On February 21-22 Dr. Bruce Boeckel, Associate Professor of English, and Rev. Angulus Wilson, University Pastor hosted at FPU an Apologetics Conference, Evidence 2014. Dr. Boeckel is completing an additional master’s degree at Biola University in a unique academic program in apologetics. Pastor Angulus, as he is often called, explained that each year he and the College Hour team schedule an academic series as part of College Hour (our Chapel program) that we do not offer as part of the regular curriculum. I applaud them to teaming up to produce this unique event.
Apologetics is that part of Christian theology or thinking that defends or explains Christianity. It has a long history back into the first centuries of the Christian church in the Roman Empire. Dr. Boeckel referred to I Peter 3: 15-16 in his opening remarks: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.…” He noted that the apologist aims to give a rational argument or defense. There has been a growing perceived need among Evangelical Christians and others in recent years as the so called “New Atheism” of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and others has become a publishing movement, if not quite an intellectual movement. I suppose this last statement could be debated. (For a simple indication of this movement check out the philosophy section of any Barnes and Nobles. There you will find a small section on atheism which you wouldn’t have found there just a few years ago.)
Evidence 2014 included several local speakers like Rev. Jan van Oosten of New Covenant Church (and FPU Biblical Seminary grad) on rational theology and science within the Christian intellectual tradition, and Pastor Angulus on “Hip Hop and Spiritual Warfare.” The big names at the event were Dr. John Bloom, Prof. of Physics and Chair of the MA program in Science and Religion at Biola, and Dr. Craig Hazen, Professor of Comparative Religion and Director of Biola’s MA program in apologetics. Bloom spoke on the “fine-tuned universe and Hazen on Christianity and world religions.
It may not be entirely unique that Biola University should offer a program in apologetics, though programs like this are rare. It is unique, I think, that over the last couple of decades Biola has made a name for itself in philosophy. A recent (2006) notable (some would say notorious) event brought national exposure when Biola invited Anthony Flew of Oxford, one of the most prominent philosophers of the late 20th century and declared atheist, to the campus and gave him an award for free intellectual inquiry in response to his acceptance and defense of the existence of a deist-like, or impersonal god or intelligent cosmic being.
Students, several youth groups as well as adults from local and Valley churches, as well as a number of us faculty types attended the Evidence 2014 lectures and discussions. This is not something we see often at FPU. Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and apologetics are much more devoted to showing by life and action the “reason” for faith—”by their fruits you shall know them.” It is a profound defense and explanation. The conference brought another dimension to our thinking and discussion, something our students have asked me about and for over the years.
Later this month the California Mennonite Historical Society and the Council of Senior Professionals will bring Russian scholar Andrej Savin to speak on the Mennonite experience in Soviet Russia and Siberia. And in April Dr. Nathan Carson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at FPU, will host two philosophers, Stephen Dilley and C. Stephen Evans, at FPU to speak about God and the Natural World. These lectures are sponsored by the philosophy department, the Division of Humanities, the School of Natural Sciences and the Provost’s Office.
One of the signs of a vibrant university, in my experience, is an ongoing discussion and debate, at very high levels of discourse, on a diverse set of topics of significance to our students, to those of us who teach, and to the various communities we serve. And one of the delights of my job is encouraging, finding resources for, and attending these kinds of events.