2009 National Apologetics Conference

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Southern Evangelical Seminary is hosting their annual apologetics conference on Nov. 13 and 14 in Charlotte, NC.  The conference will feature speakers such as William Lane Craig, Chuck Colson, Dinesh D’Souza, Greg Koukl, Gary Habermas, Hank Hanegraaff, and Peter Kreeft (click here for the full speaker list).  These men are all incredible defenders of the Christian faith and many of them have deeply influenced my journey into Christian apologetics.

If you can possibly make this conference, please come.  You will learn so much that your mind and heart will be bursting by the end of it!  I have attended the conference several times and have always thoroughly enjoyed it.  I promise you’ll have a great time and you will be challenged to grow in your faith more than you can imagine.

  • Rick Brentlinger

    I’ve listened to Dinesh D’Souza and enjoyed his intellectual approach.

    However, I wonder how a practicing Roman Catholic fits into a conservative evangelical apologetics conference.

    Does Southern Evangelical Seminary no longer make a distinction between the Catholic view of justification by faith and the Biblical view?

    Is it wise for evangelical Christians to bring in a practicing Catholic to instruct Christians in Apologetics (the defense of the faith)?

    Without the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith, what faith are you defending?

    If Dinesh holds to the Roman Catholic view of justification, he shouldn’t be accorded a platform to teach apologetics to evangelical Christians.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Rick,
    SES does cover the topic of justification by faith extensively in its systematic theology classes, and the professors also teach the distinctions between the Catholic understanding of this topic and the evangelical understanding.

    However, apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith, which is commonly defined by essential doctrines that all Christians share in common. These essentials of the faith can be found in my post on this topic.

    Roman Catholics affirm all of these essential doctrines, so I believe that they should be welcome at the apologetics conference, as would any Christian who affirms these essentials. Now, if this conference were specifically concerned with teaching people about the evangelical view of justification by faith, and we were inviting Catholics to teach on that subject, you would have a point. But the issue of justification by faith is not an apologetics issue, but an in-house Christian debate. The bottom line for me and most of the conservative evangelicals I know, is that Roman Catholics are Christian, even if they err in their understanding of justification.

    I am not saying it’s not an important issue, but I am saying that this particular conference tent has enough room to fit our Catholic friends who are defending “mere” Christianity. We may disagree on justification by faith, but we agree on many other issues that opponents of Christianity raise against us.

    Thanks for your comment,

  • kay

    Feel so dumb saying anything, because really don’t know what you are talking about. But I have only met one Catholic in my life that seems to even care about Biblical principles. They never mention God, don’t go to church, certainly don’t obey, live anyway they want and appear to think it is ok. And their adult children are the same way.

    When other Christians don’t obey, I think they at least feel bad about it, even if they don’t change, unless they aren’t saved to begin with.

  • Rick Brentlinger

    Justification by faith is fundamental to salvation. If one believes salvation is by anything but “faith alone in Christ alone,” whatever they profess, they are definitely not Christian.

    Concerning the list at the Link you gave, it seems to me Catholicism denies the Biblical view of #8, the necessity of God’s grace (teaching that grace is conveyed through RC sacraments), #9, the necessity of faith (linking salvation to sprinkling/baptism instead of faith in Christ alone).

    You state at the page you Linked to that these “all must be explicitly believed for justification.”

    Yet Roman Catholicism has never taught that and according to your Link, “So what makes a religious group non-Christian?  In my opinion, any religious group who denies one of these 14 doctrines has placed themselves outside of orthodox Christianity and cannot properly call themselves Christian… a person who belongs to a religious group who is denying one or more of these doctrines should want to remove themselves from that group and find a group of Christians who uphold these essentials.”

    Justification in Catholicism

    The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the way a person comes to salvation is, in the first instance, they are baptized, and baptism works—by the working of the works, virtually automatically, infusing the grace of justification in the soul, effecting regeneration and justifying grace, so a person is now justified by baptism, and that is good until or unless that person commits Mortal Sin.

    Mortal Sin is called “Mortal Sin” because it destroys the grace, this justifying grace that has been implanted and infused into the soul at baptism. That’s why you have confession. That is why you have the Sacrament of Penance, which became the center of the controversy in the 16th century.

    The Sacrament of Penance, Rome defines and redefines at Trent, as the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls, that is, once you commit Mortal Sin, that sin is called “Mortal” because it kills the grace of justification that you received at Baptism, and so you need to get justified again, and that comes through another sacrament, namely the sacrament of Penance.

