BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today’s interview is with Dr Ken Boa, President of Reflections Ministries, an organisation that seeks to encourage, teach and equip people to know Christ, follow Him, become progressively conformed to His image and reproduce His life in others.
Ken is also an author of a number of books, including Twenty Compelling Evidences that God Exists, Faith Has its Reasons – Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith and Conformed to His Image – Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation.
The purpose of this interview is to gain some insights into Ken’s views on apologetics, his advice on reading and learning, being a lifelong learner, the value of the classics, as well as his advice to budding Christian apologists.
Well, thanks for joining me for this interview, Ken.
KB: Well, thank you. Good to be with you.
BA: Well as we get started, I’d like to say that there are a couple of books of yours that have really served me well and they were co-authored with Rob Bowman. Twenty Compelling Evidences that God Exists and Faith has its Reasons and both of those books have been of excellent use to me. Not only that, but I have listened to a whole ton of your audio lectures, whether it’s on apologetics or spiritual development and they have been really valuable to me, so thank you for your work.
KB: Well, thank you. I’m glad. I find that the written page is very useful and in these days as well, more and more resources are going to be web-based and I’m aware of that as well. But another resource was the very first apologetics book I did, which was with Larry Moody, which was I’m Glad You Asked, which dealt with the 12 basic questions and we’re planning to get that back out as well. So there’s always a lot of resources I enjoy working on.
BA: Well, Ken, maybe some of our listeners aren’t familiar with your ministry. Would you mind telling our listeners a bit about yourself and the areas of ministry that you have been involved in.
KB: Yes, when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I am a writer, speaker, teacher and mentor. That is a good summary of what I try to do. And then I stop and then they’ll ask me, “Well what do you write about or speak about”, and so forth, and then I go from there. I tell them that I work mostly with business and professional people in the Atlanta area where I live and around the country and other parts of the world as well.
And I teach them worldview principles about the issues all of us struggle with; issues such as work, relationships, meaning and purpose. And that’s where I’ll stop there and if I’m dealing with a person who is not a follower of Jesus, that raises all kinds of interesting issues, particularly that one little word I threw in there, called “worldview”. And they are very apt to pick up on that and say, “What do you mean by ‘worldview’?” I like that, see it is because in two jumps, I have moved from “what do you do?”, to “what is a worldview?”. They are exactly where I want them to be.
But essentially, locally it is much more in the area of teaching and of mentoring, although I do mentoring beyond the Atlanta area. But that provides depth and substance for the broader aspects of what I do, which is the writing and also the speaking, which are outside of the Atlanta area where I live.
So, all four of those are enjoyable, they feed each other. I tell people that, effectively I am a generalist. I am interested in everything and I try to integrate mind and heart in such a way that I help people think across inter-disciplinary lines and so I’m broadly interested in a wide array of things, even teaching film and literature and that sort of thing.
So, Reflections Ministries, which is my organisation, is an umbrella under which I operate that provides me the context in which I do all these various aspects of ministry.
BA: Well, can you tell just a bit about your educational background and what got you on this path and studying in these sorts of areas.
KB: Yes. As an under-graduate...I went to Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, which later became Case Western Reserve University. At that time, though, it was an MIT-type curriculum. Case still is really that way, other than Astronomy there. And I was always interested in the sciences. And having a formal scientific background was very, very useful for me because I have done a lot and continue to do a lot of work in the area of science, faith and reason. And so that was at Case Institute of Technology.
And then I went on briefly to Berkeley for Grad School but then I found myself...I really became a believer about a month after graduating from Case and I found myself at Dallas Seminary, a few months after being in Berkeley and it was quite a transition for me.
But at any rate, I went to a very conservative school, which is exactly what I needed because I was really in a worldview transitional state, moving from being effectively a scientific humanist and trying to move through this conscious worldview transition. Writers like C S Lewis, whom I had never been exposed to, Francis Schaeffer, who had just begun to write when I entered Seminary, people like that were helpful to me in hammering out a worldview.
Years later when I was working with Search Ministries, I made the decision to go up...actually it was before that when I was with New Life in Tennessee...made the decision to go ahead and do work on a PhD in the Philosophy of Religion and I wanted to do it in a pluralistic school. New York University was a good choice because one of the things about them, that made them different, was that even though they might not agree with your position, they were looking for rigor and for proper writing and defense and so forth, and if your research and writing was of the proper kind of calibre, they would not dock you for a worldview difference. And that was true pluralism in the best sense of that word. True liberalism, which is very unusual might I add.
