The Value of Apologetics: An Interview with Julie Miller from Ratio Christi
The summer before my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to attend an apologetics-based leadership camp called Summit Ministries. Though I had previously had very little exposure to apologetics outside of reading C.S. Lewis’s books defending various aspects of our faith, going to Summit awoke a hunger in me to learn more. It showed me how to handle myself with the confidence of conviction in conversations where I had previously been paralyzed into silence because I felt inadequate and stupid, with no rational response to offer in the face of cutting criticisms of my most core beliefs.
But as wonderful as those two weeks on Colorado were, it barely covered the tip of the iceberg. I knew when I got home that there was much more learning to do.
Shortly thereafter, I was reading through the book of Philippians and stumbled across this phrase in the first chapter: “the defense and establishment of the Gospel.” When I found it, this phrase jumped out from the page as though bold and highlighted. I knew without a doubt that God was bringing it to my attention.
1 Peter 3:15 expresses a similar sentiment of the believer needing to be ready with an answer to give to support WHY we have the hope that we do. And yet, so many people, believers and unbelievers alike, tend to act as if reason and faith are mutually exclusive. This is simply not true.
One of my favorite verses in the book of Isaiah is God telling the people of Israel, “Come, let us reason together” (1:18). Here we have God Himself inviting discussion and reminding us that He is God of the mind, as well as the God of the heart. The word “faith” in the original Latin specifically means “to trust” – and trust is based on a track record. You don’t just trust the deepest part of your heart with strangers out on the street, do you? Of course not! You know that the ones who are going to be worthy of being entrusted with your soul are those with whom you have an ongoing relationship where they have demonstrated themselves worthy of trust. Praise the Lord, our relationship with Him is no different – He wants us to trust Him because He has already proved Himself worthy of earning our trust by the work He did on the cross, not because we just blindly decided “to believe.”
This is why apologetics is such a beautiful thing, and is a worthy pursuit of any believer.
One organization working to help believers defend their faith is Ratio Christi. Latin for “the reason of Christ,” Ratio Christi is based in small chapters on college campuses, as well as having an online collection of resources for studying apologetics. I recently had the opportunity to interview Julie Miller, a Ratio Christi Chapter Director and Chaplain at Rutgers University.
Hi Julie! Thank you so much for giving us your time. First off, tell us a little about yourself. I understand you live in New Jersey with your husband, and you have two sons?
Yes, we have lived here in New Jersey for 11 years. We are originally from Texas and both of our extended families live there. Buzz and I have been married 30 years and our boys are ages 26 and 23. Cameron, our oldest, lives and works in Houston and Noah will be graduating from Wheaton College in May. Early on, I worked as a CPA after earning a degree in Accounting and Finance from Texas A&M. When we started our family, I became a stay-at-home mom to raise our boys. During that time I was in Bible Study Fellowship and served in various positions. I also was involved in Friends International teaching ESL to international women in Houston.
How and why did you get involved in apologetics?
Like many others, my interest in apologetics was fueled by two things. First, I personally had questions about Christianity. Questions like: What kinds of evidence is there for God’s existence? Do the gospel accounts give a reliable record of Jesus? How can Jesus be the only way to God amidst such religious diversity? What about the fate of the unevangelized? These are the kinds of topics I began to investigate.
Second, my evangelistic efforts were unfruitful, largely due to my inability to give reasons and evidence for the truth claims I was commending. Even though I knew what I believed and was convinced by the Holy Spirit that the gospel was true, I was unable to show others good reasons and evidence to follow Christ. In the current culture, sharing the gospel needs to go hand in hand with defending it. This is the method the apostle Paul used in his ministry; he was an evangelist and an apologist.
Why did you decide to get a Masters in Apologetics?
With all the resources available now I think it is possible to educate yourself in apologetics without getting a degree. I attempted to do this initially, but needed some structure and guidance. It was a critical time because our boys were teenagers going to public school and were facing challenges to their faith and needed answers. My husband saw an advertisement in World Magazine for the Biola program and decided we needed this kind of ‘professional help.’ I think I applied that week.
So, Julie, you are the Chapter Director and Chaplain of Ratio Christi at Rutgers University. How did you get involved in Ratio Christi?
