Religion Magazine

Apologetics in Canada

By Sjbedard @sjbedard

In 2004, Canadian religion writer Tom Harpur wrote a bestselling book claiming that Jesus never existed. In 2010, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens debated on the moral merits of religion at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Hitchens was seen by many as the winner of debate, perhaps because 57% of audience already agreed with him according to a pre-debate poll. The Centre for Inquiry Canada continues to run an atheist bus campaign with signs stating: “There’s probably no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Is apologetics or the rational defense of the Christian faith still relevant for the twenty-first century church? These and many other stories, including our increasingly multi-religious landscape, would seem to indicate that the need has only increased. Of course there are many apologetics speakers and authors out there, including well known figures such as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler. As helpful as these apologists are, there is one problem: they are all Americans writing in an American context.

Canada is not the fifty-first state but has a culture of its own. There is a need for Christian thinkers who are immersed in Canadian culture to speak to the intellectual challenges to the faith within the Canadian context. Thankfully, this is indeed happening. One of the best known Christian apologists today is Ravi Zacharias, who has a Canadian connection, having emigrated to Canada and earning a degree from what is now Tyndale University College and Seminary. Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM) continues to have a presence in Canada led by Andy Bannister. Andy Bannister explains “My role as Canadian Director of RZIM is to look to extend RZIM’s ministry as widely into the Canadian scene as possible.” Andy Bannister lectures and trains Christians across Canada.

Former Canadian Director of RZIM, Joe Boot also has an apologetics ministry in Canada. Joe Boot is the pastor of Westminster Chapel in Toronto and is the founding president of the Ezra Institute of Contemporary Christianity (EICC). The mission of the EICC is “To equip God’s people to defend, demonstrate, and apply biblical Christian faith in every sphere of life, as defined by scripture and as commanded in both the cultural mandate and the great commission, in order to advance the Kingdom of God in Canada, and submit all things to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Universities and seminaries are active in the areas of apologetics. The ACTS Seminaries of Trinity Western University in Langley BC has established the Institute for Christian Apologetics. According to their web-site, “The purpose of the Institute is to train Christian scholars, leaders and lay people to communicate the Christian faith in a way that is accurate, appealing and defensible.” There are scholars across the country who respond to contemporary challenges, from John Stackhouse at Regent College to Stanley Porter at McMaster Divinity College to Craig Evans at Acadia Divinity College.

These contributions to the defense of the faith are welcome as the challenges to the Canadian church are significant. Andy Bannister comments: “I sense that the challenge, as it is in Europe, is overcoming the fear that many Christians have that they’ll look foolish if they speak up for what they believe.” John Stackhouse notes: “that few churches and few pastors are regularly teaching their congregations so as to equip them to respond to the questions that do arise, whether from the latest New Age guru appearing on a talk show or the latest New Atheist whose book is being read by a thoughtful friend.” Stackhouse continues: “It’s as if most Canadian Christian leaders are out of touch with what thoughtful non-Christians and, indeed, their own young adult Christians are thinking and dealing with.”

To accomplish this, it is not as simple as just applying American models to Canadian needs, as both the secular and evangelical cultures are distinct from the American versions. Despite the challenges, there are some encouraging signs of hope. Andy Bannister explains: “I’m incredibly excited by the passion for apologetics I’m seeing among the young — among youth and students. If we can fire up young minds to think through what they believe, to understand their culture, to be able to communicate clearly into it — then the future might be very exciting.” Apologetic ministry with young people is the focus of Joe Boot and his work with the EICC as well. Tony Costa, an apologist from Toronto, is actively involved in debates and in training Christians in the local church or university campus. There is the Network of Christian Apologists in Calgary, a group of laypeople with regular day jobs, who seek to promote apologetic-related events in a Calgary. There is also a group of Canadian bloggers who cooperate as the Canadian Apologetics Coalition.

There are reasons for Canadians to be thankful with regard to the apologetic activity that is taking place within our nation. While many of the apologists doing work within Canada are from Britain or the United States, they are at least developing their defense of the Christian faith within a Christian context. The hope is that more Canadian scholars, pastors and laypeople will catch the vision for presenting the Christian faith in a rational and reasonable way to our skeptical culture.

  • Andy Bannister
  • Apologetics
  • Canada
  • Canadian Apologetics Coalition
  • Craig Evans
  • Joe Boot
  • John Stackhouse
  • Network of Christian Apologists in Calgary
  • Ravi Zacharias
  • Stanley Porter
  • Tony Costa

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