Brian: Hello and welcome to Unapologetic. Today, we're going to have a different type of episode, where I'm going to interview a good friend of mine, AJ Rhodes. AJ, welcome to the show.
AJ: Thanks for having me.
Brian: You're welcome. I have some questions for you, and we're going to dialogue a little about Apologetics and it's role in your life, and how you approach it. Just so you all know, I've been friends with AJ for years. I'm actually in his Sunday School class at my church when I'm able to go. We ride bikes, and He tries to get me to exercise in more than my garage. Sometimes he's successful with that and sometimes he's not. I've seen from my prospective, Apologetics be helpful in AJ's life, and so I wanted to dialogue about that. AJ, how would you define apologetics?
AJ: Apologetics is at it's core, just giving a defense for your worldview. For us as Christians, that's defending a Christian worldview, so being able to give reasoned arguments or to know reasoned arguments, to justify the beliefs that you hold. For Christians, that's going to be foundational things like belief in God or does God exist, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Then from there, you can get into some Christian theology, and man's place in the world and things like that. It's just giving a defense for your worldview.
Brian: Maybe I should ask about this first, but do you work for Christian organization? Are you in the ministry in any type of formal way?
AJ: No. I work for a political consulting business.
Brian: Do you think Apologetics is something just for a certain type of person?
AJ: No. It's definitely useful for anybody especially Christians and especially in America, especially in the time we were there.
Brian: It's interesting. Sometimes I think we leave these type of topics to people who are pastors or in the ministry. In some ways, they need it less in their daily life than we do.
AJ: Right. I agree.
Brian: What purpose and effect has Apologetics had on your life?
AJ: It's definitely made me less anxious about entering into worldview conversations with people or social issue conversations or religious conversations with people. I'm confident that if I don't have good answers to people questions or good responses to people's questions or views or anything like that, that they at least exist. It’s gived me confidence. It certainly strengthen my faith. It's just kind of given me like a methodology to deal with problems or thoughts that I have or thoughts or things that I hear other people say or things that we read on the internet. I now have kind of like a method and a filter to digest those things and figure out, "Okay. What are they really saying here” and stuff like that.
Brian: What you've learned about Apologetics sounds like it has affected how you see the whole world, is that fair?
Brian: How you listen to the news, how you kind of piece things together?
AJ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brian: I think some people before they feel comfortable getting into a conversation, they want to know that they have all the answers.
Brian: But You just said, "I'm more comfortable in conversations even knowing that there will be somethings that I don't know." Could you talk about that a little?
AJ: When people start to say things from their worldview or start to make statements or start to ask me questions about how that relates to Christianity, I'm comfortable saying, "I don't know." Then, what I would start doing is asking them as many questions as I can to learn about whatever it is that they want to engage with. So just trying to get as educated as I can about what their views are and I say, "Well, that's another point. If you want to continue this conversation, I'm going to have to do some research." I'm going to need to look for myself about these things, and then I actually go and do that. All the while, I'm confident that whenever I do go and look for the answers, that they're going to be there. That's how I handle it.
Brian: That's interesting. When you get a question in an area where you don't know the answer, you still have confidence that the answer is going to align with your current beliefs. Now, some people might call that blind faith. How would you respond to that?
AJ: So, You said that they would call that faith because I don't know the answer, but I know the answer's there so I'm just kind of put my stake in the ground about it. Is that what you're saying?
Brian: Yeah, basically.
AJ: Right. That's not how I define faith. I know that's not how you define faith. Right? We would define faith as putting active trust in something that you have good reason to believe it true. I have lots of reasons to believe that the Christian worldview is reliable and is the actual truth of the world that we live in. That's whenever we talk about faith, that's what I mean. If I had to tell somebody, "I'm going to have to follow up with you about that,” I have confidence and I trust my worldview that it has the answers to the questions that were asked of me. All that's going to do is give me more reasons to put my trust in this worldview. Once again, faith is putting your trust in something that you have good reason to believe is true. What Apologetics has done has given me lots of good reasons and I have a tool belt of really good reasons to put my trust in Christ Jesus and in this Christian worldview.
Brian: I think there's still this tendency in some areas of the church to say that faith is believing without needing to know, and yet what you're saying is that the things you have learned, the truth you've come to understand about God, about the world, about the Bible has increased your trust in who God is and what he's done. Is that fair?
AJ: Yeah, certainly.
Brian: How's Apologetics changed how you approach conversation with non-Christians about spiritual things?
AJ: It's definitely made me back up from where I used to start this conversations. Let's say I'm having a conversation with an atheist. The first thing in my mind five years ago would have been, "I need to tell this person about Jesus. I need to tell them about their sinfulness." But, I need to role my conversation way back to the beginning. They're starting from such a completely different place that I need to empathize with them. The first thing, I think that's most important is to empathize with whoever it is you're conversing with. Try to think for them. Right? I think that was maybe a previous podcast you have.
