Madeleine and I flew back to New Zealand from Milwaukee on Tuesday having both attended the Evangelical Philosophical Society Annual Meeting, the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s Apologetics Conference. Prior to that I had spent three weeks based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will speak about the conferences later in this post but first I will summarise what I did in Charlotte.
My work in North Carolina can be divided into several categories.
First, and this was the bulk of what I did, I did a bit of speaking on a lecture circuit at various campuses in North Carolina on issues relating to God and Morality for Ratio Christi. Formally, this involved, driving to a campus, delivering a lecture and then taking a Q&A.
I learned very quickly that there was a lot more to what I was doing than the formal activity of giving lectures; in fact, most of the more important work was the informal stuff that went on behind the scenes. In addition to presenting lectures, there was often an equally important informal component. Often I would meet with students before the lecture and discuss the challenges they were facing as Christian students in a secular campus. I would offer advice, counsel, support, etc. On other occasions I would, in addition to giving the lectures, meet with the supporters and financiers of the people running student ministries and discuss with them the importance of Apologetics and of developing an intellectually robust faith among students. I found that the most important and constructive engagement and interaction with people typically occurred in these informal contexts.
Second, in addition to my major task of giving lectures, on the weekends I gave instruction in churches. After my first week I was part of a missions team that spent a weekend teaching at a church in a nearby Cherokee Reservation. The weekend after that I taught an adult education class in a Community Fellowship Church of North Carolina. The following weekend I preached from the pulpit. One Sunday evening I attended a service at a Slavic Baptist church where almost the entire service was in Russian and we needed a translator to follow what was being said. After the service I was one of a team of people who spoke to the youth group; I spent several hours fielding their very astute and intelligent questions about the Christian faith.
This work was very challenging. It is one thing to give lectures at a university when one has, as I have, spent years studying and working in universities. It is quite another speaking to Cherokee Native American Indians one week, Southern Americans the next and youth from Slavic Immigrant Families the next – especially when my own culture is Kiwi!
Third, and finally, I worked with the students at Southern Evangelical Seminary. One night when I was not lecturing, I presented an academic paper to students and graduates from the seminary, which was followed by a discussion. Another night I travelled to Belmont Abbey, a Catholic Liberal Arts College to dialogue with a Catholic theologian about the relative strengths of Natural Law Theory verses Divine Command Meta- Ethics.
Both events were focused on seminary students, to get them to be presented with new or different material to what they were familiar with so they could ask questions and be stretched in their intellectual development. I found the work over those three weeks very taxing physically, yet I enjoyed it immensely. I was giving lectures at universities, back to back, almost every day; I was often travelling for hours to and from the university in question and sometimes I would have to stay overnight with billets. As noted above the diversity of what I did stretched me.
Lecturing on campuses to potentially hostile audiences is challenging enough, particularly when one throws in a Q&A. It becomes more so when there are obvious cultural barriers such as my indecipherable New Zealand accident and tendency to speaK too quickly because of the speed of my thoughts! But, in addition to this, I was required to give a talk to theology students, to Slavic youth, adult congregants, North American Indians on Reservations, and people from a country not my own in general – these contexts forced me to adapt my material fairly quickly to these new contexts with very little prep time.
The business end of my trip however was the conference in Milwaukee. On Wednesday 16 November 2012. Both Madeleine and I presented papers at the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s Annual Meeting. In the morning I presented my paper “Peter Singer, Human Dignity and Infanticide”; this was a critical look at Peter Singer’s account of the wrongness of killing and some of his attempts to revise his position in light of criticisms by Don Marquis.
In the afternoon, Madeleine and I were on a panel discussing the book Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life along with Mary Jo Sharp, Cristian Mihut and the book’s Editors, Michael W Austin and Doug Geivett. Madeleine offered a response and critique of the chapter on “Courage” by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung and I offered a criticism of Charles Taliaferro’s chapter on “Love”.
Madeleine did extremely well, you would never have guessed, unless you knew to look for things like how she gripped the podium, that she had flown into Milwaukee at 12.05 am the night before, had been living with a pain disability aggravated by sitting for the past 4 years which was on high alert due to almost 24 hours travelling, and that she was completely shattered from working insane hours to be able to leave her litigation schedule and our children, whilst functioning on NZ time. In her typical style she spoke in a clear, articulate and forthright manner, her content was good, and I doubt anyone present could have been aware of the fact that she alone was the only speaker on the panel with no formal philosophy qualifications without reading her bio.
In addition to our own presentations, we attended a number of sessions such as Mike Austin’s talk on “Analytic Moral Theology”, Frank Beckwith’s response to the recent “After Birth Abortion” paper published in the Journal of Medicine and Ethics, Paul Copan’s discussion on Acts 17, Charles Taliaferro’s Lecture on Environmentalism, a very stimulating panel discussion on Jerry Wall’s new book which offers a Protestant Defense of Purgatory, among various other presentations including sessions on religious pluralism and the Evangelical Theological Society’s panel discussion on environmentalism.
By the time the EPS Apologetics conference started both Madeleine and I were knackered. Despite this we attended sessions on God and Morality by Frank Beckwith, Jeremy Evans’ session on Theism and the Meaning and Purpose of Life, David Baggett’s discussion of Moral Scepticism, Mike Austin’s talk on “Evangelical Blogging”, Angus Menuge, the new Evangelical Philosophical Society President’s talk on Religious Language, Gary Habermas’ talk on the Resurrection, and Mary Jo Sharp’s very useful session on effective public speaking.
In addition to the papers and sessions there was a lot of general networking going on. Paul Copan, Madeleine and I and met with a prospective publisher about co-writing a book on the moral issues surrounding the conquest narrative; it looks likely that Baker Books will accept our proposal, I will keep readers posted. I signed my publishing contract with Baker for an earlier publication. Madeleine had an interesting experience with Lee Strobel, Mary Jo Sharp, Mark Mittelberg and Chad Meister dialoguing with a prospective seeker. Mary Jo Sharp and Madeleine plotted prospective joint debate projects. Frank Beckwith and Madeleine discussed their shared religion in public life/philosophy meets law interests; Frank and I discussed possible joint projects on the abortion issue. Discussions were had with Craig Hazen about the Biola Faculty, Mark Mittelberg, Mary Jo Sharp and William Lane Craig about the possibility of their visiting New Zealand. We also met with Ratio Christi regarding the possibility of a New Zealand chapter being formed.
Since we got back, I have been following up on several potential employment opportunities that have arisen from the trip, a couple in New Zealand, a couple overseas, as well as possibility of 3 further books, one co-written with Madeleine, and various other potential projects involving ministry writing and speaking.
In addition to the scholarly stuff, I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, I saw the New York sky line, the Statue of Liberty and the New World Trade Centre. I visited a Nascar Centre, was present in the US during the re-election of Barack Obama and Cyclone Sandy. We discovered Wisconsin Cheese, Wisconsin Frozen Custard and Madeleine got to indulge in her favourite lollie flavours (candy to the US readers): cinnamon and root beer (she is happy to receive donations of either or both via post).
Needless to say we arrived home on Tuesday extremely tired but extremely grateful to everyone who supported us in making this trip from those who donated – we love you all – through to people like Simon Brace who organised the Charlotte leg, Paul Copan who shared his hotel room with us, Ratio Christi who shouted us meals, our eldest daughter Sheridan who took on the task of primary caregiver to her younger siblings – no mean task given the severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety issues of our youngest child – Mike Austin and Doug Geivett who invited Madeleine and I to speak on their Book Panel, among others (this is by no means an exhaustive list!).