Jeremiah Johnston: Becoming a Christian Thinker

christian thinkers

The new pastor of apologetics at Prestonwood Baptist his mission to give believers and nonbelievers alike a foundation in the faith.

Jeremiah Johnston, founder of the Christian Thinkers Society, was announced as the new associate pastor of Apologetics and Cultural Engagement at Prestonwood Baptist Church (PBC) in Plano, Texas. The announcement was made at PBC this past Sunday, April 24, 2022. In addition to his role at the church, Johnston will serve as the dean of spiritual development at Prestonwood Christian Academy, a private liberal arts PreK–12 school started in 1997 and affiliated with PBC.

PBC is one of largest Southern Baptist churches in the world, boasting a weekly attendance of 17,000, and pastored by Jack Graham, who said that “the addition of Dr. Johnston and his expertise and spiritual gifting will help undergird what we instill at both the church and school.”

“We live in an ever-changing world and a culture that is constantly shifting,” Graham said. “As believers, we need to be firm in our foundation so we may stand strong for truth in all areas of life. This partnership will become a model for churches and schools as we seek to engage an increasingly hostile and secular culture with our biblical worldview.”

Johnston started the Christian Thinkers Society to train and equip Christians to defend the truth’s of scripture. Their website’s vision, mission, strategy and core message explains they teach “pastors and Christians how to become thinkers and thinkers how to become Christians.”

ChurchLeaders reached out to Johnston and asked him to describe his new role at PBC. What follows is that correspondence.

CL: What does it mean to be the associate pastor of apologetics & cultural engagement? What will you be doing?

Jeremiah Johnston: As associate pastor of apologetics & cultural engagement, my purpose is to collaborate with church members to architect and replicate “Christian Thinking” at every age level. What does success for this position look like? Believers take the Great Commandment to love God with “all their minds” seriously. What’s more: While not characteristic of Prestonwood, many churches struggle to fulfill the Great Commission. Two-thirds of American churches are plateaued or declining; ten are closing every day. We’re seeing an alarming exodus of doubt-plagued students leaving the Church: 35 million young people, raised in Christian families, are projected to abandon their faith by the year 2050.

Why? Because of unanswered questions. In fact, the U.K. did a survey and the No. 1 reason believers left the church was unanswered questions. Meanwhile, within our churches, many believers are more capable of defending their choice of coffee and explaining the subtleties between, say, Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, than sharing and defending their personal faith. One doesn’t have to be a professional barista to be a coffee expert—and Christians do not need to be experts per se to be Christian thinkers and fulfill the Great Commandment. The goal of this innovative position is to help every believer know it is possible to have a deep faith.

Also, in this role, I will provide professional development training for PBC pastors, staff, and key leaders, focusing on trending questions, best practices in communicating our faith in a post-Christian world, and replicating Christian worldview for all ages, which include certificate programs and further education for the many pastors needing assistance on how to minister in this cultural moment.

Opportunities exist to further educate clergy and ministry leaders outside of Prestonwood with resources to solidify their apologetics/biblical worldview, augment seminary educational gaps, and encourage the pastors to stay in the fight—specifically, mentor the pastor team in apologetic training and technique.

CL: Isn’t that usually a position offered at a Seminary? For example, Daniel Darling’s position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. Is this the first time that you know of that your new position has been hired by church?

Jeremiah Johnston: Apologetics is not a parachurch ministry, but should be paramount to the local church. My word, is that so true, and yet it is for very few local churches—and here we are as a culture as a result.

The church can no longer abdicate its responsibility to speak intelligently to cultural issues and train believers with a biblical worldview. There is where I pray the vision of Dr. Graham and Prestonwood becomes a model for many other churches. Every church should have a biblical worldview specialist on the team. Why? “Apologetics” is making sure the Christian faith connects up well with the questions people have today.

The real problem we face is that people see Christianity as an answer to yesterday’s questions, and hence they think it offers no relevance today. What we need to do is translate our faith language into what C.S. Lewis calls the “cultural vernacular.” We need actually think about how we translate our faith language into today’s language but also answer the questions people are asking. Apologetics is loving God with our heart, soul and mind. I am thankful for seminaries that teach apologetics. Churches must get off the sideline and on the field.

Apologetics in the modern church is not an innovation. The earliest Christian thinkers were not frightened by intellectual pursuits or tough questions—which is why the early church took the Roman world by storm. The global church has been reticent to tackle the trending, unanswered questions posed by people in our pews, avoiding the intersection of culture and the Bible.

