Reasonable Faith: Behind the Scenes with Michael LepienDecember 14, 2020
Kevin interviews Michael Lepien, Executive Director for Reasonable Faith, on what it's like to travel the world with Dr. Craig, apologetics, and the pandemic's impact on the local church.
KEVIN HARRIS: Hey there! Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. Today we want you to hear from someone who plays an integral part in the work of Reasonable Faith – Michael Lepien is our executive director for Reasonable Faith. We're going to give Dr. Craig a little much needed time off for the holidays and interview Michael today on his work, his life, his ministry, and what it's like to travel the world with Dr. Craig. He has some key insights on some other things that he's working on in his personal life as well as some behind-the-scenes things at Reasonable Faith. You're going to enjoy this interview. It's Michael Lepien from Reasonable Faith.
Michael Lepien, you're more of a behind-the-scenes guy, but we managed to talk you into getting out here and doing an interview. How are you, sir?
MICHAEL LEPIEN: I'm doing very well; doing very well. You know, I've heard and listened to the podcast for over a decade, even before I was involved with Reasonable Faith, and so it's sort of strange to be on this end of it this time. I appreciate you having me on though.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to hear all about that. I want to hear how you became involved. You've been involved in ministry for a while. Tell us a little bit about your work in the church and your work in ministry.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah, sure. I've been in pastoral ministry in particular for a little over about 15 years and started in about 2006 – about 14 almost 15. I've been a student pastor. I've been an associate pastor. We've been at a few different churches. We spent about seven years in Denton, Texas and helped to launch a church down there, and eventually just kind of felt like the Lord was sort of leading us on from that place. So now we're at a church in Oklahoma City. We're at a church here and now I'm an associate pastor. My wife is helping actually with a college ministry here with the church. We have pretty much a background in pastoral ministry. I first heard about Reasonable Faith well over a decade ago. We're able to jump on board a little bit in about 2012 when somebody approached me and said, “Hey – Reasonable Faith – we need someone to come in and help us do social media and such, and would you like to be a part of that?” I said, “Absolutely! I don't even really have to think about that.” That's when we started with Reasonable Faith about eight years ago.
KEVIN HARRIS: I guess being involved in student ministry in particular, I mean all aspects of ministry, but student ministry in particular – did that get you turned onto apologetics or was this something that you've always been interested in? Have you always seen the importance of defending the faith?
MICHAEL LEPIEN: It wasn't necessarily specifically through student ministry, but it was through people asking questions. I've always been a fact-based person. I like asking questions myself, and I like being sort of the answer guy. I think there's lots of people that kind of enjoy that sometimes. I think that apologetics attracts people like that sometimes. They go, “You know what? I hate not having answers to questions that people ask.” So I'm a very driven person in that sense. When I find something that I don't have an answer to I like to investigate it. I like to study it so that I can be able to help people. I think even for our family, my wife and I – we have three great kids – and one of our family values that we have set up for our family is to say this is what defines success or failure in our family – we've got nine family values – and one of those is to be helpful. I think one of those things – that value – is what has always driven me into apologetics, to be able to say I want to be able to be helpful for people particularly in whether it was student ministry or whether it's in small group ministry or if it's preaching from a platform – to be able to incorporate in apologetics to say people have questions about a lot of things in this life. They have questions about the Scriptures. They have questions about so many things. What I found in student ministry, and find even still now that my oldest is almost 13 so I almost have a teenager in the house, is teenagers like to ask questions and they like to push the envelope sometimes. They typically don't just accept things because that's what they've always been told. So that has always been a drive for me especially now that I have kids of my own, but also being involved in all these different phases of ministry. It's been a big help to be able to say, “OK, I want to be prepared not only to give a defense for the hope that I have with adults and with the unbeliever, but also with the believer as well.” I'm sure, as you know, as well as I have, and Dr. Craig has talked about often, that there are just as many believers that have questions and struggle with doubts that apologetics helps to be able to reassure them of that faith – to ground them in a solid faith that is a strong foundation that helps them to be able to say, “OK, I don't have to check my brain at the door. I can actually engage my intellect and I can be able to continue to grow closer to Christ through the study of apologetics.”
