EXCELSIOR SPRINGS – The worship pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church, Gabriel Zelaya, believes that a robust familiarity with theology and apologetics helps him bring a deeper experience of worship to his congregation.
“As a worship pastor, I am able to utilize apologetics as I lead my congregation in worship,” Zelaya said. “We can sing theologically minded. And as you pursue theological truth you are also saying, ‘I believe these things’ (that we are singing).”
He added, “As we sing, we are making an apologetic response to the world as to what we believe.”
Zelaya is one of the youngest and newest members of the Missouri Baptist Apologetics Network, an affiliation of roughly 20 pastors and lay leaders across the state who are gifted in defending the Christian faith.
Zelaya said he hopes the theology and truths he helps people articulate “push people into deeper worship by helping them understand Christianity is not just spiritual stuff but it is objective truth.”
He has been the worship pastor at Pisgah Baptist for two years. He serves on the staff there with senior pastor Doug Richey.
Zelaya is a graduate of Spurgeon College at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. There he developed a love of apologetics and theology, and he credits one of his instructors, fellow Apologetics Network member Dave VanBebber, for inspiring him in this field.
VanBebber is pastor of First Baptist Church, Buffalo, and an adjunct instructor at Spurgeon College.
Zelaya told The Pathway he sees apologetics (defending the Christian faith) as necessary for the church. In addition to enriching worship experiences, Zelaya said he sometimes leads small groups and Sunday school classes. He recently taught a 12-week apologetics course for college-age students and young adults.
He encourages followers of Jesus to practice I Peter 3:15 (CSB): “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
With the culture continuing to change at a rapid pace, Zelaya believes apologetics studies are necessary in order for people to be able to reason with unbelievers and promote Biblical truth.
Zelaya pursues both classical and presuppositional apologetics.
He defines classical apologetics as answering questions for the existence of God based on traditional, philosophical logic and arguments. Zelaya described these as primarily four arguments for the existence of God:
1) The Kalam Cosmological Argument (“anything that begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe had a cause”).
2) The Teleological Argument (there is the appearance of intelligent design in the created order, so there must have been a Creator who could put our complex world in order).
3) The Ontological Argument (there is a “Being” who is greater than humans can conceive, so that Being must be God).
4) The Moral Argument (there is a “moral order” present in the world, and the natural explanation for that is that God must exist).
He said there are more classical apologetical arguments but these are the most common.
But the young apologist says he has recently been more involved in “Presuppositional Apologetics.” This approach declares “God and Scripture as the basis of all logic and truth, and from there, you challenge any objections to the Christian worldview.” It is an “offensive” approach to apologetics; that is, it takes the initiative rather than responding to other arguments.
Asked how that is received by the unbeliever who rejects God and the Bible, Zelaya said, “If you don’t believe the Bible, then I ask you to tell me how you justify anything?” He pointed out examples such as morality and reality. On what basis do these things exist? he asks.
“Presuppositional apologetics pushes the unbeliever to give reasons for their specific belief systems,” he explains.
Zelaya is eager to put the grid of presuppositional apologetics up against systems such as atheism or false doctrinal systems such as Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witness teachings. “You can actually use it (to measure) any kind of religious system,” Zelaya said.
Zelaya and his wife, Samantha, live in Excelsior Springs with their German Shepherd dog Addie. He is available to leading apologetics conferences in Missouri Baptist churches. To get in touch with him, check out his profile online at mobaptist.org/apologetics.