But in any rate, I hammered out a PhD in that area and my dissertation dealt with apologetic systems which later became a book that Rob Bowman and I expanded into this book, Faith Has its Reasons, which is more or less an apologetics textbook about methodology and so forth.
Years later, after I was with Search Ministries...I was in Atlanta by this time...a number of years later – about 10 – I made the decision to take a two-year Sabbatical. I always wanted to live in England and so I went ahead and went to the University of Oxford and I wanted to study under Richard Swinburne, who at that time in the 80s ... I lived there in England from ’86 to ’88 ... and Swinburne, along with Alvin Plantinga, who are arguably the two greatest philosophers of religion at that time. And so I studied under Swinburne and I was working on the area of justification of religious belief, largely epistemological issues, although my thesis topic kept on mutating on me until ultimately it became something that was outside of Swinburne’s province.
More specifically, it became, Psychological and Theological Models of Human Needs - A Comparative Study. And so, ultimately my supervisor became Rowan Williams, who is now the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he was more appropriate for that particular area. And that detailed thesis at Oxford became another book called, Augustine to Freud, which is an apologetics book, but it is basically exploring a theological model of human needs and a psychological model of human needs and then drawing conclusions. So that is another book that came out. So I was fortunate enough to have both dissertations more or less published. The second one was virtually word for word. I didn’t change anything.
BA: Well that is some great background and it shows a lot of diversity and I think anyone who has been familiarized with your ministry will see that in the sorts of resources that you have produced as well as the books you have written. A lot of the questions that I have for you today revolve around the spiritual and educational disciplines of those particularly drawn to the area of Christian apologetics.
I believe that the spiritual disciplines are for all Christians, of course, and so is being ready to give a defense of the faith but regarding apologetics, do you think that there are those who are maybe called into this area, so to speak?
KB: Yes, I think it comes down again to the gifts and calling of God and there are these unique gift mixes and I really have become more and more a believer vis-a-vis spiritual gifts – that there are, you might call them, “gift mixes”. Rather than one particular gift, people seem to have clusters and even there, even if two people have the same kind of “cluster” it will still be different because it will be person-specific. It will be specific to their temperament, their background. Even the gift of teaching admits of many possibilities. So I think that God crafts the aspirations of a person, there is a divine-human synergy where there is this pursuit of a vocari, a calling, a purpose, and as we move into that purpose I think some people really who have been gifted with clarity of thought and of expression, are going to be particularly pulled in certain cases to the area of apologetics. And even there, that admits as you well know, to a wide diversity of approaches and nuances and different kinds of methods that people can engage in.
So I think that there is a calling and there is a legitimate place for that. What I seek to do, ‘cause another of my text books is in the area of spiritual formation, called “Conformed to His Image”, and I always try to connect the spiritual formation dimension to the development of the mind and to the expression of apologetics so that the two again are working in a way that is mutually reinforcing, so that you have a clear mind, but a warm heart and you have the whole dimension of the heart, and the head and the hands, all those things working together.
So I encourage people who are particularly pulled towards apologetics to make sure that this is not just something emerging out of the desire for having clarity of thought or a tidy system but it is more than that. As you know, theology cannot be reduced to mere logic, it transcends that, and there is this dimension of mystery and transcendence that needs to be taken into account. As well, there is this whole idea of the adaptation of my approach to a way that is consistent with the person that I am working with. So all those are spiritual factors and not just intellectual and so I am a big believer in both/and along those lines about the mind and the heart.
BA: Well I love that approach that takes a real holistic view. And so in looking at the life of an apologist, those who spend maybe a great deal of their energies on some of the intellectual and philosophical challenges to the Christian faith, do you think that this can lead to some possible imbalances in the spiritual life of those who would want to call themselves apologists?
KB: I think it can and I’ve talked with a number who complain about that as actually having become a problem. It is an occupational hazard also of theologians. In both cases, you can fall in love with a model, rather than with a Person, and there is always that danger where you get so wrapped up in the system or the structure of thought that it becomes so dominant. And what happens then is that you can do those things but without really even having a robust spiritual life, it can be done in the flesh. Those kinds of things can then admit of having the appearance of power and of orthodoxy but there is not the vitality or vibrancy that needs to be associated with it.
So that is a trap that all of us can fall into, I fear. What happens is activity, I have found consistently, competes with intimacy and my view is that the whole mindset of “being” versus “doing” and of “profit” versus “product”. I am a big believer that our lives should be process-oriented and really come out of the centre of being who we are in Christ and let that energize the activities that we do. So that is true whether you are a theologian, whether you are specifically focused on writing, research, or whatever. The academic pursuit by itself without that sense of devotional calling and that ‘pull’ can be a dangerous thing because it can lead more to a head trip.
