HOUSTON What would inspire 400 people to ignore the first flush of fall weather and high-stakes football games to spend a Saturday holed up in a church auditorium listening to a series of speakers address a subject they already understand and believe—Jesus lived, died, and rose again according to the Scriptures? But, as participants in the Houston Apologetics Day admitted, believing the gospel does not make communicating that truth to a skeptical culture easy.
Houston Baptist University’s (HBU) inaugural Houston Apologetics Day drew a racially and generationally diverse crowd to Champion Forest Baptist Church Oct. 8. The day-long lecture series featured Christian apologists from the university and church in a first-time partnership for the event. Participants, ranging in age from intermediate school students to retirees, said the conference encouraged them to study more and fear less.
“Partnering with Champion Forest was a great experience, and we are always on the lookout for ways to serve the local church,” said Jeffrey Green, HBU graduate school dean. “We’ll see what next year brings; I’m certainly encouraged by the success this year.”
Sponsored by the HBU School of Christian Thought, the conference featured the school’s internationally renowned Christian apologists offering critical perspective and evidence on a variety of issues. Sessions included “Conversational Apologetics” by Mary Jo Sharp, assistant professor of apologetics; “Unanswered: Lasting Truth for Trending Questions” by Jeremiah Johnston, associate professor of early Christianity; “The Reliability of the New Testament” by Craig Evans, professor of Christian origins; and “The Resurrection of Christ” by William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy.
Representing the host church on the speakers’ list were Champion Forest pastor David Fleming and Sunday School teacher and Houston attorney Mark Lanier. Fleming’s session answered the question, “Who is Jesus?” while Lanier’s answered, “What really happened at Jericho?”
Champion Forest member James Price, 56, couldn’t wait to get to the Houston conference. When he began sharing his faith with a Muslim friend 15 years ago, he felt ill-equipped for the task. But after years of faithful testimony, Price said he had the honor and privilege recently of seeing his friend and the man’s son trust Christ and get baptized.
“So when that started [15 years ago], I knew I needed to work on it,” Price said. “I wanted to become better at presenting the gospel to whoever I meet.”
Mike Woltemath, 63, agreed. And both men said they must be more intentional about sharing their faith and working through the “fear of telling others.”
Price and Woltemath noted Sharp’s admonition for Christians to know why they believe and how to carefully listen, question and respond to skeptics or people of other faiths. That, Price said, will help him be more deliberate and skillful in his conversations.
Mature Christians were not the only ones paying attention to how a conversation should be tempered.
Jalen Ontoy, 15, a sophomore at Westside Baptist Academy, said he sometimes snaps at people who disagree with him. Sharp’s lesson reminded him the method of conversation is just as critical as the content. He wants to take what he learned back to his peers, too many of whom are quick to believe and repeat popular memes without assessing their truth claims.
“Kids today lack critical thinking skills,” said Jez Ontoy, Jalen’s father. “Truth claims can be tested.”
Jalen said many teens are afraid of what people will think of them so they don’t push back against challenges to the gospel. But learning how to test arguments against the veracity of the Old and New Testaments and the reality of the historical Jesus and his resurrection will help Jalen and his peers stay engaged when confronted with alternative truth claims.
Even educators well-versed in apologetics gleaned new insight at the conference.
“It’s always good to hear these guys,” said Brad Finkbeiner, who teaches apologetics to high school seniors at Providence Classical School. Finkbeiner brought his eighth-grade son, Bradley, specifically to hear Craig’s presentation.
The senior Finkbeiner said he’ll reiterate to his students Lanier’s message emphasizing the importance of primary over secondary sources when seeking reliable evidence to undergird any argument.
But it was Evan’s presentation on the reliability of the New Testament that especially got the attention of Finkbeiner and fellow educator Sean Diskard, who teaches biblical hermeneutics at Providence.
Diskard’s course includes a primer on the reliability of the modern Bible, demonstrating how the original texts, or autographs, were transmitted from the first century writers to contemporary readers.
Evans, HBU dean of the School of Christian Thought, said archeological evidence combined with extant second- through fourth-century manuscripts provide strong evidence that the original New Testament writings remained in circulation or careful preservation for more than 200 years.
With that new information about the reliable transmission of the original scriptures Diskard said he owes his students an apology.
“I need to go back and tell them I was wrong. It’s even more reliable!” he said.