“… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).
“I somehow intuitively concluded that God, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were all adult fabrications to keep children in the dark,” writes Chip Ingram in the introduction to his latest book, Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity.
Even as a teenager, the pragmatic Ingram had cultivated the mindset of a seasoned cynic. He says, “The hypocrisy and lack of authenticity [in the church] hardened my heart, and I became a full-blown skeptic prior to my sixteenth birthday.”
Fortunately, the man had a change of heart! It began the summer when he was just out of high school and attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes weeklong camp.
“I both heard and saw the gospel for the first time,” he explains. And he made a commitment to Christ at that camp.
In college, a Navigators Bible study helped him build a strong foundation. He was well on the way to knowing just what his faith was all about. But at the end of Ingram’s senior year, a favorite professor challenged him with a question that he says changed the course of his life.
“Chip,” the prof asked, “how can someone so well-educated and intellectually astute as you appear to be, really believe in a literal Jesus and this born-again stuff?” Ingram said he wasn’t demeaning or disrespectful; he was asking a serious question. And doubts began to flood Ingram’s heart.
“Could all this be just an emotional experience?” he asked himself. “Could I really answer the tough questions he began to ask about why I believed in Jesus, the Bible, creation, and life after death? Was I willing to throw my brains in the trash to be a follower of Christ? Was my faith real?”
That exchange with his professor shook Ingram’s foundation and set him on the fast track to apologetics. Yes, it’s a big word. But for the Christian, its simple application is to know the solid biblical evidence for our faith – not only the what, but also the why.
Ingram set out to build a bridge from what he believes to why he believes it. The result of that bridge building is his personal apologetic based on years studying the Scriptures and the evidence they offer for the faith he professes. Why I Believe records the story of that journey and – for the rest of us – a rich repository of insights and understandings that we all need to master.
“I think it’s imperative, in our day, for Christians to have an apologetic for themselves,” Ingram told AFA Journal in a recent interview. “This book is focused on helping believers know why they believe and how to share that in a simple, less technical, relational way to the people they love.”
Below are Ingram’s responses to AFA Journal’s questions.
Why is apologetics important for today’s church?
Knowing what we believe and why may be more important right now in our world than ever before. We used to live in a world where some of the basic tenets of truth were agreed upon by everyone in the culture. There was a day, not too long ago, when most people believed that there were moral absolutes when it came to what is right and what is wrong. That day is in the rearview mirror and there’s never been more pressure or confusion both within and outside the church when it comes to the question “What is true?”
What is the individual’s response to this?
I think there are two primary reasons to clearly understand what we believe, and as importantly, why we believe. The first is theological and an important reminder to serious followers of Jesus. We are commanded in 1 Peter 3:15 to “be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have.” In other words, our lives should demonstrate such radical love, optimism, and holiness because of our relationship with Jesus that people would ask us to explain our faith.
The second reason is much more pragmatic, but absolutely critical, especially when we think of the younger generation. I can intellectually agree with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus when I’m not challenged or tempted or made to feel small, narrow, or anti-intellectual; but in difficult situations, it is only those that know why they believe who develop personal convictions versus intellectual agreement. Convictions don’t change when circumstances change, peer pressure escalates, or persecution occurs.
In terms of personal growth, what might one hope to learn at an apologetics conference?
A conference like SES provides a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and tackle some of those thorny issues that cast doubt on our own personal journey of faith. So many times I’ve struggled with a passage, a philosophical argument, or just a problem, only to be exposed to a wise and clear thinker who provided me with the tools, the research, and the clarity to move forward confidently in my faith. Although I get to teach at this conference, I’m looking forward to being one of the learners on the front row when I see who the Lord has brought to be our teachers.
How will it equip someone in relating to others?
One of the greatest things I’ve learned from people who really know what and why they believe and can articulate it lucidly, is that half the battle is knowing how to receive and answer questions. I can read books forever, but it’s been in life interactions like this conference that I’ve learned how to winsomely not be offended by a hard question, answer calmly and with compassion, and build a bridge of friendship, even with those who initially appear most hostile.
How do you teach apologetics as a pastor in your local church?
I believe the way we teach apologetics today has to be far different than we’ve done in the past. In past days, when people generally believed in absolute truth, a very cognitive and logical approach to all the issues was effective. This still is very important to know, but I believe there needs to be a very relational and grace-oriented context that allows honest skeptics to really be heard and dialogue in an atmosphere of trust.
Chip Ingram is senior pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, and teaching pastor and president of Living on the Edge, a teaching and discipleship ministry. He is a prolific writer, and noted apologist in evangelical Christianity today. He will be speaking at the Southern Evangelical Seminar Apologetics Conference October 12-13 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference is co-sponsored by American Family Association. Learn more and register at www.SES.edu.