DEFEND 2017 highlights needs for apologetics

By Marilyn Stewart

NEW ORLEANS -- Abdu Murray was a devout Muslim who rarely encountered Christians who could defend their faith. His nine-year journey from Islam to faith in Christ began after meeting the few “annoying” Christians who could.

Murray, North American director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, told of his journey at Defend 2017, an annual apologetics conference presented by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Institute for Christian Apologetics (ICA) Jan. 2-6.The conference that hosted 250 participants brought together noted apologists to address issues and worldviews prevalent in today’s culture.

“Truth always has a cost,” Murray said. “A lot of Muslims know there are issues with Islam and they know there is a beauty to the Gospel, but they don’t want it because of the price.”

Other plenary speakers included Sean McDowell, author of 18 books on apologetics including several co-written with his father Josh McDowell; Braxton Hunter, former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists; Craig Hazen, author and renowned apologist at Biola University; Robert Bowman, Jr., Institute for Religious Research; Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason Ministries, and others.

More than 75 breakout sessions on topics of theology, philosophy, culture, and ethics were led by leading apologetic speakers and Southern Baptist seminary and Baptist college professors.

Murray said leaving one’s worldview behind to embrace Christ is hard to do.

Once an ardent defender of Islam, Murray said he picked up a Gideon New Testament to search for contradictions and to deflect the efforts of two “annoying Christians”—Dave and Pete—who returned week after week to befriend him and answer his questions.

Then, Murray found Luke 3:7-8.

The passage disturbed him, Murray explained, because he realized he had clung to tradition rather than viewing his own faith objectively, something he had often accused Christians of doing. Murray said he was drawn to Christ.

“It was the person of Christ himself,” Murray said. “That was the attraction and that’s the attraction for many Muslims when they come to faith.”

Murray, a former 16-year trial lawyer, is the author of “Grand Central Question: Answering the Critical Concerns of Major Worldviews” and hosts an apologetic radio show in Detroit and online.

Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s director of policy studies, said in a breakout session that while Christians live under the rule of state, Jesus is believers’ ultimate authority. Early Christians understood they made “a direct assault on the powers of that day” when they declared “Jesus is Lord,” Walker explained.

Because Jesus is Lord and because each human bears the image of God, the church is called to address culture, speak truth to the state, and stand up for those in need, Walker said.

“A Christianity that has nothing to say to the affairs of the world and the challenges facing the world is nothing but safe, middle-class, bourgeois religion…”

Walker pointed to a quote from Carl F. H. Henry, calling it one of the “most impactful” of his life regarding the church’s responsibility in the public square: Henry said, “If the church fails to apply the central truths of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly.”

Braxton Hunter, apologetics professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind., said in the opening plenary session that he picked up his first apologetic resource after a close friend became antagonistic to the Christian faith.

“I wanted to say more than I knew how to say,” Hunter said. “I didn’t know how to engage with him and that was deeply frustrating.”

Hunter, author of the forthcoming “Evangelistic Apologetics,” pointed to the “fruitfulness” of integrating apologetics into both proclamation evangelism and personal evangelism, and urged listeners to use apologetics to lead people to faith in Christ, rather than simply win arguments.

“Apologetics is not evangelism,” Hunter explained. “But… apologetics can open a door to evangelism, can serve as pre-evangelism, or in some other way, aid in evangelism.”

Rhyne Putman, Defend 2017 director and NOBTS assistant professor of theology and culture, said the purpose of the NOBTS apologetics program was to equip believers to meet challenges.

“A significant portion of those who attend our conferences are college students who are facing critical challenges to their faith on an almost daily basis,” Putman said. “We seek to equip them so that they will not only flourish in their own faith but also effectively counter the challenges to evangelism and discipleship on their campuses.”

Robert Stewart, ICA director, said next year’s conference would include a track for urban apologetics with “significant” time devoted to addressing apologetic issues relevant in an urban context.

“Many people of color and others living in urban communities are increasingly facing challenges from groups like the so-called Black Hebrew Israelites and claims like ‘Christianity is a white man’s religion’ that  most apologists as well as most books on apologetics, to say nothing of apologetics conferences, fail to address,” Stewart said. “It would be irresponsible not to address these new challenges.” 

This year’s plenary and breakout sessions topics included the reliability of the New Testament, the Trinity, the dating of scripture, evidence for the resurrection, arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, Islam, science and creation, the theology of counter-Christian groups such as Scientology and Mormonism, responding to LGBT activism, and others.

Video recordings of the plenary sessions are free and available online at