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500-plus students learn apologetics at Southern Seminary conference

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–What would make a group of college students leave Maplewood, Minn., at 3 o’clock in the morning in order to make a 13-hour, 700-mile trip to Louisville, Ky.?

For student minister Ken Schmidt, an apologetics conference will do the trick. Schmidt, a minister at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minn., led a group of 13 students to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for the apologetics-based “Give Me An Answer” Collegiate Conference Feb. 23-24. More than 500 students and student leaders flocked to the seminary campus to hear apologetics lectures and sermons from President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and such faculty members as Bruce Ware and Ronald Nash.

The conference, the first of its kind at Southern Seminary, gave college students the opportunity to listen to Mohler and other theologians give biblically based answers to skeptical questions about Christianity.

Schmidt and his crew left Minnesota early Friday morning, Feb. 23, and arrived in Louisville in time for the conference’s first session.

“It’s been fantastic,” Schmidt said after hearing several speakers. “When we walked out of Dr. Mohler’s plenary sessions, we were just blown away … there’s so much to digest.”

Schmidt, who is 29, has a particular interest in one specific area of apologetics — refuting open theism. Open theism rejects the classical view of God’s omniscience and says that God’s knowledge of future events is limited. Greg Boyd, a leader in the open theist movement, teaches at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. In fact, Boyd’s church is just one mile from Schmidt’s church.

“I’ve actually had people in my college Sunday school class who have gone to Bethel [say,] ‘What do you think about this?’ By the grace of God, hopefully I have refuted it biblically,” Schmidt said. “Open theism has been a hot topic for two years.”

Ware, who recently wrote a book refuting open theism, spoke on the same topic. He was one of seven faculty members who addressed the conference; Mohler spoke three times, and twice took questions from the audience.

Mohler told the students that they must always be prepared to defend their faith.

“Apologetics cannot be reduced to a course taken at college or seminary or [in] a seminar,” he said. “It cannot be merely a book that is placed on the shelves or well-marked with a highlighter. Our task in this generation is to make all of our proclamation, every one of our conversations [and] all of our relationships apologetic in character.”

But, Mohler pointed out, apologetics must always accompany evangelism.

“The goal of a proper Christian apologetic is not merely to win an argument,” he said. “It is most importantly to win souls. Apologetics separated from evangelism is unknown in the New Testament, and it is clearly foreign to the model offered us by the apostle Paul.”

Preaching from Acts 17:16-34, Mohler said that Paul’s purpose was “preaching the gospel, presenting the claims of Christ and calling for men and women to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Far too many evangelicals think of apologetics as reduced to philosophical structures and rational arguments. Those are not uninteresting and they are certainly not unimportant, but they are a means to an end. They are not the end in themselves.”

Nick Castelluccio, 23, who brought a group of approximately 80 students from Ohio State University’s Campus Crusade for Christ ministry, cited a great need for a knowledge of apologetics on a secular campus.

“We deal with these things on campus every day,” he said. “These issues and these questions are in our classes. We’re definitely a very active group as far as sharing our faith, and so we deal with these [questions] in the dorms every day, with people every day. These are things that we all need to be trained on. … It [the conference] will help us be more effective on our campus in evangelism and defending the faith in our classes.”

Castelluccio said the attacks on his faith come from all angles.

“I definitely get people who disagree with our views — especially in my philosophy class,” he said. “There’s a lot of attacks on God’s existence.”

Postmodernism — the belief that there is no absolute truth — was a hot topic at the conference. Schmidt said he has seen it infiltrate the minds of church members.

“I see postmodernism influencing the church,” he said. “I see it in the answers that are given in the Sunday school class that I teach — even though they don’t know it. When they pull out [answers] like ‘Well, do not judge,’ they’re really using postmodernism philosophy. I would love to have brought every student down so they can recognize what postmodernism is and how it is influencing evangelical Christianity. I think it is our biggest threat of this day. The other selfish reason is that I wanted to learn.”

John and Michelle McKenzie led a team of about 20 people from Bloomington, Ind. The group included members of the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Indiana University Christian Legal Society. Michelle, 24, is a law student at Indiana University.

“Unfortunately, because it is the law, it seems that logical arguments are more highly respected than maybe simply stating simple biblical truths,” Michelle Mckenzie said. “If you can share the Bible in a way that may be a convincing argument, you might reach someone for Christ.”

She walked away from the conference impressed.

“It was awesome,” she said. “[Mohler] really clarified the postmodern culture that we’re living in. I thought that was the most helpful, because you have to understand what you’re addressing in order to know what to share and how to share.”

Her husband, John, said the conference was helpful in giving him the tools to answer tough questions from people in daily encounters.

“You can actually address people who consider themselves intellectuals on their own grounds,” he said. “A lot of the professors [at the conference] are making it apparent that you shouldn’t be intimidated to address them on their own terms, because the Bible more than adequately equips us to give a hope for the reason within.”

Mohler told the students that Christians today face a task different from that of any other generation.

Postmodernism “denies that there is any truth that can be determined and [that] should be accepted by all persons,” he said. “That is a more difficult apologetic task than the one faced in the last generation, which was between different groups contending for different universal truths.”

Mohler said people in past generations “could not avoid being formed — in terms of their worldview — in a way that was shaped by Christianity, even if they were not disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and even if they rejected Christian truth.

“There was an understanding of truth, of truth that was objective and absolute and real and revealed,” he said. “Now we live in a time when most Americans think of themselves as homeless souls in an empty and only partially animated universe.”

The conference included lectures by Ware (on “Putting God in a Box: Modern Misconceptions about God”), James Parker (“What in the World is a Worldview?”), Steve Wellum (“Firm Foundation: What’s the Big Deal About the Bible?”), Tim Beougher (“What is Apologetics and How Can It Help My Witnessing?”), Chuck Lawless (“Touched by an Angel? Contemporary Spirituality vs. Authentic Christianity”), Ron Nash (“Jesus: The Only Way or Not?”) and Ted Cabal (“Unpopular Truth: How to Tell Your Friends the Truth About Their Sin”).

The “Give Me An Answer” Collegiate Conference lectures, to be available March 15 on the seminary’s Internet site, will be posted at www.sbts.edu/news/audio/speakers.html.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GIVE ME AN ANSWER.

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  • Michael Foust