RC is blessed to have many workers in our ministry supporting this viewpoint expressed by our New York Regional Director James Pannafino. His directorship currently consists of the RC chapters at the University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, Brooklyn College, and Geneseo State University.
Pannafino also regularly speaks as an itinerant (traveling) apologist for RC.
“I feel my main ministry – both in my church and on the campuses – is as an itinerant apologist, thanks to a church that funds me,” he says. “They are equipping others for their work of ministry as in Ephesians 4:12.”
As if that’s not enough of a mission, Pannafino is also on staff at the Mars Hill Radio Network (MHN) where he serves the network’s listening community as their staff apologist, and in return MHN promotes his speaking schedule and RC events. He also recently created the website Big Life Questions (photo at left) with “Apologetics 101” and “The Apologetics Methodology of Jesus,” a Power Point presentation that has proven to be one of his most potent demonstrations (see several sample slides from the Power Point at the end of this article).
Discovering Jesus and apologetics
After spending his youth with a focus on sports, Pannafino began searching for spiritual meaning. “I investigated everything except Christianity. At twenty-six, I bought a Bible and discovered Jesus,” he says at his RC biography page. “I made it my life goal to impact the next generation of ‘thinkers’ for the wondrous cause of the gospel.”
Pannafino graduated Magna Cum Laude from Liberty Baptist Seminary with a concentration in apologetics and world religions. We talked with him about his journey so far with Ratio Christi, his Big Life Questions ministry, and what seems to be an obvious “God-intervention” at Syracuse University.
Q. How did you get involved with Ratio Christi?
A. Three or four years ago, I met John Sanford at a conference and he told me about RC (Sanford is chapter director at Geneseo State and also one of today’s leading published authorities on the problems that exist in the Darwinian theory of evolution). John mentioned what they were doing at Geneseo. I talked to Blake Anderson (RC’s COO), Tom Gilson (then the national director of chapter formation) and drove to meet RC’s first president, Rick Schenker. I felt led to help start a chapter at Syracuse.
When it came time to desire being an authorized school group, I met with the person who has to approve school groups and was told “we can’t have you on campus because you believe in absolute truth.”
Syracuse was founded in the 1860s as a Methodist school but has become a typical secular university. RC referred me to Alliance Defending Freedom for legal advice, and they left it up to us to pursue. Private schools are allowed to have more restrictions than public.
Q. So how did you proceed?
A: A chaplain at the school called me and said someone in the administration was mad at him because he was associated with me. But Syracuse has two campuses within one, and this administrator had no jurisdiction in the other. I told the chaplain I would leave, but within an hour I had a call from the other school asking me to move RC to that campus – that many people were interested! They did not even know what had happened at the other school!
Q: What compelled you to come up with a Power Point presentation as one of your main apologetics tools, and where can it be most effective?
A: Regardless of what atmosphere people are in, they often gloss over spoken words. After twelve or thirteen minutes they disengage. I found Power Point very effective in holding attention longer. We want people hungry for the word.
I’ll take our chapters to meet in places that Christian kids know about. Jesus wants us to engage the culture. When we think about how much we are engaging the culture and need to “go,” we encourage taking the apologetics out to restaurants and other public places.
We do a “Thinkers Club” on various topics, sometimes with the Power Point, welcoming anyone walking by, or walking to their dining tables, and asking them what their opinion is. They are always interested in getting involved in the conversation. Our students tell me they have never had so much fun talking to other people about the gospel. The Power Point mentions how many apologetics resources are available, best books, stories, videos, and naming outstanding thinkers.
Q: What kind of questions do you pose?
A: We pose questions like, ‘what are the major problems on college campuses today’? Most of the time, we’re told the major problems include alcoholism, sexual abuse, and the issue of political correctness. And we ask, ‘what’s your hope for these problems?’
After letting them speak, then it will be explained why RC is here and that the Gospel is what changes people. It’s biblical, it’s transferable, and it works, because it’s built on the narrative of Jesus.
Q: Do you feel that enough Christians are reaching out this way?
A: If someone is a Christian, they have a hunger and thirst for the things of God. You don’t need to brow-beat them to read the Bible or seek out resources, or have a desire to converse with others about what matters. But many people, including pastors, aren’t appropriately evangelistic in sharing the Word, or are not telling their people they should also be doing it.
The church began disengaging around the time that the Darwin theory becoming popular. The church in Europe was the first to be confronted and couldn’t answer what to do about Genesis being real. Liberalism in evolutionary versus creation ideas is rooted there. Combine this with the new progressiveness, the rise in depression, and the church has really never recovered. But I’m convinced we can come back.
People are willing to have a conversation when you talk about what defines you as “a person.” My daughter had a friend who committed suicide recently. If people learn solid reasons that the Bible is true and can be trusted, and that science does not conflict with the Word of God, things like this may not happen so often and may be more preventable.
Pannafino wishes to thank Davis College in Binghamton, NY, where he is also in partnerships, for putting the Big Life Questions web ministry together. To support our work in New York State, please go here to designate your funds to a chapter or chapters listed in this article.