BA: As you have written on this topic of spiritual development and, you know I want to really emphasize the fact that spiritual disciplines are for everyone, and defending the faith is something that we all do as Christians, so there is just this call for all of us to be Christlike. But I am just thinking about you know, ‘key’ spiritual disciplines that we should be particularly mindful of, or be careful not to neglect as Christian defenders. Are there particular ones that come to mind that you know become problem areas or pitfalls or maybe areas just to be especially mindful of?
KB: Yes, I think that two of the most needful things – especially given the culture in which we are embedded – is the pursuit of solitude and silence so that there is the depth that we need to live out of. In other words where a person, especially in the public arena, should not attempt more in the public arena than they can actually make up for in private growth, you might almost put it that way. Otherwise what is going to happen is our temptation will be to minister out of knowledge and experience and skills, rather than out of the fullness of the Spirit of Christ in us, rather than out of the real movement of what we are called to be in terms of our character and where we are not merely communicating ideas and truth and skills but there is also in any kind of discipleship process, there is the being of both the ‘discipler’ and the ‘disciplee’, which has to do with the heart, it has to do with the character.
And that side has to be developed and that is where spiritual disciplines work because, in my view, the classic disciplines of the faith that are time-tested are not ends in themselves but means to the end of intimacy with Jesus and when a person renews one’s mind so that they are embracing a biblical worldview mindset and allowing the word to define them, rather than the world around them. I think what will happen then, is that they will have a richer and deeper message that will come through the unique prism of their personality in such a way that it will touch people with more profundity and power and authority and authenticity than otherwise would have happened.
So that is why when I think these ... any kind of discipline, the idea of renewal of the mind, and to presenting oneself on an ongoing basis, the fundamental disciplines of combining – and I’m a big believer of combining prayer and Scripture; I’ve got a lot of devotional resources that seek to assist people to become more skillful, for example, my Face to Face books, and “Handbook to Prayer”, “Handbook to Renewal” and so forth, are resources because I’m a big believer in praying Scripture back to God for the renewal of the mind.
So that I think that we can never get away from that as the foundational skills that we need to pursue otherwise we’ll, as I said before, minister not out of dependence and out of the fullness of the Spirit, but out of our own human capacities and skills and abilities. And that is a dangerous trap for us to fall into, it is easily done.
BA: Yes, there is a lot of good content in what you just said. Funny enough, this week, even after I had scheduled our interview, this week I was looking. I thought, “I need to find some good books on Scriptures, you know, on praying the Scriptures”, so I did an Amazon search and I saw something – oh this looks good - and I looked and it was written by you so I was happily surprised that you know, this is the very sort of thing that I was looking for and you’ve done a lot of writing on that and so...
KB: Yes, I want to encourage people – it is a busy time in which we live and there are some many competing attentions and so many things to pull us – if I can help people become more effective and more successful in the area of praying Scripture back to God and part of that process, especially for example in some of the books I alluded to, Handbook to Prayer, Face to Face, is giving people a balanced diet for their prayer rather than getting into the ordinary rut of ‘gimme, gimme’ petitions and giving them not only a balanced diet but also elevating them to higher thoughts than they would actually have by beginning with Scripture and then inviting them through various prompts to actually add their own thoughts in response. So again the form is Scripture and then the freedom is our own response to the Word. And so I think if we can combine those kinds of disciplines together we’re moving in the right direction.
KB: Unless we feed the soul – to use Gordon MacDonald’s imagery there, we can neglect the “inner garden”, we have to cultivate the private garden and nurture that and nourish it, otherwise we will live on the surface of life and we want to live more robustly out of the centre, rather than on the surface.
That to me is what it means to have ourselves planted, our roots deeply planted into the soil of the Word of God and to receiving that life by abiding in Christ and receiving that vitality. That then empowers and that is why I believe that intimacy animates activity.
BA: Well another thing I would like to talk about – to ask you about – is the role of prayer. Sometimes that can be neglected obviously no matter who we are or what we are trying to do in life. But when we are interacting with others, say it is sort of an evangelistic or apologetic friendship that, you know, we are engaged in. Talk about that role of intercession for that other person. I mean I think sometimes that is forgotten or neglected in many ways. What role does our prayer life play in both in empowering us and in allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to that person through our intercession?
KB: Yes, I’m a very big believer in that. In fact, I discuss this in a couple of places, especially under Nurturing Spirituality in my textbook Conformed to His Image and there, what I’m talking about is that whole idea of a lifestyle of evangelism and also of edification and discipleship.
