I Do Declare! The Universe Came to be.

The Cosmological Argument

I do declare! The Universe came to be.

That’s the short of it, the Cosmological Argument. The Universe came to be. If you can establish that, then you’re more than half way to the existence of God.

The argument is the first of three that I believe each Christian should have in their repertoire when being obedient to the command in 1 Peter 3:15, to be ready to give a response or defense for the hope that is in you. It’s not the easiest of the arguments to master, but in its most basic form it’s not too bad.

The Cosmological Argument begins by stating the law of causality that we reviewed a couple of posts ago. “Anything that has a beginning has a cause.” Refer back to the link to better understand this first premise.

This is the principle of the reason, on which both the cosmologic and teleological arguments for the being of a God are founded.[1]-RL Dabney on the Law of Causation

The next premise of the Cosmological Argument simply states that the Universe has a beginning. Surprisingly, you can run into skeptics with either of these premises, but seeing as how we dealt with the first premise in a previous post, let’s look at some quick replies to naysayers of the second.

First let me say that almost no one actually believes that the Universe had no beginning. Almost everyone understands that it must have come into existence. This doesn’t mean that they will admit it though. You’ll be surprised at how many skeptics will argue that the Universe has always existed while claiming to be scientifically concerned with all things. The irony of course is the fact that scientific evidence exclusively points to a finite beginning of the Universe.

There are two directions to come from when dealing with the claim that the Universe has always existed. There is the scientific evidence for a Universe with a finite beginning and the philosophical evidence against an infinite Universe.

Positive Scientific Evidence

Frank Turek lays out an easy to understand case for a beginning in his book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”. I highly recommend that book as a reference to several arguments, and the Cosmological is well described within its pages.

Frank does a great job of giving the scientific evidence for a beginning by creating an acronym to help remember five of its main lines of thought. SURGE is the word that Frank uses as a help.

S-Second Law of Thermodynamics

U-Universe is Expanding

R-Radiation Afterglow

G-Great Galaxy Seeds

E-Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

Franks book does a great job with this evidence and like I said, go get it, but for the purpose of this article I’ll summarize each one as quickly as I am able.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics simply states that the energy in the Universe is being used up. In other words, there is less energy to use today than there was yesterday or the day before, etc. That means that the amount of energy in the Universe was finite to begin with. The energy in the Universe began with a particular amount. It began.

The Universe is expanding. Astronomers can measure the expansion with their telescopes. An expanding Universe is evidence that the Universe was once smaller then even smaller before. Originally, the distance across the expanse of the Universe had to have been very small.

If the Universe came into existence at an instant, it must have done so with a very large expenditure of energy. We would expect something like would’ve left evidence. It did. The Radiation Afterglow was discovered as heat signatures or temperature differences in the expanse of the Universe.

Great Galaxy Seeds are the waves or ripples of temperature differences/Radiation Afterglow, much like the rings in the water when you throw a pebble in a pond, that indicate a sudden release of energy that began the Universe. These can be seen by Astronomers and are positive evidence for a beginning.

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Ripples in the Universe indicate a cause

Finally, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity basically states that time itself cannot be separated from space and matter. Each are co-relative and co-dependent. This means that at the finite point in time when space and matter came into existence, time did as well. That’s hard to get your mind around but it’s positive evidence for a finite Universe.

Philosophical Evidence for a Beginning

The philosophical evidence for a beginning has to do with time and is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

This one is a little more difficult but don’t get your bloomers in a wad.

The Kalam states that an infinite number of moments cannot be traversed so if the Universe stretched into an infinite past then we could not be here now, in the present.

Think of it this way. If you were in a hole and it was six feet deep, how far would you have to jump to get to the top of the hole? Six feet, right?

What if the hole was 20 feet deep? You’d have to jump 20 feet.

What if it was 100 feet deep? You’d have to jump a long way but if you could jump 100 feet, you’d get to the top.

Now, what if the hole had no bottom? What if the hole was infinitely deep? How far would you have to jump to get to the top? Could you even get to the top?

The answer is no. You could never reach the top because you would have to travel across an infinite depth to reach it and an infinite number of feet in a hole cannot be traversed.

Just like you could never jump out of an infinitely deep hole, the Universe could never reach NOW if time was infinitely deep into the past.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is a strong argument for God’s existence.

I and many others have seen people come to believe in God (and even Christ) on the basis of the kalam cosmological argument. The fact that other nontheists resist the argument may tell us more about the psychology of atheism than about the plausibility of the premises.5[2] –WL Craig

Therefore!

The conclusion of the Cosmological Argument is that something or someone immaterial, non-spacial, and a-temporal had to cause the Universe to come into existence. That sounds a lot like who Christian Theists call God.

I know that these are quick and I haven’t done a lot of explaining, but the point of this post is not to give the intricacies of this argument but to give a quick explanation of it and send you to a better resource.

I hope you can see the importance of the argument though. As Christians, we are very concerned with beginnings and it is also one of our most attacked doctrines. We believe God created the Universe ex nihilo (out of noting) and that it is the greatest miracle.

The Cosmological Argument fulfills our obligation to defend that and quite literally we can say…

I do declare! The Universe came to be.

[1] Dabney, R. L. (1892). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Philosophical. (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 417). Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

5 Feinberg himself endorses the cosmological argument as “one way, arguably the best way, in which the existence and nature of the universe can be explained” (p. 160, my emphasis). What more could the natural theologian ask for? Notice that one does not need any argument at all merely to “make explicit” one way of explaining the universe; anyone can just propose a hypothesis. But to claim the best way one needs a good argument, for one is inferring to one’s explanation as the best.

[2] Gundry, S. N., & Cowen, S. B. (Eds.). (2000). Five views on apologetics (p. 176). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Biblical Contradictions are as Scarce as Hen’s Teeth

The Law of Noncontradiction

Biblical contradictions are as scarce as hen’s teeth, but not if you ask most skeptics. That’s because contradictions are particular things and what is labeled as a contradiction is usually not.

The law of noncontradiction is an important concept. Actually, it’s more than a mere concept, it’s a law of logic that is necessary for all of life.

It’s as serious as this…

The conversation with an atheist that I had written about a week or so ago stemmed from an argument he had made to a young Christian in which his main point was that if the Bible had one contradiction, then it was not God’s Word. If you read the article, you know that I agree.

My concurrence is based upon an argument that BB Warfield made that basically says if the whole Bible is inspired then so must be all of its parts. Each part must be without error to be considered God’s infallible Word. Therefore, there is no such thing as partial inspiration.

If criticism has made such discoveries as to necessitate the abandonment of the doctrine of plenary inspiration (every word), it is not enough to say that we are compelled to abandon only a “particular theory of inspiration,” though that is true enough. We must go on to say that that “particular theory of inspiration” is the theory of the apostles and of the Lord, and that in abandoning it we are abandoning them as our doctrinal teachers and guides[1]-BB Warfield

(This would not mean that the Bible is unreliable as an historical document only that it is not inspired)

So, if one error is found within the Scriptures, then the rest is tainted or conspicuous. A contradiction is an error or at least indicates that one part of a claim or account it is not true.

That’s the gravity of the law of noncontradiction.   

Let’s get right to the definition to avoid confusion.

The simplest way to explain the law of noncontradiction looks like an algebra problem more than an explanation. It looks like this…

A=B and A≠B are mutually exclusive. Both cannot be true at the same time in the same sense. That would be a contradiction.

…the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect[2]-Aristotle

In other words, it would be a contradiction to say that a beagle is a dog and a beagle is not a dog at the same time. That’s all a contradiction is but it is specific.

Defense

When speaking expressly of the Bible, most of the time alleged contradictions come in the form of historical accounts. Historical accounts like the ones found in the Scriptures are usually full of details, often insignificant, that point to its reliability. These details are often picked out as targets for potential contradictions. One of the easiest to deal with and most common is the number of people who visited the tomb of Christ just after his resurrection.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1, ESV)

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.” (Mark 16:1–2, ESV)

One Gospel account lists only two women. One lists three.

While the Gospel accounts look different and give different details about this particular event, this does not point to a contradiction. Remember the definition of a contradiction? The claims must be mutually exclusive. One of the accounts must not be true at the same time and inthe same sense that the others are.

But, this is not the case with the Gospel accounts, is it? Could it be that one author merely left out the fact that another woman came to the tomb? Is it possible that one author merely left out the detail of the number of women that came? Maybe this be an issue of perspective rather than mutually exclusive claims?

I believe it is.

