In the mid-1960s, many evangelicals looked askance at higher education and the field of apologetics. The secular world at the time thought evangelicals had nothing to offer. In recent decades, however, apologetics and Christian philosophy have found a footing not only in the church but also the academy. Many pioneers contributed to this advance of God’s kingdom, and one of them was my colleague, Gordon R. Lewis, who entered paradise on June 11, 2016 at the age of 89.
Lewis converted when he was 8 years old and remained committed to Christ for 80 years. He studied at Baptist Bible Seminary, Gordon College, Faith Theological Seminary, and Cornell University, and received his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Syracuse, and this at a time when few evangelicals dared enter the secular academy. His dissertation concerned Augustine’s view on faith and reason in The City of God.
He began his service at Denver Seminary (then Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, the fledgling theological flagship for the newly-formed Conservative Baptist denomination) in 1958, having been recruited by the president, Vernon Grounds (1914–2010), who was another groundbreaking evangelical intellectual. He remained faithful to one institution for nearly his entire academic career. He primarily taught philosophy and theology, but also Greek (when needed early on), and a course on church marketing. He also served as a visiting professor at Union Biblical Seminary in Yeotmal, Maharashtra, India.
Besides his professorial work, Lewis served as president of both the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. In 2013, The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture was established at Denver Seminary to further his vision.
Ministry Outside the Academy
Lewis was a leading figure in developing an intellectually equipped and compassionate outreach to those in cults and new religious movements. His book, Confronting the Cults (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1967) reveals a passion for evangelism coupled with rigorous analysis of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and others. His What Everyone Needs to Know about Transcendental Meditation (1976) sold a million copies.
In 1984, he founded and was president of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, an apologetics ministry to those lost in gospel-denying groups. In the 1980s, EMNR often addressed New Age beliefs. Lewis kindly and thoroughly critiqued the manuscript for my first book, Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity, 1986) and wrote the foreword. Unlike many in the counter-cult movement, he was even-tempered and irenic, never succumbing to acerbic attacks on non-Christians or their beliefs.
Lewis published seven books and many articles. His major work on apologetics is Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims (Moody Press, 1976). Along with Bruce Demarest, also a faculty member of Denver Seminary, he wrote Integrative Theology (1987–1992), a three-volume theology text that uniquely combines historical theology, biblical theology, doctrinal formulation, apologetics, and application.
His method for both theology and apologetics is verificationism (not to be confused with logical positivism), which he derived from evangelical philosopher and theologian, Edward John Carnell (1919–1967). This method puts forth a hypothesis (such as the existence of God) and tests it against rival hypotheses (such as atheism and pantheism) in order to determine which hypothesis best explains the matter in question. The best explanation will be logically consistent, supported by the facts, and existentially compelling. Lewis used this method in all his teaching and writing, making the corpus of his work extraordinarily consistent and compelling.
When Lewis retired from full-time teaching in 1993, I was hired in his stead to teach philosophy. I could not fill his shoes, but I followed in his footsteps. He encouraged me in his role as a senior professor. I knew Lewis as a generous, kind, peaceable, and deeply loving man. His impressive mind and academic achievements never led to pride or arrogance. He used his gifts for the glory of God through his teaching, writing, and mentoring.
After his retirement, Gordon Lewis was no longer household name in evangelicalism, but he should be remembered for his deep contributions to theological education, Christian philosophy, theology, and apologetics.
Just a few weeks before his death, he was writing emails of encouragement to his friends and colleagues. The last time I visited Gordon and his wife, Willa, I was heartened by his cheerfulness and zeal for the kingdom of God. I will miss my colleague and friend, but I will remain thankful for his long life of intellectually robust Christian service.
Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, and author of Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Short Introduction to a Vast Topic(InterVarsity Press, 2016) and Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith(InterVarsity Press, 2011) as well as ten other books. He can be reached at @DougGroothuis and www.DouglasGroothuis.com.