AJ: Try to think for them and expect where they are expecting the conversation to go. Like with the atheist, the first thing we're going to have to talk about is start to put a little pressure on them about like, how the universe come into existence? Why are we here? Just knowing what the pressure points are. Morality: how do you base morality in anything if there's no God, if this world just came out of nothing and now here we are all floating around. Going back to the little tool belt, you know, it gives me a tool belt of like pressure points.
Brian: It sounds like you've learned what other people believe, and so you know how far back to take the conversation. We're trying to find the lowest common denominator of shared belief.
AJ: Or even maybe a lowest common denominator of unshared belief, maybe.
Brian: ... Okay. The first step that we diverge.
AJ: Exactly. Yeah. Like if a worldview is a tree with the trunk and it's roots in the ground. If I'm talking to an atheist we need to start at the roots. If I'm talking to a Muslim, we both have the same trunk because we both supposedly believe that there is a God, and there's one God. What we believe that God is different, but that's at least the same starting place. Figuring out where are the divergent is, the lowest common divergence.
Brian: I like that! How has Apologetics changed how you listen to the news?
AJ: Every new story that I read passes through this kind of worldview lens that I recognize that I have. It's a place where I can put my Apologetics into practice, where there's no risk. I can pretend like the news story is somebody presenting a view to me. I can read through the news story and while I'm gathering information about the news, I can also use that as a practice for saying, "Okay, how does this fit into my worldview. What does Christianity have to say about this?" It kind of helps me to identify like the chinks in my armor.
If a buddy of mine or a co-worker, somebody in the class came up and say, "Hey. Read this news story, check this out." What would I be able to say about that? It's kind of like a practice. One thing that it certainly has done and this is probably key, it's really important, is it helps me to see just how important the Christian worldview is, and how distinct it is from this fallen world that we live in. As I read the news, I realized just all the fallenness in our world and the Gospel message has such hope to it and it's so distinct for everything around us. That distinction and that kind of polarization of the Christian worldview from what we live in has been a big, big part of how I now read the news and consume media.
Brian: Do you think it's important for Christians to be informed about what's happening in the world?
Brian: That's interesting for me. I never used to know what was going on anywhere at all. I've seen a need in my personal life to change that, to be aware. It's not just passing me by as I sit here thinking about things that are disconnected from everything else.
AJ: Right. You want to be informed, you know.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, it's not like I wanted to sit there and watch it eight hours a day, but yeah, I want to know what's going on.
AJ: These things in the news that pop up and stay with us for a month at a time or a couple of weeks through a presidential cycle, are things that we're going to hear about, and have conversations about people all the time, so we need to be informed about them.
Brian: That's a great point. Are there any conversations you've had with someone where you might be able to describe putting some Apologetics training into practice?
AJ: Yeah. I've had some conversations, especially about pro-life and pro-choice. There's one conversation I'm thinking about in particular, where the person I was talking to had a pro-choice position. We started talking and they were telling me that they see morality, and they see pro-choice as being defined by whatever society is making the rules. In America, if we make pro-choice, if we make abortion the law of the land, then that's okay. It's morally good because that's what society's determined.
Brian: Like a social contract theory type of ...
AJ: Social contract theory. Right. That's what they started say ... And I recognize, "Oh my gosh. This is what this person ... I've read about this, right? I say, "Well, on your view ... I hope you know that on your view, the civil rights movement was immoral. I hope you know that in your view, the Nazi, the holocaust were right.” The first person who mentions the holocaust in arguments, you loses it. Right? (laughing) Maybe I lost that argument. Any society that you step back and you look at and you say, "Hey, they're doing bad stuff over there." You have no ground upon which to base that.
I'm having a conversation with this person and that's where it's going and eventually ended with this individual telling me that they thought that the holocaust was morally justifiable because of the society that was happening in. I looked at them, and I was like, "You realized what you're saying here." They said, "Yeah, but you know, that's just, that's what I think." I left that conversation knowing that or hoping that's not really what they think. That's what they have to say because nobody's going to just make a hundred and eighty about phase in the conversation with somebody.
Brian: At least they were consistent as far as they said.
AJ: At least they were consistent. Right, but hopefully, hopefully that conversation put something in their mind to think about and they say, "Well, you know, I wonder about social contract theory." They probably don't even call it that in their own minds. I wonder if that really is, if that should be the truth, that should be kind of my moral theory and their worldview.
Brian: They're going to sleep that night, maybe thinking back on their day and they think, "I actually said the holocaust wasn't wrong today."
AJ: Right. Yeah. Exactly. You know, I consider that conversation as going really well. I can't even recall, I would say that I don't think we said anything about Jesus. That's okay with me. I wasn't in a rush to get to the Gospel message. If that conversation continued, that's where it would go. A lot of times people recognize, when you're trying to steal the conversation for that thing. It's like a salesmanship kind of thing. Nobody wants to have salesman come at them all the time. Just keep it natural, and this is what this person want to talk about, so that's what we talk about.
