Women Apologists: Blazing Trails and Building Bridges

Only a decade or so ago, women apologists were an extreme rarity.  If you encountered someone who even knew what the word “apologetics” meant, they would very likely only be able to name a few of the more popular male apologists such as Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell. Even ministry leaders trained in the discipline probably wouldn’t have been able to readily name a woman in the field. This state of affairs is changing rapidly and dramatically, as God is raising up competent women in the field just in time for what Strobel calls “the cusp of a Golden Era in Christian apologetics.” Women apologists may still be odd ducks, but we aren’t quite as odd as we used to be.

Female_Speaker_in_SilhouetteThis is a tremendously important development. First and foremost, women apologists are in a unique position to encourage other women to embrace a more intellectual faith, to love God with their minds. Many women would be too intimidated by, or perhaps simply disinterested in apologetics, seeing it as an area reserved “for the boys,” much as the field of theology was viewed up until recent years. But seeing a sister in Christ directly engaged in apologetics education and ministry opens the minds of such women to the possibilities and value. Second, in addition to deepening their faith and adding a wonderful new dimension to their worship, the study of apologetics equips mothers to raise children with confident faith and the ability to give reasons for the hope that they have (I Peter 3:15). This should be high on the priority list for every Christian working to train up their sons and daughters in this increasingly pluralistic, relativistic society.

I am honored to serve on the faculty at Houston Baptist University, home to some of today’s leading apologists, including several who are women. Mary Jo Sharp, Nancy Pearcey, and Dr. Holly Ordway continue to blaze trails in their areas of specialty. It is wonderful to see the fruits of their scholarship and ministries, how they have sparked new fires in the hearts of believers, including women who otherwise may have never gained an interest in apologetics.

I’d like to introduce you to several more women apologists working diligently and effectively in their respective areas of expertise. I am blessed to be personally acquainted with these gifted apologists! This list is by no means exhaustive, it is simply a sampling of our growing demographic.

Julie Miller, M.A. 

JulieJulie serves as chapter director and chaplain of Ratio Christi at Rutgers University, an on-campus apologetics education and outreach ministry.  She earned a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, graduating with highest honors, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from Texas A&M University, graduating Cum Laude.  She worked as a CPA for five years after obtaining her undergraduate degree, and has spent twenty-six years studying, serving in Bible Study Fellowship, and raising a family. Apologetics became a necessity in her life while ministering to internationals in Houston, Texas through Friends International and while parenting two teenagers in a post-Christian culture. Julie is interested in equipping Christians and engaging skeptics with the best answers to the objections raised against Christianity.  She is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the International Society for Women in Apologetics. She currently  lives in New Jersey with Buzz, her husband of 28 years.  They have two sons; Cameron is 25 and works in Houston, and Noah is 22 and attends Wheaton College in Illinois.

Kristen Davis, M.A. 

Kristin

Kristen Davis is the founder and president of DoubtLess Faith Ministries, a ministry devoted to equipping lay people with the tools needed to defend the accuracy of Scripture as well as the validity of the Christian worldview. Kristen has a Bachelors in Religion with a focus on Biblical Studies from Liberty University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, where she graduated with Highest Honors. She did her Master’s thesis on the religious artifacts at Tel Dan analyzing their impact on the historical reliability of the Conquest narrative. Her passion is archaeology and how it aids in the defense of scripture as well as how it sheds light on the roots of modern non-Christian worldviews. In 2010 she was a part of the Western Wall Plaza salvage excavation in Jerusalem, Israel and is co-leading an Israel tour in spring 2015. She is an Associate of Associates for Biblical Research and has been published in Bible and Spade Magazine. Kristen teaches Ethics for Southeastern University’s Jacksonville campus and hopes to one day speak and teach full-time. She resides in Jacksonville, Florida.

Megan Almon, M.A.

MeganMegan is in ministry with Life Training Institute, an organization that “trains Christians and pro-life advocates to persuasively defend their views in the marketplace of ideas by clearly presenting the pro-life position in live events and through the full use of modern media.” She regularly speaks to assemblies of high school students on the case for life, and she writes for the LTI website. After graduating in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Megan spent three years as a reporter for the local daily newspaper in Newnan, Ga. She won awards for feature and news writing, and lifestyle and education coverage. In 2008 she left her career in journalism and put her communication skills to use for the Kingdom. In 2011 Megan was awarded the Master of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. In addition to working with LTI, Megan also oversees “Answers,” a monthly public forum and presentation held by Four Corners Church of Newnan that addresses topics of an apologetic nature. She also has experience working with youth organizations, campus outreach, and women’s groups. Megan was part of the 2002 SEC Championship team for University of Georgia gymnastics, and is still known to practice handstands in her living room. She resides in Newnan, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and son.

