Guest article from Dr. Andrew Corbett, senior pastor at Legana Christian Church in Tasmania
Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, cautions, “If pastors fail to do their homework in these areas [science, biblical criticism, philosophy], then there will remain a substantial portion of the population—unfortunately, the most intelligent and therefore most influential people in society, such as doctors, educators, journalists, lawyers, business executives, and so forth—who will remain untouched by their ministry.”1
I didn’t always heed Keller’s warning, but I am now an unapologetically apologetic pastor. Before my conversion I struggled to get the desired traction in the community outside my church. Eventually I became convinced that the only way pastors are going to be effective is through apologetics. My embrace of apologetics is motivated primarily by my desire to honor God, but through it I’ve seen more people come to Christ, our church grow, and our community engagement open amazing doors. My desire is that more pastors and church leaders will discover the need for and the benefits of apologetics in reaching an unbelieving world.
The Need for Apologetics
Yes, there was a time when Christianity was so embedded in Western civilization that people rarely challenged it publicly—today, the Christian faith is not only challenged but also ridiculed. Much of the ridicule is fed by the stereotype of Christians as intellectual Lilliputians. Admonitions to “just believe” in Christ or to trust Scripture with blind faith are beyond unhelpful in correcting this misconception—they are even damaging and undermine biblical Christianity’s credibility.
Keller also notes that Western society has, in general, become more scientifically literate and articulate.2 Nonbelievers are more likely to view pastors who ignore this cultural shift as irrelevant because they are not speaking the language of the times. Failure in this area is one of the core reasons for the schism between the church and mainstream culture—we desperately need more apologetic pastors! Apologetic pastors live and teach by a different view of faith. We believe that biblical Christianity satisfies both the heart and the mind because it involves discovering and living the truth.
One major area of concern for pastors—and where apologetics is especially needed—is the growing number of young people going off to college with poorly grounded beliefs, only to encounter faith-rocking challenges from professors and peers. These young adults end up asking honest questions and facing serious spiritual crises. They are discovering, as the saying goes, that “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects.”
Apologetics is vital for counseling students who are struggling now and for preparing the children still in our churches. The extraordinary numbers of college students turning up for campus events when the speaker is a visiting Christian apologist—such as William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, or Hugh Ross—is anecdotal evidence of Christian students’ hunger for reasoned evidence to buttress their faith.
My church witnessed this hunger first-hand when we hosted Dr. Ross for a series of speaking events. On the last night, a college student shared with the audience his great struggle to connect his faith in the God of the Bible with scientific data. Whenever the issue of science had come up, he felt deeply embarrassed to admit that he was a Christian. Tearing up, he thanked Dr. Ross for giving him a way to be unashamed of his faith in God. And judging by the feedback we received after these meetings, he spoke for many Christian young people.
The Road to Apologetic Pastoring
So how do pastors become apologetic pastors? My journey started when I realized what was going on in culture and that it had happened before. We might think that we live in a spiritually hostile and skeptical era—but compared to England in the late eighteenth century, we’re living in a spiritual Disneyland! Despite one of the greatest and longest preaching revivals the world has ever seen—where Wesley and Whitefield addressed hundreds of thousands—the Church in England was dry and dying.
Then along came abolitionist William Wilberforce, who used his political platform to turn the church and his nation around. His apologetics book, Real Christianity, which he funded privately, sold out several times and was widely read by the broader English public. By the end of his political career, his apologetics ministry had transformed English culture and contributed to skyrocketing church attendance across Britain. It can happen again!
Continued in part 2 next week
By Dr. Andrew Corbett
Dr. Andrew Corbett received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Cambridge Graduate School (USA), in 2001. He is the senior pastor of Legana Christian Church in Tasmania and president of ICI Theological College Australia.
Hear more about the importance of apologetics for twenty-first century church leaders in these RTB interviews with Dr. Corbett.