Is it possible to defend our Christian faith without becoming defensive or to present arguments for God’s existence without being argumentative?
For Dr William Lane Craig, the answer lies in the attitude we ought to take while defending the Christian faith and truth – gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). He shared: “I find the better my arguments, the less argumentative I am; the better my defence, the less defensive I get… If you have good reasons for what you believe, instead of anger you will feel genuine compassion for the unbeliever.”
Dr Craig (pictured above, answering questions from the audience) was the keynote speaker at Singapore’s first-ever Reasonable Faith Conference held from 11-12 March 2016 at Church of Singapore (Marine Parade). He is known internationally for his debates with notable atheists and non-Christians on university campuses.
He shared how Europe has become so secularised that Christianity seems counter-cultural, preventing Christianity from being heard as anything more than a “harmless delusion”. How can one present a reasonable defence of Christianity effectively, particularly when being identified as a Christian in a secular, atheistic environment means one is often perceived as intolerant, ignorant, anti-science or deluded?
Dr Craig opined: “If the Gospel is to be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women, it is vital for us to shape culture. We’re not saying that people will become Christians because of evidence and arguments, but we want to create an environment where people can respond to the preaching of the Gospel.”
Methodist Message (MM) took the opportunity to interview him about the unique challenges of defending Christianity in a non-European, pre-Christian cultural context like Singapore’s. Dr Craig acknowledged the challenge for apologetics is greater in Singapore because of its cultural landscape of non-Christian religions, such that the default religious position is often not Christianity, but rather some other worldview.
He said: “It’s not so much a matter of disagreeing on this or that in particular, but of having a very different view of reality. The theistic view of the world – that the world was created by a transcendent personal God – is utterly different than the pantheistic worldview. Challenging that kind of worldview thinking is what would be the most important. And here, arguments for God’s existence would play a real key role. Be prepared to defend the objectivity of truth.”
To equip the conference participants, of whom two-thirds were aged below 30, to defend the truth of the Gospel, Dr Craig covered topics such as ‘Why did the universe begin?’, ‘Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?’ and ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’ He prefaced some of his lectures with animation videos from his YouTube channel 1, posing questions such as “Does God exist?” and “Can you be good without God?” He did not shy away from discussing scientific theories, pointing out that scientific evidence often confirmed rather than discredited theistic claims, e.g. it is more reasonable to believe that the universe had a beginning rather than existed eternally. 2
Also at the Reasonable Faith Conference was Dr Sean McDowell (pictured above), son of renowned writer and apologist Josh McDowell. During his lecture titled ‘What skeptics wish Christians knew’, the Assistant Professor in Christian Apologetics at Biola University underscored that a reason for the poor reputation of apologetics is the bad experiences people have had with apologists. “Apologetics,” he countered, “is an expression of love!” Most people, he noted, “are willing to engage in thoughtful conversations if presented in a respectful way. Speak truth, but do it in a generous way.”
Dr McDowell’s lively, humorous style went down well with the largely youthful audience. Drawing from experiences with the teenage Bible class he teaches, he offered insights for educators, pastors and parents, e.g.:
• “[Leaving young people to figure stuff out on their own] is a disastrous false view of young people. I think the heart of a young person is to be called ‘the beloved’ by a caring, committed adult. So we have to know and believe that young people need relationships and encouragement and adults invested in their lives, even when they act like they’re resisting it and they don’t respond the way we want them to.”
• “While young people spend probably most of their time thinking about homework or a sporting event or something going on in their social lives, underneath the surface, they are asking very real, big questions about life. So don’t underestimate young people and their willingness, given the right relationship, to explore the big questions about meaning, about truth, about the afterlife, and about God.”
Dr McDowell also conducted breakout sessions on topics such as ‘The intolerance of tolerance’ and ‘Is Christianity relevant in the marketplace of ideas?’ together with fellow speaker Mr Jose Philip, an evangelist and apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific) and lecturer at Singapore Bible College, Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible College Malaysia.
At his session titled ‘Ancient texts in a contemporary world’, Mr Philip (pictured above) established that “the Bible is the best-preserved document on the face of the earth”. He pointed out that when we encounter God as He reveals Himself in the Bible, we not only know the truth of who God is, but also come face-to-face with Truth Himself. He emphasised: “It’s that relationship which changes us. It changes what we do, and more importantly, changes what we become. And that is at the crux of why the Bible is relevant to us today.”
He challenged his audience with the question: How is what you believe connected to how you live? He added: “If you want to catch a glimpse of this at the level of a nation, read [about] England before and after [John] Wesley”, highlighting that Wesley brought transformation to his society through bringing the Word of God into his culture.
After attending the conference, Mr Ding Lean Sing, 33, felt that it was a helpful platform for asking difficult questions in a safe environment. He shared: “Jose Philip’s session was helpful in establishing the relevance of Christian scripture for contemporary society. I was also impressed by Sean McDowell’s handling of difficult questions in the Q&A segment of his session.”
More information and resources available at Reasonable Faith Singapore Chapter, www.reasonablefaithsingapore.org
Photos courtesy of Reasonable Faith Singapore
Grace Toh –
is Assistant Editor of Methodist Message and has been a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for most of her life.
2 Grossman, Lisa, 11 Jan 2012. ‘Why Physicists can’t avoid a creation event’, New Scientist.