Back in high school, I was holy rollin' like a 80-year-old on a Rascal. I knew for sure I was going into the ministry and was entirely prepared to spend the rest of my life in the service of God. Several things happened about which I would write a book (and might one day). The short version is, my church was populated with small-minded, bigots. The church split twice and once because of a situation I was involved in. A poor black woman living out of an old rusted mustang barely survived two lots down while the church sent money to missionaries in Honduras. By the time the church had sucked my soul from me and spit me out, I turned my back on it all.
Fast forward to now. I have two children and I live in Texas. They will be exposed to Christianity in some form. We visited many churches (and synagogues since they are technically Jewish) and nothing appealed to me. The primary problem I have is that traditional worship is a broken record, especially when handled by Southern Baptists. There is only so much of the same catch-phrases, slogans, and cliches I can take before I hit toxic cynicism. The other problem I have is with modern worship. There is only so much canned slides, unfamiliar songs, and slick (but only re-purposed traditional) sermons I stomach. Where others claim tradition, I claim "rut". I was on the other side long enough to see all of these things as meaningless.
I kept myself at such a distance from religion for so long, that aplogetics is entirely new to me. Christian apologetics is a discipline (and I would argue a culture as well) within Christianity where Christians defend their faith through logic, reason, and even science. Yeah, I know, sounds crazy. But here's the kicker:
In my entire life, not once have I ever seen or heard a Christian say these words: "I'm not afraid for anyone to question me about my faith. I have nothing to hide [intellectually]."
Keep in mind, growing up Southern Baptists means growing up knowing very little about your own faith and spending time around other people who are openly hostile to those who don't believe the same way.
For me, I don't know what I believe anymore. I feel burned by a long history of disappointments by my own faith. In a nutshell, God to me is very similar to my own father. He came around, did his business and is long gone. I don't and probably will never believe God is much more than a designer who set up some sophisticated systems that still work today but has moved on to other interests. I frankly think it's absurd to believe God takes the time to help somebody have the strength to make it through a job interview while somewhere else around the world a child is sold into a life of sex slavery. But I digress.
So my attendance at the conference is me intrigued by the kind of intellectual topics presented because that's not the Christianity I know or see on TV.
There was an opening presentation called "Defending Your Faith" by Craig Hazen and JP Moreland. Dr. Hazen is infectiously funny and a great kick-off for an event like this. Dr. Moreland, on the the other hand, is a little more rough around the edges. He started out as an atheist philosopher and converted to Christianity. Dr. Moreland is like an ex-smoker with littler tolerance for being around smokers.
After a short break, Dr. Paul Nelson presented “The Power and Promise of Intelligent Design in Biology”. Dr. Nelson's presentation did one thing for me: I realized the concept of Intelligent Design has been hijacked by crazy home-schooling nimrods who believe the earth is only 6000 years old. Dr. Nelson is a biologist and presented on how Darwinism (not "evolution") cannot explain everything. This is an important point because science, philosophy, and a belief in a higher power can co-exist and drive the desire to learn and seek more answers.
Saturday was dense with five particularly heady presentations. Dr. Hazen opened the morning with "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead". Dr. Hazen is by far the most entertaining of the presenters. His humor and professional delivery are among the best in all of presentation world (not the theme park). I got a chance to speak to Dr. Hazen during the following presentation by Sean McDowell because I skipped it to browse their bookstore without 1000 of my fellow attendees getting in my way. I hear Sean was good, though and hopefully I can revisit his presentation later.
Dr. Moreland was on next with a presentation on worldviews. As I mentioned, he's a sort of curmudgeon. He really strikes me as a "my way or highway" sort of guy. There seemed to be an implied "dammit" after each of his points. However, the most off-putting thing he said was his claim that he has exorcised demons and is protected constantly by three angels. I just can't buy that for a host of reasons but primarily my own life experiences. Again, I don't doubt there is a god out there somewhere. I just think he is long gone and doesn't directly deal with this crappy little planet.
The following presenter, Dr. Mike Licona, was the most accessible presenter–for most people. He used lots of sports analogies lost on me because I'm not a sports guy. The audience seemed to like them though. His session was interesting because he built a case for the four New Testament gospels as reliable historical documents and I believe he proved his point. He had a great presentation and a solid set of arguments.
The closing presenter was Dr. William Lane Craig on “The Case for the Existence of God”. Holy crap was that a dense presentation. I think I would need to see his presentation several times to retain many of his points. But that's okay, it was good stuff.
So the conference was great. So great in fact it occurred to me if actual mainstream Christianity was like that instead of the feelings-based judgment frontal assault I grew up with, I might have never left the church. However, the conference seemed to be geared toward two types: believers (meaning Christians who want to defend their faith) and atheists, who comprise the main apologetics boogie man. "Atheist" was used constantly to refer to the kind of people they needed to stay prepared for.
As a guy who lost his faith long ago, I never doubted God's existence. However, since I think he is a deadbeat dad, I have many questions and am looking for meaning without being convinced God is real. My struggle with faith has lasted me about 25 years. I would like to have seen a session on reconciling the Bible as a whole. For instance if Intelligent Design is really using science as I heard, how do they address the Adam and Eve question? I also would like someone like Dr. Moreland to discuss why he gets three angels and conversations with God directly when clearly God never bothered with me to begin with.
The premise on which they build many of their arguments is their belief. I don't have that. So while I enjoyed the conference overall, I walked out of there with more questions. But isn't that kind of the point? For the first time in over two decades, I felt mentally stimulated by a religious event. In that, I'm intrigued.
Wow. My site hits went up. Welcome apologetics people. Please keep in mind I kept my own life experiences brief because, as I wrote above, I could write a whole book on it. I spent a fair amount of time trying to find my way spiritually and, to this day, struggle. I only provided a short history so you could understand where I was coming from in my conference summary.
Also, the phrase "seemed to be an implied 'dammit'" actually was from my friend Keith Cartlidge who I didn't originally credit because he has no online presence whatsoever. Keith is a great thinker and writer and we would all benefit from him blogging but he is particularly stubborn on this issue. This paragraph is a weak attempt at encouraging him to just do it, so we'll see.
- The Perils of Intra-Christian Apologetics (palamas.info)
- Evaluating different religions: 5 reasons to start your spiritual search with Christianity (4simpsons.wordpress.com)
- Christian Apologetics (new.exchristian.net)
- I think I feel anger more than anything (new.exchristian.net)
- Defending the faith, from infanticide to genocide (theglobeandmail.com)
- Richard T. Hughes: The Christian Right in Context, Part 1: The Long View (huffingtonpost.com)
- Southern Baptist leader attacks yoga as anti-Christian (americablog.com)
- The Spiritual Center, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)