To be contradictory, one of the Gospel accounts would have to make their claim exclusive by saying that only two women came, not three. The other would’ve had to say there were three. Then there would be a contradiction. They do not make that kind of exclusive claim.

Matthew has two women visiting the tomb at daybreak. Mark has three. Is that a contradiction? No, it is just a difference, and differences are not necessarily contradictions. For example, suppose you arrived at church one Sunday to find a visiting minister filling the pulpit. You asked the person on your left, “Where’s Pastor Jones?” She replied, “He’s on vacation.” Then you asked the person on your right, “Where’s Pastor Jones?” He said, “He and his wife are on vacation.” Would you exclaim, “There’s a contradiction here! Someone’s telling a lie! Someone’s fabricating a myth”? Of course not. You would easily realize that the ones on your right and left were not making up false stories independent of one another. Neither, obviously, were they in collusion. They were just relating the same fact from two different but noncontradictory perspectives[3]

Offense

In discussions with skeptics, one can use the law of noncontradiction to point out flaws in their beliefs. It’s important to be able to do this tactfully because the consequences of an argument that includes a contradiction is falsehood. Contradictions destroy an arguments credibility more quickly than any other defeater. Such is the power of this logical law.

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Contradictions crush truth claims

No one likes the bank to say that they have no $ when at the same time their statement says you have $1000. No one wants the doctor to say you’re well while telling you that you have a fatal wound. It’s contradictory to believe that something cannot come from nothing and also believe that the Universe came from nothing, which is the faith of many atheists.

The first test that any truth claim must pass is that of consistency. This means that a system of belief must not lead to a contradiction. Any system of belief that is internally inconsistent is false. To show that a contradiction can be generated from a group of beliefs is the strongest type of disproof. It is called a reductio ad absurdum.[4]

Once again, be careful though that you stick to the strict definition of contradiction. To accuse someone of contradicting themselves and then to be proven incorrect is damaging to your argument. It will look like you’re attacking the person. Make sure of yourself.

Most of the time spent applying the law of noncontradiction though, will be spent defending Biblical inspiration by defending inerrancy. You will have to be practiced and familiar with the law to do so. There are a number of books that deal with the alleged contradictions in Scripture that are a great help when trying to think through an accusation. Today’s Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties by David O’Brien, The Handbook of Bible Difficulties by Josh and Sean McDowell, and Can I Trust the Bible by RC Sproul are three.

The truth is, Biblical contradictions are a scarce as hen’s teeth, but not if you ask most skeptics. So, be obedient to the command to be ready (1 Pet 3:15), become familiar with the law of noncontradiction, and your apologetics task will be much easier.

 

 

[1] Warfield, B. B. (2008). The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Revelation and Inspiration (Vol. 1, p. 180). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Aristotle. (1908). The Works of Aristotle. (W. D. Rose & J. A. Smith, Eds.) (Vol. 8, p. xv). Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

[3] Morgan, R. J. (2003). Evidence and truth: foundations for Christian truth (p. 12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] Feinberg, P. D. (2000). Cumulative Case Apologetics. In S. N. Gundry & S. B. Cowan (Eds.), Five views on apologetics (pp. 153–154). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Atheists Try to Make a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear

The Law of Causality

Atheists try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. At least that’s how I see it.

When it comes to the Universe and how or if it began, they’ll shine and sew just about any old argument together, pretend it’s a Dooney and Bourke, and tote it off to the logical mall grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet tater.

Their problem is, the deficiency of their argument leaves them so poor they can’t pay attention.

Many times their issue stems from the denial of the law of causality. It’s a natural law meaning it’s  an observable law or laws relating to natural phenomena[1].

The law of causality is one of those things that, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t escape it. It’s a basic as dirt and necessary to understand most anything. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Even the skeptical David Hume agreed.

Thus the skeptic still continues to reason and believe, though he asserts that he cannot defend his reason by reason; and by the same rule, he must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, though he cannot pretend, by any argument of philosophy, to maintain its veracity.85[2] –David Hume

Simply stated, the law of causality says that anything that has a beginning has a cause. Simply applied, the Universe had a beginning so…

Now, admittedly, that particular application is exactly why most atheists resist this law against all of their own intuition. They know that if they admit that the Universe had a beginning, and that anything that has a beginning has a cause, then they have a problem. That’s a sellout of immense proportions!

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Houston we have a problem

Most of the time when someone has a problem with this natural law, they attempt to twist it or treat it as a sleight of hand. To be honest, the wording may seem trickier than the reality.

Let’s look at it.

The first part of the law is simply a description of stuff, anything (any-thing) that has a beginning.

Just as some folks attempt to do with the word no-thing, they also do with the word any-thing. Anything is the kind of word that is very inclusive. In fact, it is almost always all inclusive. The difference here is that the word anything has a qualifier. The phrase has a beginning limits the word anything in a particular way.

Having a beginning limits anything to all things that have come into existence or began to exist.

This qualifier is probably the most argued point that atheists love to pick on when it comes to the law of causality. If they can’t disregard the Universe as not anything, then they want to include God part of anything therefore having a beginning.

 Stick to the definition of the law. It’s important.

One thing that we are definitely not saying is that anything has a cause. Only things that have beginnings have causes. Something that has no beginning is uncaused. Therefore, something that is uncaused cannot, by definition, have a cause. The word cause means to begin something or bring it about. God, by definition, has no beginning. He has always been. He has no cause.

cause

noun

1          a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition.[3]

A condition in the sense of the definition above can be existence or being. If somethings existence begins, then it is caused to exist by something else or something other than itself.

Anything or person that has no beginning is defined as self-existent. We call that attribute aseity.

Aseity

The absolute self-existence of God. He has life in Himself (John. 5:26), or to use the Latin phrase, life a se, hence the word a-se-ity.[4]

That’ll come up. I guarantee it.

Here’s the power of being familiar with this natural law. If someone denies that anything that has a beginning has a cause, they are in effect saying that anything can come into existence uncaused. Not only can a Universe which is governed by such laws somehow magically pop into existence without a cause, so can anything inside of the Universe do the same.

This is a problem particularly for a person who proposes not to believe the law of causality as a foundational and transcendent principle or law.

You see, if anything can begin without a cause, then someone can take their car, money, or any other property and honestly justify it by simply saying “Nothing caused its disappearance”.

If they question a sudden nose bleed and facial pain, it wasn’t the accelerating fist someone placed on their head that caused it.

In fact, their precious god of science can no longer be practiced due to the fact that its method for discovery is based upon the presumption that anything that has a beginning has a cause.

If causality is not real, science becomes impossible—for what scientists are doing is tracing the path of cause and effect from one event to the next.[5]-Francis Shaeffer

Don’t get me wrong. You’re not going to find many folks who will challenge this basic law. But, if you are not familiar with its definition and its consequences, then you won’t be able to go far with any other argument, be it Biblical, evidential, or philosophical.

The law of causality is primary and necessary to understanding the Universe and practicing apologetics. Learn it. Tactfully and intentionally employ it as you discuss beginnings.

To deny the law of causality is anti-science and logically self-defeating. Expose the atheist who tries to disguise his bad argument by shining a pig ear and parading it around as if it is scientific. Stick with the law as defined and hammer the nail. It’ll be easy to do. Reality precedes your argument.

What atheist say about causation may sound soft and silky, they may even fashion a nice handle to carry it around, but if it denies this fundamental truth, it’s still just a  dressed-up pig ear.

[1] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

85 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1956).

[2] Schaeffer, F. A. (1982). The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian worldview (Vol. 5, pp. 364–365). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.

[3] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[4] Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 42). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

[5] Schaeffer, F. A. (1982). The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian worldview (Vol. 5, p. 364). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.

Atheists Deny the Obvious, Bless Their Hearts

Atheists deny the obvious, bless their hearts.

Everything that has a beginning has a cause. Sometimes they are forced to deny that. To deny that is absurd.

I know for some people that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true.

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago with a young man, an acquaintance of mine.

I had ‘by chance’ walked upon a conversation between two young men, neither one I knew. One was fumbling around on his smartphone for a Bible verse while the other awaited his proof, rather impatiently I must say. Finally, after an eternity it seemed, the young man had it. He read the verse which said…

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;” (Isaiah 40:22, ESV)

He exclaimed that the word circle has the meaning of the word sphere.

The young Christian asked, “What is a sphere?”

The other man answered, “Something round, I don’t know.”

The young Christian pushed him asking, “No. Really. What is a sphere?”

The other man refused to answer so I couldn’t help myself. “A ball”, I blurted out.