 Sarah Ankenman, M.A. 

SaraSarah is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty Baptist Seminary and recently graduated with her Masters in Christian Leadership from Grand Canyon University. She received her Bachelors in Biblical Studies at Calvary Chapel Bible College and has a second in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University. She has taught Women in Faith, Drama and Film, and Apologetics to Islam at Calvary Chapel Bible College and currently teaches Apologetics and Worldviews, Church History, and Comparative Religions at Maranatha High School in Rancho Bernardo, CA. Her research interests include the argument from desire, the age of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, and the Ancient Near East. She is the President of the International Society for Women in Apologetics and has written a curriculum to equip the average, busy Christian woman. She blogs as The Valley Girl Apologist and is currently working on a book on the argument from desire entitled, Seeking Something More. Sarah resides with her son in Temecula, California.

 

Lecture: Cultural Apologetics as Christian Witness

What distinguishes Houston Baptist University’s M.A. in Apologetics from other available graduate programs?  First and foremost, it is the program’s unique focus on cultural apologetics. Whenever you hear the word “apologetics,” the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the discipline of using logic, historical evidence, and philosophy to make intellectually rigorous arguments for the truth of Christian theism. This is more properly known as “classical apologetics.” Cultural apologetics, on the other hand, takes Christian case-making to an entirely new level–one that is, arguably, even more effective in the practice of evangelism.

The main purpose of this post is to share a phenomenal lecture with you, one that goes into detail about what cultural apologetics is and why Christians need to learn it. The speaker is Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Provost at Houston Baptist University, where I am honored to serve on the faculty for the School of Christian Thought.

Prior to becoming HBU’s Provost, Dr. John Mark Reynolds served as Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Houston Baptist University Provostwhere I first knew him as the lecturing professor for the graduate course in Cultural Apologetics. Being a student in the Science and Religion rather than the general Apologetics program, I never had the opportunity to take Dr. Reynolds’ course, but his students raved about it and I wanted to hear for myself what all the fuss was about. So, one afternoon during my summer residency at Biola, I stood outside the door of the lecture hall to eavesdrop on this frock-coat-wearing scholar. Let’s just say, rumors of his brilliance were not exaggerated.

So, without further ado, I encourage you to take an hour (or several portions of an hour) out of your day and listen to Dr. Reynolds’ lecture on “Cultural Apologetics as Christian Witness.”  (<—That’s the link to the lecture.) If you are inspired by what you hear (and I bet you will be), you may be interested to know that HBU’s M.A. in Apologetics will become available 100% online in the fall of this new year. Come study with us!

What is Man?

“What is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet.”

Psalm 8:4-6

By far, my favorite subtopic in Christian apologetics is human ontology. That’s fancy philosopher-speak for the study of the nature of mankind. It asks: What, exactly, IS a human being? Or, as the Psalm above words it, “What is man?”

Is Homo sapiens different from the animal kingdom in degree only? In other words, are we simply animals with more highly evolved cognitive capacities, including rationality? Is our “self” nothing more than our material brain? Or, are we different in kind, meaning, is there something about man that makes him essentially distinct from any other living creature, and thus, of higher value? 

According to orthodox Christianity, human beings are a different kind of being altogether. Most importantly, we all have a soul, a self, which can be defined as the immaterial mind–the seat of rationality and moral awareness. Many theologians have said that having an immortal human soul (as opposed to a finite animal soul) is what it means to be made in the imago Dei, the image of God. It is this distinctive that imparts a supreme value to humans. This is why Christians have strong convictions on bioethical issues in particular. We believe that humans are equally valuable from the moment of conception to their final breath, and should be protected and treasured at every single moment in between. To be sure, animals have considerable worth as part of God’s good creation, but human health and survival always trumps that of any animal.