    Now what that provoked in the 16th century was in the second question, not only, “What is the ground and the basis of justification, whether it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to me or infused in me?”

    The other question was, “What is the instrumental cause of my justification?” Going back to Aristotelian language, the instrumental cause is defined as that cause or means by which an effect is brought to pass, and when the reformers said that, “Justification is by faith alone (sola fide),” the word “by” there meant the instrumental dative: the means by which I appropriate the righteousness of Christ and therefore am justified—is by faith and by faith alone.

    Whereas, Rome taught the instrumental cause of justification is not faith—it is the sacraments, in the first instance baptism, in the second instance penance. So that was a major point of difference on the “how” question, of how a person is saved.

  • Rick Brentlinger

    Justification by faith-

    “We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone”

    Do you believe that the gospel is at stake in what we are talking about?

    JOHN MACARTHUR – “Oh, absolutely—that is what is at stake. I was just going to mention a parallel. The Apostle Paul in Romans 10, obviously we know his heart and his passion for Israel, he actually said he, “could almost wish himself accursed for their salvation.”

    Nobody would question that Israel was devoted to God, that they had a zeal for God, that they tried their best to follow the Law and all of the prescriptions. I mean, that it is a very close parallel to the same kind of situation, and he says in Romans 10, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” I mean, it was clear that they had missed the whole point of a gracious salvation. A salvation that came from God and God alone—apart from any works.

    He said, “I bear them witness, this I’ll grant them: they have a zeal for God, but it is not according to knowledge. Because they do not understand God’s righteousness and they seek to establish their own.” That is exactly what you have going on in the Roman Catholic Church.

    And, “so they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God,” in other words, they did not understand the righteousness of God—they went to seek their own righteousness, therefore they missed the righteousness of God, and he says in the next verse, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Christ is the righteousness, and Israel missed it and Paul confronted it, Jesus confronted it, I mean He blistered the Jewish leaders for their defection.

    JOHN MACARTHUR: Well, I think that is in grave error! And just going back, if I can make the point solidly, to borrow the language of the Apostle Paul, “Any attempt at self-righteousness, no matter how noble the effort, no matter how frequently the “God” vocabulary is used and the divine is brought into it—any attempt at self-righteousness, Paul classifies as “skubalon” (Greek), in Philippians 3. That word is about as vivid a word as he could possibly use. It could be translated “rubbish”—the most accurate translation is “dung.”

    When you talk about a work-righteousness system, of any kind, it is so far from saving that it is rubbish, it’s garbage. That’s why Paul said, “All my life” he said, “I tried to achieve this stuff, and I had all this stuff in my gain column,” remember that in Philippians 3? “And then I saw Christ, and a righteousness which came not by the law, but a righteousness was given to me by faith—the righteousness of God and immediately all what was gained was “skubalon.””

    R.C. SPROUL – “When my Roman Catholic friends tell me they believe in Jesus as Savior, do they mean by that statement that they are trusting in the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account, forensically by God, through faith alone?

    Or, do they mean, that Jesus is their Savior in the sense that He helps them, have the ability to gain the merit necessary for God, to declare them just? Do you see that, that is a world of difference in understanding Jesus as Savior?”

  • Rick Brentlinger

    Just so I don’t create the wrong impression.

    I respect and admire Dinesh D’Souza and hold him in high regard.

    My questions are not about Dinesh as an individual.

    But I am concerned when a conservative evangelical group seems to be so easily blurring the line between Biblical Christianity and works-based religion.

    I pray our Lord gives you grace and wisdom as you welome Dinesh and Chris for their debate.

    I pray that your loving interaction with them, the hospitality of your attendees and Dinesh and Chris seeing “Christ in you” will encourage both men to trust Jesus Christ as Savior.


  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Rick,
    I think I disagree that Catholics deny the necessity of grace or the necessity of faith.

    They believe that God’s grace is absolutely necessary for any person to be saved. They also believe that the Catholic Church can dispense this grace, but they are merely the instruments by which God bestows his grace. It is still his grace, regardless of what instruments he uses to apply it to people.

    Second, it is true that infant baptism, and thus initial justification, does not require faith, but Catholics believe that adults, as they come to understand what Christ did for them, must have faith to be saved. The sacrament of Confirmation gives the Catholic young person a chance to express their faith in Christ. Besides, many evangelicals believe that infants who die go to heaven, but infants cannot express faith in Christ. I think it is a little inconsistent to claim that evangelicals only believe in salvation through faith when we clearly make exceptions for those who are too young to understand.