They both looked at me, then the other young man proceeded to hurl a plethora of questions at the Christian, never allowing him to answer until he asked, “Do you eat pork?”.

He had him. I saw it in the young Christians eyes. He had courteously asked to be allowed to answer the questions but always denied. Finally, though, when the other person sensed hesitation, he allowed the Christian to speak.

The young Christian waded around in the deep water of trying to explain to this person the nuances of why God gave laws about food to his people, but to no avail. The other person continued on his rant by claiming that this was a contradiction and if it was truly a book written by God then there could be no contradiction. (He was right, by the way)

The young Christian continued to try to answer the ‘law’ question but it was hard.

The other man kept badgering him by asking, “I said, do you eat pork?”

I sensed the young Christian’s frustration, remembered something Greg Koukl told me about answering skeptics, and couldn’t help myself. I told him, “Don’t answer that question! It’s a red herring.”

This steamroller had to be stopped! But not the conversation…

I decided to turn the tables, especially since by now I was a kind of conversation crasher. My first question, after I determined that he was an atheist, not an agnostic, was as follows: do you believe that the Universe came from nothing?

( I knew that was a legitimate question that would put him on the defensive)

He began to explain to me that he knew what I was asking and that “if someone was walking on the beach and found a watch, then there must be a watchmaker. A watch couldn’t just appear out of nothing because it was complicated machinery.” “But a watchmaker wasn’t necessary”, he explained. “Science has proven that complicated things can just happen.”

I kindly told him that that was a nice summation of the Argument from Design or the Teleological Argument, but I was referring to the Cosmological Argument which works from the premise of the Law of Causality-Everything that has a beginning has a cause.

Now who was in the deep water?

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As obvious as the hands in front of his face!

After arguing whether God has a cause, if an infinite number of moments could be traversed, and the ultimate causality of the String Theory, it finally came down to one thing. This atheist was willing to admit that he didn’t accept the idea that everything that has a beginning has a cause.

Bless his heart.

I had to leave so I politely said thanks for the conversation and told the young Christian not to fret. “Here is a person who believes that a hippopotamus could just appear in this very room with no cause at all.”

This conversation was much longer than what I’d be willing to type but you get the gist. I want you to notice something though. I want you to notice the extent this young atheist went to deny God’s existence.

It’s almost always the case. No matter how smart, and this young man was an intelligent young man, atheism leads to absurdity because atheism must always deny something that is obviously true. As I said earlier, atheists deny the obvious, bless their hearts.

There are three Classical Arguments and two Natural Laws that every Christian should know that’d help expose this absurdity most of the time. I’d like to spend the next few posts on Southern by His Grace explaining those important features of reality in a way that’s simple enough so you can put it in your pocket.

These are not a substitute for the Gospel and don’t necessarily prove Christianity, but they are evidence of God’s existence. They are not bludgeoning tools, but they close the mouths of objectors. These arguments help us be obedient to the command to both “be ready to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15) and “hush the mouths of the naysayers” (Titus 1:9-14).

None of this is a substitution for the Holy Spirit’s work, to impede or assist him. Nor is it an exercise in coercion, strong-arming the will of unbelievers into repentance. Obedience to these imperatives are for our own good as well as those who we encounter.

Thus, the employment of this human expedient does not assail or infringe any man’s liberty, but only protects our own.[1]-RL Dabney

Please join me.

 

 

[1] Dabney, R. L. (1890). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical. (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 322). Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

Peach Blossoms and Apologetics

It’s been said that peaches only grow where there’s peach blossoms. Well, that’s true for apologists as well. In a time when they’re needed, our apologetics ‘peaches’ don’t seem to “bloom where they’re planted”.

That’s a favorite adage of Greg Koukl, an apologist who has a radio show out of LA (not Louisiana). “Bloom where you’re planted”.

It’s advice that he often gives to those who ask about the best way they can help the Church using their newly found passion for apologetics.

It’s good advice, especially for small, rural churches. I’d like to share some thoughts about the relationship between peach blossoms and apologetics.

The peach is falling too far from the tree.

While looking for a church over the past few years it’s become evident to me that the Barna survey of several years ago now, is correct. Eighty percent of high school graduates are leaving the Church. I’ve definitely noticed an age gap in each church I’ve visited. From about the ages of 15-25 there is a definite void in the pews.

Furthermore, the more recent Pew Survey indicates a rise in the so-called “nones”, a rising generation of folks who claim no affiliation with religion or any particular belief about it. That’s becoming the new cultural norm. One only needs to walk down any small town street in America, even in the South, and engage in a spiritual conversation or two to find a “none”. There’s a quickly widening gap in the cultural understanding of religion and even religious freedom.

So, there is obviously a definite disengagement with the culture and the Church, but I suppose all you have to do is watch the news to understand that.

I think the issue is more complicated than the statistics might indicate though.

A box of peaches left in the box will rot.

In my experience which is mostly rural and completely Southern, most churches are not doing a good job grounding their young folks in theology and most pay no attention at all to apologetics. That’s a factor for sure. On the other hand, there are some doing a pretty fair job at giving their young folks some roots in “what they believe” by catechizing their children and so on. Though apologetics may not be on their radar, they aren’t afraid of answering questions or wading in some deep water every now and then.

In both cases I’ve noticed a complete lack of putting shoes on the feet of their young folk’s beliefs though. Very little effort is given to engage young people with the culture. Mission, evangelism, and apologetics is almost always done one on one, and a lack of engagement with unbelievers gives young people the impression that this church thing has little to do with how I live my life or the Gospel’s effect on the culture. High schoolers need to be engaged with people they don’t know to put shoes on what they believe. This instills in them a sense of service, gives them an opportunity to share the Gospel, and forces them to answer real questions from real people.

This kind of cultural engagement is integral to the spiritual growth of young Christians and the lack of it shelves Christian belief for many, removing it from reality and placing in the fiction section of their mind. They just don’t see any significant value of a faith that does nothing to redeem the culture in which they are already so often engaged and care so much about.

It doesn’t seem to be much different for the rest of the Church either.

Gotta get them peaches to market!

One thing that cultural engagement does when practiced by a local church in their own community is produce an investment in local people. That may be the weakest link in the Church today.

Most churches send missionaries to foreign lands to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lots of churches give to local missions like soup kitchens, the Haven of Rest, or others that help the needy.

Almost all churches participate in local events like parades, festivals, or sporting events.

But, very few churches see their backyard or town as a mission field though. Even fewer churches participate in local events or missions to the needy for the express purpose of engaging their local culture in the cause of Christ, sharing the Gospel, answering questions, creating relationships with their community with roots that are deeper than building a float or a sticker on the door of a soup kitchen.

Churches don’t seem to be blooming where they are planted. 

peaches-1329026_1920.jpg Locally ‘grown’ apologetics should change the aroma of the culture from the church outward!Christianity on the other hand, is a grass-roots effort. It’s not usually a top-down approach that changes culture, so it’s not the Kingdom first plan that’s going to work. Christianity changes cultures by Christians telling individuals about Jesus’ person and work and defending that hope to those who disagree. Once the Gospel of the Kingdom takes hold of the people who are the culture, then and only then will the culture begin to resemble the Kingdom.

Orchards can’t “go” that’s why peaches grow.

The local church is the means for cultural change.

Missions (engaging a culture with the Gospel) need to always have an interest in foreign lands, but in my opinion, most of the focus should begin at the door step of the local church.

The same is true for discipleship of young people. Engagement of their culture with the Gospel, especially when it’s done locally, is an investment they’re less likely to shrug off as irrelevant. Relationships with unbelievers with whom they have a heart interest in sharing Christ and defending his truth are more difficult to leave behind than a 30-minute Bible story or a few songs and a sermon.

This kind of local engagement is blooming where you’re planted and rural local churches are in desperate need of it. Many are on the verge of dying. Some are on their way. Almost all of them are lacking focus when it comes to the future.

Some pastors are calling for Christians to move to the city and stay in the city, I would like to respectfully say, don’t forget about your roots. Bloom where you’re planted.

If you’re in a small, rural church that seems disengaged, if you’re not sure about the mission of your church, if you’re thinking about moving, if you have a gift but are unsure where to use it, stay. Small, rural churches need you too. You may be the peach your church has been looking for for so long.

The thing about moving to the city, the problem with leaving your home church, is peaches only grow in certain places. I live in the South and that’s where peaches grow. We need them down here, bad.

