(Photo: Samantha McSwain, Student, North Greenville University, Mass Communications Major)
The apologetics and Christian worldview ministry movement "has only just begun" as American churches take note of the evidence for Christianity and the importance of sharing it with others, says Alex McFarland, an organizer of the Truth for a New Generation (TNG) 2013 conference held last weekend.
"The fact that people would come from 35 states to hear essentially a two-day theology lecture, it shows a couple of things: Number one, how hungry people are spiritually. And number two, I think, how concerned people are about the spiritual condition of our nation. But number three, how willing people are to learn and become equipped to defend the faith," McFarland told CP.
TNG, which was held at Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., was presented by North Greenville University and McFarland, who serves as the director of the university's Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics.
"A lot of Christians these days are very discouraged," he said. "The culture seems irreparably damaged, but...we didn't get where we are overnight, and apart from a miracle of God we're not going to get back overnight."
Fewer than 2,000 people attended the conference, but despite the less-than-hoped-for attendance numbers, McFarland says he was "elated" with the event.
One positive aspect of the conference, for example, was more than half of those in attendance were under the age of 18. Mark Mittelberg, TNG conference speaker and author of Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs, told CP in an email that it is "gratifying" to see so many young people learning alongside adults at the events.
"The TNG Conference and others like it are vital because we live in a world that tells us to 'question everything' -- especially if what we believe is biblical or Christian," he said. "Young people in particular see their faith being undermined in the culture -- through the media, music, movies, television, teachers, textbooks, blogs, websites, and the list keeps growing."
"Where are we compensating for this pervasive anti-faith influence?" he continued. "Hopefully in our homes and churches -- but often we need extra help from teachers who specialize in addressing the intellectual challenges that are coming at us, and who can use this information to build up the faith of Christ-followers of every age."
Mittelberg's talk on Saturday focused on the "20 Reasons You Can Have a Confident Faith." He calls these reasons "arrows of truth" because they point to "the reality of God's existence, Jesus' deity, and the redemptive nature of Jesus' death on the cross for us and our salvation."
"Design in the universe points to an intelligent designer," according to the first reason. Others include, "the Bible is a uniquely consistent religious book," "archaeology shows the Bible to be a powerfully verified book" and "the changed lives of early skeptics affirmed the truth of Christianity."
Hot-button topics like Islam and homosexuality were also addressed at the conference, but McFarland says the session that struck him as being particularly impactful was "The National Briefing on Religious Freedom." The Saturday night panel discussion was moderated by Fox News personality Lauren Green and was presented by The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
"It was a history lesson. It was a current events lesson. It was a call to action," he said.
To illustrate the need for a discussion on religious freedom, McFarland explained that he tried to run advertisements for the conference in the Charlotte Observer. The ads, according to an article written by McFarland, asked questions such as "Is same sex marriage morally wrong?", "Are Islam and Christianity the same?", and "Are godless people going to destroy America?"
However, the paper's marketing and editorial directors decided not to run the ads as-written because they "unfairly singled out certain groups" and would "unduly influence people," though McFarland argues the ads just asked provocative questions to which people across the country want to know the answers. The publication eventually ran the ads, but only after the wording was changed.
McFarland described the paper's decision as "blatant" religious discrimination.
"It was ironic that at an event where the culmination was a broadcast on religious freedom that clearly the politically correct establishment does not even want people to think about these questions," he told CP.
People around the country are begging for TNG organizers to bring the conference to their cities, said McFarland. The event is unique from some other conferences, he says, in that it emphasizes the importance of prayer in addition to good content.
"I think the American church has got to rediscover the power of the supernatural," he said. "The evidence is clear, the data is on the side of historic, classical orthodoxy, but we the body of Christ we've got to pray and we've got to realize that prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit is a key."
Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University and author of titles like The Daniel Fast for Spiritual Breakthrough, spoke on the topics of prayer and fasting at the event. Some people may have rejected God because they did not receive a response, or a response they were hoping for, to their prayers, Towns told CP, so it is important for believers to understand the apologetics of prayer.
He also spoke about fasting, and how a person seeking answers from God should make a vow to fast, and pray.
"But of course, I said to the class, God never answers because you withhold food – that's legalism," said Towns. "God answers because, when you withhold food, it's an expression of your faith, and your faith always moves God."
Towns says apologetics will become a key part of evangelism because many people don't have an understanding of God or the Bible.
"I think the method of the future is going to be apologetic evangelism," he said. "The old method that I grew up with, the idea of passing out tracts and winning somebody to Christ on the street corner, will not work in the future like it has in the past."
The principle of presenting the gospel to unbelievers and bringing them to a decision does not change, he said, though evangelistic methods do change and apologetics lend credibility to the Christian message.