    Bottom line, Catholics do believe in the necessity of grace and faith for salvation. My problem with their view is that they do not believe in grace alone and faith alone. They add works to the equation, which is clearly not correct.

    Where we draw this line between Christian and non-Christian is important. You and I just disagree on this issue. I’m curious what others think, and especially our Catholic friends. I know that some of them read this blog, but I wonder if they will speak up on this issue.

    God bless,

  • Pingback: Should Catholic Apologists Be Invited to Speak at an Evangelical Apologetics Conference? « Tough Questions Answered()

  • How sad a day it is to see an “apologetics conference” with RCC and Evangelicals.

    It is even sadder to see someone of your caliber say justification by faith is not an essential to the faith.

    You have a master’s degree in apologetics from a well known institution! Don’t you know that Roman Catholics outright deny justification by faith? Obviously, they believe faith is important, but please Bill don’t tell us out here in the blogosphere that justification by faith is not an essential. (cf Gal 1:8)

  • Finally, someone else who sees the major fallacy of inviting a practicing Roman Catholic as a presenter at an evangelical apologetics conference.

    Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says:

    “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema”

    (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

    “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.” (Canon 14).

  • Bill Pratt

    Again, RC’s do believe that faith is necessary for salvation, at least as far as I understand their beliefs. I have spoken to several Catholics about this and they agree. What I am saying is that the particular understanding of justification by faith that the reformers developed in the 16th century is not an essential doctrine for someone to believe in order for that person to be saved or for that person to claim they are a Christian.

    Must a person understand the theological intricacies of soterioology to be saved? I think not. Therefore, to claim that Christians from AD 100 to AD 1500 were not saved because Luther and Calvin had not yet spoken seems to me quite odd.

    Again, this is an important issue and I stand with the reformers’ understanding of justification, but to claim that anyone who doesn’t believe this doctrine is non-Christian seems wrong to me. In fact, if you stick with this approach, then you end up excluding much of today’s Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even many Protestants (Arminians, Wesleyans, and others who do not strictly hue to the Calvinist understanding of justification). You also exclude most Christians who lived before the Reformation. Our apologetics conferences would start to get pretty small.

  • Bill-

    It seems to me you are misconstruing the issue.

    I certainly believe some Catholics are genuinely born again. BUT, they didn’t get genuinely born again by believing what was promulgated at the Council of Trent or Vatican II or what is generally taught in their churches.

    Catholicism in general is a form of goddess worship, featuring Mary as “the Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven.”

    Catholicism views Mary as Co-Redemptrix with Christ.

    To bring a practicing Catholic to your evangelical Apologetics Conference to debate a practicing atheist and defend the “Christian” view is odd beyond belief.

    Very little of what Catholicism teaches can be considered Christian in the Biblical sense of that word.

    Your argument seems to be that we must consider Catholics Christian or no one prior to the Reformation can be considered Christian.

    That is fallacious reasoning, a straw man argument to distract from the real issue, which is that your Apologetics Conference considers Catholics in general to be Christians.

    Dr. John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and many others disagree with you.

    By blurring the line of distinction about Catholicism, you’re making it much more difficult to win lost Roman Catholics to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Bill Pratt

    Do you consider Lutherans, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox non-Christian as well? All of them perform infant baptism, a baptism which initiates justification. Clearly the baby’s faith is not involved, and so would you ban them from the conference as well?

  • As I understand Lutheran, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox belief, they do not take the Catholic view that grace is infused through works, through RC Church authority, through RC sacraments.

    But of course, you already know that.

    I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and witnessed to lots of Catholics including priests and nuns.

    Based on personal experience, many many Catholics are not saved because they’re trusting their infant baptism or their church membership or their sacramental religion instead of trusting Jesus Christ.

    I’ve talked to Lutherans, Anglicans and a few Eastern Orthodox and almost without exception, they were trustin Jesus Christ for salvation, not their infant baptism or their sacramental rites or their good works.

    I have never suggested banning Catholics from your Apologetics conference.

    I’ve questioned why you’ve invited a Catholic to defend the Christian position against an atheist who believes in George Gamow’s big bang theory.