I speak about the three barriers that we will encounter. The person who is not a follower of Jesus is going to have three barriers. There’s going to be an Intellectual Barrier – obviously an intellectual barrier is one that the apologist will naturally directly address. And of course, the intellectual barrier, often caused by bad information, can be overcome by providing perspectives and by turning objections into opportunities, and using the resources that are more abundantly available now than ever before.
But the second area can be overlooked, as well as the third, and that is the Emotional Barrier. And we have to be very careful to be aware of the fact that not always is it going to be merely an intellectual but there could be an emotion barrier caused by bad experiences so that even if we provide good answers it won’t deal with the issue of the barrier that we have of the affections, of the emotions, the bad associations that they have had. And the bridge of friendship is where we overcome that, so by actually overcoming that, by building relationships, intentional relationships and being safe people, rather than the kind of toxicity that people encountered perhaps in various contexts.
And then the third, the Volitional Barrier. So that third barrier is apropos to your particular question because that is the barrier of being, the barrier of a bad nature, a nature at enmity and at hostility with God. And ultimately the only way I know to overcome the volitional barrier is by actual prayer and the conviction of the Spirit of God. And so I think that that is where the role of prayer takes place, is overcoming the barrier of volition and where the volitional barrier is consistent with the idea that people without Jesus, that their wills have been held captive, that their eyes have been blinded so that they won’t see the truth – to use that imagery from Second Corinthians, Chapter 4 – and also that they are at enmity with God so that their minds have been darkened, their wills, they eyes, those kinds of things can keep people from seeing and from breaking through. And they are dead in their trespasses and sins, to use the imagery from Ephesians Chapter 2.
The only way that that resurrection, that overcoming of that is going to happen is by the Spirit of God and I think our role in that is by prayer and radical dependence upon the Spirit and not just on our answers.
BA: Very good. So let’s switch gears and let’s look at some of the disciplines in the area of education. What kind of advice would you want to give apologists in their own reading and learning?
KB: When you are speaking about education, again part of it is going to be related to what is their particular sense of call and so forth. As you know, if a person is feeling that the arena to which they are called is going to be more in the academic arena, obviously the education becomes much more central and a clear issue.
There are others who may not feel that that is as essential and as you know, too, in the academic arena there is greater and greater competition for fewer and fewer available slots and that becomes a real challenge for folks as well. So, just because a person has a PhD, or even two, that is no necessary guarantee that they are going to be actually viable in terms of vocation in that arena. So those are always challenges but I do think that obviously the more serious we are about the actual application of these things in terms of the academic context in which we live, the more important the education becomes.
But having said that, there are many who can become very effective in a lot of practical aspects or expressions of apologetic ministry, various organisations that can help people, like in the marketplace, or people in other, special contexts, that would not be as directly centred on the need for cultivating an advanced degree. So the beauty there though is that regardless of that, we have a rich array of resources, as I said earlier, that has never been even closely approximated in the past. We have so much wonderful material that is now so available that a person, depending on their particular calling and expression needs to adapt accordingly. So my thinking there is that it is person-specific and calling-specific.
BA: Well, a lot of us are reading various books and just getting deep into our studies in different ways but the question remains, you know, after we have finished that book, what did we just read, did we retain it, can we recall it, can we apply it or use it? So I wonder if there are any disciplines that you found helpful in recalling or retaining what you have studied or read?
KB: That is a very good question because lots of people are challenged. They read a lot but they don’t have any method of being able to lay hold of the distilled essence of what they’ve read. There are some – again, with various people but for me I have found it is very important to mark the text that I am working with. I have a little method that gives me as many as four levels of priority or importance and whatever works for you. But I find that this little method then when I am through with the book I can quickly find the most poignant, the most critical ideas in the book right away, because they are there!
In fact, the highest-level priorities I will sometimes put the page numbers down at the beginning of the book. The reason why I like doing that is because there then, I’ve already got a way of going back to the book if I haven’t seen it in a while and this tells me the key concepts. So my little technique here ... I can tell you right away what is the distilled essence, what are the most critical, fundamental ideas in that book and then I have, as I said, a few other levels down. And just the way I mark the text, the way I underline it, I’ve got to be very careful so that I can flip through the book and find those portions that summarise, that give me the essence of it, very quickly.
