I am incredibly excited to bring you an interview with Michael DeVito. He and I are both graduates of the Houston Baptist University Master of Arts in Apologetics program. Actually, we are also graduates of colleges in the America East where we both received our Bachelor's degrees in Accounting, so that is another fun coincidence. Unfortunately, I never had the privilege of sharing a class with Michael as I graduated in the spring of 2016, and he entered that fall after retiring from the NFL in April 2016. However, I know that he is an apologist you need to keep your eyes on. Check out the big things he is planning to do with his future!
Thanks Mike for being willing to enter the public square and answer some questions for all of us!
ZS: First of all, can you give me a quick overview of your academic and professional career?
MD: I attended college at the University of Maine from 2002-2006, getting my undergraduate degree in Accounting. I played in the NFL from 2007-2015 (6 years with the Jets and 3 years with the Chiefs), retiring in April of 2016. In the fall of 2016 I began my graduate work at HBU in philosophical apologetics. I graduated in the spring of 2018 from HBU and started a second graduate degree this fall in Philosophy, Science and Religion at the University of Edinburgh. My goal is to do well enough at UE to pursue a PhD in philosophy.
ZS: When did you first become interested in apologetics? For me, I had been a Christian for several years before I discovered this important discipline.
MD: My first encounter with apologetics was in 2009 when the team chaplain for the New York Jets, 14 year NHL veteran Adam Burt, gifted me Timothy Keller’s book A Reason For God. After I finished reading it, I remember saying to myself, “I want to become great at whatever it is that Keller is doing in this book.” Fast-forward a year or so to a church conference that I attended in North Carolina. One of the breakaway sessions at this conference was a brief introduction to apologetics. The instructor began the class by saying, “If you want to see apologetics done at the highest level, you have to watch William Lane Craig debate skeptics.” All it took was one YouTube video of Craig shredding the arguments of Christopher Hitchens for me to conclude that once football was finished I was going to try to become an apologist.
ZS: Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles drew a great deal of attention for their public displays of Christianity. What was your experience with Christianity in the NFL? Did you sense a strong Christian presence on any of the teams you played for?
MD: I was blessed throughout my nine-year career to have been a part of a number of locker rooms that had strong Christian leadership. Guys like Kenyon Coleman, James Dearth, Matt Mulligan, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Tim Tebow, Jason Avant, Dustin Colquitt, Derrick Johnson, and the list goes on and on. During the course of an NFL season you experience major highs and major lows, and without spiritual mentors like the guys I just mentioned, I almost certainly wouldn’t have made it as long as I did. These men taught me how to represent Christ on and off the field. Not only did they set a Christ-like example, they held me accountable, making sure I didn’t fall into the traps that derailed a number of NFL careers. Having become friends with players from different teams, it seems fair to say that the there is a very strong Christian presence in the NFL, and, as you point out, there is probably no greater example of that than the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
ZS: It seems like a lot of athletes are very quick to thank God for any success they have on the field during press conferences or after touchdowns. To what degree do you think this is perhaps part of sports culture and evidence of cultural Christianity if you will, or do you think it is often times players who truly want to use the platform to share their faith?
MD: It always hard to determine a person’s motivation for their actions. I think it is always good to ascribe to people the benefit of the doubt and believe they are being genuine and using the platform to glorify God. That said, I don’t think it matters that much to be honest. As the apostle Paul writes, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18). As long as Christ is represented, it is a win, regardless of one’s motivation. But I do think a majority of the players are sincere.
ZS: What are your career aspirations now that you have completed your MA in Apologetics as well as your football career?
MD: As I mentioned earlier, I want to get my PhD in philosophy. More than that, I want to be a great philosopher and apologist! There are a number of reasons for this. First, I do feel God is calling me to do this work. For two decades I smashed my head against metal at high speeds (and I wasn’t smart to begin with). However, God has lit in me a fire to study, study, and study more. It seems almost blasphemous for me to say, but I’d rather study philosophy than watch football. I’m not exactly sure what the end goal is, but I know this is what God wants me doing. Secondly, I want to set a good example for my two boys. My dad was an engineer, and I remember seeing his degree in engineering from Syracuse on the wall in his office and thinking, “Wow, that’s awesome. I want to achieve something like that some day.” I’m hoping having a PhD on the wall at home will have the same effect on my sons.
ZS: As an academic apologist, where do your interests lie? Do you have any specific areas that you think are particularly important and require further study?
MD: Thanks to my intellectual mentor (and good friend) philosopher Tyler McNabb, I’ve come to really enjoy studying religious epistemology--specifically, the work of Alvin Plantinga. Realizing that I am warranted in believing that Christianity is true apart from argument and evidence, because of the profound religious experiences I have had that lead to this belief, has given me a confidence to study the arguments for and against the existence of God much more objectively. I do think every Christian apologist should read Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief for this very reason; your work and, more importantly, your faith will benefit significantly from doing so.
ZS: What are three resources that you would recommend for someone who is just beginning to study apologetics?
MD: My three favorite apologetics books are as follows:
1. The Reason for God – Timothy Keller
2. Reasonable Faith – William Lane Craig
3. Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
And, as I stated above, Warranted Christian Belief should also be a part of every apologist’s library