    Official Catholic teaching is that God created the universe via theistic evolution. The Pope is a Darwinian evolutionist and has stated as much in the last year.

    Unless Dinesh D’Souza rejects official Catholic teaching (which embraces evolution), the man you’ve chosen to represent Christianity against Christopher Hitchins is neither a young earth creationist nor an old earth creationist.

    He is instead a believer in Darwinian evolution and that belief is, by no stretch of the imagination, Christian.

    Again I must ask:

    How can having someone with those anti-Biblical, Catholic beliefs possibly produce a good result in your evangelical Apologetics conference?

  • For what its worth, it seems a muddy issue as to whether Dinesh is a Catholic or not.

    In a November 30, 2008 interview, Dinesh D’Souza says he and his wife Dixie are “members of the Horizon Christian Fellowship Church” of San Diego.


    Wikipedia notes that Dinesh is Roman Catholic.

    Dinesh’s website says:

    “Business Week characterized D’Souza “as a sort of Indian William F. Buckley, Jr.,” because of his Catholicism, Ivy League background, courtly manner, and mischievous wit.”

    And Dinesh describes himself as:

    “A believing Catholic but a poorly practicing one,”

  • Bill Pratt

    “As I understand Lutheran, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox belief, they do not take the Catholic view that grace is infused through works, through RC Church authority, through RC sacraments.”

    These groups do not believe in justification by faith alone, which is the doctrine I thought we were discussing. They believe that the sacrament of baptism can infuse grace into a child without that child’s faith.

    In any case, you’ve raised several other interesting issues which I would like to discuss further. Hopefully I’ll have some more time tomorrow. Thanks for your comments. You’ve given me some things to think about!

  • Bill,

    Yes, Justification by Faith Alone (JFA) is a prerequiste to salvation. This is the clear message of Galatians and Romans (who cares about the Reformers).

    To be honest, I think that you and I (and the people who agree with me) have a different understanding of what JFA means. It seems to me you are taking it as whatever Luther and Calvin believed, however this is not what I or your other detractors, mean by JFA.

    Simply it is we are saved on the basis of

    1) Faith alone

    2) Faith + Something else

    So at this point, I will not say “JFA” since it seems to be causing some confusio, so I will just say “option 1.”

    Remember, Martin Luther, one of the most ardent defenders of JFA, believed in baptismal regenration of sorts. How he could believe the 2, I don’t know. Why brings this up? B/c Lutherans, Anglicans, and Arminians agree on option 1 – I believe they are inconsistent, but as far as salvation goes, it is faith alone! This is what Paul so powerfully argues in Galatians and in Gal 1:8, says anyone else is to be anathema.

    Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy, not only believe in faulty views of baptism, but more importantly outright deny option 1 and go with option 2.

    Bill, you say you have talked to Catholics who you say believe in option 1 that’s good, but I have met Catholics like that and followers of Eastern Orthodoxy who also affirm option. BUT WHAT EVEYRONE IS SAYING HERE IS THAT THEIR OFFICIAL CHURCH DOGMA DOES NOT TEACH OPTION 1, RATHER OPTION 2.

  • “Argh, I pressed submit to early…”

    You also say that you affirm the reformers view on JFA – well you do not. The reformers were clear that if you did not believe in JFA, you were not saved.


    The doctrine by which the Church stands or falls – Martin Luther

    For the doctrine of justification by faith [alone] is like Atlas. It bears a whole world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of God the Savior – Dr. J.I. Packer

    Bill, I hope that clears up the issue. It is not about the theological nuances of justication by faith alone, it is simply about what of your works merits salvation?

    The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, simply put believes Christ death on the cross was not enough, but we also need to do our part (mass, baptism, etc.)

    The Lutherans, Anglicans, and Arminians (many of them anyway) don’t believe that and if the catholics you have met don’t believe that praise God. But it doesn’t change the fact that option is essential for salvation and is the very thing that the church will fall or stand on.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Rick,
    I have heard Dinesh D’Souza debate atheists and he does an excellent job. In fact, he has written books refuting the new atheism and spoken extensively on the topic. I can assure you that his contribution to the conference will be very positive. He debated at the conference last year as well, and his approach in the debate was well received.

    We are never going to agree 100% with anyone who speaks at a conference. I have no problem inviting Catholics to an apologetics conference and hearing them debate the existence of God with an atheist. I may not agree with everything D’Souza believes, but I don’t have to. We agree on the issues he’s being asked to debate.