Searching for answers

Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement begins its first semester

Thomas was a doubter.

Known for being a skeptic, a disbeliever, a questioner and for demanding proof, “Doubting Thomas” and people living in today’s chaotic world have something in common, especially with the millennial generation. They are asking questions and looking for answers.

Liberty University is giving students and professors an opportunity to do both with the new Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement, directed by Joshua Chatraw, which launched this month.

“When we’re struggling with our own doubts, our own challenges that we have, things that we struggle with, apologetics helps us think through those issues,” Chatraw said.

“Apologetics should be an extension of the second greatest commandment, which is to love others. Apologetics is loving people in an age of skepticism, where people have questions and people have doubts, and simply saying ‘be quiet and listen to my gospel presentation’ really dehumanizes the people we interact with.”

Originally from Valdosta, Georgia, Chatraw holds a doctorate in biblical theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as a pastor in Dublin, Georgia, before moving to Lynchburg five months ago with his wife of 10 years and their two children. Chatraw is also the co-author of two books — “Truth Matters,” and “Truth in a Culture of Doubt” — and was named one of Christianity Today magazine’s notable people in its readers’ choice “33 Under 33” article in July 2014. He currently serves as a professor of theology at Liberty.

“Sometimes people hear ‘apologetics’ and they think theology and philosophy,” Chatraw said. “But really, I think apologetics is something that we should all use. I view apologetics as simply loving your neighbor enough to care about the issues they have with Christianity and to help them think through that.”

For many, the word ‘apologetics’ carries a combative feeling, with the focus on winning an argument or proving a point. According to Chatraw, nothing could be further from the truth.

“When people hear ‘apologetics,’ they hear ‘somebody’s going to debate me,’” Chatraw said. “And when people hear ‘cultural engagement,’ they typically don’t know what that is. It gives us some room to actually explain (that) ‘cultural engagement’ is engaging the culture on a variety of platforms and issues. It sends the message to the university and the wider culture that this is for every believer.”

LAUNCH — The new center will host Seminary Lecture Series events throughout the semester. Photo provided

LAUNCH — The new center will host Seminary Lecture Series events throughout the semester. Photo provided

The Center for Apologetics & Culture Engagement also recently began accepting applications for its student fellows program. If a student is accepted into the program, he or she will have the opportunity to work closely with senior fellows — a group of 11 diverse, distinguished professors from across the university — who are veterans when it comes to engaging culture. Student fellows will have the opportunity to engage in research and writing with men and women who have asked and answered tough questions.

“The benefit of being a student fellow is that you get to interact with some, I would say, top professors who are doing cultural engagement across the
university,” Chatraw said. “You’re able to interact with them. You’re able to come alongside our senior fellows as they do projects, and do different things … and have an opportunity to have a platform among the student body, to talk about cultural engagement and share the vision for that in various areas with other students.”

The student fellows program is not just for those studying theology, philosophy or biblical studies. The program is designed to be integrative and interdisciplinary — both undergraduate and graduate students studying everything from aviation to zoology are welcome to apply.

“We really want to touch every department and figure out how (we can) help that department teach its students and its faculty to engage the culture for the
gospel,” Chatraw said.

For Chatraw, apologetics cannot simply be head knowledge or logic, because a great part of faith has to do with the heart. In addition, apologetics not only tackles the question of what to believe, but why to believe it ­— something that Chatraw views as central if Christians are to be effective in reaching others with the gospel.

In Chatraw’s opinion, learning apologetics begins with reading God’s word.

“I think we should think about everything from a Christian worldview, from the lens of the Bible,” Chatraw said. “… Then you can begin to see what’s wrong with the world, and (which) things don’t line up, and how the Bible makes sense of the world. It’s simply reading your Bible and letting the Bible be the lens from which you view everything else. It’s not as if I wake up in the morning and say, ‘OK, I’m putting my apologetics mask on today.’ No, I’m constantly thinking, because I’m a Christian, and this is what Christians should do. Christ is supreme over all of our lives and that means (in) every aspect of our life, we’re thinking in light of the gospel.”

Those interested in applying to the student fellows program are invited to visit the center’s website,, where they can download and submit an application.

“(Apologetics) might not be what you think it is,” Chatraw said. “Give it a shot, because if you think it’s two old white guys debating on stage, then it’s certainly not.

And if we’ve given you that impression, that’s not what it is. Give it a chance. It’s simply how you can love your neighbor for the gospel.”

GRAF is a feature reporter.

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