And one way of doing that, in fact, that can be helpful is of course, by revisiting the book somewhat later and just doing it that way – where you actually bring that back. It is like seeing a film. Say a film came out 10 years ago and you saw it when it first came out but then you see it the second time, 10 years later and if your experience is like mine, you’ll maybe remember some things but it is amazing how little we remember. But it is the second time when I’ve seen it that it really kind of sticks better with me. So there is a sort of sense in which we need to revisit a thing.
Obviously the best way to learn any resource is to teach it! And of course, if one can do that, or if you have a formal teaching or if it is a small group, that is also critical because that way you really get the material down better than you otherwise would have.
But any technique like that, that you can use and I find the marking and interactive techniques like that to be very, very useful so I can take any book that I have done that and do this (flips through the book quickly) and I can find the distilled essence so I find the book is far more valuable to me now that I have done that than it would be before.
BA: Well you know, thinking about tackling big books and lots of books, what about the ideas of speed reading and what value that sort of skill might have for those who want to maximise their studies?
KB: Yes. I remember many years ago, I took the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics Course. That was all the rage at that particular time. And you know I eventually figured out that all it did was give me the freedom to vary my speed according to the material I was reading. And that is fine. So what I discovered is that I don’t have to read at the same rate. It depends on the material that I am reading. But you are not going to be able to speed-read Kierkegaard. I mean there are some things you just not going... I don’t care, you can do the Evelyn Wood and that and you are going to come out with the most superficial grasp ... and Dostoevsky is the same way. There are some things that are meant to be read slowly. And Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book is still the standard book on that – how to get the most out of reading a text of any kind of material.
Having said that though, I do vary my speed according to the material and what I am looking for and there are some writers who are more dense and some who are more accessible so that will vary, so I’m certainly willing to modify my speed. But I will say this though that my comprehension ... if it is a book really worth going through, I want to go through it slowly enough so I can really capture the images. I don’t want to be in haste. Again, I want to mark it, I want to interact with it and that can be very valuable for me.
So, all things being equal, if the book really warrants it, if it is a classic ... as I say I love to read the great classics, fiction and non-fiction. In fact, last year I had four books A Taste of the Classics Volumes 1 and 4 came out which is my synthesis of those great books because I am a big believer in reading those things carefully and well.
So generally speaking, I’d rather read it slowly and thoughtfully and carefully rather than be in haste. I’d rather read one book that way than two books in haste. And so it really comes down to that. And then the other thing, and this is important, what are the books that warrant multiple readings? Just because a person says, ‘Oh I read that”, doesn’t mean that they really grasped it. So there are some things that will really reward multiple readings and those are some of the things that become more like the classics of the faith.
So there’s a little flexibility but I think in some respects, less may be more - really slowing down, if it is worth reading carefully. Now, there is a lot of fluff and there are some things that people have asked me to read and to look at where I can get the distilled essence of that thing in a short time.
There’s one book, it’s very controversial and it is popular now, that I went through. It took me about an hour and a half to go through it because it just didn’t have any depth. And so I modified my rate but I pretty well followed what he was talking about. But there are others that demand far more careful attention.
BA: Well, excellent advice. I’m asking you all these questions about reading because one of the programs you have championed is this Great Books series. So you know, maybe someone who has listened to Break Point has also heard Chuck Colson, you know, talking about your program here. But can you just describe a bit about what the Great Books series is, and the goal behind it.
KB: Yes. I did that series for four years and what happened then was that we decided ... if you just stop and think how difficult it is to synthesize a book like The Brothers Karamazov or a book like, let’s say Augustine’s Confessions - to do one of those a month. That’s a big challenge. So, I did 48 of them and then I stopped that series. But they are all available on my website, www.kenboa.org and so those books are there and as I mentioned, 16 of those books I actually turned into written form, where my synthesis ... and that became those four textbooks, with those four little books, A Taste of the Classics as well. But the actual CDs are available on my website as well.
Again, my own particular calling, what I find that I do best ... I’m a synthesizer, a translator and an applier. That is what I have discovered that I do, over the years. I synthesize, then I translate it, without dumbing it down, and then I apply it. And that is what I seek to do, whether it is a film, or whether it is literature or anything else – science or whatever.
And so that is what I sought to do with those books but at least to give people an exposure to the greatest books that have been written at a time when fewer and fewer people are reading those books. And generally I found that people, when they read any of those books, they are reading them at a time when they are really not ready for them – high school, college.
Sometimes those books require some years before we are really able to understand and wrestle with them and by the time we’re ready for them, we no longer read that level of literature. So in my thinking if I can at least create an appetite or at least give people an awareness of what is the distilled essence but it is challenging to synthesize, let’s say Dante’s Divine Comedy. That was the only one that I had to do in two parts it was so huge. But essentially trying to synthesize these things to at least make the essence available to people was my aim.