A year before I graduated from Biola I heard an interview with Rick Schenker on Apologetics 315 about a ministry called Ratio Christi. They wanted trained apologists to start student apologetics groups at universities. I live down the road from Rutgers University and I happen to love college kids. I had been praying for God to show me how I might use my training and this seemed to be an answer. I reached out to Ratio Christi to find out more. The next week I met with Rick at the Apologetics Conference in New Jersey for an interview. At that conference I met Isaac Woodward, a Rutgers student who was interested in starting a Ratio Christi group at Rutgers. Our chapter was approved by the university six months later. I applied for Chaplaincy at Rutgers a year later, which enables me to be involved with the other Christian chaplains. We meet monthly to pray for all of the ministries on campus, asking God to draw students to Himself.
Why would you advise young women to study apologetics?
I would advise young women to study apologetics the same way I would advise any Christian. According to 1 Peter 3:15-17 all Christians are commanded to be apologists. I think you could go a step further and say that every person should be an apologist, meaning every person should be able to give reasons and evidence for their beliefs. Having said that, I would like to share how to get started and also why it is essential to have apologetics in your toolkit when evangelizing in our post-Christian culture.
The best way to start is by reading books/articles/websites that answer a specific question you have, whether it be your own personal question or a question posed to you that you could not answer. By doing this, you will soon have confidence to answer that question when it comes up again. When given the opportunity, your response to people should be winsome and can begin by simply saying, “That is a good question. I have also struggled with this issue and have been studying how to answer it. May I share with you the things I have been learning?” Boom. You have just started your ministry of answering questions, which is what an apologist does.
In this post-Christian culture, it is likely that many in your sphere of influence are skeptical about Christianity and religion in general. By offering reasonable answers to their objections you are giving them intellectual permission to consider the gospel message.
So for someone who wants learn in a formal program as opposed to self-learning, yet doesn't want to pursue an actual degree in apologetics, do you have any suggestions?
There are several certificate programs that serve as great alternatives for those who do not want to pursue a formal degree. All of these are online programs, with the exception of the Cross-Examined Instructor Academy which is a 3-day school.
- Biola University Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics
- Reasons to Believe Certificate in Science Apologetics
- Southern Evangelical Seminary Certificate of Scientific Apologetics
- Oklahoma Weslyan Certificate in Christian Apologetics
- Cross-Examined Instructor Academy
- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy
- Colson Center Centurions Program
What resources does Ratio Christi provide for undergraduate students, and how can students get in touch/involved?
Ratio Christi student groups meet weekly to discuss various apologetic topics and answer questions. We exist for three main reasons: (1) To strengthen the faith of Christian students and faculty by equipping them to give reasons and 20evidence for their beliefs, (2) To offer skeptics/agnostics/atheists answers to their objections to the truth claims of Christianity, and (3) To host campus wide events featuring Christian thinkers/apologists/scientists/philosophers in lectures/debate/discussions. Our aim is to represent the intellectual viability of the Christian worldview.
There are approximately 160 Ratio Christi chapters on university campuses across the nation. You can find out about existing chapters on the website here. Or, start a chapter on your own campus!
What are some of your favorite apologetics resources? Books, websites, documentaries, anything that really impacted you.
Here are some of my favorites to get you started:
- Love Your God With all your Mind by JP Moreland
- Study Guide available online - http://christiangrads.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Leaders-Guide.pdf
- Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl
- Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism by Tom Gilson
- Apologetics 315: http://www.apologetics315.com/p/about.html
- The Poached Egg: http://www.thepoachedegg.net/#
- Natasha Crain’s blog: http://christianmomthoughts.com/new-here/
- Melissa Travis’ blog: http://sciencereasonfaith.com/
Documentary: Why Beauty Matters
- Dr. Dan Wallace v. Dr. Bart Ehrman - The Reliability of the New Testament
- Dr. William Lane Craig v. Dr. Sam Harris - The God Debate
- Dr. William Lane Craig v. Dr. Alex Rosenberg - Is Faith in God Reasonable?
Thank you so much for your time, Julie.
So ladies, do yourself a favor and start checking out some of those resources to help you defend the Gospel, and for those of you in college, why not see if your university has a Ratio Christi chapter you could be part of?
// main image via america y'all + all other photos courtesy of ratio christi