By Tammi Ledbetter
KANSAS CITY – Midwestern Baptist Theological President R. Philip Roberts believes there are clear answers to the challenges to the Christian faith, but unless those responses are communicated, they serve little purpose at all.
As the newly elected president of the International Society for Christian Apologetics (ISCA), Roberts believes apologetics is more important than ever in the life of the church, “particularly in an era of pluralism, syncretism and relativism.”
Although he grew up in Southern Baptist churches, Roberts doesn’t recall ever hearing the word apologetics or knowing anything about it until he went to college. “In today’s world we cannot allow that to happen. It’s important to raise the level of understanding and challenge the academy and the church alike to do our fair share of work in making sure questions are answered and people are affirmed in their faith.”
Founded in 2006, ISCA brings together conservative Christian scholars from a variety of fields engaged in the task of apologetics. Their bylaws state the society’s purpose “to foster scholarly discussion of ideas among evangelical scholars relevant to the defense of the historic Christian faith” in accordance with their doctrinal statement.
Roberts described the founders of the society as people who are known for their commitment to Scripture. “These are men who, above everything else, understand that without our Christian faith, all we’d be doing is building a house on a foundation of sand,” he said.
“There is no question that in terms of primary issues, the International Society of Christian Apologetics is right where it needs to be,” Roberts said. “We’re not involved in matters of ecclesiology or some of the more refined points of Christian thinking, particularly views of eschatology, but when it comes to core doctrines of faith, such as the reliability of Scripture,” he said ICSA is solidly rooted.
Norm Geisler served as founding president of ISCA. The longtime ethics professor of Dallas Theological Seminary currently serves as distinguished professor of apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, Calif.
Roberts said Southern Baptist seminaries have played an important role in the development of the organization. The 2010 meeting held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth addressed the meaning and implications of creation and next year’s conference, set for April 29-30 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., will feature a discussion on the problem of evil. Southern Baptists often speak at the conferences and contribute to ISCA journal articles.
Papers presented at previous conferences are posted online at www.isca-apologetics.org and often address differences of other religions and cults, including Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism and Wicca, issues involving evolution, atheism, biomedical ethics, and many of the heresies that arise in Christian circles.
Full membership requires a minimum of a Master of Arts degree in a field related to apologetics, with student memberships available at a reduced cost. However, subscriptions to the annual peer-reviewed journal are available to anyone interested in a wide variety of apologetically relevant fields, including philosophy, ethics, theology, biblical studies, history and missions.
Prior to coming to Midwestern Seminary in 2001, Roberts spent seven years at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Part of that time he directed the Interfaith Evangelism Department. Throughout his ministry, he has encouraged seminary students to understand the perspective of other religious groups in order to witness more effectively.
“I think it’s up to every church, every pastor to equip believers to understand the faith and to evangelize in an intelligent fashion,” he insisted. “There’s a world of material out there from Christian publishers like Broadman & Holman to many resource ministries.” Borrowing an expression from environmentalists, Roberts said, “Think globally and act locally,” to stress the need to understand the world in which we live and the responsibility to witness to those around us.
Roberts received his Ph.D. from the Free University of Amsterdam, conducted post-graduate research at Oxford University, received the M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and the B.A. from Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. He is the author of several books, including Mormonism Unmasked and The Counterfeit Gospel of Mormonism, as well as having served as executive director of the Mormonism Unmasked and The Cross and the Crescent interfaith videos.