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Liberty News

Fellows named to Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement

January 19, 2015 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

Liberty University's student apologetics fellows.

Dr. Joshua Chatraw, executive director of Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement, (first row, third from right), with members of the center’s recently announced student fellowship. (Photo courtesy of Luis Nadal/Liberty University School of Religion.)

Liberty University’s new Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement, which was started last semester, has announced its first group of student fellows, as well as its distinguished senior fellows from the university’s faculty.

The center, housed in Liberty’s School of Religion (SOR) and Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS), is under the direction of Dr. Joshua Chatraw, associate professor of theology and apologetics and the director of theology and apologetics in the SOR.

The fellowship includes a diverse group of representatives from various programs across the university.

“The center is more than just a ‘religion thing,’” Chatraw said. “It is various disciplines coming together and thinking through how to engage culture and learning from each other. I really want to put our fellows in front of the faculty and the student body as examples.”

The center’s distinguished senior fellows include faculty members from several disciplines who exemplify what the center is all about — engaging the culture with both humility and boldness while excelling in their respective disciplines. Distinguished senior fellows include: Shawn Akers, J.D., Helms School of Government; Dr. David Baggett, LBTS; Dr. Mark W. Foreman, College of General Studies; Dr. Chris Gnanakan, School of Religion; Dr. Gary Habermas, Department of Philosophy; Dr. Emily Heady, College of General Studies; Dr. Ed Hindson, School of Religion; Rena Lindevaldsen, J.D., Liberty University School of Law; Dr. Linda Mintle, College of Osteopathic Medicine; Dr. Norman Mintle, School of Communication & Creative Arts (SCCA); Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Department of English & Modern Languages. (View biographies for each of the senior fellows.)

“I wanted to be a part of the center because I see its relevance for everyday life,” Heady, dean of the College of General Studies, said. “I work with students all day long who are seeking ways to tell their stories, whether it’s a faith journey, a calling to a career, or just a little story about why they came to Liberty. They’re all reaching for significance — reaching for a way to show that what they’ve experienced matters, and reaching for a way to express what they know and believe to others in a way that will matter to them. We need to be smart about how we teach our students to do this. You can’t tell your story badly and expect someone to listen — so for that, we need training both in apologetics and in smart cultural engagement.”

The student fellows represent a diverse number of programs and include three doctoral students — Blake Harcup (LBTS, doctor of ministry), Jonathan Pruitt (LBTS, theology and apologetics), and Guy F. Sutula (LBTS, theology and apologetics) — two graduate students — Gabriella Fuller (SCCA, strategic communication) and Ben Whittington (Department of Philosophy, philosophical studies) — and eight undergraduate students — Colton Allen (SOR, religious studies: theology and apologetics), Jack Carson (Honors Program, SOR, religious studies: theology and apologetics), Rachael Graf (Honors Program, SCCA, journalism), Katie Hensel (Honors Program, SOR, religious studies: theology and apologetics), Nathan Justice (Honors Program, SOR, religious studies: theology and apologetics), Matthew Mielinicki (SOR, religious studies: theology and apologetics), Olivia Marshall (Honors Program, School of Business), and Jake Thornhill (Honors Program, SOR, religious studies: New Testament).

Fuller said it was an honor to serve with the fellowship because she really believes in the center’s mission.

“As Christians, there is an increasingly urgent need for us to be able to both express and defend our faith in an ever-changing culture,” Fuller said. “My hope is that by being an ambassador for the center, I can grow in my own knowledge of how to be a better witness while encouraging others to do the same.”

She added that there is a misconception among some that apologetics is a discipline reserved for those studying for careers in ministry.

“We are instructed as Christians to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). That mandate applies to all majors and all areas of expertise. I am so excited to see a center at Liberty that will truly integrate our Christian foundation with the liberal arts tradition in a way that will equip students to become Christian intellectuals in every academic field.”

Prior, a professor of English and frequent contributor to a number of publications, said the center is a way to embody Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell’s vision to see Champions for Christ excel in every discipline and serve as ambassadors for the Gospel.

“Part of being such a champion is effectively engaging with the culture around us, with the ideas and values of that culture, and with the people shaped by those ideas and values,” she said. “Now Liberty University has a center devoted entirely to equipping and leading students and faculty in being more intentional and even more effective in fulfilling this mission. All Christians, not just pastors and Bible scholars, are called to defend the faith and engage the culture. The center will work with the entire university community to better answer this call.”

The Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement is co-sponsoring several events this semester, including the seminary’s lecture series, with events on Feb. 12, March 26, and April 9 in the Terrace Level Conference Room in the Jerry Falwell Library. The center is also partnering with the School of Communication & Creative Arts to present the Ann Wharton Lecture Series Banquet on Feb. 5 at the Club Level of Williams Stadium. More events will be held as the organization grows.

The center also uses its website as a resource to address difficult questions related to the Christian life. Readers can find insights from experts, including distinguished senior fellows and scholars from across the world. A number of videos and articles are already available on the website, with more content to be added throughout the semester. Students interested in applying for the fellowship are welcome to fill out an application online.

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