One of the topics I decided to do additional reading on in 2012 is apologetics, so when I saw the book trailer for Meet the Skeptic: A Field Guide to Faith Conversations, I knew it was a title I needed to read and review. Since I was going to get familiar with the book, I thought it’d be fun to get to know the man behind the book as well. Thank you Katie Gumm (Publicist @ NLPG) for making this interview happen and thank you Bill Foster for responding to my questions so quickly.
Thanks for having me. I’ve been married for almost 18 years, have my own graphic design business, am a tennis junkie, love suspense movies, have a gift for recalling factoids (my wife calls it “junk”), and love campy, cheesy 80s stuff.
I’ve been involved in apologetics since about 1994 when a family member gave me a used copy of Norman Geisler’s When Critics Ask. But I realized I was deficient in being able to defend my faith after being challenged by a friend in art school as well as by the (very) wide assortment of worldviews there.
Q: Was there a certain event or experience that prompted you to write ‘Meet the Skeptic?’
There was no specific event, but more of an awareness that there are a lot of apologetics resources out there that people will never read because they are intimidated. They think they must memorize volumes of data in order to engage someone with a different worldview. Remembering specific answers always helps, but over the years after going from one apologetics topic to another, I began to realize that there are core ideas that objections share. It seemed reasonable to me that addressing those ideas first (I call them Root Ideas) in conversation made more sense than playing the typical game of intellectual ping-pong that can lead nowhere.
Q: Who will benefit most from reading this book?
Anyone who has the desire to make a difference in a non-believer’s thinking. I’m finding that college students in particular seem to like the book. I think it’s because they function in a highly diverse environment in which their faith is challenged. The book offers them a framework in which to sort the diversity of ideas they are encountering, so it fills an immediate need.
I’ve also taught the material to high school students who really seem to gain confidence and interest in apologetics in general because they can see that there is some order to all of the ideas floating around out there. I think it gives them more of a sense of purpose in learning to defend their faith. And of course, it can benefit any adult who wants to be more informed about his beliefs and more able to share them with co-workers and associates.
Q: In the book, you organize skepticism into four categories: spiritual, moral, scientific, and biblical. In your experience have the skeptics you’ve encountered been “single category” skeptics or should budding apologists expect to encounter skeptics who express their skepticism in multiple categories?
Thanks for making the distinction between skeptics and skepticism. My book is not about labeling skeptics, rather, it is about identifying skepticism (p. 33). Wouldn’t it be nice if we could size up a person after a few minutes of conversation and say, “Congratulations, you are an [XYZ] skeptic!” But that’s obviously not realistic. People are complicated. Everyone has an opinion about the afterlife, how people should live, where life came from, and whether or not God (if He exists) has spoken (and if so, how?).
People do have dominant aptitudes and favorite interests so those things will naturally come out more in a conversation. However, you may engage someone one day on a Scientific issue and the next day have a follow-up conversation that heads in the Moral direction. In fact, this is quite common because all of the categories are connected. For example, an atheist with a scientific bent may say that he relies on pure scientific investigation to inform him about the world, but often he has already eliminated God from the picture because he thinks God is unfair and unjust – that’s a Moral concern. Eventually, if a dialogue goes on long enough, it will become a Biblical conversation because the Bible has the ultimate answers to life’s big questions, and the Bible, specifically Jesus, is where we’re trying to lead a skeptic anyway.
Unpeeling the layers by asking good questions can help us identify what kind of skepticism is occupying someone’s thinking – and they may have more than one. But if we can identify the category at the time, we can focus that conversation in a more meaningful direction. Another conversation may be necessary to unpack another aspect of their mindset.
The object is to have meaningful exchanges, not one-upmanship contests.
Q: In addition to ‘Meet the Skeptic,’ can you recommend other books / resources for Christians who desire to be properly equipped to defend their faith?
In the back of the book, I recommend four introductory resources that correspond to the four categories of skepticism. These are only a start, but will hopefully be a catalyst for further investigation:
SPIRITUAL: A Ready Defense – Josh McDowell
This short book does a great job of summarizing the creation/evolution debate. But for specific resources on this subject, consult the abundant and astute materials produced by Answers In Genesis (answersingenesis.org).
BIBLICAL: More than a Carpenter – Josh McDowell
Q: Let me close with a final question I ask of all published authors. What advice would you give to first time / aspiring authors?
Be honest with yourself about your passion and your aptitude. Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean you should write about it.
Before New Leaf Publishing called, I self-published Meet the Skeptic the first time because I was equipped to do that. I have a passion for apologetics, a degree in English, and am professionally trained in designing and producing media. But if you can’t produce a book in a professional manner on your own, don’t self-publish it. Assess the uniqueness of your subject, craft your writing, and pray for direction pursuing publishing opportunities.
Lastly, there will be times when you will get sick of writing your book and think that nobody will read it. I definitely did, and I think this is normal. Take a break. Then if God is still fanning the flames, keep going.
Books by Bill Foster:
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