You may be an apple or a grape. You may bloom in the Midwest or the Northwest or another part of the world. Consider your roots! If you haven’t been called to another place, bloom where you’re planted. The entire American culture is not shaped in Manhattan. In fact, true American culture has little to do with it and this imposition of metro-based cultural shaping has caused an anger in the rest of America that is being channeled in this year’s elections.

The metropolitan centers of American need churches and apologists. There is nothing about that that takes away from the same need in rural American churches.

Where are you growing? If it’s in the city, evangelize, apologize, engage in the city. If it’s in a small, rural church, bloom in the country.

Peaches only grow where peach trees blossom. Maybe God put ‘em there for a reason.

 

Whistling Dixie Past the Graveyard of Racism

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the cultural sandlot, you’re probably beginning to see racial issues in America as more complicated than before.Once relegated by the cultural elitists to the South, racism has become a chasm that threatens the neo-patriotic idea of indivisibility more like a cracked windshield than a geographic fault-line. It’s fissures are appearing in metro-America, the Midwest, and all over social media-the soul of American culture.

Racism, in all of its facets though, has yet to be dealt with honestly by the Church, despite the hope that the recent gestures by the SBC and the PCA toward racial reconciliation will somehow fix it. This is becoming self-evident by our lack of influence on the culture and the fear that all of this was too little too late.

One of the major difficulties standing in the way of having a conversation about race is the same moral dominance that many white folks who are in leadership impose on the effort. It’s a problem in which Southerners are all too familiar. We have been the historical racial scapegoat for 150 years in the United States and by that, disallowed to partake publicly in any solution to the problem. Most of that segregation from reconciliation has come from those who see themselves as morally superior, historically Northern and Midwesterner Unitarians who often pose as Protestants. It was their Reconstruction that revised history for the purpose of demoralizing the South while creating a whitewashed version of their own racial hatred for the history books. Many of the solutions we hear from Christian leaders today come straight from the playbook of those Unitarians.

We will soon be at an impasse though if truthful conversation is not perpetuated.

The prohibition comes when folks go beyond the definition of racism and begin to relegate anything that disagrees with what they think racism looks like or how it manifests itself to the trash heap of what they call the “same ole bigotry”. In fact, disagreement or differing perspectives are automatically prejudged as racism by these usually prudishly pious prigs, posing as Protestants, stopping the conversation on the grounds that anything other than their perspective is racism itself.

Let me illustrate.

In the controversy over the Confederate Flag in which the Southern Baptist Convention debated its Christian legitimacy, the premise was established early that any person who was pro-flag was in-turn unsympathetic to the feelings of offended African-American brothers and were therefore guilty of the racial sin of omission which is an ironic position for Christians who tout the prohibition to judge mens motives. Furthermore, as people implicitly guilty of racism, Confederate Flag advocates (who are prejudged racists) were not allowed to speak to the issue. They were disqualified by definition.

In other words, no true Christian would ever be pro-Confederate Flag and would likewise have no place at the table until they repent or acquiesce to the argument of the self-proclaimed, morally condescending group of movers and shakers.

I experienced this firsthand when Russell Moore blocked my attempts to discuss his remarks rather than entertain my questioning of his logic.

In another circumstance, some at TGC use a similar tactic. In articles and sermons they set the table by stating that a natural outcome of the Gospel is empathy for black folk grieved by racism. That is a true statement but the sleight of hand follows when they define what that empathy should look like, all the while negating any differing perspective by defining it out of the box of orthodoxy.
“If you have true empathy”, they say, “then it will look like”…and the next thing you know, you’re disqualified because your empathy isn’t clothed in the same holy cloth as theirs. Although you may empathize more than they are capable because you are actually in relationships with real people injured by real racism, trying to come up with real solutions, race conversation becomes a one-way street on which they are the traffic cops. Conversation, as the adage goes, is a two-way street, but not when it comes to this one. The only conversation they recognize and will allow is between a white elitist Christian and a black elitist Christian who define any other perspective other than their own as racism. All others need not apply.


They do this by misrepresenting other arguments and subverting them as “hidden” sins in which the so-called ignorance is pre-supposed as racism. This slams the door on any real discussion and ushers those dissenting Christians to the back of the bus on which these elitists white-knuckle us onto a one-way street of irresolution.

Until this claim of moral superiority ceases, no conversation will be had and the fallout of racism and all of its violent acts will not only continue but be exacerbated!

The superficial solutions administered by so many politically correct Pharisees will continue to hemorrhage and the nation, and the Church, will suffer.

When real racial issues are ignored so that we can merely pat ourselves on the back for condemning our ancestors or discarding offensive Christian symbols, ethnic groups will suffer injustice by a thousand cures.

It’s time that we take this on biblically, and that means truthfully, unashamedly, and fearlessly confronting problems like fatherless homes, bad ethnocentric theology, the appeal of Islam, and the perpetuation of crime in black pop culture. To ignore problems like these are not to do justice, love mercy, or walk humbly with Christ. To deflect the culpability of individuals in favor of a system that has supposedly leaned on their ethnicity when all of the empirical evidence leans otherwise, is its own form of racism. Finally, to suggest that illegal acts by groups like BLM or individuals who murder police officers should be understood sympathetically because of a perceived oppression of their “kind” is the epitome of bigotry in the form of moral condescension and that dishonors a Holy God and his image in which each and every one  of us are created to be holy, as he is.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not under any illusion that white racism doesn’t exist nor is it my intention to deflect or minimize its sinfulness. All sinners have their excuses and none will stand against Gods exam. For us to minimize sin and make excuses for it is reminiscent of Pauls words in his letter to the Romans, and that is a two-way street.

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32, ESV)

The solution to real racist actions is simple…church discipline through its courts. There, real sin is dealt with not winked at, and the innocent have a right to argue their case. Why does this not occur? Your guess is as good as mine.

For the Church, the most immediate injustice should be our utmost concern. It is only after we have dealt with the objective sin that the more subjective can be discussed. Let’s condemn obvious sin before we take another step towards reconciliation because there is no real unity where sin exists under the blind eye of the Church (1 Cor 5:9-13). Let’s only seek unity in truth. Let’s stop winking at moral failure and charging the windmills of our own making. That goes for every race.

The truth is, the only way that any of these problems will be fixed is by the growth of the Kingdom through the spread of the Gospel. Fixing any number of these social issues, absent from the Gospel, is temporary at best. Sinful men will always regress back to their default position without the sanctifying inward presence of the Holy Spirit. The only way that happens is by preaching to those who need it.

It’s time for the Church to stop whistling Dixie past the graveyard of racism! It’s time be the redeeming force that the Kingdom should resemble and stop worrying about whether we resemble the Kingdom so that we can be a redeeming force. The command of the Gospel is “REPENT and BELIEVE”, on that truth the Kingdom is built. We are called to preach THAT to ALL the nations (εθνος-ethnos). Then we are to disciple them in truth.

All of the beauty that we hope for in the Church, all of the mystery of the Kingdom, the complete and absolute healing of the nations (ethnos), will be a product of repentance and belief that Jesus is Lord. That’s the chronology of the Gospel. It just works that way-Gospel to Kingdom.

The outworking of the Gospel is the Kingdom, not the other way around.

Let’s stop pretending we can build the Kingdom on arbitrary moral principles and begin to be truth tellers to a nation that desperately needs it.

No racism will be dealt a death blow until the Gospel takes hold of men’s hearts. No man can hear the Gospel until it is preached. And, the Gospel can not be preached without a preacher. (Rom 10:14-15) Does your church have a local mission(ary) to those black or white folks in your town or community that haven’t heard or have been fooled by a false gospel? Are you preaching the Gospel to them expecting the Kingdom or are you building castles in the sand hoping for the ocean of our culture to leave them standing?

Some would say that the mission field is not merely in a foreign land. I say amen. Others might add that it’s coming. I would say it’s already here!

It’s time the Church recognized that.

America has become a nation (ethnon) composed of nations(ethnos). If there is any hope for her to heal, it is only in the Gospel. Any attempt to invert the process is building sand castles at the edge of the water.

Abraham Lincoln was honest but is not popular for telling a group of free blacks in 1862 that we are so different that we can not live together peaceably. You and we are different races.

“We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”

John Adams famously said that our Constitution and Republic were made only for a moral people.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

They were both correct.

The exception to Lincoln’s statement and the guarantee of Adams’ is found in the unifying truth of Pauls admonishment. Eph 4:11-16.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

(Notice the progression is always from knowledge and truth to unity)

As much as we hope our newly penned confessions will have killed it, as long as we believe only Unitarian doctrine is morally superior, until the day that all good folks are given a seat at the discussion table, we’ll be whistling Dixie past the graveyard of racism. But, when the Gospel actually precedes the Kingdom not only in our confession but also in our mission, the beachhead of racism will give in to the ebb of history.