Contrast this view with that of the materialist, who denies this sharp discontinuity between humans and all other organisms. By their lights, we are only different in degree, thanks to blind evolutionary processes. Our species is at the top of the food chain thanks to our more sophisticated neural networks. There is, then, no ground upon which to say humans are more precious than any other species. To do so would be to commit “species-ism,” as some atheist bioethicists, such as Peter Singer, have pointed out. Singer, you may be aware, is the Princeton professor who has said that “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons,” and “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” According to Singer, if a baby is born with abnormalities, it should be permissible to perform an after-birth abortion (infanticide) and “start all over.” And you know what? If atheism is true, and humans are only material creatures who are not of higher value and not morally accountable to a higher power, Singer is correct. He is simply being consistent in his worldview. As Wesley Smith (a conservative bioethicist and opponent of Singer’s) has so aptly phrased it, the materialist’s view implies that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

Now, many non-theists reject the logical conclusion of their metaphysical beliefs. Something within them, I believe the very image of God they deny possessing, makes them aware that this cannot be right! Humans must be more valuable than a sewer rat, and a newborn baby should not be euthanized just because he or she suffers from an abnormality. The problem is, the non-theist cannot offer objective justification for such beliefs. Whenever I’ve asked a non-theist to explain how they justify the  claim that humans have higher value than any other living thing, the usual response has been, “Well, we have to use our emotions and/or rational faculties in these situations.” So basically, we have to use our [blindly evolved] brains to determine the value hierarchy of [blindly evolved] animals and when (and if) human animals should be protected at high cost. That assertion seems arbitrary and down-right circular to me.

On the other hand, if human beings are intentionally made by God, in His image, endowed by Him with great value, and distinct in kind from all other life forms, the problem evaporates. If Christian doctrine is correct, then objectively speaking, we have high, unalterable worth–born or unborn, able or disabled.

There is actually another serious ramification to claiming that human beings have unalienable inherent value, and it is one that a great many non-theists refuse to accept: the existence of objective morality. But the problem is, you can’t have the former without the latter. How do I figure this?

If something, such as a human being, has inherent value, then objective moral rules that serve to protect that thing must exist. 

Stated another way: To argue that mankind has intrinsic value is to assume the existence of objective moral rules conducive to human preservation. Otherwise, we’re just making up reasons and we won’t all agree on what should be done in various situations. The debates over abortion and assisted suicide are perfect examples.

[Furthermore, if there is such thing as objective morality, there has to be an unchanging standard for it that exists outside of us (this is known as the grounding problem). Any attempt to formulate a moral rule without assuming the existence of an absolute standard, must rely on relativism---on human opinion, which varies from one person to the next, one culture to the next, and one time period to the next. Therefore, God--the only conceivable unchanging standard of good--is necessary for objective morality to exist. This is known as the Moral Argument for the existence of God.]

In 2014, God willing, I’ll begin my doctoral work, focusing strongly on the subject of human ontology, so you’ll likely hear much more from me on this topic in the coming years, as I grow in my knowledge and understanding. For now, I would like to direct you to the best podcast series I’ve ever worked though: “The Doctrine of Man” by William Lane Craig. It is available through the Reasonable Faith app. Just click on “Podcasts” then choose “Defenders.” So far, Dr. Craig has posted 15 installments to the series. You can also access it through iTunes at this link.

One Question I Ask My Atheist Friends

I’d like to preface this post by clearly stating that my observations are not necessarily representative of the atheist population as a whole. What follows is merely a description my personal encounters. I’ve been having discussions with non-believers for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed distinct trends in how thoughtful, educated atheists and agnostics tend to respond to various arguments. As an apologist, it is important that I am able to better anticipate objections, so this field experience has been priceless in helping me better prepare myself for effective dialogue. One of the reasons I maintain this blog is to share the insights I’ve gained. It occurred to me a while back that it would be very interesting to pose this very simple question, as an experiment of sorts, to see how my atheist friends would respond.

“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?” 

Whenever I’ve asked this question, the conversation has usually gone something much like this:

“Let me ask you something totally unrelated to the evidence for God and Christianity.”

“Sure.”

“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?”

“Of course I’m glad it’s true! Why would I argue for its truth if I wasn’t glad about it?”

“What makes you glad that it’s true?”

“Well, for one thing, it’s the only way that humans can have genuine free will. Under Christianity, there’s no free will, there’s only God’s will. Under atheism, I choose how I live my life.”