BA: Well, you know, there are so many books now and sometimes the question is, even as we buy the new one off Amazon, we’ve got you know, 50 of them sitting on the shelf that we haven’t read yet, so I’m wondering how does one make a wise choice when choosing what to invest their time reading? I mean there are the classics and then there are other things that we want to specialize in. Talk about making wise choices.
KB: I think that there is... you might recall CS Lewis’s famous advice along these lines when he basically said that his counsel would be for every new book you read, you should read three old books. But at least make it one for one. And by “old” Lewis was thinking of things that were a couple of centuries or so old.
Lewis’s point there was that there are certain things that transcend our time. If we limit ourselves just to more recent works, we are going to be too parochial and too provincial in our thought, we are going to be too bound by our age. And so Lewis’s point would be to expose yourself to earlier writers, especially writers before the so-called Enlightenment. And that sort of an idea here is that there are time-tested classics and if we are not exposing ourselves to them, we can just be too trendy and focus on a lot of fluff. And my thinking here is that, these time-tested classics will remain in print, as they have been, long after the best bulk of stuff that is popular today will be around. They will have a short season, they’ll be done.
So if I were to encourage people I would tell them at least read one such classic for every two – I’m going to be more lenient than Lewis and say at least try to read one such great book, for every two contemporary books that you read. I’m not saying contemporary can’t be great but I’m saying the odds are they are not going to be around 100 years from now, all things being equal. We’re dealing with things that have stood the test of time, that show wisdom and that they have been in print for a good reason. So I think that the temptation of novelty, the quest for the new is always this temptation. You’ll recall what CS Lewis described that as, ‘chronological snobbery’, the notion that if it is not new, that if it is older stuff then it is to be eschewed and of course he resisted that tremendously.
BA: Well talk just about the value of being well-read and what that actually means in practice.
KB: Well I think what it means is that it gives you options that you otherwise would not have. Whether you are teaching or mentoring or anything like that, for you to have more at your fingertips, more breadth and depth and that is why I think an exposure to broader things is very valuable. The more inter-disciplinary things that we have, that we bring to the table, the more well rounded that we become and so part of that is to round yourself so that you are not so focused on one thing that you become only a specialist.
Now obviously I’m biased because as I admitted before I’m a generalist in the way my natural proclivity is. But, having said that, I still think that people need to broaden themselves. One of the things that I do beside the literature as I mentioned earlier, is that I teach a lot of films because I am a very big student of film, both classic and contemporary, foreign and also more American. So I see more foreign films probably than I do others.
But my point is that, great films, great literature and other kinds of disciplines, whether philosophy or whatever ... I think it is good to be rounded out and that is why I think it is wise for ourselves to expose ourselves to some new, to some old, to some things that are totally more on the secular side, like the three Malcolm Gladwell books that I have read. Those are very helpful little books; very helpful little insights, and those kinds of things, certain books that speak to us a little bit about our culture.
So as long as we do that otherwise we are going to get so wrapped up in a kind of ghettoized mindset that we are not going to be able to think beyond that. And so the more we bring to the table, the more we can allude to, the more rich I think our teaching becomes and I think that is why it is good for us to stretch. And I am a big believer in exercising by stretching the mind – out of our comfort zone even. I mean getting in some areas where there is going to be some literature one is going to read which is out of your comfort zone where you have to use discernment.
For example, I have been reading some books by Richard Waugh and frankly he needs to be read with a lot of discernment because there are some really good insights that he has, but there are some really tremendously serious problem areas as well. But that doesn’t mean that you throw the baby out with the bath water.
So when you are reading a book you have to read it with critical discernment and that is why the better we are embedded in a biblical worldview the more confidently we can approach any literature, and discern the spirit of truth, the spirit of error and to discern that which is basically the gold and which is the gravel. And all books have combinations, some are more than others but the fact is that there is going to be good insights that are going to be found because all truth ultimately is derivative from the mind of God.
BA: Now even as you say that, I can kind of hear in the back of my head, this voice saying, “But Ken you admitted you’re a generalist and there’s a lot of apologists who want to drill down deep and specialize” and so that can really kind of prove a challenge when it comes to reading broadly, or maybe even working through fiction or biography. So is there any exhortation in that sort of area?
KB: Yeah. If a person really feels specifically called more to being a more focused and specialized person, so be it. But I still think that the person needs to not limit themselves to just one particular area. It may be that the proportion will differ. I still think that they need to be exposed to other areas outside of their discipline just so that they have broader perspectives than they otherwise would have.
