Check out our Q&A with author Allen Quist of The Reason I Believe. He talks with us about apologetics, why he wrote this book, and a little about his big family.
Apologetics can often be an intimidating topic for many Christians. Why do you think that is the case, and how did that reality impact your approach with this book?
Christian apologetics, for the most part, is not difficult. My recommendation to apologists is that they evaluate how the apostles themselves approached apologetics and model at least some of their work accordingly. The apostles were speaking to individuals who were intelligent but in most cases had less than an eighth-grade education. The apostles, nevertheless, knew how to communicate with their audiences very simply and effectively. We do well to emulate their methodology.
Whom did you primarily write this book for?
I originally wrote the book as a draft to use in a seminary class on Christian apologetics that I was teaching. There are no suitable textbooks available for such a class, and I had files full of useful information, so I decided to put some of that information in book form. I then used the material as a textbook for the class. One of my goals was to provide the seminary students with information they could readily use in their future congregations. That meant writing it at a senior in high school level. Since seminary students usually know little about apologetics, it was a natural fit to write a textbook suitable for them that could also be used in their congregations for Bible studies, youth groups, and other activities. My intentions was to write in such a way that most anyone could read and understand.
What are some of the biggest challenges that come with writing an apologetics book?
The biggest challenge in speaking or writing on apologetics is getting past a common but superficial understanding of Christianity being a matter of faith, not evidence. Some individuals fail to understand that while the Scriptures clarify that Christianity ultimately is a matter of faith alone, the Scriptures also exhibit identifiable methods for communicating the Gospel message that itself creates faith. For this reason, I normally begin by explaining that the Scriptures themselves make extensive use of evidence in proclaiming the Gospel message.
You were very intentional in how you set up the flow of your book—first, presenting the basics of apologetics, then the evidence for Christianity, followed by answering common objections to Christianity, and finally a chapter on natural law. Why was it important for you to set your book up in this way?
Being a teacher is like being a carpenter building a house. First we lay the foundation, then the basement walls, then the floor, next the walls of the house, then the ceiling and finally the roof. Our minds work the same way, and teachers do well to match their methods with the way God designed our minds to work.
In Part 3 of your book, you address the problem of evil and say that the existence of evil is an objection commonly advanced against Christianity and God, especially a loving God. How did you come up with your list of seven questions that you focus on to help believers and non-believers grapple with the reality of evil?
The seven questions are a teaching tool. The chapter on evil, along with the chapter on natural law, are the two most philosophical and abstract chapters in the book. They are easier to manage if broken down into component parts. The seven questions are my own constructs for dividing the chapter into bite-size segments.
The seven questions are also intended to be consistent with the reality that we have only a partial understanding of the problem of evil. To attempt a complete explanation is to repeat the error of Job—to presume to be able to fully understand the nature and will of God. We need to be content with having only a limited understanding of some realities. The seven questions allow me to focus on what we do know about God’s nature and will without presuming to be able to explain the problem completely. They also allow me to focus on the most important truth about evil—that ultimately God will end all evil in our lives my means of the saving message of Christ crucified.
What was your favorite part of the book to write? Please explain.
My favorite part of the book is the section on the Shroud of Turin. Here is the most carefully examined, and most important, historical artifact known to mankind, and most of us know little or nothing about it. Amazing. Jesus said, “Even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). The Shroud testifies to the crucifixion and to Jesus’ most sensational work, that being His resurrection. The Shroud proclaims the Gospel message, and therein resides the power of God unto salvation. The Shroud is a powerful and engaging way to proclaim the Gospel message.
Why is a focus on facts, rather than philosophy, so important when it comes to apologetics?
Scripture focuses on factual evidence in its own approach to apologetics. That is why The Reason I Believe has an entire chapter on Peter’s use of apologetics in Acts 2—an approach that is strictly factual (evidential). I also encourage people to examine Isaiah chapters 41 and 43. God, through Isaiah, challenges all religions to “Set forth your case” for being genuine (Isaiah 41:21). The answer the Scriptures give to the “Set forth your case” challenge is primarily factual. I doubt if we can improve on the Scriptural model for apologetics.
Ultimately, what do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
My objective for the book was described by Luke when he said, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4), and by John, who said: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31).
In the 1980s, you served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. For Christians interested in serving in politics, what are a few pieces of advice you would give?
The most important admonition I will give to Christians regarding government is that we all have a stewardship obligation to do what we can to promote godly government. The Proverbs description of the virtuous woman includes this observation: “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23). The city gates refers to the governmental decisions being made. In our land, the governmental decisions are made by both men and women—all of us have the responsibility to do what we can in our self-governing nation.
At the same time, we must recognize that Christian people will commonly suffer persecution when serving in government. But our participation is especially important because we bring wisdom and knowledge to government that non-Christians are unlikely to understand. For example, the Scriptures give us a clear understanding of the fundamental purpose of government—that of restraining evil and rewarding that which is good (Romans 13:1–7) (truths that are vitally important in our time). God’s Word also provides us with a superior understanding of human nature in its fallen state, as well as clarifying the God-ordained distinction between church and state (Matthew 22:21) as just a couple of examples.
We all have differing gifts and differing opportunities regarding our government, but we all share the same vocation of service to it.
You have quite a large family! What do you love most about being a father of ten children and the grandfather of forty-six grandchildren?
I am constantly reminded of Psalm 127:3–5, which says:
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
I realize that not everyone’s quiver is the same size—just like most everything else about us. There are many of our features that are the same and others that are very different. But in all cases, our children point to our gracious and loving God. We don’t deserve the way He has blessed my godly wife and me, and He has done so far more abundantly than we could have ever imagined. Our children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren, by their words and actions and by their very existence, proclaim the grace, mercy, and blessing of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is the author of all good gifts.