Amid the unravelling social trajectories of our skeptical, post-Christian nation, the New Zealand church must reclaim the importance of its intellectual life to safeguard not only its witness but its very health and identity. With this conclusion as our frame and impetus, a group of us have launched an apologetics journal Thinking Matters to try and respond to the increasing marginalization and irrelevance of the Christian community in this country. The release of the first issue this weekend represents a small but notable step towards bringing that commitment to fruition.
Almost exactly one year ago, I began corresponding with Dominic Bnonn Tennant, a blogger and (at that time) moderator of a Christian apologetics discussion forum. We both shared a passion for the supremacy of God’s revelation and a deep concern to see Christianity stand tall in the marketplace of ideas. We were aware that we weren’t the only individuals in the New Zealand Christian community with these convictions, but were dismayed at the fragmentation of the apologetic enterprise here. There seemed to be no coordination at a national level or even at least a self-identified apologetics group in its most populous part, the upper North Island. We weren’t particularly people of renown or with rigorous training in the enterprise: he, a fairly young Christian but with erudition spilling out of his socks and a sabre rattle of a book on presuppositional apologetics; myself, a university student with a wayward past who had inherited a passion for the discipline from my father. But despite our fairly modest footing, we wanted to act, and Dominic suggested the idea of a journal as a way to raise awareness amongst churches and to significantly gather similarly-minded individuals.
As our plans developed and ideas for the journal percolated, our project brought us into contact with others who shared our commitment for cultural and apologetic engagement. Among them were Stuart McEwing; a graphic designer and former church youth leader, Rodney Lake; the owner of a Tauranga based software development company, himself keen to set up an apologetic-focused discussion group in his region; and Rob Ward, the president of the Manawatu Christian Apologetics society and known to Dominic already, who assisted us with web hosting and introduced us to others who were willing to write for the journal.
In June, we were enormously encouraged to have one of the most prominent apologists in the Anglophone world, Dr William Lane Craig, visit New Zealand. Every Christian has his own heroes – an author or speaker that has ignited deeper reflection and greater appreciation of our ultimate luminary, Christ himself. I’ll admit that Dr Craig was not a particular hero of either of us. Dominic and I do not identify with his classical apologetic method but, regardless, we could not deny Craig’s seismic contribution to Christian philosophy and so it was greatly exciting to have him here. Every event we attended of his was overcrowded (except perhaps at the Bible College, but this was to be expected) and well-received, with long and thoughtful question and answer sessions. There seemed little doubt – a deep desire for apologetics existed amongst many Christians. The two debates on university campuses especially pulled huge audiences. The postmodern apathy to questions of truth and religion is simply overrated. Craig’s final impressions of our country were jarring but incisive; although he was positive about his time here, he saw the evangelical church as “pietistic, insular, and culturally disengaged,” and “generally passive in the face of this secularism” with “few Christians intellectually contending for the faith”. His thoughts accorded with our own and only galvanised our efforts more.
Throughout the next few months we were able to further establish the Thinking Matters site, visit Palmerston North and meet up with Rob Ward and Chris Good. Together, we agreed to work closer alongside each other and endeavoured to unite our visions. I was able to meet with some of the national coordinators of TSCF, a student Christian ministry, with Rodney Lake and was encouraged by their enthusiasm to integrate apologetics in their ministry and establish a relationship with us.
The final January release of the journal represents a genealogy of toil and heavy-lifting – particularly by Dominic and Stuart – and, for myself, it has been a humbling experience to have had a minute role in its development. I’ve been able to meet many new people during the projects evolution and it has especially been heartening to connect with others in the country who are both zealous for the intellectual heritage of the church and confident in the the credibility of Christianity in the world of ideas. God ultimately deserves every praise and if we are to have any impact for His kingdom or are to bring about any good for the church, it is only because of His generous condescension and grace. We recognize, too, that however satisfying it is to see the journal out there now, our work has just began. The retreat from biblical Christianity at the centers of New Zealand culture continues to remind us not only of the importance of knees bent before Him in intercession, but also of minds that are illumined, sharpened and submitted to God’s word.