But having said that, in some cases, they may discover that they need – because of the nature of their work – to really drill down and focus in that area. So again it depends on the gifts and the callings of God and what is your purpose but if you are particularly focused on this sub-area, this speciality or sub-speciality, then you’re going to have to really master that literature.
But I’m just saying though, don’t make yourself too one-sided to the point where you don’t exposure yourself to other things that are necessary. Because what will happen, too, is that the other things that you bring to the table will actually enhance your understanding of that speciality area. It will give you more categories.
BA: Great, well another pitfall perhaps might be when we get so taken in by books on theology or apologetics, philosophy, you name it, those things might start to eclipse our reading of Scripture. So how would you advise Christians to stay out of that ditch?
KB: Yeah. I strongly believe that that is an easy thing to happen and it is interesting, there was a study that was put out by what is called, The Centre for Biblical Engagement, and it dealt with this very issue of exposure to the Scriptures. And it is interesting, along those lines, how this particular, recent study – a fairly recent study, let me just make sure I’ve got it correct here for you ... it is called, Centre for Bible Engagement and you can find it on the web and you can get a PDF. It came out in January of 2009.
The essence of it though, was that they did surveys with over 40,000 respondents of all ages from 13 to 80 years old across the United States. The found that the majority of people identifying themselves as “Christ followers” own a Bible but don’t read it, and claim that they are too busy to do so. This is certainly going to be true, and any apologist can get stuck in this area, too, and what they did was they made several new discoveries that alluded to some previous research and they found that the bulk of people don’t know what the Bible is or what it is for, and so forth.
But what was most intriguing to me about this study and this is apropos to your question, was that there is a significant difference in the moral behaviour of someone who constantly engages, that is to say, reads or listens to the Bible, four or more times a week. That was a magic number – I was quite surprised about this to be honest with you. I thought it would be more a straight line curved from zero exposure a week to seven. But instead it was a quantum leap at four.
And what they found was that there was no such difference in the moral behaviour of someone who claims to be a Christian and reads the Bible less than four times a week and the individual who is not a Christ-follower. And they really did a lot of work on this to demonstrate.
So they explored the difference between the four times engagers and the zero to three times engagers in terms of their impact on the world and the world’s impact on them and then they concluded with a discussion of ways those findings could be applied to help believers become more spiritually engaged.
So I strongly recommend that because in my teachings I now encourage people, you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to be a “four-pluser” if you really want to make a difference. I suppose, but I don’t know because the study didn’t go into it, that it may be because that is the majority of days of the week and that becomes your true north. Like exercise when it reaches a certain point, it becomes a dominant shaper of your life. And I now encourage people, you’ve got to show up, even if it is only for a minimum of 5 minutes and make that a discipline that is not optional. Otherwise the apologist can fall into the same trap, the theologian into the same trap and the only time that they really read the Bible might be when they are just trying to prepare to teach something.
And that is not really what we’re looking at here. Here we’re looking at exposure for renewal of the mind and of the heart and of the spirit and that’s a different thing altogether. So, my thinking is a simple reading method that I encourage people to use, as well as a meditation method. These are things than can be useful for helping people to be well-embedded in the Scriptures and thus into a Biblical, rather than a secularised worldview.
BA: Well as you know, a lot of our listeners are either those who have been involved in some form of apologetics for some time, or perhaps those who are like, budding apologists, if you will. But our listeners are in general people who want to be better at defending the faith, at sharpening their hearts, their minds for the cause of Christ.
What is your advice for those who are pouring their energies into this sort of endeavor?
KB: Well I do think, going back to the Bible Engagement for just a moment, because this relates to it. I have come to the conclusion that all things being equal, the person who chews on, meditates on the Scriptures will, in the course of time, have greater clarity of thought and facility of understanding than the person who does not do that.
And the reason for that is that you are thinking God’s thoughts after Him. And so the best thing one can do for developing sharpness of the mind is by being a student of the Word. And I believe that is something that can be overlooked; that is a very practical value that I believe is true. I think that the Scriptures can sharpen and clarify your cognitive capacity insofar as you are really thinking God’s thoughts after Him and meditating and chewing on that and letting it become something that is more and more true of your life.
So having said that then, that becomes actually a component of our preparation – not merely spiritually but even cognitively – and I think that that is really an additional benefit.