Every generation faces challenges—a crucial calling of their time. We are no different. The earliest Christians out-thought everyone around them. We must follow their example. Skepticism against Christianity is becoming more sophisticated and the church must be present and stand for absolute truth.

CL: What are you hoping to accomplish with your new position at Prestonwood?

Jeremiah Johnston: This success will be hard-won, but success is resourcing every believer to pass along a legacy of faith in their community—a vibrant, intelligent, conversant faith. I thank God for Dr. Graham’s vision to take biblical worldview seriously.

There are over 3,000 questions in the Bible. Questions are not dangerous. It is not a sin to question our faith.

Jesus asked more questions than he answered. People tend to be effective communicators on subjects that hold their passion. Yet many Christians with a deep love for Jesus don’t think they can be effective communicators about their faith. I don’t know enough; it would take years of study to answer a skeptic. The good news is you don’t have to be either a “professional” or a degreed scholar to be knowledgeable about your faith.

The book of Jude has shown us that every follower of Jesus can defend the faith. We can be informed and able to carry on great conversations about coffee, restaurants and sports, but our faith is so much more valuable. It’s time to make a decision to defend it. God’s command and desire is for every believer to stand ready to defend the faith and at Prestonwood our goal is for every follower of Jesus, not just a few delta-force Christian thinkers, to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them.

CL: You were also named the dean of Prestonwood Christian Academy. What are you most looking forward to in your new position at the school?

Jeremiah Johnston: Dean of spiritual development at Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA) system of schools allows me to directly impact future generations of Christians to be Christian thinkers. Unlike any other time, we are trying to reach young people with a worldview of hopelessness and a developed skepticism of the church.

Deaths of despair among our children and grandchildren are rising at alarming rates. Our aim is to show how Christianity is the greatest force for good on the planet and why there is persuasive evidence that bolsters our faith in Christ. Christian faith is faith in evidence, not faith in spite of the evidence.

I will also assist PCA System of Schools students/faculty/staff in how to “Think Christianly” by working in tandem with the PCA team in creating events, training, teaching series, conferences, summit(s), think tanks and content specific to engaging culture with the best answers for our faith and worldview integration. Our team will expose our students to the greatest Christian thinkers alive today.

Finally, Dr. Goddard and I will be creating a “truth pipeline” for other Christian schools so desperate for solid, updated, fresh, content and curriculum that helps other Christian schools ensure biblical worldview integration in every discipline for all ages. I am especially excited about the opportunity to directly encourage our Christian school faculty.

CL: As you look at the United States today, what type of encouragement would you give church leaders today? And what is one warning you would give them?

Jeremiah Johnston: The encouragement I would give is that we are now living in the golden age of Christian apologetics. What does that mean for leaders and pastors? It means we have more access to the great evidences of our Christian faith than any Christian generation before. It is time for the rise of the thinkers. It is perhaps the most exciting time to be a Christian because God is raising up men and women who take loving him with their minds seriously.

A battle is raging for the hearts and minds of people all around us. There is ample confusion, yet the scales of truth tip in our favor. There is more evidence available today to prove the claim of Christianity than in any other time in our history. You have more access to information about the Christian faith than did the great Christian leaders of our past.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon knew nothing of the Dead Sea Scrolls (they were not discovered until the mid-20th century), and St. Augustine did not have access to the external confirmations of biblical history which was still entombed in the ground and would not to be excavated for hundreds of years. Those men trusted and thrived in their faith.

We are in a golden age of Christianity in which you have a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge at your fingertips, which you can use to develop right thinking and vibrant faith, supported by layers of evidence that prove Jesus was who he said he was and achieved all we read that he achieved.

Here’s the warning: In his wartime speech at Harvard, Winston Churchill said, “The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” Secularism is taking the high ground and skeptics have taken the microphone. Increasingly, I see this as an opportunity because if we can give intellectually informed reasons for why we believe Christianity is true while also—and this is important—showing them that Christianity makes a positive difference in the world—that is our secret sauce to reach the next generations.

In other words, to quote Pascal, I hope we can present truth to a skeptical world in such a way that the skeptic wants it to be true and then we show them that it, indeed, is.

This interview originally appeared on ChurchLeaders.com and is reposted here by permission of the author.

From Outreach Magazine  Creating Community: Granger Community Church