Evangelical apologist Norman Geisler died today, at the age of 86. The author of over a hundred books on Christian apologetics, theology, and philosophy, Norman Geisler has left a dramatic footprint upon the evangelical Christian world. Dr. Geisler was critically instrumental in founding two evangelical seminaries, Veritas International Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary, and taught classes at other well-known evangelical institutions, including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Dallas Theological Seminary. His influence has been felt all over American evangelicalism, ranging from preachers like Andy Stanley to popular apologists like Lee Strobel and Frank Turek.
As the Veracity blog has been principally focused on apologetics, we would be remiss not to recall Dr. Geisler’s contributions. According to his testimony, Dr. Geisler had grown up in a mostly ex-Roman Catholic home, stemming from his father’s bitterness against the local Roman Catholic priest. Norman Geisler’s father had approached the priest, about marrying a Lutheran woman, asking the priest to officiate the marriage. The priest responded that this was against the rules of the church, but that he would gladly accept a bribe of $500, to ignore the rules. Norman Geisler’s father left the church with disgust.
As a young kid, Norman Geisler did not know the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. At age 9, a persistent local Bible church shared the Gospel with this young boy, by taking him to church every Sunday, but he consistently and stubbornly refused to receive Christ, until he finally made a confession of faith, eight years later, at the age of 17. His interest in apologetics was born from subsequent years of being unable to answer questions posed to him, by those he conversed with, when doing door-to-door evangelism, doing jail ministry, and serving in rescue missions.
As a young man, despite not being able to read during most of his years in high school, Norman Geisler knew that either he had to get some answers to these questions, or else, he should stop witnessing. So, he decided to go and find some answers.
Amazingly, after years of getting a theological education, including getting a doctorate in philosophy, focusing on the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Geisler rose as a leader in the evangelical Christian movement of the 1960s and 1970s, serving as one of the original authors of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He also help to lead the burgeoning Evangelical Theological Society, the primary intellectual and scholarly think-tank for American evangelicalism, until departing the society in 2003, over what he saw as theological drift in the society.
I first encountered Norman Geisler upon thumbing through his When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, that helped me to answer some of the tougher questions fielded to me, when I worked in youth ministry. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Geisler at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, about five years ago. There was twinkle in his eye and a passion in his energy to communicate the Gospel with others, by clearing away intellectual difficulties, that might be spiritual roadblocks for skeptics and seekers. It was easy for me see how Dr. Geisler was able to winsomely make the sometimes intimidating world of Christian apologetics accessible to youth ministry leaders, hard-working evangelists, and normal, everyday people, who have questions about faith in God.
Dr. Geisler’s unbridled passion for truth was encouraging, but it could also get him into trouble, and cause deep seated frustration with other fellow Christian apologists and theologians. Dr. Geisler, who excelled as a classical or philosophical apologist, was not always as proficient in other realms, such as evidentialist apologetics, presuppositionalist apologetics, or New Testament studies.
Dr. Geisler at times sought to defend certain beleaguered, troubled Christian leaders, whom he should have never defended. At other times, he would drive verbal and written attacks against other Christian scholars, that were sadly unwarranted, undeservingly tarnishing their reputations. There were moments where reading Norman Geisler was like feeling a sense of confident relief, “Yes, there are answers!” But there have been other times in reading Dr. Geisler, where I wanted to either scream or cringe. Alas, sometimes, an interest in defending the truth can lead even the best of Christians to become needlessly defensive, missing opportunities for learned engagement with more nuanced and accurate expressions of truth. I have done the same myself, over the years.
But in recalling Dr. Geisler’s years of faithful service for the cause of Christ, it would not be fitting to focus on particular deficiencies of certain apologetic blunders, here and there. Rather, it would be better to reflect on the greater picture of Dr. Geisler’s remarkable legacy, namely his desire to uphold the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should consider the ways that God used this man, whom a local Bible church at one point probably thought of as being an “unreachable” teenager. Nevertheless, God saw to it to empower Norman Geisler to help several generations of believers and non-believers, to gain a greater sense of confidence in the tremendous and awesome glory of God, through the power of His Word.
Norman Geisler’s most popular, and perhaps best book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be Atheist, a popular outline to his classical/philosophical approach to apologetics, has been on my reading list for a few years now. I continually encounter other Christians who have been strengthened in their faith by this book, and other similar works by him. My fellow co-blogger, John Paine, did a three-part blog series (#1, #2, and #3) on “How We Got the Bible,” a few years ago, based largely on another book co-authored by Dr. Geisler, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible.
In a time when skepticism and unbelief are growing more than ever, in our secular world, it is encouraging to know that there have been Christians, such as Norman Geisler, who have sought passionately and intelligently to reach out to others with the Good News of Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ. I am grateful that God has used Norman Geisler to help stir that same passion within me.