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Evangelist, prof Frank Harber seeks to raise up ‘an army of evangelis

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–As an atheist, Frank Harber thought he had all the answers. He had grown up in church. He knew enough to know the Bible was just an old book and, at best, Christians were sincere, misled people.
As a college student, he set out to prove that God does not exist.
Today, Frank Harber is on God’s side. A Christian evangelist and apologist with a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on his wall, he pursues a God-given goal as a professor to help raise up an army of evangelists to proclaim the gospel until Christ returns.
Growing up in a church that rejected the inspiration of parts of Scripture, Harber decided in his early teen years that if some Scriptures weren’t true, then all must not be true.
“That’s the slide that led me to an atheist position,” he said.
Harber went through confirmation “to please my mother,” but it meant nothing else to him when the bishop made an ash cross on his head.
But on his Damascus Road through college to law school and a prosperous life, Jesus met him, not with a blinding light but with a simple challenge by a Southern Baptist pastor.
Bruce Wells, pastor of First Baptist Church, Liberty City, Texas, challenged Harber to prove that Christianity wasn’t true, launching the 21-year-old college student on a sincere three-month investigation of Christianity and other major world religions.
“As I studied the Scriptures, the more I wanted to prove they were wrong, the more I began to be convinced they were right,” Harber said.
He discovered that Jesus was the only founder of a world religion who did not search for truth or experience doubt. Harber saw that even as a child in the temple Jesus confounded the scholars.
In February 1987, the rebellious young man who sought to prove the pastor wrong was instead made right by God.
After his conversion, Harber recalled witnessing immediately and seeing people respond. He had the gift of the evangelist, but he knew he needed training. He had not been a Christian for two years as required for entrance to Southwestern so he waited. But he knew his life’s work had been turned from law to grace.
His first revival services occurred during Southwestern’s spring practicum, which sends students to conduct revival services at small churches, and the services’ success confirmed his calling for him.
He continued doing revivals at small churches before doing his first citywide crusade at the age of 30. Three years later, Harber now does citywide crusades exclusively with plans to do three cities of more than 100,000 next year.
Harber’s past has become the biggest attraction for his crusades as non-Christians come to hear the former atheist proclaim the truth of Christianity.
He said his past gives him “a credibility with the secular world that many evangelists do not have” and firsthand experience with the mind-set of secular people.
With a focus on practical apologetics and evangelism, Harber presents answers to seven common objections that people have to Christianity — objections that just 12 years earlier were his own. The objections are about hypocrites in the church, atrocities committed by Christians, a loving God sending people to hell, Bible errors, Jesus’ being the only way, people who have never heard the gospel, and God and suffering.
Combining apologetics with evangelism creates a practical apologetics, or the presenting of evidence that can lead to conversion, Harber said.
“Jesus’ target was the common person, and I believe that’s a good target for all of us,” he said.
If Christians can learn to answer the seven objections, Harber believes they can be effective witnesses.
The matter of teaching Christians to evangelize is what brought him to Southwestern to teach. Harber knows that his primary calling is to reach the world for Christ by training “an army of evangelists.”
This calling drives his crusade efforts, which follow his ministry’s mission statement to evangelize the lost, empower the church and equip the next generation.
“Our [main] objective is not only to win a bunch of people to Christ,” he said. “We want to go and train others to win people to Christ.”
This same objective helped him overcome an initial hesitancy about accepting a professorship of evangelism at Southwestern, because he realized “evangelism is going to be hard in the 21st century and the postmodern world” and that training will be evangelists’ “supreme virtue.”
Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill agrees that a growing number of non-Christians do not believe the Bible is true and thus Christians in witnessing “may not be able to begin where they began in the past.” That is why Hemphill sees Harber’s practical evangelistic apologetics as essential.
Contrary to what some people say, Harber believes the postmodern world requires more, not less, evidence, and that the truth of Christianity alone possesses this evidence.
“This is truth that stands the test of time, the authenticity of science and the testimony of history,” Harber said. “Christianity checks out scientifically, archaeologically, prophetically, historically.”
Harber holds question-and-answer sessions and debates at universities. The diversity of questions constantly reminds him of the need for continuous research.
His immediate plans at Southwestern include:
— moving his headquarters across the street from the seminary.
— teaching courses on evangelizing in a postmodern world.
— taking students to Billy Graham’s and other evangelists’ crusades where students will get practical experience in every aspect of crusade work.
Hemphill views Harber as an important part of Southwestern’s “intentional” efforts to remain “the premier seminary for training vocational evangelists” by keeping the school on the “cutting edge.”
Harber’s own mass-evangelism education drives how he envisions it at Southwestern. He credits mentoring from international evangelist Luis Palau, sharing resources with Jay Strack, and hands-on experience with Graham and Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusades.
“That’s the beauty of what Dr. Hemphill has dreamed up for the seminary for this type of mentorship program — for young evangelists not to have to create things from scratch,” Harber said.
Harber also knows the importance of solid research. His Ph.D. dissertation traced the history of evangelists from Philip the apostle to Graham. What he learned was that each generation, though innovative, built on the previous generation.
“Dr. Graham stood on broad shoulders himself and took most of his early material from Billy Sunday,” Harber said.
He wants students to take advantage of the resources at Southwestern’s libraries and learn from evangelists of the past.
Building on the past for Harber does not mean duplicating someone else’s ministry. Instead, he believes the secret of evangelism is when evangelists become who God has uniquely called them to be.
From a strong foundation of faith, experience and education, Harber addresses the dangers that seem to be particularly present in an evangelist’s life:
— His board of directors and Palau keep him accountable.
“Believe me, if they catch any hint of pride or arrogance, I’ll hear about it fast.”
— He understands that God is responsible for his ministry’s success.
“If we ever think we can do it in our own strength or our own power, watch out, because we’re about to fall.”
— He knows the importance of prayer, describing it as “foundational.”
— He knows his family is first.
“I’ll never sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry.”
— And he knows the role of the evangelist.
“The evangelist is a gift to the church, not the other way around. Evangelists mess up when they think they are celebrities, when the Bible says they are servants.”
Southwestern’s second president, L.R. Scarborough, prayed that “the fire of evangelism” would never die at Southwestern. Harber sees his ministry at Southwestern as part of the answer to that prayer.
“It’s my prayer that many, many great evangelists would come through the halls of Southwestern and go on and do great things for God.”

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  • Matt Sanders