Apologetics in South Africa, or Lack Thereof.

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Cape Town, South Africa.

Some readers at my site will probably know that I live in Cape Town, South Africa. This puts me at quite a distance from my main American readership base (although South African viewership hovers around 7th place, which I think is a success). The religious climate is certainly thriving in the US especially in retrospection of apologetics; apologetics is the giving of viable reasons to place faith in the truth claims of Christianity. Over in the US there seems to be a good supply of regular high profile religious/non-religious debates, widely known apologists such as William Craig & Alvin Plantinga (and many others), high profile seminaries and Christian universities and so on. In other words, judging by both this and my website readership, things happen predominantly in America; that is where those seeking out spiritual truths are most likely to come across apologetics. That is, of course, not to deny that there are many apologetic organizations and think tanks in other parts of the world. Beyond America, however, there do exist notable apologists of the likes of Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Richard Swinburne and, lest we forget, the late C.S. Lewis. However, I think it is quite safe to say that America plants the global apologetics flag on the highest peak.

But South Africa is mostly a different story. A solid 80% of South Africans regardless of their race, whether they’re black (80.2%), coloured (8.8%), or white (8.4%), identify as Christian believers. Christianity coupled with other religions makes South Africa a very religious nation. However, such high numbers don’t appear to translate to a higher number of apologists. I’ve read much apologetic material over the last few years and I can count on one hand how much of that comes from South Africa. Beyond a few university magazines (two of which I’ve written for), several private Christian colleges (none of which offers any form of apologetics though I’ve come to note that one university in Johannesburg does offer an apologetics course), two or three websites (one of which is my own, and two others that are in Afrikaans which orientates them towards an extreme minority audience), and a couple of online church material there is next to nothing resembling apologetics.

I also routinely visit bookstores. The larger chains such as Bargain Books and Exclusive Books have the usual “Religion Section” with lots of spiritual good feel books but minimal apologetic material. CUM Books (a dedicated Christian bookstore), to its credit, does have a dedicated apologetics section. But any of excitement soon evaporated when I realized that the entire section was no more than three shelves with products that I’ve already either purchased on Amazon or have on Scribd. Considering the enormity of the shop, and the number of books, that was quite a let down. Moreover, nearly all of the products on the shelf were American and certainly none were South African. Book wise it is safe to say that apologetics is near non-existent in South Africa. Locals like myself mostly have to settle for online purchasing (not that I mind).

There are also very few if any prominent theologians and Christian scientists here too. The highest profile scientist with a Christian orientation would arguably be cosmologist George Ellis of the University of Cape Town. And beyond Professor Dirk Jacobus of Stellenbosch University there are few, if any, professional theologians. No theologians, except Jacobus, that I have met during my Theology Studies have been South African. All of them are American or European.

Luckily, however, South Africa seems to be a relatively popular destination for prominent apologists to visit. Last year I was privileged to view John Lennox at Jubilee church. Lennox has also visited Rondebosch Boys High School and the University of Cape Town on several occasions. This year Frank Turek toured South Africa and ended up in Cape Town. Unfortunately I could not go to his presentation as I wasn’t in Cape Town during the time. I also found that prominent apologist and New Testament scholar Mike Licona actually studied in South Africa at a prestigious university in a very small town. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that back in 2010 William Lane Craig debated Yusuf Ismail in Cape Town. Sadly that was two or three years before I was a Christian so I wouldn’t have known about it. Finally, Josh McDowell also had one such debate with Sheikh Ahmed Deedat in Durban. Beyond these, however, I recall one formal, recorded Muslim/Christian debate with the debaters actually being South Africans. Maybe I am just ignorant and thus have missed a lot, but I’d still bet my house that it’s near non-existent. And outside of Muslim/Christian debates there exists next to nothing else; no Christian/atheist debates, no Jesus mythicists trying to argue that Jesus never existed, zilch.

Moreover, I’d truly love to present numbers and statistics to further demonstrate this obvious point, however, statistics simply do not exist which is hardly surprising. Recently I had a discussion on the Christian Apologetics Alliance (as far as I know I’m the only South African in the group) and it was well affirmed that, in general, the number of Christian apologists to the number of Christian believers is dismal to say the least. If that would apply to America then how much more so to South Africa? Here there are certainly more than enough churches for everyone but when it comes to apologists there just aren’t enough to go around.

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17 responses to “Apologetics in South Africa, or Lack Thereof.

  1. I live up north – North West province – and I’ll also readily admit that there isn’t much of a presence of apologetics here. I’ve only read of Peter Hammond. It’s mostly just foreigners like John Lennox who get invited by the universities.

    However, South Africa has a missionary culture. Unfortunately apartheid cast a big shadow on the rest of the white South African’s involvement in South Africa, but our missionary culture is quite old and matured. The Dutch reformed churches still sponsor missionary organizations and trips. Moreover, while many young South Africans are leaving the faith or at least becoming nominal Christians, others are signing up for missionary trips, especially university students.

    Unfortunately we don’t have big names in apologetics, but equally important is the fact that we’re still part of God’s great commission – Matthew 28:16-20.

  2. Great site , James. We live as missionaries on the Camino de Santiago, I need apologetics daily since there is a constant stream of well educated post christian Europeans passing through as “Pilgrims” on their way to Santiago de Compostella. You would love it on the Camino, non stop debate about all the stuff on your blog.Saludos, Craig Wallace.

