June 26, 2009, marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of an apologist who was well ahead of his time. Evangelical Baptist theologian Walter Ralston Martin (1928-1989) was a unique Christian thinker, scholar, and expert in the study of comparative religions.
The original creator and host of the Bible Answer Man radio program, Martin built a career in Christian radio by answering people’s difficult questions about the Bible and historic Christianity. Author of the definitive work on American-based cults, The Kingdom of the Cults, Martin founded and directed the Christian Research Institute (CRI: an organization dedicated to the study of cults and new religious movements). In fact, Walter Martin is viewed by many as the father of the evangelical countercult movement.
Walter was my first teacher in the Christian faith. I learned my original theological views from him. Not long after I became a Christian I began attending his Sunday classes at Melodyland Christian Center and at Newport-Mesa Christian Center in Southern California. I remember listening to the Bible Answer Man radio program as a new believer and writing down Martin’s answers to various doctrinal and apologetics queries. I had many questions of my own in those early days that I desperately needed addressed. Martin answered my questions or recommended sources where I could pursue explanations in greater depth.
I read, reread, and outlined his book on basic Christian doctrine, Essential Christianity, so many times that some of the pages began to fall out. Yet I still have that original book in my personal library (which has now grown to more than three thousand volumes). Martin helped me appreciate just how important the “life of the mind” is in one’s faith journey.
Through his dynamic lectures and debates Walter taught me how to think about such critical biblical doctrines as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and Jesus’ Resurrection. He also instructed and challenged me to engage the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons that knocked at my door and to defend the faith before the skeptics I encountered during my college days. Martin was an early spiritual father to me and the first Christian intellectual and apologist I ever met.
A few years after completing my theological degree I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Martin at the Christian Research Institute. My duties included assisting Martin as a research specialist on Seventh-day Adventism and Roman Catholicism. He was a mentor to me as well as to many other young evangelicals who were interested in studying new religious movements. Because of my work with Martin I was subsequently able to publish a number of articles that addressed different theological aspects of Seventh-day Adventism and Roman Catholicism.
I admired Walter Martin especially for his courage to stand up for the truth of historic Christianity. I wouldn’t be engaged in the Christian apologetics enterprise today without Martin’s example and support.
Walter Ralston Martin’s legacy will endure as one of the most distinctive Christian apologists of the twentieth century.