Brian: That's interesting. Going to the least common divergent or however you said that, if you would start talking about Jesus and, ”you're sinful” and all this, I can imagine he would have said something like “I'm not for my perspective or in my society, I'm not.” I think what you're saying illustrates the point. Sometimes we have to deal with the fundamental, more philosophical issues, whether we like them or not, before we can actually make the case that this person needs Christ. The conversation ended there and we have the benefit of sitting here and talking about it. I guess the question I have is, if the conversation hadn't ended or if you were able to pick it up right again, where would you have gone with it?
AJ: I've read about people saying that types of stuff in books, but never actually sat across from somebody and heard them say that they thought that that was morally consistent, you know, for them. One thing that I would have definitely done was make it personal. Put a little pressure on them about like, "Okay. What if, you know, it was your wife or what if it was your children? What if the state needed your children for something?" Just kind of put a little pressure on their moral construct in society. Whenever that's happening to you personally, how would you really react? Then, that's when the image of God comes out of us. That's when the morality ...
Brian: Our innate of knowledge.
AJ: ... Right. That's when our knowledge that we have as human beings really, really does come out. That's what I would have done. I would have given them some pressure about how that relates to him and his personal life.
Brian: Okay, and see how he's or she is willing to take this consistency. Like ... Because the farther you go, the higher the cost it is in some ways. If you're started out saying that the Nazis weren't wrong, then it's downhill after that.
In wrapping up here, what are some resources that have been helpful to you? Books, podcast, speakers?
AJ: Yeah. First of all, Greg Koukl has been tremendously helpful. His ministry Stand to Reason, the podcast Stand to Reason has been great.
Brian: str.org if you're curious.
AJ: str.org, yeah. He's got a lot of great resources. His book Tactics was good.
Brian: I definitely saw some of that coming out, what you're saying today.
AJ: Right. William Lane Craig, two of his podcast Reasonable Faith which I think is a weekly podcast just on current events and then Defenders, which is his Sunday School class podcast which goes in all types of Christian theology. That's been certainly helpful. Ravi Zacharias ... I don't listen to Ravi Zacharias as much as I used to, but he really was the first one who got me interested in Apologetics. I can't remember the names of his podcast but he has a couple of them. I used to listen to them all the time. His book Beyond Opinion was a really good one. Last but not least, I've had the privilege and pleasure of reading Unpologetic, your book and the name of this podcast.
Brian: Thank you. The check is in the mail!
AJ: Yeah. That was certainly helpful. It's a good place to start, that book is. What it did for me was help with the repetition and help to organize everything that I've heard from all these different places and kind of put it in one place that can now be like a resource and a guide. That was useful as well.
Brian: Very cool. I'm glad to hear that. I promise I didn't like to write that out for him to say.
It was interesting for me starting my Christian journey in Apologetics by listening to podcasts and reading a book here and there. If you think of the Christian view of the world as a map, you start out with a lot of black areas. You don't know where things are. Then a little bit gets lit up over here and a little over there. That was my experience listening to podcasts, it took a long time before these lit up areas overlapped, and I was able to see more of the map than I had. My goal in writing the book was to lay out an introduction, a foundation that takes you through all the major areas. I'm glad to hear that. At least, some of that came across.
AJ: Yeah. One more thing that I didn't mention was the book Case for Christ. I've read it.
Brian: Lee Strobel?
AJ: Lee Strobel. Yeah. I read it a couple of years ago. Then, I wanted to do it again in Sunday School class, so I read it and studied a little bit more in depth and presented the material. That was super helpful and useful to me, particularly the resurrection, the evidence for the resurrection.. If there's one thing that I kind of go back to personally a lot, it’s the evidence for the resurrection and how the earliest Christian converts came about. It's astounding. It's really good evidence. I don't see a way for Christianity to have started if Christ didn't actually resurrect from the dead ... It wouldn't have started. The fact that it did is something that I've put my trust in.
Brian: You're favorite area of Apologetic is the resurrection. That's kind of Sunday School answer, isn't it?
AJ: Yeah. It's ...
Brian: It's mine too. The case is just so strong for it.
AJ: ... Yeah.
Brian: Well, any tips? It seems like obviously, in talking, you think Apologetic is something for everyone?
Brian: It doesn't mean everyone's going to know as much as everyone else, but as a parent, as a person that's in the workforce, Apologetics is something we should know. What are some tips that would be beneficial as people think about integrating Apologetic into their lifes?
AJ: Don't be overwhelmed early. Don't be intimidated. Start at the resurrection and just go from there. Back to the tree analogy, the very trunk of the tree, start at: What are some good reasons about the evidence of God? Apologetics is something that's intimidating for people. It draws from Science. It draws from Philosophy. It draws from Theology, Mathematics and so on. These are hard disciplines. These are disciplines that people get their PhDs and study for their entire life. How are we supposed to be kind of be Jack of all trades about it? We have to be, and that's what we're called to as Christians. Just start somewhere. You don't have to have it all mapped out but I would just start somewhere and go from there.
Brian: Awesome. AJ, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.
AJ: All right. You bet. Thanks.
Brian: I hope this has been helpful and I'll speak with you then on Unapologetic.