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, because that's part of what the Bible calls sanctification. It's an ongoing process of growing closer and stronger in your walk. I have found apologetics does that because we're to love God with all of our mind, Jesus said. To leave that aspect out kind of thwarts your growth, and part of growth is (especially for young people) questions and then the excitement of getting good answers.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah, I think that's a great point. I think that's a great point because I think that's one reason why I was actually just speaking with our student pastor at our church where we're on staff also right now as well as with Reasonable Faith. We were talking about a friend of his who is grown, who has also been on a pastoral staff, who's a young gentleman, but he's got questions and he's having some doubts. A lot of that is . . . I think it was just this week Dr. Craig was on with Justin Brierly and the Unbelievable podcast, and they just did an hour-long Q&A with people, and one of the last questions was about that very thing. Somebody was asking Dr. Craig, “Is it OK to have doubts? Is it OK to have questions?” And Dr. Craig said, “The number one thing you have to remember right off the bat is that apologetics and having doubts is not just an intellectual issue. It is also a spiritual issue. It is also an issue of the heart.” I think that's such a great thing. Dr. Craig has always been a big proponent of saying that, even from his book Reasonable Faith, that there's a difference between knowing Christianity is true and showing it to be true. I think sometimes we, even as believers, have to remind ourselves, we have to call to the forefront of our mind, we have to remind ourselves that it is true when we face emotional issues in our lives, when we face difficulties and trials of many kinds. I think that it's in those moments that we have to continually remind ourselves to say it's all right to have questions. But I also have to remember this isn't just an intellectual practice that I'm engaging in.
KEVIN HARRIS: I've noticed something very unique that you've been doing on social media the past year, and you'll have to explain what it is. You've been reading some of the classics. Some of the Greek classics. Things like that. Tell me about that study. You've been going way back – I'm talking BC.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah. Absolutely. Actually there's several of them that are right behind me on the bookshelf that I'm currently reading through. I've always been a very avid reader. At different points in my life in the last few years I would pick up a book and read it within about a week, and I would read about a book a week. Eventually it just got to a point where I thought, you know, I'm going through all of these books on leadership and management and business and things like that and I thought I'm just reading the same things over and over again. What are the books that I should be reading that will be beneficial to me? I actually was watching a movie – it was with Denzel Washington in it – and in the movie he goes into a diner and he is reading, I believe, it's The Old Man and the Sea and he meets this young lady in the diner. She says, “What are you reading?” He explains it to her, and in essence he says it's one of the hundred books that everyone should read. And she says, “Really? What number is that for you?” And he says, “Well, it's number 97 for me.” That idea of just going to the great books that everyone should read – now, I know that phrase is used often and there's been lots of collections. Encyclopedia Britannica has had their own and so forth. So I started investigating and saying, “What are these books?” So I started compiling a list, reaching out to some other friends of mine that enjoy them. And so that just really began for about the last two and a half years now I've been primarily reading the classics. I started sort of chronologically and have been reading them that way. I started with Homer and the Epic of Gilgamesh. I read through all of those. Read through Herodotus and Thucydides and Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and just working through all of these. I'm actually leading a small group right now – a book club – that we're going through Dante. We're actually this month finishing up the second movement of purgatory. It's really been a very fruitful process for me in reading these books because one of the things that I think defines a great book is the fact that it has stood the test of time. When you think back to the time periods that these great books were written, they didn't have printing presses. They didn't have something where it could be easily reproduced and mass produced and sent out to everybody. But rather if you had a copy of Homer or if you had a copy of Herodotus, that was an incredibly prized possession. They had to hand write all of these things. So for previous generations of people to have written these things down to make sure that they were passed on to the next generation has always stood out to me as saying if people of the past found great wisdom in this literature then maybe we also in the 21st century can find wisdom in those same things. So when you read books like Plutarch, when you read these great works that have been from the past, even Livy. I've finished reading some of Livy and his early Roman history. You read about these things and you find that really there's nothing new under the sun. Just like Solomon said, everything that we're experiencing, even in 2021, politically, culturally, everything. I think back and I go, oh, we're just experiencing the exact same thing. It's the first time we've experienced it, but human nature doesn't change. That is what Livy said over 2,000 years ago. I thought, yeah, we're in good company today. So I've found great enjoyment in them, and of course connecting these works with the biblical texts and reading them in the same time period. Reading Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars and reading about Augustus and biography on Tiberius who was the emperor – both were emperors – at the time of Christ. So you read some of these things and some of the Stoic philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. You read these just wise words. I don't agree with everything they say, but certainly if there are certain thoughts that you go, OK, this is good. And you see some of these thoughts to even, I think, carried out even in the Scriptures that are absolutely fantastic to be able to take and apply to your life, to gain wisdom. So it's just been a personal enjoyment for me. I just try to encourage other people to do the same.
KEVIN HARRIS: You know, we stand on the shoulders of giants. And some of the stuff that we question, they figured out 3,000 years ago.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Very true.