Teleology from Psalm 19

Recently, we took a look at the Psalms, Psalm 19 in particular, as resources for Apologetics. In fact I believe I led with the statement that one can easily obtain apologetics from the Psalms.

Psalm 19 begins with one of the great apologetic statements in the Bible…

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, ESV)

It’s easy to see how this is the premise of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. That was quickly covered last time.

I also made the claim that verses like v.3 & 4 made it clear that the knowledge of God revealed through his handiwork was inescapable or transcendent. Exclusive words like “no speech” and “whose voice is not heard” leave the reader with no choice but to believe the author is making the claim of transcendence. All people in all places at all times know about God by his handiwork, especially in the Heavens.

But wait! There’s more.

Psalm 19 makes another claim as David worships God in song. It’s one that escapes you if you’re not looking for it.

As David describes God in relation to his General Revelation, what he has done to reveal himself in Creation, he almost inadvertently makes the Teleological Argument or Argument from Design. At the end of v. 4 through v. 6, David poetically describes God’s creation of the Sun and its subordination to God.

This idea of God as the Sun’s creator and the sun as subordinate to God was especially important at that time. The Sun was worshiped and treated as a god by several cultures in David’s time. David made it clear to God’s people in v. 4-6 that sun worship was false worship.

The poetic description of the sun as a groom was intended to undermine a false belief in the sun’s divinity. In the ancient world the sun god, who was also the god of law (later worshiped in Israel, 2 Kg 23:11), was described in a similar way. The psalm, however, places the sun in a subordinate position within God’s creation, as does the Gn account of creation (see Gn 1:14–19, where the heavenly lights appear only on the fourth day). The sun is not a divinity; instead, with its energy it dominates the skies as a testimony to its Creator.[1]

But that’s not all.

David describes the sun as being set in a tent (by God) and running it’s course, rising from the end of the heavens, following its circuit to the end, (SO THAT) nothing is hidden from its heat.

Let me explain why I added “SO THAT” and why I think it can be faithfully drawn from the text.

First of all, when David writes that the sun rises from the end of the heavens and follows its circuit to the end of them, it’s obvious that what he is communicating is the fact that the Sun rises from one end of the horizon, appears to follow a course across the sky, and then sets on the other end of the horizon.

David is not trying to explain the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in scientific detail, he is merely describing the path of the Sun from man’s perspective. The orbit of the Earth is not what is in view here.

What is in view is the inescapability of anything on the Earth from the heat of the Sun. David communicates this when he writes, “nothing is hidden from its heat”.

Plainly, the fact that the Sun effects everything is obvious to the reader and the reason for that is the path of the Sun described by David is all inclusive. That could be said to be incidental. But it’s not.

If the words of Scripture are in fact inspired, infallible, and inerrant, then they must be accurate. They don’t have to be scientific, but they can’t be wrong. So, when David writes down a description of the path of the Sun as it relates to the Earth and he does so under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, it is not necessary for him to include every detail as it would be in a Scientific text book. The Bible is not a science book.

But, what he describes must be accurate to a degree. The Bible is allowed to use grammatical tools like hyperbole, etc., but it may not err in what it says as understood in its genre.

Let me put it this way. David is allowed to make general statements about the Sun and its relation to the Earth from his perspective using poetry as a grammatical device never intending to relay specific scientific data to the reader. He is not allowed to make false statements though in the sense that he cannot say that the Sun doesn’t heat the Earth or that there are parts of the Earth that are not affected by the Sun. Those would be false statements and would have to be considered to be error.

That being said, David must be using a kind of poetic syllogism when he says that a) the Sun begins on one end of the horizon and follows its course or circuit, b) the Sun ends is course on the other covering the entire horizon, and concluding that nothing is hidden from its heat.

He begins by praising God for setting the Sun in its tent.

            In them he has set a tent for lthe sun[2]

It’s interesting that David uses this language. One meaning for the word “tent’ can be habitation.

(2) a house, or habitation of any kind;[3]

That’s important. It seems that David is saying that God has set the boundaries for the sun when he uses the word tent. He has set the Sun in its “habitation”. He has given it boundaries and set its course.

David does more than imply that the Sun has been fixed on a course or set on a circuit. In other words, God has given it a limited and specific path.

Now, from this I don’t believe it would be unfair to say that because God fixed the boundaries of the Sun and directed it on its path, it is not an accident that all things are exposed to its heat. God, being omniscient would know that. God being sovereign, would’ve ordained that. So, a purpose of God’s in setting the Sun in its boundaries and fixing its course would’ve been to expose everything on Earth to the heat of the Sun.

That introduces teleology. That’s design.

Those are a lot of words to show something that is otherwise pretty obvious. This Psalm is an example of several that are great resources for apologetics, including the Teleological Argument.

God’s law, or his Specific Revelation is the focus of the rest of Psalm 19 and maybe we can hit on that soon. But for apologists, it’s easy to see how time memorizing and studying the Psalms can be a great benefit.

 

 

 

 

[1] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 805). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

l [Eccles. 1:5]

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 19:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (2003). Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (p. 17). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Apologetics from the Psalms

One can easily obtain apologetics from the Psalms.

That’s right. I said the Psalms.

Most of the time when we think of the Books of Psalms in the Scriptures, we think songs or prayers. Well, that’s what they are.

But, it’s not very often that we consider the Psalms as a source for apologetics though. But, because the Psalms are written from man’s perspective in an attempt to understand life through worship of a Holy God, they necessarily describe that relationship and often do so in a way that provides evidence.

Furthermore, because the Psalms often approach worship in a way that describe God as creator, arguments for his existence emanate from the verses.

This summer my pastor is preaching through some of the Psalms and it has been interesting so far to hear these apologetic titbits fall off the pages and from his exposition. Hopefully, he won’t mind me sharing some of what unfolded from Psalm 19 a couple of weeks ago, although his sermon wasn’t necessarily apologetic in nature. (This was not his sermon and it is not my intention to reproduce that in any way.)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19, ESV)

The first and most obvious statement in this Psalm is the very first line: The heavens declare the glory of God…

This is the summary of the premises of the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. Premise 1) Everything that exists (the heavens) has a cause. Premise 2) The universe (the heavens)-all time, space, and matter exists. Conclusion-The universe (the heavens) must have a cause which is timeless, space-less, and immaterial (God). In that general sense, it is the heavens themselves by their very existence which proclaim God’s glory.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalm 8:1, ESV)

The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah” (Psalm 50:6, ESV)

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!” (Psalm 89:5, ESV)

 

Next, I noticed that David, the Psalmist, makes another claim. He claims as Paul did that this heavenly declaration of God (the cosmological argument) does so transcendently. No one can escape what the universe is saying. God exists.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6, ESV)

Day to day and night to night (all time) speech and knowledge is poured out, he writes and there is no speech or any words that is not heard through all the earth (all people).

That sounds pretty exclusive doesn’t it?

Matthew Henry sums it up this way…

This instance of the divine power serves not only to show the folly of atheists, who see there is a heaven and yet say, “There is no God,” who see the effect and yet say, “There is no cause,” but to show the folly of idolaters also, and the vanity of their imagination, who, though the heavens declare the glory of God, yet gave that glory to the lights of heaven which those very lights directed them to give to God only, the Father of lights[1]

David is saying in a poetic way that God’s glory is declared by the heavens and that no one in any place or any time can escape that knowledge. This is an argument from transcendence. But he doesn’t stop there.

David’s praise resembles another of the Classical Arguments for God’s existence, Teleological Argument, or the Argument of Design. After that, the Psalmist changes gears and begins to praise God for the “law of the Lord”. In other words, his praise changes focus from General to Specific Revelation.

We may look at those soon but the point is this: If you’re having a hard time coming up with Biblical references that argue Classically for God’s existence, then look no further than the songs right in the middle of the Bible. The Psalms are a great resource and you can easily obtain apologetics from the Psalms.

 

[1] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 767). Peabody: Hendrickson.

I’m My Father’s Son

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….” (1 John 3:1, ESV)

 

I’m my Father’s son. There’s no doubt about it. My habits, my personality, even my DNA declare it. In him my identity is found.

Have you ever thought about the privilege of being called someone’s child? Do you ever consider your identity in that way?

In a day that has brought so many folks to an identity crisis, it may do us well to consider our familial standing. In a time when the family is little more than a social construct, a positive defense of it may be beneficial.

