By Jack Cottrell
Several years ago Ravi Zacharias and I were on the same program. Ravi accepted an invitation to speak at Cincinnati Christian University on April 29, 2014. He spoke twice, once in morning chapel and once for an evening banquet.
About three weeks before the event, the school president, David Faust, sent me a request that said, in part, “As part of the program prior to Ravi’s speech in the evening, I would like to interview you briefly about the ongoing relevance of apologetics, especially as it relates to our work at CCU. . . . If you like, I can send you a short list of two or three interview questions to think about ahead of time.” I replied that I would appreciate having the questions ahead of time.
Brother Faust sent the questions along with this warning: “We only have a few minutes for the interview, so we will need to keep our comments concise.” What a challenge! Anyway, here are the questions he sent:
• Over the last 90 years, our school has used the slogan, “Scholarship in an Atmosphere of Faith.” How do those two factors—scholarship and faith—fit together?
• What do you personally consider the most compelling evidences that support faith in Christ and the Bible?
• In the midst of a shifting and cynical culture, what advice could you give us about how to defend and explain our Christian faith?
I buckled down and studied these questions, and decided how I would answer them. I wrote out some compact replies, and sent them to brother Faust ahead of time for his advice. The following are the answers I sent to him. I thought others might be interested in my brief answers.
‘SCHOLARSHIP AND FAITH—HOW DO THEY FIT TOGETHER?’
When we think of the assent aspect of faith, which is the part apologetics is concerned with, three questions must be addressed on a scholarly level:
1. How do we believe? This is the question of epistemology. What is faith, and how is it related to knowledge in general? Many go astray at this point by falsely assuming that faith is somehow different from objective, rational conclusions that can be supported by the ordinary rules of reason. It is not.
2. What do we believe? Here the goal is to construct the Christian worldview based on the totality of biblical teaching. Here is where most of our scholarly activity takes place, focusing on biblical exegesis and systematic theology.
3. Why do we believe? Answering this question is the main point of apologetics. Here is where reason, logic, and the rules of evidence come into play on the highest level of scholarship.
‘MOST COMPELLING EVIDENCES?’
I will mention just three compelling evidences for faith in Christ and the Bible.
1. We can begin by using modern, updated, scientific versions of the venerable theistic proofs, the cosmological and teleological arguments. In today’s world we can use the big bang theory of origins to show that the universe had a beginning, and we can use “intelligent design” data to show that this beginning requires a beginner (creator) who is personal, ultraintelligent, and ultrapowerful.
2. We then can show that this creator is the God of the Bible and that the Bible is his Word by applying the ordinary rules of historical method and historical study to the historical claims of the Bible, especially to the data about the historical Jesus. Here we ask two questions: What proves the resurrection? and What does the resurrection prove? Ultimately it proves the validity of the Christian worldview.
3. We then can show that the Christian worldview is superior to all rival worldviews by applying the test of systematic consistency. The Christian worldview makes more sense of more data than all its rivals; it leaves fewer unanswered questions.
‘ADVICE FOR DEFENDING THE FAITH?’
My main advice for Christians in the early 21st century is this: Do not surrender the concept of truth to the pretentious proponents of postmodernism. Objective truth exists, and we can know it. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32, New American Standard Bible). What we believe is absolute, objective truth; the Bible is absolute, objective truth. As the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit and given to creatures made in God’s image, every biblical statement has a single correct intended meaning that we for the most part can discern and confidently teach. We must resist the temptation to relativize faith and doctrine, and to elevate experience above Scripture as our final authority.
Brother Faust gave his approval, and the interview took place after the banquet meal as planned, followed by Ravi Zacharias’s lecture on “Apologetics in the 21st Century.” After the program, Ravi shook my hand and invited me that very moment to come work with him in his famous organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) at double my CCU salary, and then travel with him and costar with him on all his speaking engagements.
Well, I admit that last sentence is something I just dreamed up. The truth is, I do not remember how the program ended. But just knowing I was once on a program with Ravi Zacharias almost gives me goosebumps.
Jack Cottrell retired from 48 years of full-time teaching in 2015, and serves as part-time teaching minister with the First Church of Christ, Greendale, Indiana. He is in the process of producing “The Collected Works of Jack Cottrell” via the Christian Restoration Association, and is currently working on volume 14.