My worldview has seen considerable change. I grew up in a secular home with unbelieving family members. I hung around mostly irreligious friends. I almost never went to church. Raised in a single parent family, my grandparents were prominent role models. My grandmother loved to play chess and I have many fond memories of our time together. My grandfather was a staunch pragmatist who introduced me to science on Christmas day at the age of ten. From that day forward, it was a primary indoor pursuit. As for the outdoors, there were no role models. Those adventures were always unsupervised lessons in risk and reward. As a young man I had my last conversation with my grandfather at a St. Petersburg, Florida diner. He emphasized that morning the importance of being practical and taking charge of one’s future. Sadly, he died not long afterwards from cancer, having rarely discussed with me anything beyond the tools of worldly success . But I could not have agreed with him more at the time about the value of practicality and expediency. It was upon this foundation my worldview was built.
During my childhood I was also introduced to Christianity. I don’t recall the details, but I joined my best friend for a few Sunday morning services. It should be no surprise to anyone a handful of hours in church do not stack up against years of secular pursuits and influences. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I had shed most of my openness to anything supernatural. In my late twenties I was firmly nontheistic. I was never an activist who promoted atheism. I didn’t go around claiming God’s nonexistence. This may be due to doubting the rationality of such an unsubstantiated position. I was more of a condescending weak-atheist. If asked to summarize my position, I would say: God probably doesn’t exist, but whatever works for you makes little difference to me. Though I could describe the Christian Gospel in theory, I believed it was a harmless delusion in reality.
I did not expect the extreme worldview makeover on my horizon. I thought things were going exceedingly well. My career in software development was taking off. I met my wife and married her at the age of twenty-eight. We had just built a new house together. Surely this was what my grandfather meant by “being in charge.” No question as to what I believed at the time, I was the master of my fate; I was the captain of my soul. So when I began to have troubles in marriage, I did not view it much differently than running up against a defect in software – I just needed to fix things and move on. With enough skill, intellect and effort, I thought I could face any problem and solve it. But it did not turn out that way. I reached a point at the age of thirty-one when I knew my marriage was terminal. I could not undo the damage. I believed divorce was inevitable and this change in perspective opened the door to a wider view.
My rebirth happened one night as I was contemplating the sale of our home after my wife had moved out. A Florida thunderstorm rolled in that evening as I was lying in bed brooding over things. Suddenly a lighting-strike nearby knocked the power out. As I lay there, I began to realize how much of my life was really beyond my control. The notion of “being in charge of one’s destiny” seemed utterly foolish as I stared into the dark that night. I thought there had to be a greater purpose which transcended my matter-of-fact life. I thought back to my childhood on the Christian message of the sacrifice of Jesus and the reconciliation with God for those who believe. While I dwelt on that thought, it was like a light switch turning on. It happened that fast. What seemed untrue and irrelevant before was now true and momentous. As quickly as the lightening had taken out the power, I was transformed. The words of Paul reflect my experience well: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
With transformation came a mission. I went to a nearby church and met with the pastor. I did not know at the time he would become a great mentor to me over the next decade. He explained some of the basic tenets of Christianity and we prayed together. I also tracked my wife down and brought her home. We spent the next year rebuilding our relationship. More than twenty years later our marriage is as strong as ever and full of blessings including two beautiful daughters. But returning to just a few months after becoming a follower of Christ, my wife and I joined a study group together. One evening we were talking about faith and reason and I emphatically proclaimed they were utterly incompatible. I half-jokingly professed how my left brain would handle reason and the right half would be in charge of my new faith. At the time I honestly believed the two domains did not intersect. What I omitted that evening was how unsatisfying this arrangement was for me. I thought it was just a burden I would have to carry. Yet I was on a mission, a path with Christ I had no intention of deviating from. A little intellectual dissonance was something I thought I could work out later.
A book by C. S. Lewis was a young woman’s response that night to my proclamation of the incompatibility of faith and reason. After reading Lewis and several other excellent writers, I was excited to learn of the congruity between Christian truth-claims and a reasoned view from science and philosophy. My previously perceived conflict was a matter of ignorance. This was so liberating that I dove head first into further study to continue uniting the true aspects of my previous worldview with the Christian faith. The book Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig, was a significant growth point. It not only dealt with many of my misunderstandings, but it also helped me put faith and reason into their proper role. I also learned about the reality of doubt. The truth is; anyone with a substantive worldview will encounter epistemic tension and conflict. I certainly had to deal with this as a nontheist and I still do as a Christian. But today I enjoy a significant unity between how I see the world through the special revelation of the Christian faith, and how I see things through the deliverances of reason. I have learned there is compatibility.
It is a misconception to think apologetics is only good for pre-evangelism: Tear down the roadblocks to the Gospel and more will be saved. Remove the obstacles at the doorstep and the door will be opened. To be sure, this happens. I have met several Christians over the years where apologetics played a significant role leading up to their conversion. But my testimony tells of another aspect of the apologetic enterprise. You may have heard the parable of the sower in Mark 4 where some of the seed fell on rocky soil. In such conditions the roots cannot take hold and the plant dies under the slightest environmental pressure. The same goes for a faith that is not integrated well into one’s worldview. Here apologetics helps to till the soil and tear down the fictions which prevent the flourishing of our faith. In the same parable, other seeds fell among the thorns which choked the plants springing up. I believe today the thorns are not just worries and temptations, but ideas. The cultural milieu we find ourselves in today, with its books, movies, social media, and education, is full of thorns contrary to the Christian worldview. Again, apologetics plays a critical role in clearing away falsehoods so our faith can grow with fewer impediments.
In conclusion, I offer a warning to balance out my case for apologetics. As much as I appreciate the benefits of philosophical study over the last fifteen years, I also recognize some pitfalls. As a new apologist I was enamored by the ability to annihilate atheist arguments. But I have since learned nothing ever good comes out of a heated engagement. Today I rarely debate staunch unbelievers unless there are third-party observers who may be persuaded by polite rational discourse. Merely winning arguments is not profitable. On the other hand, discussing philosophical issues with honest seekers using 1-Peter-3 gentleness and respect has proven beneficial. All of this being said; we ought to consider our dedication. Spending a disproportionate amount of time in apologetic activities, neglecting other Christian disciplines, is a mistake. It has in the past taken me out into the arid desert for a dark night of the soul where one yearns for a single draft of living water. We should not neglect meeting with the Saints for encouragement and worship. Wrapping up a debate online or posting a blog is incomparably disappointing to one moment in the still presence of God. But if God occasionally chooses to use an apologetic approach through me, I'm good with it.