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Roxane B. Salonen, Published October 25 2013

Faith Conversations: Apologist explains, defends the Christian faith

Fargo -- By day, he works in software development for Microsoft, but in many of the hours in between, you’ll find Steve Anonsen working up his next apologetics presentation.

Though the word “apologetics” has the same Greek root as “apology,” his avocation doesn’t involve apologizing.

“It’s a branch of theology that focuses on how to articulate and defend the Christian faith,” Anonsen clarifies.

Since obtaining a degree in the discipline through a remote study program offered by the California-based Biola University, Anonsen has been sharing his knowledge with interested local audiences.

Presentation topics have included the reality of design in nature, a defense of the resurrection of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels.

On Tuesday, he’ll be addressing the Science and Religion Lunch Seminar gathering at North Dakota State University on intelligent design and the practice of science. The weekly seminars comprise informal discussions on controversial topics in science and religion.

Anonsen says that while apologetics has been around for a long time, there’s been a recent resurgence.

“We’re entering a post-Christian culture where the assumptions of Christianity aren’t undergirding the way people look at the world,” he says. “Therefore people who can articulate things without that assumption are needed and probably needed more.”

BOREDOM AS MOTIVATION

His wife, Sheila, was part of the discernment process in his going back to school – a possibility that began brewing as their two daughters were nearly out of the nest.

“They really connected with him in these areas, so we’ve had some fantastic, profound discussions at the supper table,” Sheila says.

Sensing an oncoming void, they thought apologetics would be a suitable area for Anonsen’s interests and natural gifts.

Though helping others has been part of his motivation, Anonsen says the initial push came from something far less noble.

“I’m easily bored and I’m always curious,” he says. “Part of what this journey is about for me is to understand things about the world, to synthesize them and then re-express them to others in a simpler way. I gain great pleasure from that – it’s what drives me.”

He hasn’t always been this fired up about the faith. As a young teen, he fell into addictive behaviors due to depression, and began doubting God’s existence.

“I was antagonistic toward the church,” he says. “I saw a lot of people going to church who didn’t have passion and integrity in my view.”

But at 16 he met a mentor through a 12-step group – someone he describes as “flawed, but anchored in ways I wasn’t.” That led him to a Bible study, and it was there that he began to take another look at God.

ADDRESSING YOUTH

Anonsen has been a repeat visitor at Fargo’s Oak Grove Lutheran High School, where he shares his insights with students during morning chapel talks.

Matt Cordes, campus ministries director, says the faith and science talks have been particularly invigorating since this area is often ignored within the laity and culture as a whole.

“I would classify Mr. Anonsen as brilliant and particularly gifted in communicating how the lines of science and religion can complement rather than contradict each other,” Cordes says.

Ali Froslie, a senior, says Anonsen’s talks have armed her with ideas for when she goes into the world and confronts different beliefs.

“It’s been interesting to hear someone who’s obviously very intelligent and has done the research and put (faith and science) together, so we can have a firm foundation to back up on when people question whether the two correlate,” she says.

Anonsen strayed a bit from the usual during a recent talk at the school, focusing on cultural apologetics by using popular movies and books to demonstrate how to discern media consumption as a Christian.

Kirsten Bokinskie, a junior, says she appreciated hearing how to integrate faith with modern life.

“As Christians we can do what everyone else does but we’ll take a different way, and this is a way to know how to change your perception of things and find a deeper meaning,” she says. “It’s a good skill to learn.”

CHALLENGING ATHEISM

Anonsen’s passion sometimes brings him into discussions with atheists, where he encounters terms like “faith head,” popularized by the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins.

A “faith head” is what some atheists call those they see blindly following an imaginary God without really questioning their beliefs.

“In any community there are people who accept what they believe on authority and don’t question it and blindly follow it, including atheists themselves,” he says.

But following something based on authority alone isn’t completely illogical, he notes.

“Most of what we know we know on authority,” Anonsen says. “And we don’t all have to be philosophy professors. Many Christians have an ability to care for their neighbor with deep compassion and show rather than tell the love of God in their life.”

Despite his high regard for science, Anonsen says, even science has limits.

“It’s a wonderful enterprise, but it’s demonstrably true that science isn’t the source of all knowledge and it’s not even the source of the most interesting knowledge,” he says. “People live very interesting lives without knowing anything about science, so the ‘science says’ mantra you hear all the time, it shouldn’t be the only voice we listen to.”

Anonsen says it’s amazing to step back and see the footprints and tracks God has left for us to discover.

“What if God created a puzzle that will take society centuries to unravel? Wouldn’t that be cool?” he says. “And isn’t that exactly what’s happening with science?

The reductionist way of boiling down all the details and discounting God, he says, “is like looking at flowers in black and white.”

But rather than forcing anyone to accept his beliefs, Anonsen simply wants to be a resource for those with questions, or a support to people like pastors and teachers who would benefit from his help in defending and explaining the faith.

“Some people enter into this with a specific goal – to create a ministry or website or have a blog,” he says. “I’m just being attentive to what’s going on, trusting that God knows where the needs are.”

Faith conversations is a twice-monthly column by Roxane Salonen, who focuses on different community members and religions.