BA: Very good. Well, another thing is this: I heard from a friend who had become quite discouraged from his interactions with skeptics and atheists and in short, it was really wearing him down to the point of thinking about just giving up on theology and apologetics. So along that line, how can we keep from getting burned out whether it be through, you know, just studying all the time, or lots of taxing interactions or some sort of spiritual blow-out? Do you have any advice for the person that is kind of feeling this way or finds himself going in that trajectory?
KB: I think a person in that situation definitely needs safe places and a safe context in which they can meet together in a corporate context to build and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Without that encouragement you are going to find yourself being beaten down. What will happen is people will be so engaged in the Church scattered that they never are much involved in the Church gathered. And so what I mean by that is when we gather together, in whatever context, be it small group or some accountability or some kind of encouragement – like-minded people. You are going to need that encouragement of like-minded people to encourage, to stimulate one another, so that you have the resources that you need when you go out into the world and wage warfare. But without that dimension of edification, corporate edification, of one form or another a person can quickly get burned out.
A person without soul friends, without accountability, without mutual enhancement and communion, communication, all of those things, you are not going to be able to do well alone. And there are some people who are much more inclined in this direction, who are more extroverted by temperament and others who are more introverted. But even there, the introverted temperament still needs to have some measure of choice and discipline to realize that you cannot go it alone. You need a context that is nurturing and encouraging and stimulating and not just debilitating and discouraging, so that one is offset by another.
That is why the Church meets to build one another up and then they go into warfare with the world and that is when the Church is scattered and that is when evangelism takes place and then they gather together again and there is that edification and then they are scattered for evangelism and so you have this respiration, spiritual respiration it is, and it makes sense. That is how the early Church worked so there is a greater vibrancy. You are not going it alone then.
BA: Well that is helpful advice and so I appreciate your input on that. Now as we begin to wrap up, when you wrote the book with Rob Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons – Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, it was an excellent assessment of apologetic methodologies and as you brought that book to a close you sort of brought it down to what you, as the authors, would suggest would be a good approach from your perspective, for doing apologetics, what you called an ‘integrative approach’.
So as we start to wrap up can you describe what an integrative approach is to doing apologetics?
KB: Yeah. What Rob and I sought to do at the end of that book was to say that each of these methods or approaches to apologetics has their strengths but they also all have their limitations. I think it is very important for people to be aware of that, that each of these approaches then, can be seen critically and it is very important for us to then emphasize, for example the whole idea of classical apologetics and apologetics as a defense and those kinds of things. When we explored those basic approaches, the apologist had emphasized more the area of reason, that we called classical apologetics or evidentialist apologetics or reformed apologetics or fideist apologetics.
We saw that all four of them had strengths, all four of them had some limitations and so our approach in integration was simply to seek to combine and to be aware of the strengths of each of those approaches and then to adapt them in person-specific and situation-specific contexts. So when I’m dealing with, let’s say an engineer or an attorney, it may well be that evidentialism or a combination of evidentialism and classical apologetics may be more apropos for that person, whereas if I am dealing with a person who is a poet, someone who teaches literature, it may be that reasons of the heart might be more effective and persuasive.
So our point there was then that it was important for us to then combine those together and to see how we can speak the truth in love in such a way that there are different kinds of people and different kinds of methods. I find myself modifying or adapting according to the context in which I find myself and also making mid-course adjustments, even if it is a group of people or whatever, so every situation is unique.
For example, I was doing a lecture at the University of Vienna in Austria on science, faith and reason. And my favorite thing, my speciality, is Q&A, that is what I love best. And so we had some great Q&A for about an hour after the lecture and I find myself modifying my answers to those questions – or modifying my approach – in a way that would have been perhaps somewhat different than if I had been doing that in another setting.
So whether that is in a group context or whether that is with an individual, I find that flexibility and openness to the Spirit ... but here’s the thing being prepared so that you are aware of the various strengths and the various benefits of these, as well as then being adaptable enough and sensitive enough to modify according to where a person is.
So that is where I have discovered no one method works perfectly because people are different, situations are unique. And so our appeal then was just to say let’s take the best from all of these approaches and adapt them accordingly, to person and context-specific situations.
BA: Well, Ken, you’ve got quite a few resources on line so would you mind pointing our listeners to where they might find some of your materials.
KB: Yes. In fact I am in the process right now of revising and enhancing our website but all these resources – I have hundreds of audio, free audio resources and visual resources, keynote slideshow presentations, as well as text resources and videos, we do add two videos each week. It is at www.kenboa.org.
BA: Well, great, I’ll definitely be pointing our listeners to your resources and your excellent books. Ken it was a real pleasure speaking to you so thanks for taking the time to do the interview.
KB: Good to be with you. Thanks for your good questions.