Reasonable Faith newsletter – June 2010

Dear Friends of Reasonable Faith,

What a fabulous, exciting time we had in South Africa! Not only was the trip hugely successful in terms of ministry, but Jan and I also had a lot of fun!

My speaking tour of Johannesburg, Capetown, and Pretoria was organized by an Afrikaans-speaking ministry named AntWoord that is seeking to quicken the intellectual life of the South African church, which is by all accounts pietistic and ill-equipped to engage with the challenges of secular culture. AntWoord scheduled an array of speaking engagements for me, including debates, a university colloquium, conference lectures, and church talks.

Without a doubt, the highlight of our ten-day trip was the two debates I had in Capetown and Pretoria. The first of these was with a South African Muslim apologist named Yusuf Ismail on the topic “Identifying Jesus: Is He Man or both God and Man?” For an account of some of the arguments in the debate go here:

The debate was held in a Christian church in a section of town with a significant Muslim population, so hundreds of Muslims came out in support of Ismail. All told, about a thousand people crowded the auditorium that night. The debate was anything but dull! What Ismail (who is a lawyer by profession) may lack in substance he makes up in a robustious delivery, with lots of grandstanding and theatrics. By the time we reached the rebuttals, he had pretty much exhausted what substance he had, and so he began to throw out lots of red meat to his partisans in the crowd, offering the usual Muslim talking points like the inauthenticity of 1 John 5.7, at which they began to shout Islamic slogans. In my rebuttal I rebuked them, saying that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for cheering for such irrelevant and fallacious arguments. I hammered home my positive case for Jesus’ deity, which Ismail could not answer, and in my closing speech gave a strong evangelistic appeal to the Muslims in the crowd. It was a great evening and a strong witness for Christ.

The second debate, at the University of Pretoria, was even more significant and, I dare say, one-sided. AntWoord had arranged for Michael Licona, who recently finished his doctoral studies in theology at the University of Pretoria, to join me in debating two liberal South African theologians, Drs. Spangenberg and Wolmarans, on Jesus’ resurrection. Their radical views on Christianity are an incoherent mishmash of modernist scientific naturalism and post-modernist denial of objective meaning. Neither of them even believes that God exists. They are part of a movement called the New Reformation which is seeking to transform Christianity in South Africa. Unfortunately, the South African church is apparently just not equipped to deal with these challenges, and so everyone was praying that Mike and I could expose the emptiness of their claims.

Just arriving at a topic which these gentlemen would debate was enormously difficult, since they don’t accept that the New Testament has any objective meaning to argue about! We finally settled on “How Should We Understand the Narratives about Jesus’ Resurrection?” The night of the debate the auditorium, which sat over 500 hundred, was filled to capacity, so just outside the building a live television feed was set up to an amphitheater where several hundred more gathered. With our contrasting styles, Mike and I complemented each other nicely and so formed a powerful team. Spangenberg and Wolmarans were basically annihilated in a gracious way. For an account of how the debate unfolded go here:

The organizers of the debate were absolutely thrilled with the outcome. At one of the later conferences at which I spoke an evangelical theologian rose during the Q&A after my talk and went on at length about the historic importance of the debate for Christianity in South Africa. At last, he said, the pretensions of the New Reformation movement had been powerfully and embarrassingly exposed! Here are some of the online comments of bloggers following the debate:

“Wednesday marked a somewhat historic moment in South African history with the first (that I know of) international philosophical formal public debate between Christians and atheist/naturalists.”

“[I]t was a David vs Goliath situation. Spannenberg and Wolmarans were so outgunned by the eloquent, logical and well prepared Licona/Craig duo that it made me really ashamed to be South African, but at least I could be proud to be a Christian. These two men demonstrated that Christianity is logical and intellectually tenable. They demonstrated that Christians can be logical, solid and, for lack of a better word, COOL.”

“Thank you to the Americans and the AntWoord team for bringing Christians relief in this dry country. What an example they are to us not to be ashamed of our Lord and Savior. It is particularly sweet that this happened at the University of Pretoria. This is one DVD that I am going to watch over and over again. Thank you!”

Professional recordings of all the debates and conference talks were made and will be disseminated throughout South Africa. The effect of these meetings will continue, God willing, to reverberate for years to come.

There’s so much more to tell, not only about the ministry, but about all that we saw and did (like seeing three, gigantic, double-horned, white rhinos up close and personal in the wild at the Pilanesberg game reserve!), but this letter is long enough already. Thank you for your prayers that supported Jan and me during this very busy trip!

For Christ and His Kingdom,

Bill & Jan

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