We’re going to take a journey and step into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to travel all the way back to the year of 2012 AD, in the month of July of that year.
In the previous year, some dear friends of ours and pillars of our church came out as atheists (which I’ve talked about here). This had reinvigorated my interest and love of apologetics. Previously, I was really only familiar with Josh McDowell (which I read Evidence That Demands a Verdict so many times, that I had the facts of several chapters practically memorized), Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ), Ravi Zacharias, and C. S. Lewis. Even so, these friends wouldn’t talk to me about their coming out, though she did have a private talk with my wife.
After seeing The God Delusion sitting on top of a Bible at this friends house, I discovered The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson, which is a tremendous and short read, where David responds to each chapter of Dawkins’ book, and actually posted each letter on Dawkins’ forum. I bought this book for my friend Justin who had been shaken up by our mutual friend’s coming out, and it encouraged him greatly. Another great response to The God Delusion is The Devil’s Delusion by David Berlinski, who is himself an agnostic. These books and more I discovered in my reinvigoration.
Following this, I happened upon a tweet by a friend of mine from church who mentioned that he was going to an apologetics Bible study. This thought was new to me and got my attention, so I reached out to him for details. It was a local Reasonable Faith chapter held by Caleb, a friend of his and invited me to come. I talked it over with my wife and decided to go see what it was about.
Funny thing was, they were actually in the midst of serious planning for an apologetics conference to held here in Tulsa. Still even more new things. As they explained it to me, and as this promo video explains it, Caleb and a friend had posted highlights of a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens on Facebook in 2010, and it blew up with tons of responses.
This is the highlights video:
At the time, I had never heard of Dr. Craig. But he had found out about the viral Facebook video and agreed to host a conference based on his book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Precision and Reason. I think Caleb had originally wanted it to be a conference for atheists, but Dr. Craig wanted it to be for fellow believers to help strengthen their faith. He called several of his friends to come and speak at the conference: Paul Copan, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Doug Geivett, and Guillermo Gonzales. I had heard of none of these at the time. And he provided a free On Guard book with every registration (which was itself a very reasonable price (like $10 or $15 each)).
After going to that first meeting, which I knew that I would keep going, I watched the debate between Craig and Hitchens myself. This was the first debate I had ever watched, so another first. (Wintery Knight has a great run-down of the debate here.)
Somehow, even though I only went to a few of Caleb’s meetings before the conference, I was included in on the help team (which consisted of just helping to man a booth for a brief period of time). I told my friend Justin about the conference, and he, my wife, and I all went.
The conference followed the format of the book. Just as the first chapter of the book is What is Apologetics?, Dr. Craig gave the first lecture on Friday on that very subject.
Then it was breakout sessions where everyone had their choice of 3 sessions: Doug Geivett was speaking on God and the Origin of the Universe, Guillermo Gonzalez was speaking on Why is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?, and Paul Copan was speaking on Can We Be Good Without God? These breakout sessions were going to be offered again the next day with the same topics and speakers.
Since I’ve always been fascinated with the stars and planets and the universe (for a long time I wanted to be an astronaut and it’s still at the top of my bucket list to go into space), I knew I had to catch Doug Geivett’s panel and Guillermo Gonzalez’ panel. So all 3 of us started with Doug Geivett. God and the Origin of the Universe, which lined up with Chapter 4 of the On Guard book, Why Did The Universe Begin? The topic was on the Kalaam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- The universe has a cause.
That was the end of the first day. I actually remember leaving there to go sing a song with my friends in a band called Idefy. They wanted to cover Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and had asked me the week before to come up and sing it with them.
Back to the conference the next day, before the repeat of the breakout sessions from the previous day, they actually started the day with an open panel interview that consisted of Dr. Craig, Doug Geivett, Michael Licona (who would be speaking later that day), and Paul Copan.
From there, the three breakout sessions from the night before were offered again. Continuing my love and fascination with space, Justin and I went to catch Guillermo Gonzalez’s panel: Why is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?, which is the same title of chapter 5 of the On Guard book. This is about the Fine-Tuning argument for the existence of God:
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
- The fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance.
- Therefore, it is due to design.
While Justin and I went to that panel, my wife caught Paul Copan’s Can We Be Good Without God?, which is also the name of chapter 6 of the On Guard book. (I watched the video later when it was posted.) This is about the moral argument for the existence of God:
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
After the morning breakout session, everyone was back in the main room to hear Dr. Craig speak on chapter 7 of the On Guard book, What About Suffering?
I want to say that we broke for lunch at this time, and the 3 of us went to a great restaurant called Bentos that served Japanese style box lunches, which is still an amazing place to eat. It was less than a mile from where the conference was being held, so gave us enough time to grab some food and get back without missing anything.
Back from lunch, Michael Licona came up to speak on chapter 8 of the On Guard book, Who Was Jesus? The video is in 2 parts.
And finally, Gary Habermas spoke on The Resurrection of Jesus, which lines up with chapter 9 of the On Guard book, Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? This was and still is my favorite talk of the weekend. So much so that two of my blog posts were inspired by this talk: The Earliest Creed of the Resurrection Part 1 and Part 2.
Incredibly, after the conference was over, Caleb invited all of us who helped (which somehow included me, even though I did very little) to go eat with all of the speakers. I ended up sitting across from Michael Licona, which was a very enlightening conversation, a little of which that I referenced here.
Since then, I’ve been to several apologetics conferences, but this first one was still my favorite. The information delivered that weekend was like trying to drink water from a firehose. I ended up reading my copy of On Guard numerous times, and even started an apologetics Bible study with Justin and several other friends where we first went through that book chapter by chapter. I’ve also watched all of these videos numerous times, and continually refer people to them. On Guard is still one of the top 3 books that I recommend to people just starting to learn apologetics (the others being J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity and the aforementioned Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.)
I owe a special thanks to Caleb, for including me in on that weekend (even though I came in at the 11th hour). That conference really re-lit my passion for apologetics, which led to my Bible study group, which led to this blog site. I’ve posted several blogs along the topics of that conference, including:
Why Apologetics? (What is Apologetics?)
Morality (Can We Be Good Without God?)
Resurrection (Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?)
Along the way, Caleb helped me become a Reasonable Faith chapter director myself and helped me get started on teaching the interns at my church the past few years. And for those classes, I generally follow the outline of the book and this conference.