  3. Hi James. I am very interested in apologetics and are trying to educate myself. I am south African. I agree we need more people standing up against evolution, atheism and the likes. God needs to get the glory again for all his creation. Ravi is a gaint in the apologetics, wont mind if he could be my mentor. I am not close to Cape town though but it would be great to meet. Blessings Ruan

  4. Good day James

    My name is Andre Christians and I live in Cape Town. I am interested in studying apologetics and would like to know if you could advise me to an organisation that offers this subject.

    Regards

    • Hi there, Andre.
      It depends what you mean by organization. Do you mean a place to study apologetics, or perhaps a website to read and/or possibly write for.

      I know of very few local ones.There are two wesbites I know of but both are in Afrikaans. There’s AntWoord and FaithEquip. If you are looking to study apologetics there is only one place that does an actual degree in it, and that’s the South African Theological Seminary in Joburg.

  5. i would like to study Christian Apologetics

    Please where can i register for a course.

    Kind regards

    Ivan Arends

  6. James: Do not despair too much things are certainly changing. I have been involved with the apologetics community in South Africa for many years I am now based in South Africa serving with Ratio Christi at NWU. RC South Africa has been experiencing outstanding growth. We now have clubs at NWU, Stellenbosch, UKZN, and are getting started with some excellent group at both Rhodes and the University of Pretoria. The number of competent apologist’s is growing in South Africa. There are also far more Christian professors at schools who are very interested in getting involved than I anticipated. This past year I was involved in arranging a debate with Dr. Richard Howe and Dr. Stoker at NMU. The auditorium was packed. John Gilchrist, a South African, is a world class Christian apologist when it comes to engaging Muslims and young men like Rudolph Boshoff are following in his footsteps. Dr. Reitze Rodseth in KZN is an outstanding apologist. His academic work in medical research is world class and on top of all of his medical degrees he is currently working on an MA in Apologetics and Philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary. There are also far more theologians and pastors interested in apologetics than you might be aware of but this might be a function of being the Cape. In the Gauteng there is significant progress to which I can testify given where apologetics was 7years ago when we began with the first Faith and Reason conference. The NWU theology department has just rolled out what is the best of my knowledge the first MA in Apologetics. Of course give the size of the Christian community these advances are but a drop in the bucket, but certainly there is much work to be done. But I am very optimistic about what lies ahead. Indeed, we could do with chap like yourself getting involved. This year alone will see a number of outstanding RZIM speakers coming through to speak in South Africa. John Lennox will be on of the speakers, but a number of the speakers will be South Africa or from other Africa countries. John Njoroge from Kenya is a world class apologetics. Hassan John from Nigeria will also be speaking. Afrika Mhlope and Mahlatse Mashua are local SA guys who are doing outstanding. Mathabo Baase a lecturer at NWU in law has outstanding potential. I can think of a number of other young women coming through the rank Retha Kruger, Anna Gouws. Sue Dykes is due to complete her PhD at WITS in the area of paleoanthropology and is as good as any scholar in the US if not better on the subject of interpreting the homonid record . My wife has a double MA in Biblical Languages and Philosophy and is as competent of not more so than many of the well know female apologist’s in the US many of whom are good friends of mine. I urge you to get in touch with Rudi de Beer who is an Engineer in the Cape leading the Ratio Christi Chapter at Stellenbosch. Rudi has also completed an MA in Apologetics from Biola. Rudi is looking for Christians who are zealous for evangelism and apologetics to help him with the work that need to be done at the universities in the Western Cape. I would love to invite you to the Ratio Christi Symposium this year and any others who follow you website. The event will be held at Africa Enterprise from the 10th -14th of July. Other encouraging news:The Discovery Institute will be sending a team to speak in SA this year and if this trip goes well hopefully every year into the foreseeable future. I can also confirm that Gary Habermas will be coming in 2019. Of course the goal is to develop South Africans to become experts in various fields, but I can assure you that this project is well underway. Praise God for the work so far. I would very much like to meet you. For the King of Kings!!

    • Thanks for sharing this, Simon, this is super encouraging.

      To those out there just starting out – here’s my two cents:

      St James Church in Kenilworth has a quarterly Apologetics seminar, contact the office for more details. It has been a real blessing to me.

      A great self-paced resource to start studying would be http://rzimacademy.org/ or just watch all the great speakers (and debates) on YouTube.

      Some really great books I’d recommend:
      The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief – Francis S. Collins
      The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel
      The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask – Mark Mittelberg
      Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target – John Lennox
      Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
      Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God – Paul Copan
      Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity – Nabeel Qureshi
      Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels – J. Warner Wallace

  7. Raising apologists in Africa is really a big challenge but we that knows the importance must sensitize others of the need for it. I am committed to defending the Christian faith and educating other Africans. Therefore, as a starter, I just published a book titled “Making Apologetics Appealing to Africans”, available in http://www.amazon.com.

  8. Thank you James for the great works you are doing. It is highly encouraging. I think we (African scholars and apologists) should contextualise Christian apologetics for Africans so that apologetics as a Christian discipline can be appealing to Africans. I am advocating for apologetics from the African perspective. This is exactly what my new book (Making Apologetics Appealing to Africans) addresses. Obviously, ontological Christology without functional Christology may not really thrive in Africa. Africans need the apologetics that will address the African experiences and realities.

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