I remember the comfort I had knowing my dad when I was a child. He brought me a sense of security. In him I found safety and rest. It was his home where I would abide and it was his rule that demanded obedience and gave order.

My days began with his departure, anticipated his return, and were consummated when he pulled into the driveway. Most of the time his return was a source of happiness. Sometimes though, especially if I had misbehaved, the anticipation became dread and shame. At those times his forgiveness was my greatest wish.

If in my scholastic or athletic efforts I worked hard or succeeded, or if someone found a resemblance unknown to them before, I often heard the words, “he’s just like his dad”. There was little else that could make me stand up straighter, hold my head higher, and walk more upright than to hear others associate me with him, especially when it came to hard work, diligence, or faithfulness.

IMG_1397
My 2nd Great Grandfather GW

Many times, even now, when I meet folks who live near him but may not know who I am, I introduce myself as his son. I am not interested at that moment in my own personal image. My desire is that they will be able to make the connection, to associate me as his son. I am always disappointed if they do not and elated if they do.

IMG_1618
My Grandfather Robert

 

 

 

 

 

 

Version 2
My Dad 

 

It used to be that way for most young boys growing up, especially in the rural South. Folks didn’t know other folk’s young’ns because of the child’s intrinsic worth. That self-absorbed, feel-good, psychobabble is a recent addition (or subtraction) to the culture. It was only a few decades ago that children were known by who their parents were. It was their parents that mattered. Yeah, the child was important but only as the son or daughter of the parents.

Today, ancestry is all but forgotten. No one seems to care from where you come. The most important qualities today are self-fulfillment, self-identification, and being self-made. We have become independent of our ancestry, units made from scratch. Not only does it not matter who your parents were, but even less who your grandparents or great-grandparents were. In fact, many see their ancestry as a malady or a hindrance and its proliferation or protection bigotry.

IMG_1902
Yours Truly

In my opinion, the cultural effort to muddy the water when it comes to family and identity is only one front in the supernatural war against God’s design. As principalities war against us, their juggernaut attacks the most basic building blocks God uses to establish civilization. Gender is confused, marriage is deconstructed, and family is disintegrated and its not a coincidence.

Why?

I’m convinced that one of the ultimate objectives in the supernatural war on family is the concept I have already related to you in the beginning of this article. The concept that is missing from so many households today is the very one attacked by the powers against us. It’s a truth about who we are as the Elect, our self-identity if you will. The concept is found in 1 John 2:28-3:3; we have been called the Children of God.

Consider the similarities of our Heavenly Father and my earthly father that I described earlier. My sentiments were true about my own father, but they are truly my Heavenly Father’s character. I am able to relate to my Heavenly Father more easily because my relationship with my earthly father has been a finite and fallible picture of that relationship. I understand my Heavenly position as adopted and the promise of an inheritance through my earthly family, especially my father and my position in relation to him.

What good is that?

I understand the exceptionalism and the grace that resulted in being a child of God (3:1). I enjoy the pride and intimacy of being associated with his name (3:1). I have a reason to praise him when my hard work resembles his (2:29). I anticipate his coming (2:28). I miss him when he seems far away. I dread his disappointment and am ashamed of my failure (2:28). I am disappointed when others don’t know me for who I am because that means they don’t know him (3:1). I look forward to becoming like him (3:2). I long to hear him say, “That’s my boy” (3:3).

All of that brings him glory. But, it’s hated by the Enemy and he has declared war on it and it’s a war that has no truce or holiday.

Father’s Day is over, but our Father’s Day never ends. If you are a dad, this is your duty: You represent a greater relationship, one in which your image pales in comparison, but you must do your duty faithfully.

Are your children proud to call you father?

If they are, give God the glory and tell them, “I’m my Father’s son”.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 2:28–3:3, ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

Will Southern Baptists Reject the Southern Cross of St Andrew

Will Southern Baptists reject the Southern Cross of St. Andrew?

That is a question that will be answered June 14 & 15 in St Louis as the Southern Baptists have their annual convention.

At the top of the agenda and with much anticipation is a resolution for all Southern Baptists and their neighbors to reject any public display of a version of the Confederate Battle Flag, in this case it is the famous St Andrew’s Cross in blue, with thirteen stars in the cross, laid on a field of red. It could be either the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E Lee’s army, or the Army of Tennessee, a much more popular version.

This resolution is being sponsored by Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. His resolution contains several statements that lead up to the climax which reads: FINALLY RESOLVED that we call on all persons, along with public, governmental, and religious institutions to discontinue the display of the Confederate Battle Flag and work diligently to remove vestigial symbols of racism from public life as evidence of the fruits of repentance that we have made for our past bigotries and as a step in good faith toward racial healing in America, to the end that we truly become – in word and deed – “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Much of the momentum for such a move began last year when a group of black Christians in Charleston, SC were murdered inside their church by a white supremacist who had been photographed with the flag.

Following the racial riots in Ferguson, MO and later in Baltimore, MD, caused by tensions between whites and blacks and especially police, it was ironic that there were no initial tensions in Charleston due to the forgiveness given by the black, Christian community, especially the surviving members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Tension seemed to finally be artificially generated and piped in by outsiders mostly because the Christian influenced Southerners didn’t lend themselves to violence, but instead chose to pursue reconciliation.

Nevertheless, after SC Governor Nikki Haley gave in to the PC establishment and moved her Legislature to remove the flag from the Columbia, SC Capital grounds, the purge of the flag gained a cultural tailwind and it wasn’t long before several pastors and Church leaders jumped on the bandwagon.

People like ERLC leader Russell Moore and President of Southern Baptist Seminary, Albert Mohler wrote articles and gave interviews expressing their less than sympathetic views of the flag and those who fly it. Both men gave a “we’re one of y’all” but “it’s time to let it go” argument which relies on the premise that the Southern St Andrews Cross has become a symbol of racism and bigotry, even if it’s original intent was not. Regardless, Moore made it clear that he believes all people who fly the Confederate Battle Flag are racists while Mohler stopped just short of accusing, while strongly implying that all who fly it are heretics. Both implied motives of seeking to pronounce the flag sympathizers anathema.

Please let that sink in…bigots, racists, and heretics!

Now I’m no longer a Southern Baptist although I was for 30 years. I attend a PCA church and consider myself Presbyterian. But, I live in a predominantly Southern Baptist region of the country with a population influenced heavily by regularly attending SBC members. I am familiar with many of their sentiments on the flag.

I also enjoy a vocation which places me on many of the roads and streets of the region where I live. Since the push to remove the Confederate Flag began, especially when retailers like Wal-Mart decided to stop selling the flag, I have witnessed more Confederate Flags in yards, on homes, and even in businesses than I would’ve ever imagined. By far, Confederate Flags outnumber American Flags and the diversity of Confederate Flags is impressive with many folks choosing to display flags like the Bonnie Blue, the First National Flag of the Confederacy, the Second National, the NC Confederate Flag, Polk’s Battle Flag, the Kentucky Orphan Flag, and several others.

This is not only true in my region of the country, but it’s true all across the South. In fact, the number of SCV license plate sales are up exponentially all across Southern States, flag sales have skyrocketed, rallies are regularly held by young people, motorcyclists, and historical groups, and large Confederate Flags are being sponsored and erected along many of the interstates. Even memberships of historical preservation groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans have increased many-fold.

People have decided to make a statement to those who would tell them NOT to fly the Confederate Flag, a fact which enlightens us to the flags most viable symbolic meaning. The purge has awakened people who have felt oppressed to feelings of self-governance and liberty that won’t be so easily dealt with by politicians, academics, and professional theologians who have simply given in to political correctness, hiding reality as they go. Russell Moore even went so far as to say that almost no Southerner had emailed him or contacted him on social media to disagree with his article. “Almost none.”

Well there has been at least one.

Screenshot Russell Moore 15.30.35 copy

(Discussion over, I was blocked by Dr. Moore shortly after this reply)

So, if the SBC decides to approve this resolution and attempt to coerce its members into “discontinuing” use of the Confederate Battle Flag, I’m positive that they’ll be met with ample resistance. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the trenches.

But why will Southern Baptists resist this?

Will it be because Mohler and Moore are right? Are all of these flag-flyers bigots, racists, and heretics?

I don’t think so.

Many good Southern Baptists will say “no” to the SBC because they know the truth.

They know that they’re not bigots. They know that they’re not racists. They know that they’re not heretics. They know the truth about themselves that pastors like Moore aren’t willing to entertain.

