. . . and How I Became Interested in Apologetics
This year marks the 40th anniversary of my calling to apologetics and evangelism (at the age of 23), and my first writings along those lines. So I thought it would be good to “take a trip down memory lane.”
I was an evangelical Protestant from about April 1977 until October 1990 (having been raised nominal Methodist and later getting into the occult and a “practical atheism”). I write about this period of my life in the following portions of my long 75-page conversion to Catholicism story:
See other installments of the story and other versions of my conversion account on my Conversion and Converts web page, and the related papers:
My “Romantic / Imaginative” Conversion to Christianity [1997; rev. 9-19-03 and 9-23-15]
My Catholic Conversion (Radio Interview with Al Kresta) (transcript: includes discussion of my Protestant / occult years) [9-8-97]
Here are portions from the above articles specifically dealing with how I came to be interested in Christian apologetics:
At this time I was reading books by Hal Lindsey, since biblical prophecy (in his case, a school of thought called dispensationalism) had caught my interest, and C. S. Lewis. And I read the Bible from cover to cover. . . .
While attending [non-denominational / charismatic / “Jesus Freak”-type church] Shalom House from 1980-1982, several momentous events in my life occurred, that had tremendous and singular influence on my later apologetics career, and I started truly worshiping God from the heart at the services on Sunday, for the first time in my life.
First, I began intensely studying (with an outreach group devoted to the topic) what we called the “cults”: heretical sects that claimed to be Christian, but were not, since they denied the Holy Trinity. I specialized in Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was a form of apologetics, so I was actually seriously engaged in what would later be my life’s work, as early as 1981.
The heretical sects’ denial of the divinity of Christ led me to do a very in-depth Bible study of the evidences for that, and for trinitarianism. Later, I included this research in two of my books: Mere Christian Apologetics (KJV verses) and Theology of God (revised, with RSV verses). This constituted my first extended foray into systematic, biblical theology, and my Jehovah’s Witnesses research also brought me to my first acquaintance with early Church history: since the Church had battled against the forerunners of this error: the Arians, in the fourth century.
Secondly, one day at Pastor Joe [Shannon]’s house, I noticed evangelical apologist Josh McDowell’s classic work, Evidence That Demands a Verdict sitting on an end table. This initiated in a flash my interest in “historical apologetics”: evidences for why Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, why the Bible was trustworthy, and other similar aspects. My blog theme of “biblical evidence” comes from the phraseology of this book. I had read a few C. S. Lewis books in the late 70s, but nothing of this “historical” sort of apologetics, and it was a bombshell.
I became passionately interested in any and all intellectual reasons or rationales for why people should believe that Christianity is true, and particularly, historical arguments of this nature. Generally, things have to challenge my mind or intellectual curiosity for me to want to pursue them further. That was as true in those days as it is now. And it’s why I took so quickly to apologetics: the harmony between faith and reason.
During the same period, I had started attending Inter-Varsity Fellowship at Wayne State University, in my senior year. It emphasizes a thoughtful, more intellectual evangelicalism. I was introduced to authors like Francis Schaeffer. I regret not having gone to the Inter-Varsity meetings three years earlier, but (as with so many things in my life), “better late than never.”
Thirdly, in 1981, I participated in Shalom’s evangelistic, “witnessing” activities on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, at the Art Fair. This began a literal revolution in my life, since I had the opportunity to start sharing all of the new knowledge of Christianity I was gaining, and to apply an increasingly confident apologetics insight to evangelism: combining the intellectual with the spiritual.
I found it to be equal parts exciting and challenging: evangelism and apologetics in a live, spontaneous street setting. I had discovered what would be my vocation and my career. I knew, then, what I was to do with my life; what God wanted me to do with it.
