Recap of 2016 National Conference on Christian Apologetics

Last Friday and Saturday, Southern Evangelical Seminary held its annual apologetics conference at Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Thursday, a special women’s edition of the conference was held. I had the distinct honor to attend this conference which was titled “The Defense Never Rests.” This was my fourth conference and quite honestly it was one of the best yet.

Due to an illness, Lee Strobel was not able to attend the conference as previously scheduled. Dr. Norman Geisler stepped up to fill in for the ailing Strobel. Geisler addressed the freedoms that America was built upon, particularly addressing the role that the Judeo-Christian ethic played in the development of the country. One fascinating fact that quite interested me was that for nearly 300 years, Americans read the Bible, prayed, and learned the Ten Commandments while in public school. From 1960-1963, prayer, devotional readings of the Bible, and the adherence to the Ten Commandments were eliminated from the public school system. Since that time, divorces and abortions have increased over 200%. Is there a connection? I agree with Geisler in saying that there is.

Dr. Frank Turek led the next lecture I attended. His lecture was titled “When Reason Isn’t the Reason for Unbelief.” Turek revealed that reason is not the stumbling block that keeps most atheists from coming to the Christian faith: the consequences of the Christian faith do. Assembling some of the material from his book Stealing from God, Turek concludes that atheists often must steal principles from God in order to make their case. I loved Augustine’s quote given which says, “We love the truth when it enlightens us. We hate the truth when it convicts us.” How true! Morality is only known because of the standard given to us by God. While many feel they are somewhat less righteous than Mother Teresa and far more righteous than Hitler, Turek noted from Scripture that everyone is unrighteous before God. Turek brought a great lesson!

The third lecture I attended was led by Dr. Barry Leventhal and titled “The Problem of Evil and The Holocaust.” Leventhal told something that I had never before heard. He told of individuals surviving the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp who had visions of the Messiah. One particular individual despised Christianity so much that it became a means of survival. Joseph Herschowitz was his name. Herschowitz kept telling himself, “If I ever get out of here, I will make those Christians pay.” Why did he blame the Christians? It was because they stood idly by and did not say anything to the Jews defense. Herschowitz, to his surprise, had an encounter with what Leventhal called “The Mysterious Messiah.” Leventhal addressed the hiddenness of God and noted that what we know of God pales in comparison to the great depths of God that we do not know. As Leventhal noted, we do not know just how many people in the shadows of the concentration camps met this Mystery Messiah that we know to be Christ Jesus. The term “powerful” does not do justice to the might of Leventhal’s lecture.

The fourth lecture I attended was led by Norman Geisler. I caught just a bit of his lecture. Geisler’s second address was on the title of the conference, “The Defense Never Rests.” He spoke of the challenges that the church has met since its illustrious inception. His main focus was on the importance of defending the truth of God’s Word against any and all errors. I hope to hear this lecture in its entirety soon.

The fifth lecture was given by Dr. Doug Potter. Potter’s lecture was titled “The Book of Enoch, Angels, and Giants, O My…” This lecture was all about the pseudopigraphal book known as 1 Enoch. Some question whether 1 Enoch should be included in the canon since Jude quoted from 1 Enoch. Potter argued that it was possible that Jude and the mysterious writer of 1 Enoch could have pulled from another unknown source. But even if Jude did quote 1 Enoch, this does not grant that 1 Enoch should be included. For instance, Paul was known to quote from non-Christian literary texts of his day. Potter concludes that 1 Enoch does not find a home in the New Testament canon. While 1 Enoch is interesting, I most certainly concur with Dr. Potter.