KEVIN HARRIS: We find out, wow, they are dealing with some of the same questions that we have. One thing – they didn't have as many distractions. I mean if our cell phones didn't interrupt us every five minutes we might think ourselves. Just imagine not having all those electronic distractions all the time. They probably had some time to think.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah, absolutely. It is fascinating. Seneca, I believe, where he's writing some of his letters and his writings that Penguin Classics has out as well where he talks about that. Where he is writing from his apartment and down below they're doing construction on the road and there's music and there's parades and there's all these distractions that are going on around him, and he says ultimately you just kind of have to learn to shut all those things out. So it's really interesting to think that some of his best writing was done in the midst of all this noise and all these things. He's even writing to some of his friends and saying, “Listen, you got to sometimes just get away from it all. You have to find quiet. You have to find solitude.” I think for us in the 21st century that's a message that we continually have to have. I think even when we are thinking about our own lives and how we perceive the things that happen to us, I think that's one of the wonderful things. In fact, on my desk back here I have a quote from Epictetus where he says no one can hurt you without your cooperation. You are hurt the moment you believe yourself to be. I thought, my goodness, how true that is. Again, I don't agree with everything the Stoics said, but certainly there are some great wisdom that's there for us that goes right along with what James says in James chapter one when he says consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. You know the testing of your faith is developing perseverance and perseverance must complete its work so you can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. What that tells me is that if we work that verse backwards that we'll never be mature and complete, lacking nothing, unless we gain perseverance, unless we gain maturity, and we never gain maturity unless we have perseverance, and we never gain perseverance unless we go through trials of many kinds. That's the reason why we can find joy in the midst of our trials because we know ultimately what our trials are producing in our lives. So when we go through things like the current pandemic, when we go through things like when we lose jobs and we question our finances and where we put our security. I think all of the trials that everyone experiences in 2020, first of all aren't necessarily unique to the history of humanity, but for you and I and all of us alive today it may be the first time we've experienced it. So we have to almost re-learn the things that the ancients learned a long time ago – to say, OK, I don't ultimately find my joy in the things of this life. I don't put my security in my bank account or in my job or in my reputation or in my relationships even. I think for us as believers we come right back to finding all of those things in Christ – that in Christ dwell all things that we need, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge is what Paul says in Colossians. So I think ultimately finding all these things in Christ. So I've enjoyed taking a lot of these old writings and these ancient writings and taking them and reading them through the filter of Scripture so that you can find all of these things and saying, OK, God baptize these things so that I can use them in my own life.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to chase one more rabbit with you – or, as we say in Texas, I want to chase one more armadillo with you – because you're in church work, in church ministry, what's the status with COVID as we go into 2021? Obviously we're going to ramp back up hopefully sooner than later, and people will start coming back together, and we won't have the issue of streaming quite as often. But some people say, no, people are never coming back to church because they're so used to sitting around in their boxers watching streaming church. I've always said, wait a minute now, we can't get used to that because we've got to get together and fellowship. Talk about that just a little bit if you would because you are an inside guy and you have that inside perspective.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah, sure. I think that that's a really important question because I think it also comes back to Hebrews chapter 10, I believe, off the top of my head, where the author says don't forsake gathering together but be ready to encourage one another, spur one another on towards love and good deeds. I think that the author is writing in the sense of saying . . . the author is assuming that we're living in community with one another. I think that's an important thing to remember because when you think about how easy it is and has been for us in the last – what? – ten months or so to sequester ourselves and to get away from each other that I think people very palpably feel the importance of that verse. People have begun to realize – wow, OK, I understand what it's like when I can't meet together with my family of faith, when I can't worship and corporate together with one another. There's something I think very powerful that happens when the church gathers together as one body and encourages one another and spurs one another on as the author says to do. So I think that back when we first had the shutdowns back in March and April and everybody was sequestered, churches were shut down, everybody was staying home. In the midst of that everybody was saying, OK, we're not having ball games. We're not able to go anywhere. We're loving our family time. We're loving what we're doing. We're growing in our faith. We're reading our Bibles more. We're praying more. And everybody says how can we ever go back to the way that it was? And then once summertime hit and it was like we had kind of a lull in the numbers and states started opening back up everybody was like that quick we went right back to the way that things were, how we used to go in the speed of life and all these things. So I think that it's important that we not lose that, first of all; not lose the things that we've learned this year through being sequestered. But I do find great encouragement. I just saw a Gallup poll yesterday that another pastor friend of mine shared that showed how people were rating their own mental health over the course from this time in 2020 to last year in 2019, and the only group out of the entire thing that actually had a positive rating (it was a plus-four percent) were Christians or people of faith who have been attending church every single week. That was the only group that actually said, “We're better off this year