I returned to Ann Arbor every year all through the 80s: talking and reasoning with folks of every imaginable belief-system. Prior to that time, I avoided street witnessing like the plague. Now I loved it with a passion, almost more than anything else. I believe that utilization of apologetics was the key to my great change in this regard. [source]
Interest in theology came immediately after my conversion; particularly C. S. Lewis and books about prophecy by Hal Lindsey. Biblical prophecy had a great appeal to my curiosity. Generally, things have to challenge my mind or intellectual curiosity for me to become interested in them. That was as true in those days as it is now. And that is why I took quickly to apologetics, which is a a way to harmonize faith and reason. [source]
The pastor at Shalom at the time was Joe Shannon (who in the last year has returned to the Catholic Church). Several profound influences on my life happened during this period (1980-1982). I first saw a book by Josh McDowell (Evidence That Demands a Verdict) at Joe’s house one day. I had already read C. S. Lewis, after discovering him in the Messiah Book Room (and he has since become my favorite author). I had encountered Francis Schaeffer and others in Inter-Varsity at college. Now the new thing was the historical apologetics that McDowell specializes in. I date my overt interest in and devotion to apologetics from this particular moment and time (1981). From this date I knew (finally!) what I wanted to do with my life.
In fact, my blog theme of “biblical evidence” comes from the phraseology of this book (just as I named by (1985-1989) college campus missionary outreach “True Truth Ministries” after a phrase in Schaeffer). In the same year I started doing a lot of research in opposing non-trinitarian cults (eventually specializing in Jehovah’s Witnesses), and doing my own in-depth research, such as biblical support for the divinity of Jesus and also trinitarianism and opposition to name-it-claim-it charismatic excess (papers still posted on my site today).
I described other evangelical influences at the same time (early 1980s):
I was, you might say, a typical Evangelical of the sort who had an above-average amateur theological interest. I became familiar with the works of many of the “big names”: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, John Stott, Chuck Colson, Christianity Today magazine, Keith Green and Last Days Ministries, the Jesus People in Chicago and Cornerstone magazine, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (a campus organization), as well as the Christian music scene: all in all, quite beneficial influences and not to be regretted at all.
The other thing about Shalom that had a profound influence on me was their annual forays to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, to do street evangelism there, from their own booth. This was my first chance (in Summer 1981) to do both evangelism and apologetics in a live, spontaneous street setting. I had just become fired up about apologetics and had been taught about (and urged to do) street witnessing for the previous four years in the Christian circles I moved in, but now I was actually doing it (and enjoying it very much!). This began ten straight years of attending the Art Fair. [source]
I list below articles I wrote from 1981 to 1988, that are presently on my web page. They were all written during the very spiritually and intellectually fruitful evangelical Protestant period of my life:
Me Me Me (My Earliest “Apologetics”) [6-5-81]
“In You I Hope” (Poem of Mine from 1982) [about trusting God and waiting on Him with confidence] [4-25-82]
Good News: Evangelical & Catholic Gospel Presented [June 1982; rev. 7-17-02] [I added Catholic elements to the original evangelical paper]
Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs and Evidences (KJV edition) [1982; rev. 1997] [see also the RSV edition; rev. 2012]
The Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs and Evidences (KJV edition)  [see also the RSV edition; rev. 2012]
The Messiah: Jewish / Old Testament Conceptions [1982; revised somewhat on 2-19-00]
Isaiah 53: Ancient & Medieval Jewish Messianic Interpretation [1982; revised 9-14-01]
Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Biblical & Historical Critique (+ Part Two) [1987; revised 9 August 2002] [drawn from research conducted from 1981-1984]
Comic tract (art by Dan Grajek): The Resurrection: Hoax or History? 
Comic tract (art by Dan Grajek): The Class Struggle 
Why Believe the Bible?: Archaeological, Prophetic, and Manuscript Evidences [sometime in the latter 1980s; most likely between 1985-1987]
An Introduction to Bible Interpretation [sometime in the latter 1980s; most likely between 1985-1987]
The Biblical Basis for Apologetics, or Defense of the Christian Faith [sometime in the latter 1980s; most likely between 1985-1987]
Pacifism vs. “Just War”: Biblical & Social Factors [April 1987]
Gospel: Defined by the Earliest Christian Preaching [January 1988; rev. 7-8-02]
Photo credit: Yours Truly: April 1983 (age 24). I was unemployed at that time, with a college degree, but already writing up a storm and engaged in street evangelism. I knew what my life was to be devoted to (with a strong felt calling from God). I just had to figure out how to make a living by doing it. It was a struggle that would only be definitively resolved in 2001 at the age of 43, after much suffering and heartache. I’ve been a full-time Catholic author and apologist since then. It’s sure good that we don’t know the future! We would never be able to handle it.