This past Saturday First Baptist Church Evergreen hosted a simulcast presentation of The Big Dig Apologetics Conference. This conference is part of the Focus on the Family ministry and featured 6 speakers discussing difficult questions such as the problem of evil, the historicity of Jesus, and how to choose a certain faith. Below are a few comments concerning the conference. This is helpful, I hope, for those who are interested in partnering with this in the future as well as a way for those of us who participated to keep working through the material. So here we go.
First, these kind of apologetic conferences are designed to help equip students and adults to share their faith with intelligence and confidence. It is a noble pursuit and critically important. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as an inerrant conference. Only Scripture carries with it the titles of inerrancy and infallibility. Thus, we find ourselves in a very healthy balancing act whenever we are under the teaching and preaching of God’s word. On the one hand, we want to be open and ready to learn from those who teach us. We want our hearts to be molded by the instruction we receive so that our relationship with God is strengthened and renewed. On the other hand, we want to be in the process of placing the speaker’s words alongside Scripture so that we can better discern what is trustworthy and what is shaky. It is at times a difficult balance to find. Those of us who have been Christians for many years, and especially us pastors, tend to live on the second scale. We keep our hearts closed tightly around our beliefs and are unwilling to learn more or make changes. And for pastors, the recurring line in our heads is, “I would have stated that differently.” New Christians tend to live on the first set of scales. They too quickly believe whatever is presented to them without matching it against the true test of Scripture. So, I say all of that to say that I think one of the greatest advantages of an apologetics conference, even before learning how to speak to a non-believer, is working with your own heart and mind on the issues of Scripture. When we find our students and adults engaging their heart and their mind with Holy Scripture, well, good things happen.
From a bird’s eye view (we will get to the specific speakers below) the conference’s strongest area was its repeated emphasis on the need for compassion, gentleness, and respect when talking with people about God. I am reminded so often of Dr. Tom Schreiner’s words, “apologetics never saved anyone.” He is right. I can make a perfect explanation of the evidence for the Gospel and have my non-believer friend agree with all my points. That does not ensure their salvation. Apologetics, then, reminds us that salvation belongs to the Lord and our duty is to deliver His message with love and tenderness. All of the speakers who made presentations were, for the most part, able speakers and engaged the listener. Sarah Reeves provided a worship set a few times throughout the sessions. She did fine, although it was difficult for me to engage the worship aspect through a simulcast presentation. Not her fault. Finally, the production value of the conference was not quite as professional as I would have imagined. That point is fairly unimportant, but still worth mentioning.
Here a few quick notes on the specific speakers:
Hank Hanegraaf – Due to a slight issue with time zones, we missed the first session and were not able to listen to Hank. He is the “Bible Answer Man.” I can only lean on providence here.
Mark Mittelberg – Mark issued the question of choosing a faith from all the different options out there. His strongest point was his definition of faith as being something that rests on certainty. The Bible never speaks about “blind faith” and Christians are not called to embrace such a notion. Mark brought that point out well. Mark also spoke extensively on the ways we typically form our belief and challenged those ways, including believing the bible because mom and dad say so.
Del Tackett – This was my first time to hear Del and he is clearly a man of integrity and class. I enjoyed hearing him speak. His topic was the problem of evil; he jokingly said that he “pulled the shortest straw.” Putting Del’s obvious giftedness and love for the Lord aside for a moment, I was disappointed in his explanation of evil. He followed the traditional path of human free will and choice, citing the fact that God doesn’t make us robots. Thus, it is the free actions of humankind, not God, that brought about the evil. The only issue is that this kind of explanation assumes and requires that God has no say and no part in our choices. The bible just simply never says that. Yes, we make choices that have real consequences that we are responsible for, but we can’t remove God from the equation. Doing so, as Calvin so beautifully writes, “robs God of his Majesty.” I don’t have a problem with saying humans screwed up and we are responsible for that. I do have a problem with trying to get God “off the hook.”
Ryan Dobson – Ryan was the comedic element of the conference and was a lot of fun. His topic was relativism and he primarily used stories to try and refute the relativist’s claims that we can never know what is right and wrong, good and bad. This session dealt with the issue of “that is your truth, but mine is something different.” Such a statement, which is very prominent today, really is comical and Ryan did a great job and making us laugh and making his point.
Alex McFarland – Alex had the topic that was perhaps the most important – how do we answer the science vs faith question? Unfortunately, I felt like Alex did not have a very systematic approach to his topic. He made some good points here and there, but his session did not come together very well. Plus, his use of big words and scientific terminology was a bit unnecessary. Nevertheless, he did effectively make the point that the bible and science are not in conflict. He also made the very true statement that science exists because of an original believe that God had created a universe that was capable of being studied. The best resource on this topic is “The Soul of Science” by Nancy Pearcey.
Lee Strobel – The famed author of “The Case for Christ” was the final speaker and, in fact, presented the best session. His topic was handling tough people graciously and winsomely. The “take home” point for Strobel, which he delivered very effectively, was the need for us Christians to use these words when talking with tough people: “I don’t know.” Lee effectively demonstrated how a need to have all the answers even when we don’t have all the answers can do more harm than good. He said that ultimately our love and our respect of the person we are talking with is what will win them to Christ. In other words, we need to be Christ to these people. Indeed.
So, I am glad we were able to be a part of the Big Dig. Like any other conference, it was a conference. We now have the more important role of teaching, equipping, and loving on our students day in and day out, teaching them the big truths of God’s word and helping them to see a little more today just how big God really is. Conferences come and go. The word of the Lord endures forever.