They know why they fly that flag and what it symbolizes and they don’t need some academic to tell them otherwise. They know the history of that flag without reading a simple summary in some Seminary Prof’s blog. It’s been passed down to them across generations. It’s in the dreams of little boys. It’s in the eagerness of adolescents. It’s in the frustrations of working men. It’s in the memories of the aged.

The wives and daughters have seen it in the tears of their husbands and fathers. They have heard it in their cracked voices and sensed their anger. They remember their Mothers stories and their Grandmother’s manners. They have lived in poverty, worked hard, been told “no”, held back, and taught that they are selfish bigots for feeling oppressed.

Oh, they know what that flag means.

Mohler and Moore can attribute the flag to the War Between the States, and the cause exclusively to slavery all they like, but the millions of people who are flying that flag know better. The academics can cherry-pick history ’til their heart’s content  but it won’t change the truth about the flag. They can relativize the truth about symbols against all reason, but it will only prove them wrong in the end.

I hope local pastors have the good sense to recognize bad arguments when they see them (2 Peter 2:1-3). I hope they realize that sometimes the leaders lead the Church but every now and then, the Church leads the leaders (John 10:27). I hope they see the worthlessness of this type of approach to reconciliation and the fallacy of special pleading and false equivocation in the arguments of Mohler and Moore.

(Their arguments are bad and if you’d like to read my critique of them then go here.)

(The consequences of their arguments are bad for all of us and I wrote a satirical article on that here.)

The point of all of this bloviating is this: if the SBC rejects the Southern Cross of St Andrew, the consequences will be felt for years to come. Political Correctness will continue to inch its foot into the door jamb of the SBC, membership will slow and may turn South (pun intended), and the next defense that will be necessary will be of symbols like the traditional cross of Christ and church buildings themselves.

I hope that’s not what happens. I pray that these fallacious façades are torn down so that racism in its real form can be dealt with honestly and people can become fearless defenders of truth rather than resigned to relativism.

I believe that can happen but we’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the Southern Cross of St Andrew will fly and the real conversation about racism will remain safely distracted and relegated to ambiguity for those unwilling to have it but instead seek the accolades of the PC culture.

 

 

 

 

Truth and Consequences

For apologists, arguments matter but not for arguments’ sake. All arguments should be made for the sake of the truth.

Truth is the kind of thing that just won’t go away. That can be pretty inconvenient, especially when it comes to arguments. When you make a bad argument the truth often comes back to haunt you.

Sometimes it returns in the form of an innocent question. Sometimes it sneaks in through a self-contradictory remark of your own. Sometimes it’s the rebuttal of an opponent that smacks you right in the mouth. That is the truth and consequences.

Divine truth is immortal, and although it may allow itself to be taken and scourged, crowned, crucified, and buried it will nevertheless rise again on the third day and reign and triumph in eternity.

Balthasar Hübmaier[1]

No matter how its resurrected though, truth establishes itself as something that cannot be ignored. As Greg Koukl puts it, it is the wall of reality that world-views constantly bump up against.

For Christians though, the reality of truths immanence is a huge advantage. It is the out of bounds toward which we can force all discussions. It’s the anvil on which we can forge all arguments. It’s the suicidal sword on which we can assume all other world-views will fall.

The truth is our standard and the canon by which all ideas are measured.

Truth is unforgiving though and it is also a sword that cuts both ways.

But, Truth is always the hill worth dying on and likewise if something is not true, believing it is the epitome of ignorance and possibly a waste of epoch proportions.

Often, when I used to introduce apologetics to high school and middle schoolers, I’d be very blunt and hopefully shockingly honest. “I want to know if Christianity is true”, I’d say. “If it’s not then I want to stop wasting my time and yours. But if the Bible is true, if Jesus really did walk out of that tomb, then that changes everything.”

That’s the gravity of the truth. It has the potential to alter the trajectory of a person’s life. It can push communities toward seemingly unattainable goals. It can move nations to war.

Truth is that important.

So why is it that sometimes we make decisions not based upon truth but other factors? For Christians to do that is a betrayal of Christ as well as idolatry. Whatever a person hinges an argument on, bases an important decision upon, or acts according to, if it is something other than truth then that thing becomes an idol.

Whether you excuse truth to the advantage of being accepted, the almighty dollar, or political correctness, you have slighted Christ and established a savior of your own. You have shown your faith to be shallow and the power of God to be inactive in you.

We should seek the truth without hesitation; and, if we refuse it, we show that we value the esteem of men more than the search for truth.

Blaise Pascal[2]

How is a betrayal of truth a betrayal of Christ?

That’s simple. Christ is truth itself and all truth is from God. He is the hinge upon which all knowledge swings. He is the canon by which all ideas are measured. To betray that truth, as it were, is to betray him. To mislead others by avoiding or ignoring truth, even if it leaves them happier or feeling better about themselves, is to dance to the Devils delight. To make arguments opposed to truth, even to save face or to present yourself as ‘Christian-like’ is to raise yourself above truth and ultimately above your King. Even if you argue for the good of the Church, doing so in opposition to truth is not only oxymoronic but self-defeating of Her purpose.

All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it, for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose?

John Calvin[3]

All of this is to emphasize your duty as an apologist. You are not merely a defender of the Bible, Gods existence, or the Resurrection. You at your very essence are a defender of truth.

Do so. Never shirk that duty and God will be honored.

No matter what you argue, how you make your apologetic, or why you do it, always do so for one purpose-to expose the truth.

The business of the truth is not to be deserted, even to the sacrifice of our lives. For we live not for this age of ours, nor for the princes, but for the Lord. To admit for the sake of the princes anything that will diminish or vitiate the truth is silly, not to say impious. To have held fast to the purpose of the Lord is to conquer all adversaries.

Ulrich Zwingli[4]

 

[1] Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Vote (continued)

What is a vote?

1vote \ˈvōt\ noun

[Middle English (Scottish), from Latin votum vow, wish—more at vow] 15th century

1    a: a usually formal expression of opinion or will in response to a proposed decision especially: one given as an indication of approval or disapproval of a proposal, motion, or candidate for office[1]

 

As we left off yesterday, we had discussed the overemphasis of the Executive Branch and how we are slightly too concerned about the future election.

I hope by reading the former blog you realize that although there may be competing ideas about what kind of person the Executive of the General Government should be, there are greater concerns for people who would be responsible for their own self-governance as we are.

The power of the states as the first representation of the people, the importance of the separation of powers, and the lack of true conservatism in the Senate should be primary concerns rather than a strong, central figure that many folks imagine the President of the United States to be.

But now, I’d like to refocus on the topic at hand and defend against the idea that a vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary.

Voting is a duty of the citizens of this Republic. It is unfortunately neglected. What a vote is essentially though, has come into question with the statement “A vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary”.

In the elections of 1789, 1792, 1796, and 1800, each elector in the electoral college voted for two candidates for President. The candidate who received the largest electoral vote was declared President, and the candidate who received the next largest number of votes was declared Vice-President.[2]

A vote, when there is more than one candidate, is the act of choosing a candidate by casting a ballot FOR them. When you vote, you choose someone. That is all.

You may have in mind things that you don’t want to happen. You may have in mind other candidates who you don’t want to win. But, when you vote you are choosing the person by casting your ballot FOR them. You are not unselecting or disqualifying the other candidate(s) by voting for their opponent. You are not voting against another candidate by voting for their opponent. You are expressing your positive choice of a candidate.

Furthermore, it does not follow that because a candidate does not receive your vote you have practically voted for their opponent. If you voted for someone, that’s where your vote counts. No one counts possible votes at the end of the day. Only real votes count. Your vote is a positive affirmation of your choice, not a pronouncement of your opposition to the other candidates.

So, a vote for someone is not a vote for someone else. To say so is an informal logical fallacy called false equivocation. It is not true either actually or practically. That makes it false to say “A vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary”. I’ll let you ponder on the synonyms for false statement.

There has been a lot of effort to come up with an equation here to preemptively cast blame on those who vow to never vote for Mr. Trump. It’s not working and most of those people are not buying the argument. In my opinion, it would be better to move on from that faulty logic and concentrate on Mr. Trumps real problems like campaign money, lack of Super-packs, and lack of support by women. If he is to be President, he will have to do it without the aid of some conservatives and there’s no amount of crying that will change that.

If he loses, the Trump faithful can cast the blame on the #neverTrump conservatives but, most of those same conservatives can look their accusers in the eye and say that from the beginning, “I told you so”.

