Norman Geisler, defender of Christian faith, dies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) -- Norman Geisler, one of the foremost defenders of the Christian faith in the discipline known as apologetics, died Monday (July 1). He was 86.

Norman Geisler
 
Tributes to Geisler soon appeared in Religion News Service, Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine, among others.

Rob Phillips, who leads the apologetics ministry of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recounted to Baptist Press, "I first encountered Dr. Geisler more than 30 years ago when I saw him defend the deity of Christ on a television program. He spoke with such conviction and clarity that I began buying his books. To this day, one of my favorite apologetics resources is a book he wrote with Frank Turek, 'I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.'

"In many respects, Dr. Geisler was the layman's scholar," said Phillips, author of a new book, "What Every Christian Should Know about the Trinity." Geisler had "a unique ability to unpack complex doctrinal issues in a conversational way that every Christian could understand and share with others," Phillips said. "I am deeply grateful for the legacy he built for the benefit of all who seek to defend the Christian faith." (See Phillips' descriptor of apologetics following this article.)

Geisler was on the drafting committee for the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, joining Carl F.H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, Harold Lindsell, J.I. Packer, John MacArthur and others as its first signatories.

Geisler authored, coauthored and/or edited 127 books during a ministry spanning nearly 70 years.

He wrote four-volume and one-volume works in systematic theology, spanning nearly 4,500 pages. In "The Apologetics Study Bible," published through LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2007, he contributed articles on "Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?" and "How Can We Know the Bible Includes the Correct Books?"

Philip Tallon, chair of apologetics at Houston Baptist University and assistant professor of theology and author of "The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith," wrote in comments to Baptist Press, "Anyone who has spent time in the world of apologetics will be familiar with the work of Norm Geisler. His prolific output marked him as a figure to be reckoned with and to wrestle with. It's impossible to imagine the current state of apologetics being what it is without his work."

Melissa Cain Travis, HBU assistant professor of apologetics, told BP, "While I never had the honor of meeting Dr. Geisler in person ... I've lost count of how many of my associates and friends have mentioned Dr. Geisler's profound influence upon their work. His legacy is unfathomable."

Geisler was the co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., in 1992, serving as its president from 1998-2006, and of Veritas International University in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2007, serving as its chancellor until retiring from public ministry in May of this year.

RNS stated that Geisler stepped away from teaching due to health reasons while Christianity Today reported that he had been hospitalized over the June 28 weekend for a blood clot on his brain.

Richard Land, the current president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, noted that "a spiritual giant walked among us," in a news release after Geisler's death.

"Christendom has lost one of its greatest advocates and defenders.... We take comfort in the fact that the prodigious work product he left behind will continue to inform us and to equip us more ably to fulfill God's purposes in our ministries," said Land, who led the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1988 until his 2013 retirement.

From 1970-1992, Geisler held faculty positions at the Chicago-area Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Theological Seminary and Liberty University in Virginia.

Co-founder of the International Society of Christian Apologetics in 2006, Geisler held a Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola University in Chicago; master's and undergraduate degrees from Wheaton College in Illinois in theology and philosophy, respectively; and an advanced theology degree from William Tyndale College in Michigan.

"More than a half-century of Christian experience has led me to the conviction that few enduring lessons in life come through pleasure. All of mine have come through pain," Geisler, the son of alcoholic parents in Michigan, wrote in an article for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in January 2018 titled "A Good God in an Evil World."

He wrote of the "untimely death" of his daughter Rhoda, though not recounting specifics. The trip from Asheville to Charlotte after receiving the news of her death, he wrote, was "the longest two-hour trip I have ever taken. It felt like I was in a submarine, peering out through an ocean of tears."

Yet, he noted, "If there is an ultimate moral standard or law of justice, then there must be an ultimate moral Law Giver. Without His moral law we would not even know what evil really is. And without His spiritual comfort we would not be able to endure evil -- at least not with any realistic hope and comfort."

Geisler is survived by his wife of 62 years Barbara Jean, six children, 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His funeral will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 6, at Calvary Church in Charlotte.

***

The importance of apologetics

By Rob Phillips

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Christian apologetics is a term that often is misunderstood. The word "apologetics" does not mean Christians should apologize for our faith. Rather, the word comes from the Greek apologia, which simply means "a defense." To engage in Christian apologetics is to defend the biblical doctrines that form the foundation of our faith.

Equally important, the apostle Peter makes it clear that every follower of Jesus is called to be an apologist. In 1 Peter 3:15 he writes, "but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." He goes on to say, "Yet do this with gentleness and respect" (v. 16). In other words, apologetics is simply defending the Christian faith with gentleness and respect so we may share the hope of eternal life with others. No believer is exempt from this call.

Christian apologetics matters for at least three simple reasons.

First, our faith depends on it. Since the first century, Christians have suffered and even died rather than abandon the core doctrines of the Christian faith -- doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection, justification by faith and others. These are the non-negotiables of our faith; without them, we don't have genuine Christianity.

Second, our witness depends on it. For example, major religions and counterfeit forms of Christianity all have high views of Jesus. But without exception, they fail to properly answer the question Jesus asked in Matthew 16:15: 'Who do you say that I am?' We need to answer this question as Peter did so that we may witness effectively to those who have a form of religion but are blinded by Satan in their pursuit of the truth.

"Third, our future depends on it. We have seen in our lifetime the eroding of biblical faithfulness in our churches with respect to human sexuality, marriage, the dignity of the womb, the need for repentance and other beliefs that have characterized the church for 2000 years. If Christians today fail to understand and defend foundational New Testament teachings, we have become those the apostle Paul warned about -- those who depart from the faith and give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). The call to Christian apologetics is a noble one, and it is a call to every follower of Jesus everywhere and at all times.

Art Toalston is the senior editor of Baptist Press.
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