The sixth lecture I attended was led by Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Ross’ lecture was on the “Faint Sun Paradox: New Proofs of Creation.” My specialty is in the realm of theology, so I dare not try to explain all of what Dr. Ross said. Nevertheless, Dr. Ross noted that as the sun grows older, it becomes larger, hotter, and more luminous. Without enough light, the earth would be a snowball. With too much light, the earth would be a fireball. We find ourselves in a perfect position where life is allowable. In addition, Dr. Ross presented other fascinating signs of design which must be in place to allow for life to exist. Dr. Ross clearly illuminated the fact that a Creator not only put everything into place, that same Creator works within creation keeping things balanced so that life can exist. However, this information came with a warning. Unless God intervenes, life cannot continue to exist much past 1,400 years. While not going into much more detail, he did say that other factors may bring that time-frame into centuries. So the notion that Jesus is coming soon is far more relevant that the skeptic may want to think.

The seventh lecture I attended was led by Dr. Sean McDowell. His lecture was of great interest to me being the lover of history that I am. McDowell gave the lecture titled “The Fate of the Apostles.” McDowell addressed the history and legendary material surrounding the fate of the apostles. He noted that we can know with high probability that Peter, Paul, James the brother of Jesus, and James the son of Zebedee died as martyrs. He also noted that we can know with good probability that Thomas and Andrew also died as martyrs. However as it pertains to the remaining apostles, the historian cannot be certain although there are reasons to think that the apostles all, or nearly all, died as martyrs. I had a chance to speak with McDowell after the lecture. Let me just say, Sean McDowell is a kind man and extremely intelligent. He noted that John was the most interesting of the apostles he studied. There are some indications suggesting that he could have died as a martyr, but nothing conclusive. Other sources indicate that he died a natural death while ministering in Ephesus. In my humble opinion, I feel that John 21:20-24 indicates the latter as I also feel that there are good reasons to hold that the apostle John dictated his Gospel to an amanuensis. Fantastic lecture!!!

On Saturday, I attended three lectures. The eighth lecture of the conference was led again by Hugh Ross. Ross’ second lecture was titled “Habitability for Redemption.” Ross argued that the habitability index of creation is just right to allow countless billions of individuals to come to faith. God designed creation so that the maximum number of individuals could hear the gospel and enter into a relationship with God. Excellent lecture!

The ninth lecture I attended was led by Jay Sekulow of the American Center of Law and Justice. Sekulow is a defense attorney who has defended religious freedoms in the United States of America as well as defending the persecuted church at the United Nations. Concurring with Dr. Richard Land, hearing Sekulow is what it must have been like to hear the apostle Paul. Sekulow shared with us the importance in staying true to our Christian convictions, but doing so in an intelligent fashion. Sekulow noted that while politics is an important endeavor, politics never raised someone from the dead. Excellent point! It was also fascinating to hear of Sekulow’s testimony in how he came to know Yeshua (Jesus) as his Savior.

The tenth and final lecture I was able to attend was led by J. Warner Wallace. Mr. Wallace is an extremely likable fellow. Wallace is a former cold-case homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), star of the movie God’s Not Dead 2, and author of the books Cold-case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. In his second lecture, Wallace presented material found in his book Cold-case Christianity. Wallace used the evidence of a cold-case homicide detective to demonstrate that the four Gospels are documents penned by eyewitnesses. Wallace’s presentation was top-notch and left one on the edge of their seats. He performed well under pressure because Dr. Gary Habermas and two Ph.D. students were in the front row. Apparently they gave him two thumbs up after the presentation had concluded. I was certainly cheering him on. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Wallace’s early dating of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as I feel the logic and evidence using the lack of information concerning the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. in Acts and the synoptics weigh in favor of an early dating. Mr. Wallace added the capstone to what was, in my opinion, one of the best apologetics conferences yet.

The only trouble was, I wanted to hear much more! My good buddies J. Andrew Payne and Devin Pellew presented what I heard were excellent lectures on apologetic methodologies and answering objections to the Christian faith. If you have not attended, you need to make sure to check http://conference.ses.edu for details on the 2017 edition of the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. God-willing, I hope to be there again.

 

(c) October 17, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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