"Apologetics Made Me a Much Better Thinker"
Zachary Lawson accidentally “stumbled into apologetics” while investigating something quite different:
"During the 2012 election, there were a few high profile ballot initiatives to decriminalize cannabis [marijuana], most notably in Washington and Colorado," he says. "I was familiar with all of the popular talking points and I wanted to hear something new. One morning, I was looking for the Libertarian publication Reason Magazine to get an alternative perspective. Instead, I stumbled across Stand to Reason, the apologetics group run by Greg Koukl. From there, I followed the footnotes to the scholarly literature and the rest is history, as they say."
Zachary is a student member of the RC chapter at Texas A&M University. He was recently recognized with our Legatus Christi designation for his outstanding application of apologetics. Chapter Director Glenn Smith explains why he chose Zachary as a Legatus Christi recipient:
“Zachary is educated beyond his years. He has a very sharp, inquisitive mind that has learned a tremendous amount of theology and apologetics while getting a difficult technical science degree. He has been a de facto co-leader of the RC chapter for the last three years. His capabilities at such a young age are awe-inspiring.”
We had the opportunity for a Q&A session with Zachary-- read what he had to say!
Q: When did you find Christ as your Savior?
A: My religious background is a little murky. I grew up in a strongly charismatic denomination. When I was eight years old, I had an ecstatic experience of speaking with other tongues, believing myself to have been infilled by the Holy Ghost. However, when I was sixteen, I had intense doubts about my faith, particularly centering on the age of Earth. Additionally, I was afraid that my experience of God was purely psychological and I stopped speaking in tongues from that point on. Since I was scared about honestly opening up about my doubts, I just ignored them.
When I turned eighteen and transitioned into college, I realized that those were questions I couldn’t keep ignoring. Whether there was a God or not, I needed to at least have a point of view. It was through that process of seeking that I came to a fuller understanding of Christianity and placed my faith in Christ. I would say that I came to full genuine faith when I was nineteen.
Q: How much did you learn in your high school youth group about the Christian faith and reasons to believe?
A: We favored an experiential relationship with God. The reasons to believe were God’s witness in your heart, His revelation to you through speaking tongues, prophetic utterances in the church, and so on. I don’t want to open up a cessations debate (the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the apostolic age), but in my particular case, I realized that my personal spiritual experiences were inauthentic and these reasons stopped being persuasive to me.
Q: After discovering apologetics, how did you get involved with RC?
A: I actually got the opportunity to meet Greg Koukl in person last year and told him my story! I think I heard about Ratio Christi through one of his radio broadcasts, and then I tracked down the Texas A&M chapter.
Q: How would you describe the Texas A&M chapter?
A: Our RC meetings center on a different topic each week. One member is designated ahead of time. She or he will research the topic and guide the discussion. Sometimes, the topic is data-heavy and more fitting as a lecture instead of a discussion. After each meeting, we gather at an on-campus restaurant to socialize, invite folks who couldn't make it earlier, and talk about other apologetics topics that are too weird to address in the main meeting.
Everyone is welcome to attend, irrespective of religious beliefs, but it’s mostly Christians that attend because of campus demographics. But we have actively collaborated with the Atheist & Agnostic Student Group to host some joint discussions, and hope to do so more in the future. We also try to have a strong online presence; we post audio of some of our meetings on our podcast and we will typically post a summary of the discussion on our website.
The fact that Texas A&M is the birthplace of the Breakaway Ministries Bible study organization should probably tell you all you need to know. The campus environment is quite tolerant of Christian views. We find ourselves primarily in a position to serve other student ministries, unlike the RC chapters at more secular-minded universities.
Q: In what ways has apologetics enriched your life, your own faith, and your witness to others?
A: As I mentioned above, apologetics was what brought me to faith and made me a much better thinker in all areas of my life.
Having a deeper understanding of theology also adds a richer dimension to my personal devotion. A favorite story of mine comes from when I was a counselor at a Christian camp. We ended each day with a group prayer in our cabins. One of my campers asked why my prayers always ended by thanking the Father, the Son, and the Spirit for different things. This gave me the opportunity to explain both the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the unique role each divine Person plays in our salvation.
Following the rabbit trail of questions I have about my faith has also led me down some unexpected paths. Studying textual criticism of the New Testament helped me understand the field of phylogenetics so much better. In the process of researching epistemology, the idea of a statistical null hypothesis finally made sense to me.
(Phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of species. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief.)
Q: How do you imagine carrying the apologetics you’ve learned into your future endeavors?
A: Apologist J. Warner Wallace has this idea of a “one-dollar” apologist (the theory that the world needs a million "one dollar" apologists more than it needs one more "million dollar" apologist). I imagine fulfilling that role in my local church once I’m finished with graduate school. I don’t have the business sense to initiate a full time ministry.
Q: You just graduated; congratulations! What’s next for you?
A: I graduated with my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering this past May and will pursue my M.S. here at Texas A&M. I’m stepping back my involvement in the RC chapter. We have some fantastic undergraduate leaders and I’m excited to see what they do during these next few years.
One project that I do intend to continue is the Think Theism podcast which we started last year. Our goal this coming year is to interview several prominent Christian faculty members here at Texas A&M.
Q: In closing, tell us anything else you’d like our readers to know.
A: One thing I didn’t mention is my passion for peer-review. If you’re an up-and-coming apologist, hold yourself to the highest standard of scholarship. When RC at TAMU puts together materials for distribution, we make sure to use well documented, peer-reviewed sources from academic journals, books, and lectures. Don’t repeat a claim unless you can track down where it came from.
My time in Ratio Christi has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my college experience. I would like to thank all of the Aggies who I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made. I’m grateful to my parents - to my mom for teaching me to speak truth in love and to my dad for teaching me to never stop asking questions.
If my background story resonates with your own experiences and you would like to talk about it, feel free to reach out to me!
Lastly, a shout-out to my girlfriend Ada for putting up with my ramblings about the metaphysics of time!
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Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details