How to Prepare Your Church for a Great Apologist
Apologists Need Pastoring
Because Hugh is a high-profile science apologist, some pastors might find him too intimidating to relate to, thus relegating him—and apologists in general—to a potentially undesirable class of the bright-yet-pastorless. Yet these high-achieving believers need pastoring. They need someone who will take time to understand them, show care, offer godly counsel, provide a listening ear, and pray for them. In fact, those in high-profile ministries are often subject to extraordinary pressures, criticisms, and attacks that most of us could never imagine.
Here’s where shepherd-hearted pastors can step in. Such pastors have a special grace to comfort and strengthen people like Hugh. It’s common to assume that
since people immersed in science apologetics are being perpetually stimulated intellectually, it somehow means they are being nourished spiritually. However, the issues that deplete any soul—a strained relationship with a neglected spouse, a wayward child who rejects the faith of their parents, a deep hurt caused by an offensive believer, an enduring humiliation that has scarred the soul and led to secret addictions—are also the issues that great apologists are susceptible to. That’s why pastoring this unique group of believers is vital.
Gifted pastors empathize. They also heal, strengthen, nourish, nurture, and rescue. They are called to be courageous and stand up to wolves, bears, and lions (1 Samuel 17:34; Matthew 7:15). They do not flee when predators prowl (John 10:11–14). They protect their congregations from dangerous ideas, especially those that sound biblical. This is why pastors often seek God for the gift of discernment (which C. H. Spurgeon described as the ability to distinguish the right from the almost right) to protect those in their charge.
Pastors and Apologists as a Team
Apologists and pastors alike care deeply about the truth and want to reach out to unchurched thinkers who harbor intellectual obstacles to the God of the Bible. When pastors work alongside apologists and other ministries (like RTB), they help equip their congregation to defend their faith. And when apologists team with pastors, they are better equipped to help shepherd those who are drawn to Christ through intellectual arguments.
Such shepherding will involve relating to people on a spectrum of skepticism. It will also involve recognizing, as Hugh stated when he last visited my church, “most people, especially scientists, don’t actually have intellectual objections to believing the gospel—their real objections are emotional!” These are matters of the heart, such as a refusal to surrender to a God they can’t control, addiction to some deceptive sin, or fear of peer pressure. All of these heart issues fall squarely into the arena of a shepherd-pastor.
Churches Need Pastoring
As a pastor of a church, I have seen firsthand how age-of-the-earth discussions can lead to painful division. If you’re a pastor or church leader who is considering discussing this topic—or inviting a guest to address the issue—here are some ways you can prepare for it:
- Give key leaders a copy of A Matter of Days to read. This book is designed to turn arguments into conversations and to equip believers to defend their faith with gentleness and respect.
- Teach the congregation the hermeneutical role of biblical words, which are always dependent on the context for their meaning. Biblical lexicographer Dr. Daniel B. Wallace stresses the importance of hermeneutical context when he writes, “every word on its own is
meaningless!”1 In particular, teach how these words vary according to their biblical use: “day” (four possible meanings), “father” (four possible noun meanings), and “death” (two possible meanings). These words have a significant bearing on the issue of when creation began.
- Because critics of Hugh’s work have labeled him (and other old-earth creationists) as an “evolutionist” and someone who uses “fallen man’s science” to interpret Scripture, you would do well to preempt this misrepresentation by teaching a series on the doctrines of the inerrancy of Scripture, theology proper (God is orderly and methodical), hamartiology (the study of sin), and soteriology (mankind’s need for redemption and atonement).
Depending on your church, it may take years to prepare a congregation for age-of-the-earth discussions. Because my church is located in one of the epicenters of young-earth creationism, it actually took me closer to ten years to prepare my congregation for an old-earth presentation from Hugh Ross!
In that time, I had to create a culture where our church saw apologetics and evangelism as necessary teammates. This meant dispelling such thinking as “No one was ever won to Christ by an argument,” or “We can only love people into the kingdom,” or worse still, “We shouldn’t use science to interpret the Bible because science has been corrupted by the fall.” I was equipped to do this largely by listening to RTB podcasts!
I also had to pastor our church to a greater understanding of how philosophy (especially the laws of logic) undergirds apologetics and therefore evangelism. (This is why I invited RTB philosopher-theologian Kenneth Samples to our church four years before I invited Hugh, and then biochemist Fazale Rana two years later.) My preaching ministry had to include some apologetics each Sunday. This aspect of pastoring is hard work. It is the kind of pastoring that requires ongoing learning, training, and development. Pastors, if you want to get the most out of a visit from Hugh or another influential apologist, then your church needs pastoring to prepare the way for apologetics conversations.
When Hugh finally did arrive at my church, each event was fully attended. We rented the largest venue in our city and filled it. Well-meaning Christians stood outside the venue protesting against Hugh and naming me as a heretic. However, many of them came into the meeting and listened to Hugh make his presentation. Hundreds of nonchurched academics, scientists, and professionals listened attentively. During the Q&A, none of the protesters dared challenge Hugh. But more significantly, we saw people give their lives to Christ and many more begin a journey to faith in the God of the Bible. Some of these people took the next two years of having regular pastoral meetings with me before they finally declared their faith in Christ and were baptized. This is why apologetics and pastoring ought to be a team effort and why I say Hugh Ross needs pastoring to occur so RTB’s ministry can be even more effective in bringing thinkers to believe.
- To read more about my journey from young-earth creationism to old-earth creationism, visit https://andrewcorbett.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/my-3-biggest-pastoral-paradigm-shifts.html.
- To read more about what happened in my church when Hugh came, visit https://andrewcorbett.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/what-happens-when-dr-hugh-ross-visits.html.
- Watch some of the journey and experience of engaging with RTB science apologetics at https://vimeo.com/283220937/d08b3203e8.
- Watch a testimony of one of those converted during Hugh Ross’s visit at https://vimeo.com/284139404/2000ddca93.
- Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997).