Dr. Steve B. Cowan is the associate professor of philosophy at Louisiana College. The professional apologist and philosopher has published numerous scholarly articles in academic journals such as Faith and Philosophy, Philosophia Christi, Religious Studies, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Journal of the International Society for Christian Apologetics, and Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is also the editor of the Zondervan Counterpoint books Five Views on Apologetics and Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government. He recently co-authored (with James Spiegel) the book The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Broadman and Holman). He is currently co-editing (with Terry Wilder) a new collection of articles defending the authority and inspiration of Scripture entitled, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, to be published by Broadman & Holman. His primary research interests are freedom and determinism and Molinism. He is also doing significant study in the philosophy of time, the relationship between Christianity and science, and Berkeleyan idealism. Additionally, Steve has participated in several public debates on the existence of God and the problem of evil. Dr. Cowan has graciously allowed me to question him about apologetics and the life of the mind. He is a godly man who loves the Bible and a good defense of the truth. Below are some answers he has provided.
How early should ministers begin teaching youth or children apologetics? Or should they?
In general, apologetics training can and should begin as early as children are able to talk with adults–asking and answering questions. Parents and ministers can begin with some rudimentary natural theology, pointing children to appreciate the natural world as a creation of God. Psalm 19 says that the “heavens declare the handiwork of God.” So, take your children outside at night and point to the stars and say things like, “Look at all those beautiful stars! Isn’t God great to have created all that? It shows us how powerful and how wise and how good God is!” Anticipate possible objections to the faith early on. When children are aware of bad things happening in the world, we can say things like, “We don’t understand why God let that happen, but we know he’s in control. He must have good reasons and one day he may tell us all about it.” Of course, any time a child has a question that has apologetic relevance, ministers and parents should be prepared to give them a good answer that they can understand. My view is: if a child is old enough to ask a serious question, he’s old enough to get a serious answer.
What are some of the greatest threats to Christianity and how can apologetics serve as a valuable tool at addressing such concerns?
I believe that THE greatest threat to Christianity is the anti-intellectualism that permeates the church. For about a century now, Christians have largely retreated from the intellectual arena and entrenched themselves in a version of Christianity that emphasizes feelings, experience, and pragmatism, and have ignored the life of the mind. We have adopted a view of faith that sees it as opposed to reason. The result has been the marginalization of the church from the larger culture and our inability to be salt and light, and the increasing secularization of our society.
What we ought to be doing is apologetics–arguing in the public square that the Christian worldview is not only rational but is more plausibly true than any other worldview. To do that, though, we have to repudiate anti-intellectualism and learn to appreciate (and teach others to appreciate) the life of the mind. We need to regain the idea that Christianity is a knowledge tradition–that the tenets of our faith are things that can be KNOWN and not just believed. I would strongly recommend that Christians read J.P. Moreland’s book, “Love Your God with All Your Mind” (2nd ed.), and Nancy Pearcey’s “Saving Leonardo” for good intros to these topics.
As far as external threats go, I would say that two stand out: (1) the new atheism–the recent aggressive form of atheism advocated by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others; and (2) attacks on the reliability of the Bible. Apologetics is especially relevant to addressing these threats. A robust natural theology that provides rigorous arguments for the existence of God is the answer to the first threat. Unless we can show that the basic foundation of the Christian worldview–the existence of God–is true, nothing else we may have to say to the larger culture will be taken seriously (Let me recommend Copan and Moser’s “The Rationality of Theism,” and Groothuis and Sennett’s, “In Defense of Natural Theology”). The second threat requires us to provide detailed evidence for the reliability and authority of the Bible. Unless we can show that the Bible is not just a book of ancient mythology, its teachings will be dismissed out of hand (Here I must recommend the forthcoming book edited by myself and Terry Wilder, “In Defense of the Bible” (B&H)).
Are there any dangers in apologetics itself for the believer?
Yes, there are some dangers. The biggest danger is in coming to think that our apologetic arguments are sufficient to produce saving faith in those we witness to. While I believe that apologetics is necessary, at most our arguments can lead a person to give mental assent to Christianity. But mental assent (agreeing intellectually that Christianity is true) is not the same as saving faith. “Even the demons believe, but they tremble!” We need to give the best arguments in defense of the faith that we can, and present the gospel as clearly and winsomely as we can. But, in the end, we are in the end dependent on the Holy Spirit to awaken the sinner to genuine faith and repentance. This requires prayer and fasting.
A converse danger is in thinking that if our arguments don’t persuade our hearers to embrace Christ, then our arguments–and apologetics in general–are useless. That’s not necessarily so. What keeps sinners from coming to Christ is not just a lack of reasons for believing. The main thing is an unregenerate heart that is bent on rebellion. Even perfectly good arguments can be rejected by sinners who just do not want to believe. So, we give them our best arguments, we leave them without an excuse (Rom 1), and then we pray for the Holy Spirit to melt hard hearts.
What are some things young apologists should avoid?
The young apologist should avoid:
- Seeking to win an argument more than winning a person.
- Thinking he has to have all the answers before doing apologetics.
- Being afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
- Giving up on an unbeliever too quickly–sometimes it takes time for a person to come around to embracing the truth.
- Neglecting his devotional life–while the intellect is important, it is not the only thing that’s important.