Why Apologetics? An interview with David Skeel
by Nathaniel Schmucker
Mr. David Skeel is the S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Icarus in the Boardroom (Oxford, 2005) and Debt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America (Princeton, 2001), as well as numerous articles and other publications. He has been interviewed on The News Hour, Nightline, Chris Matthews’ Hardball (MSNBC), National Public Radio, and Marketplace, among others, and has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and other newspapers and magazines. Mr. Skeel has twice received the Harvey Levin award for outstanding teaching, as selected by a vote of the graduating class, and has also received the university’s Lindback Award for distinguished teaching. In addition to bankruptcy and corporate law, Mr. Skeel also writes on sovereign debt, Christianity and law, and poetry and the law, and he is an elder at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His newest book, A True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of A Complex World (Intervarsity) is due out in September 2014.
You have had a long history of teaching law at the University of Pennsylvania, and you have long been involved as an elder at your church. Recently, you have increased your time spent involved in Christian apologetics, especially on college campuses. What motivated this shift?
Although I began doing an increasing amount of writing about Christianity and law in 2003 or 2004, the principal motivation was two invitations from the Veritas Forum: an invitation to participate in Veritas Riff, which is designed to train young and midcareer scholars to address a more public audience, in 2010; and an invitation to participate in a Veritas Forum event on the theme, “What is Justice?” at Amherst College in 2012. The mission of the Veritas Forum is to encourage public conversations about the most important issues in life on college campuses and to ensure that Christianity is part of those conversations. I have since spoken at a number of other Veritas Forums. I have repeatedly heard Christian and non-Christian students say how much they appreciate these events and that they wish there were more discussion of these issues on college campuses. In part as a result of these conversations, I became increasingly convinced that I should make apologetics a focus of my own intellectual life and that there were opportunities to bring my legal expertise to bear on apologetics issues.
How did your past experiences prepare you for more focused work in apologetics?
I was not raised in a Christian home, and I did not become a Christian until my junior year of college. I still remember the questions I had about Christianity and the kinds of apologetics that I did and did not find helpful. In addition, I hope that my career as a scholar has given me insights that will prove valuable to others. I think, though, that the best preparation for apologetics for me is knowing the kind of questions that gnaw at many people, because these questions have gnawed at me.
What is the purpose of apologetics and who should participate in apologetics?
I believe that all Christians are called to be apologists in one way or another. As Peter writes in Scripture, each of us should be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” But, I also believe that this will mean different things for different Christians. In some Middle Eastern countries, it is dangerous to engage in public apologetics, so apologetics will usually take different forms. I happen to be a legal scholar in a country that values free speech. For better and worse, I love to talk, as most lawyers do…
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