This response is psychologically revealing, theologically erroneous, completely out of step with materialism (the philosophy that nothing besides the material universe exists), and frankly, absurd.

Let’s think about it.

If atheism is true, then we are merely a brief blip in the cosmic scheme of things. We were not intended; we evolved from non-living, non-rational matter, and whenever the maturation process of our sun eventually and inevitably makes human life impossible in our solar system, mankind will pass out of existence, and the cosmos will remain oblivious and unconcerned.

If atheism is true, our consciousness does not live on, and whenever we and our loved ones die, there is no hope for future existence.

If atheism is true, no one has the ultimate authority to decide what is right and wrong for everyone in all places at all times. Rather, we must bend our desires and behaviors in accordance with the mandates of whichever man-made government we happen to live under or else suffer the man-made consequences. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter how anyone lives, because our ultimate fates are all the same.

If atheism is true, immaterial souls do not exist and there actually isn’t any free will at all. We are meat puppets that dance to the tune of our DNA in response to the world. Our emotions, thoughts, intentions, and behaviors are material-dependent; they are determined by chemical reactions. Only if there is an immaterial soul/mind interacting with our brain can we have actual free willed agency.  (For a book-length treatment of this, I recommend Richard Swinburne’s book, Mind, Brain, and Free Will.) Furthermore, under Christian theism at least, God prescribes correct behavior and attitudes, but he does not force our compliance. I suspect that what atheists often mean by having “true free will” is: not being morally accountable to a god.

Considering all of these things, how could anyone of sane mind be glad about them???

This is not to say that the awful, hopeless ramifications of a belief system such as atheism make that belief false. That’s not my argument. I’m also not arguing that the desirable ramifications of my belief system support its truthfulness. I’m simply saying that (1) it makes no sense whatsoever to be happy about the atheistic state of affairs themselves and that (2) one of the frequent reasons cited for that gladness actually fails upon close scrutiny.

How, then, is the atheist to respond? If they are honest with themselves and others, perhaps they could say something like this:

“No, I’m not glad that atheism is true. It’s a dark, bleak reality. I would much rather know that this life has ultimate meaning (as opposed to made-up meaning) and a higher purpose. I’d prefer to know that I and those I love will go on to a wonderful afterlife together. Atheism is a depressing state of affairs, no doubt. But, it is what it is.”

Interestingly, I’ve never received such a response. Once, someone said, “Sure, it’s very tempting to believe in a place like Heaven, but I’m still glad my view is true.” Whatever that means.

The next time you’re  having a worldview discussion with a non-believing friend, I recommend asking them this one simple question. An interesting conversation is sure to ensue.

 

Design, the Designer, and a Singing Lion

Neo-Darwinian evolutionists of our day do not deny that the natural world has many characteristics that give the appearance of design. They call this a case of “apparent design,” denying that it is “actual design”; in other words, the depth, complexity, and integration we observe in nature simply looks like the product of an intelligent designer but they aren’t. Rather, they are the outcome of purposeless natural processes that have been plugging along, unguided, for eons. (A naturalistic orchestration Richard Dawkins has called the “blind watchmaker.”) By contrast, Intelligent Design proponents observe the appearance of design in nature and attribute it to an intelligent agency.

I spend much time pondering how the same observations in nature can produce such drastically opposing viewpoints concerning the origin, complexity, and diversity of life. Nothing strikes me as more absurd than seeing the world as a fortuitous accident, claiming that the laws of nature alone have produced sentience and human rationality from nonliving matter. But in the end, metaphysical pre-commitments, not everyday sense, tend to rule one’s perspective on such things. If you are a materialist, only material explanations will do, and anything else is ludicrous; repugnant, even.

I’ve been re-reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, this time aloud to my son (what a delight this is!). A passage in The Magician’s Nephew is startlingly relevant to this worldview dichotomy. For context, the scene (which gives me chills every time I read it) involves Aslan’s creation of the world of Narnia from a dark, formless place to one filled with light, life, beauty, and the self-awareness of certain chosen creatures. There are several human witnesses to the musical unfolding of his magnificent creation, but one of them perceives things very differently than the others:

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing–only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

May you hear the Lion singing and embrace the song in all its splendor.

Blessings,

Melissa