greater resource for defending the faith.

• What has been the most fulfilling or satisfying aspect of running your website? Is there a story or experience that comes to mind?

You know, Lee, I think it is just being able to see God at work in it all. Sometimes you just feel like you are plodding away on a daily basis, perhaps with little or no encouragement or motivation. And then you get an email from someone saying that they have been blessed by the site. Or someone says that finding the website is what rescued their faith. Or you see apologetics study groups popping up in a church after someone has listened to the “How to Get Apologetics in Your Church” podcast. I even got an email from someone who said they are going to seminary to get a degree in Christian apologetics after being inspired by the content of the site. It doesn’t happen every day—but when it does, it helps keep me going!

• I think it’s important to remember that apologetics needs to be tied to evangelism. How can we prevent apologetics aficionados from becoming full of knowledge but not using it to lead others to faith?

I agree wholeheartedly, Lee. In fact, it was evangelism that got me into apologetics, as I found that people had questions and I needed to explore the answers. And I have certainly found that apologetics training has greatly helped in my evangelistic conversations.

One thing I think we need to do is stress the importance of personal evangelism and practical application when we are teaching. And there is a certain level of introspection that needs to be done regularly: Is my goal ultimately to win others to Christ? Do I have a heart of prayer for the lost? When is the last time I shared Christ? Are there people in my life that I need to reach out to?

Apologetics ministries like Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason organization regularly promote apologetics “mission trips” to places like Berkeley and Salt Lake City to put apologetics into action.

• What websites do you find helpful for apologetics?

For apologetics resources that are great for the layman, www.PleaseConvinceMe.com is a great place to go for material in the form of both articles and podcasts. Stand to Reason is another great resource. I also appreciate www.BeThinking.org for a lot of good audio resources, as well as articles. Finally, William Lane Craig’s website, www.ReasonableFaith.org, is a good place for scholarly work in the areas of philosophy and classical apologetics.

• What are the biggest challenges facing apologetics on the Internet?

That’s a topic that could turn into a lengthy discussion, Lee! I can think of a few different topics, but I will only address one here: personal interaction.

One danger is to de-personalize our interaction—especially when people are hiding behind online anonymity. People can say things they would never say to a person in a face-to-face conversation. This can turn a conversation into competition. We care less about being winsome and only care about “winning.” So I think the reminder here is that we must always remember that our interactions online are with real people.

For those who interact online in forums, blog comments, and on social media, another challenge is simply being patient. I think there is often a tendency to respond too quickly. The Christian should realize that one of the huge benefits of interacting online is being able to think thoroughly through one’s response. But if we respond quickly, we are like the hasty chess player who realizes he just took his hand off the chess piece and can’t take his move back. If only he had been more patient and thoughtful! We should avoid responding too quickly.

Finally, apologists online should remember that they don’t have to answer every question. Spreading oneself too thin online and trying to answer every objection is not only going to be less effective, it is also going to burn you out. It’s better to choose your interactions carefully, responding with thoughtfulness and patience.

There are challenges to online interaction, just as there are challenges in other areas where Christians seek to share Christ. But these challenges pale in comparison to the tremendous opportunity we have to interact with a world in need of the Savior. I would encourage believers to step out in prayerful boldness and be good ambassadors for Christ—both in person and online.

I’d suggest you bookmark Apologetics 315 and stop by often to peruse the latest links to a wealth of material. Here’s a tip: make it a point to visit on Fridays, when Brian posts his Weekly Apologetics Bonus Links—handy references to the latest in apologetics, from articles to podcasts to videos and more.