With no apology!
Calvin Smith interviews Christian apologist, Pastor Joe Boot
Joe Boot is an apologist, educator, author and pastor. He is senior pastor of Westminster Chapel in Toronto, the President of Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity and the former Executive Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Canada; he continues to serve as an adjunct speaker with RZIM. He has spoken in over 25 countries in numerous universities, seminaries, churches, colleges and conferences1 and has publically debated leading atheists. Joe is a graduate in theology from Birmingham Christian College in England and is completing his post graduate research masters program in Missiology with Cliff College and the University of Manchester.
His apologetic works include Searching for Truth, Why I Still Believe and How then Shall We Answer? He is visiting lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian apologetics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford England, and is a contributing author to the major apologetics volume Beyond Opinion. He lives near Toronto with his wife Jenny and three children.
Calvin Smith caught up with him at his study to ask some questions.
Calvin: Joe, why do you see the creation/evolution issue as important in proclaiming the Gospel and upholding the authority of Scripture?
Joe Boot: Since the doctrines of Creation, the Fall and Redemption stand in an absolute historical continuum, we get a distorted worldview when we play games with Genesis.
The apologist seeks to present biblical truth with coherence. In my experience, one cannot even formulate a compelling response to classic questions like the problem of evil and pain without a clear stand with Scripture on the creation issue.
I have never been able to see how anyone who wants to defend the faith and proclaim the Gospel can compromise the foundation stones of that defence and then expect clear-thinking people to find a proclamation of salvation in Christ compelling. The truth is that any honest reading of the Bible reveals nothing of evolutionism.
How often do creation/evolution issues come up in your public speaking engagements?
I am almost always asked questions about origins in open forums and debates. A sad fact is that when speaking I often find the orthodox doctrine of creation more viciously attacked in seminary contexts than in secular universities.
Recently I was conversing with a lady who came to faith because she had key questions about creation and found her way to the CMI website, found answers and committed her life to Christ! In my experience, the question of origins has a permanent relevance in evangelism and apologetics.
Some Christians say the subject of origins is a side issue. From someone who’s been out there among the people for a long time, what is your opinion?
Suggesting this is a ‘side issue’ not only reveals a lack of exposure to skeptics and seekers in our time, but a profound ignorance of the Bible and the elementary questions of philosophy. Can you imagine, Moses, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Pascal, Copernicus, Galileo, or even Darwin, Marx, and Freud referring to the question of origins as a ‘side issue’?
I believe many Christians feel ill-equipped to deal with the subject as it is almost never preached about. However, the church will continue to be irrelevant to our time, if we persist in such thoughtless evasions.
As someone who works with intellectuals, do you find it difficult to defend a literal 6-day creation, approximately 6,000 years ago, when the common consensus is a ‘billions of years’ scenario?
I am determined to defend the whole counsel of God, not just the bits I think I can get away with without offending people or without loss of scholarly ‘respectability’. However, as Jesus said, we should seek to be ‘wise as serpents and gentle as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). Thus, strategically, I rarely start with a question like the age of the earth.
I tend to begin with critical questions about knowledge itself to remove the rug from under the feet of the skeptic. This method tends to provide a more-than-adequate platform for the questioner to confess their ignorance. The skeptic is often simply trying to embarrass or discredit you by setting up questions they think will result in scorn and derision when a biblical answer is forthcoming.
Many Christian apologists who today argue for the authenticity of Scripture as plainly written in the New Testament also claim that Genesis 1–11 in the Old Testament is allegory. What is your response to that?
When we talk about ‘allegory’ we need to consider something important. If we believe a certain passage of Scripture to be allegorical or figurative, we need to ask what earlier literal antecedent we have on which an allegorical and figurative interpretation can be based.
Since Genesis is the seed plot of the Bible and the most referenced book in the New Testament, and since all key Christian doctrine finds it foundation here, what earlier revelation is there that provides the historical material upon which we may ground an allegorical interpretation of Genesis? Genesis is the history upon which all later figurative uses rest!
As a subscriber to CMI’s Creation magazine and Journal of Creation, how do you find they help?
Firstly, I find them very encouraging and uplifting to read. My children can also enjoy sections of Creation magazine. Both these journals help keep me up to date with some of the latest news, discoveries and theories, and the excellent articles and analyses actually become very useful in open forum settings during Q&A in universities, etc.
The more technical Journal of Creation is especially useful to me in this regard. In fact, I recently used a superb article on logic from this journal that dealt with the need for faith even in logical theorems, since not all axioms in any system are self-evident. I have had years of benefit reading both publications.
You have debated leading skeptics quite successfully. What is the biggest problem with the humanistic worldview and how do you address it in a debate situation?
I focus my barrage on what might be called the ‘pre-conditions of intelligibility’.
For example, in any debate, all protagonists are affirming and invoking invariant logical relations, a rational structure of the mind, a ‘real rational world’, and usually are claiming the ‘moral’ high ground. However, to be coherent and intelligible, a worldview must be able to account for these most basic assumptions.
Consider the atheist who has a universe devoid of design, ultimate purpose, and without transcendent meaning or direction. It is irrational by definition. Since the human mind is part of this chaotic and chance universe, why should we trust the deliberations of our minds that have arisen from mindless matter and irrational animals?
Furthermore, to claim that one view is superior to another, which is pre-supposed by all in a debate, is to make both a metaphysical and moral judgment. However the humanist has only atomic accidents as a basis for metaphysical judgments and preference and taste for ethical judgments, not moral truth or law that transcends time, culture and taste, and so has no basis for either form of judgment.
I have yet to find a professor who can respond with any coherence and not be left bewildered by this simple challenge. I therefore point out that only on Christian theistic assumptions does a debate make any sense and that by turning up my opponent has unwittingly conceded the debate.
Do you have a favourite story to share from your extensive travel and lecturing experiences?
Several! On one occasion, under armed escort, I spoke in an Islamic University in Pakistan about peace with God through Jesus Christ. At the end I could see tears running from some of the young women in their headdresses.
Another was a leading British meteorologist (previously an evolutionist) coming to tell me that my lectures on creation and the Bible had deeply impacted him and caused him to rethink his view. Already a Christian, he became a biblical creationist, finding a new consistency and cogency in his faith.
Finally, at a packed debate co-organized by the humanist society and Campus for Christ at a Canadian University, I felt the grace of God helping and strengthening me. My closing remarks were met with pin-drop silence. The atheist was bewildered and concluded with an incoherent moral rant against the Bible! One atheist student filled in his reaction card suggesting the debate had been ‘fixed’ by Christians bringing in an atheist with no arguments!
The truth is that the hardest task in the world is building a convincing case for atheism, for which there are no good arguments, so we must have some pity on the humanist!
Joe, can you tell us what you think God might have in store for you in your future ministry?
Well, we have some very exciting projects and plans that we are working on. We are developing and growing a new urban church2 to have a deep impact upon the city and especially on the massive University population. We are also continuing to develop the recently formed Ezra Institute, our journal, seminar programs and events. Our goal in all this is to bring glory to God by turning Canadians and this culture back toward the God of the Bible.