mentally in our mental health than we were last year. Even more so.” That's about a 16-point swing, I think, even from those that make over a hundred thousand dollars a year. So those who make over a hundred thousand dollars a year said that theirs was negative-14 percent. You have this huge swing which just continues to show that ultimately it doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank. It ultimately doesn't matter. So many of the things that we put so much stock in but what makes a huge difference is being a part of the church, and being a part of the church on a regular basis (not just attending every now and then). The folks that were saying that they went sparingly, maybe like once a month, I think they were like negative-2 or negative-4 percent off the top of my head. But the only group out of all these things – all the different ages – were people who have been attending church weekly and actually said, “You know what? I actually feel like I'm better off.” I think that's a great reminder for us as believers to be able to say we need one another – I need you, and you need me. You need what I have to offer, and I need what you have to offer, and that when we come together as one body and encourage one another that's going to be something that will make a huge impact not only in our individual lives but I think even in the community as a whole. I'm hopeful with the vaccination – it looks like that's being approved and moving forward. I know we have a number of people in our church that are saying, “We're going to wait until the vaccine.” But we've been open. We've had some masks-required services. We've had some that are optional. We've live-streamed and piped in our live service into a whole other room for people who want to wear a mask. We've tried that as well. We've tried to do as many things as possible so that people can gather in as safe a way as possible but also still get that community that people have been reaching out over the months saying, “I miss it. I miss seeing my friends. I miss worshiping together. I miss praying together.” Or whatever that might be. So I think as church leaders we've just said we're going to try to do everything we can possible to make it as safe as possible but we hope that you'll do some risk mitigation and say this is something that's worth doing.
KEVIN HARRIS: A couple more questions as we wrap up today. One is: people have heard me say it time and time again that Dr. Craig is the real deal when you get him behind the scenes. When you're with him at lunch or in his home or riding around driving somewhere with him in the car, he is a genuinely kind, godly man who is concerned about the spiritual welfare of even those who malign him all the time and personally attack him. He's the real deal. I know that maybe you want to say a few words about that – how Bill and Jan behind the scenes are the same that you see in front of the scenes.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah. I think that that's a great point, and I think today especially when we see so many sort of Christian celebrities failing and stumbling very publicly and very harmfully (I think even to the church). It is an absolute pleasure to be able to work with Dr. Craig and Jan knowing that behind the scenes away from everyone else that he's the same person on the stage that he is off the stage. There's no issues of integrity. Having traveled the world with him, going on multiple trips with him to Brazil and England and Ireland, different places that we've traveled even here in the United States making sure that things get filmed and things are taken care of for the ministry, on the ministry side of things. It is an absolute wonder and such a joy to know that the leader of this ministry is a person of integrity that guards his heart, guards his character. I think, too, one of the things that even my wife and I – if my wife has been along on a trip – that we love the fact that they have a beautiful marriage relationship. That's even an example to us. My wife and I just celebrated 15 years – our wedding anniversary last week – and remarking to each other and saying, “I hope that whenever we are Dr. Craig and Jan's age that we love each other just as fervently and just as much with as much care and tenderness as they have towards each other.” And I hope that I don't embarrass them if they listen to this podcast, but that's something wonderful that I think most of the world doesn't see. But I also hope and I think that even as Dr. Craig and you have discussed it a little bit here on the podcast before that's an example that people need to see today. That's an example that young people who are thinking about getting married. That's an example to young marrieds who have kids to go, “Hey, look, they've walked through this, too.” You can go through this whole thing. I can't remember who I heard it said before, but sometimes people make a mistake in their marriage when they think that your number one priority is your children, but your children are a temporary assignment when your marriage is a lifelong assignment. I think that's exactly mimicked by Dr. Craig and Jan – they have raised children, they have sent those children out to be successful in the world, but yet their relationship is strong. That is a wonderful example, I think, for other believers and anyone listening to the podcast to say that's what I want to have. And that doesn't happen by accident. That's intentional. We have to be intentional about those things. I think that that would certainly be . . . I would mimic and reaffirm what you've just said. I think having been with Dr. Craig in different circumstances his love for the Lord and his love for Christ is inspiring. It's encouraging to say, “God, I want to love you that much when I'm his age and that I don't ever want that to go away in my life.” He and I actually – when we were in Brazil together – we were there over the Easter holiday – and he and I had breakfast that morning, we greeted one another, we ate breakfast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the hotel that we were at that they had put us up in for his speaking engagements, and then he said, “You know, why don't we meet maybe in your room here in a little bit and we'll just have an Easter celebration.” And I said, “Absolutely. That sounds good.” He came to my room, and we sat down, and we sang some songs together. He read the resurrection story. We each prayed with each other and for the continued work of the ministry. That's something that I'll never forget. I'll cherish that memory the rest of my life. To know that even when nobody else is around – when it's just him and me and there's no cameras rolling, there's no iPhones taking pictures, that he is just as genuine of a follower of Christ first and foremost as he is standing up on the stage defending the Christian faith.
KEVIN HARRIS: I'm telling you, these romantic Hallmark Christmas movies have nothing on Bill and Jan.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: I agree! I absolutely agree.
KEVIN HARRIS: Their relationship has been very much in a mentoring capacity with Kelly and me. I affirm that. Hey, as we wrap up, tell us all about the matching grant. There are only a few more weeks left in that. It's a great way to bless the work of Reasonable Faith.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Yeah. This year for the first time ever actually – as any followers of the ministry know, we do a matching grant every year. But this year is unique because of two things. One, this is the first year that we've done a $300,000 matching grant campaign. We have upped that because we had more donors coming in. And the second thing would be because there is an extreme excitement about this center that Dr. Craig has been talking about in his newsletter, on the podcast here, as well. Having this William Lane Craig Center for Christian Apologetics and Philosophy and Theology, to have it established at an accredited university, that it will be offering Master's degrees and Bachelor's degrees and certificates for lay people who say, “I don't really want to get a Master's degree but I need accountability and I want to step into that and I want to take the classes and I'm happy with just getting a certificate.” I think that people have been really inspired by this because, as you and I well know, being a part of this ministry is something that excites us because we know that we're a part of something that's bigger than we are. That this ministry and Dr. Craig's work is unmatched I think. I mean, now, I'm probably a little biased but at the end of the day I think that his work is completely unmatched. I think a hundred years from now people will still be using his work. People will still, when a young scholar is talking about God and abstract objects, his professor will say, “Hey, have you read William Lane Craig's work? Yes, he was a hundred years ago but it's one of the best. Go pick it up. Make sure and use it in your research.” I think that speaks to the legacy not only of his work but the work of Reasonable Faith as a whole. So when people are partnering with us to say, “I want to be a part of that. I want to make a difference in establishing this center that ultimately is a work that each one of us will leave behind to make an impact in the generations that come after us.” I've been encouraged by the fact of even just thinking about this center of saying this center will have the opportunity and the potential to impact and change lives and help train future scholars that aren't even born yet. To think in those terms and to think that far out to say the work that we're doing now and through the partnership that people through our matching grant are able to partner with us to have every dollar that they give doubled to increase that impact and to increase the potential of all the things that we're doing. And not just the center and leaving that legacy behind but the center – everything we're doing with our chapters all around the world. We didn't even have time to get into chapters, but everything that's happening: starting chapters in countries all around the world – countries we've never even been in before. But yet people are connecting with the ministry. They're connecting with Dr. Craig's work. And they're continually perpetuating it forward to say we want to build the kingdom of God all around the world. We want to reach people and answer their questions and to be able to help give a reason for the hope that we have in countries all around the world. With our continued animation videos and the work that's being done to translate them and reanimate them into other languages, into the Chinese language, into Spanish, into Portuguese, and all of the work that's going on with social media and all the things that we don't even have time to mention here. But there are incredible things that are happening through the ministry of Reasonable Faith. We get testimonial emails and calls and all these things every single week from all over the world from people saying thank you – thank you Dr. Craig, thank you Reasonable Faith team for what you do. I think that's certainly one of the driving forces behind all the entire team – you and me, and all of us that are serving at Reasonable Faith – to say we want to leave something behind. We want to make sure that Dr. Craig's work is continually propelled forward, that it is preserved, and that it continually grows to be able to make a difference because we know that it's going to far outlive us. Now is a great opportunity. And, you know, for any people that are hearing this podcast I want to say this even – there may be somebody new that listens to this podcast six months from now and the matching grant will be over, but that doesn't mean you can't still partner with us to continue to make this move forward. So for any listeners at any point in time – be a part and partner with Reasonable Faith to make a difference in the world because I guarantee it, it's going to be an incredible, incredible thing. And we're going to see the kingdom of God continue to move forward.
KEVIN HARRIS: Michael Lepien, looking forward to great things from you in 2021 and looking forward to working with you to new heights in 2021. Thanks for being with us today.
MICHAEL LEPIEN: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Kevin.
Total Running Time: 30:21 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)