I’m just saying that this axe cuts on both sides and one would do well to remember that.

In 1804 the Constitution was amended (Twelfth Amendment). Beginning with the election of 1804, all the electors voted for a President and a Vice-President, instead of for two candidates as formerly.[3]

Do Christians have a choice?

We are not electing Jesus.

One mistake many Christians seem to make as they consider how to cast their vote, is one of morality. It’s easy to see politicians through the presupposition of my guy good, their guy evil, when in reality none of them are perfect.

The fact is, Jesus is not running for President. He is King of the President but that doesn’t depend upon who the President is.

It should be some relief though, that we don’t have to vote for the perfect candidate. Even realizing that none of the candidates are morally perfect leaves us somewhat in a quandary though. The question evolves into, “well, shouldn’t we elect the most moral man (or woman) for the job?” “If no candidate is morally perfect, do we throw all moral standards out the window?” “Shouldn’t I vote for someone who best represents my moral standards which are the standards I believe best represent Jesus?”

The simple answer to each of those questions is yes…if that’s your conviction.

I’m not telling you what to do here. My goal is simply to help you understand your choice.

Voting is on a continuum.

Since the Lord is not running for office, obviously we have to use another standard than perfection to make our choice. And, since each candidate is a human being, we must see them on a scale or continuum to be able to judge which candidate best represents our ideals.

In other words, since no one is perfect, we must come up with a way to determine which candidate is best, as far as we’re concerned. So…

Let’s say there are four candidates-A, B, C, and D and each candidate has a position on five different issues that you feel are important. The candidates’ positions on those issues run on a continuum of sorts, from better to worse.

Also, each candidate has certain moral qualities that help you determine whether their positions are viable. Simply put, they have a moral continuum determined by certain character qualities that runs parallel with their issue continuum and has a direct bearing on how much you trust their stances on the issues. If the things they say seem to indicate an agreement with you on the issues, then that’s great. But, if you have good reasons not to trust them then what they say may be less important or even incriminating.

The choice becomes more difficult as you more closely identify with more than one candidate. Let’s say candidates C and D are out of the question. Out of five positions, you disagree with them four and five times respectively. But, candidates A and B are closer to you on the issues. You agree with A four out of five times and B three out of five times, but B seems to display a higher degree of morality on the continuum. You might choose B simply because you trust them or A because you’re willing to risk his moral character and gain more on the issues. You will ultimately make your decision depending where you are satisfied the most along those continuums.

There are several nuances to that model, but let me throw in the one nuance that places this blog into context.

Let’s say that you have choices A, B, and C. Choice A best represents what you believe about the issues, and he is a moral person you believe but, he has a very slim chance of winning.

Choice B is not as close to you on the issues, although there are a couple of important issues you agree on. The problem is you don’t think you can trust him. He has a high degree of electability (he can win) though and is better than C. Choice C opposes you on almost every issue. Their positions are polar opposites to yours on the issues. They are also a moral failure. One thing is for sure, you don’t want choice C.

What to do?

1808-For President, James Madison, of Virginia, Republican, 122; Charles C. Pinckney, of South Carolina, Federalist, 47; George Clinton, of New York, Republican, 6. For Vice-President, George Clinton, Republican, 113; Rufus King, of New York, Federalist, 47; John Langdon, of New Hampshire, 9; James Madison, 3; James Monroe, 3. Vacancy, 1. Madison was chosen President and Clinton Vice-President.[4]

Principle vs Practical

Voting on principle and voting based upon pragmatism are not on the continuums of issues and morality. They are ways or methods of choosing a person along those continuums.

One may vote their principle completely and never have an impact on the process simply because the candidates they choose never have an impact.

On the other hand, one may always be completely a pragmatist and choose the winner but betray their principles in the process, placing into question whether they even have principles and in turn, convictions.

The truth is that none of us are either purely principled or completely practical. We each desire both to win and have an impact for good. This is an area of much consternation. It’s a place where mud is thrown and names are called. It’s a place where friendships can be in jeopardy. But please understand, it’s not as cut and dry as you may think. Peoples various positions on how they vote is often nuanced considerably and can be very complicated.

Of course those of us who may choose A and say damn the torpedoes, believe that our principles should influence those who choose B. We are not in it to win, we loudly brag. The fact of the matter is; we want to win. We pray to win. We mourn losing.

Those of us who choose B accuse the A-choosers of overlooking the big picture though. We condescend to them by accusing principled people of being ignorant of the process. All of this because we want to win. The fact is, we want to have an impact too and retain our integrity.

Neither side can seem to see the others position, but one thing is for certain, we have a choice and in both cases that choice is based at least partly on our convictions.

How you decide along the continuums will be determined by whether you believe your principles are more important than winning. No candidate will meet all of your standards and there is no guarantee that any particular choice will be a winner.

It’s obvious, you do have a choice, we’ve always had a choice, and that choice is made by voting. A vote for candidate A is not practically voting for C. It is simply a vote for A because you value your principles more than winning.

On the other hand, if winning is more important and you are willing to risk many of your principles, that doesn’t mean that you are immoral or unchristian. You have simply weighed the outcomes and made a decision based upon practical concerns.

Two questions linger though. Do you want to have an impact? What principles, if any, are you willing to sacrifice?

In the system in vogue in most States the names of all candidates are on a single ticket, and the voter indicates his choice by a cross ( X ). This system in the Presidential election of 1896 was used in thirty-six States, and seems likely to be universally adopted.[5]

Voting is your duty

In my opinion, one thing is not up in the air for Christians. You do not have a choice when it comes to whether you should vote. It is your duty. If you choose to stay at home, you have made the wrong choice. If you abstain on the basis of your principles, then you have shown yourself to be void of real convictions.

There are choices other than A and B. If you cannot vote for either, then find a candidate you can get behind. Stop being slothful, do your homework and your duty. Vote!

One reason this nation is in such pitiful shape is the fact that Christians only show up to vote by about 40%. If you stay home and things get bad, don’t blame the devil, don’t blame the rapture, blame yourself.

 

 

[1] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

[2] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (p. 4316). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[3] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (p. 4316). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[4] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (p. 4316). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[5] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (Vol. 1, p. 253). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

Vote

So far this election cycle has been a tumultuous if not a divisive one for Christians. Not only is there the usual consternation between those who would be labeled Social Justice Warriors and the others who are more traditional, but within the Republican nomination process there have been stark divisions arise between some evangelicals as well.

When the Republican field was broad and names like Huckabee and Carson still remained as choices, Christians could afford to be very nuanced in their decision about who they wanted to be the Party representative. As the field narrowed to essentially two candidates though, a stark contrast emerged. Donald Trump seemed for some to be a patriotic and nationalist candidate who “said it like it is” and “stuck it to the PC crowd”, while Ted Cruz was a straight up Constitutional Traditionalist with the added bonus of displaying his conservative, Christian values in public.

Both candidates had broad appeal but Cruz, who seemed to be the clear choice for Evangelicals, could not produce the votes needed to stop Trump who, oddly enough, picked up several Christian votes and endorsements along the way. Many of the Christians who voted for Cruz though, consider themselves purists for several reasons and vow #neverTrump, meaning they’ll either stay at home or they’ll vote 3rd party.

As the results became more clear though, Trump supporters began their campaign to reel in those puritans by using one major tactic. The gig was up  but the puritans vow of Trump-celibacy was a perceived problem for all of us, they suggested. Trump supporters tried to show that if they can’t attract conservative votes in key states, Trump may face an insurmountable challenge in the November election. Their conclusion; Hillary Clinton would be President and the blame would be on the #neverTrumpers, they murmured.

So, the accusation disguised as a real argument is simply stated by the Trump faithful.

“A vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary!” That is your only choice, they declare.

There are some fundamental problems with their logic though. One of those tiny things that they leave out is the Electoral College.

The fact is, the states choose the President, not the majority vote. Your vote does not choose the President. Why? Because we are not a Democracy. The Founders knew that democracies devolve into authoritarian style governments easily so laid the foundations of our Republic based upon the powers of the states.

It was a wise move that many modern Americans don’t understand and even dislike, which is a product of years of Government schools and in our case, Reconstruction.

“Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”– James Madison4

 

Your vote is merely one of the determining factors used by the state in which you live to cast its electoral votes for the President. That’s all. Depending on the political leanings of your particular state, your vote may be of little consequence as far as its electoral votes.

For example: in the state where I live, Tennessee, it will likely go 60-70% for Trump in the General Election. That gives me the freedom to not worry about who is going to win and simply vote my conscience without any concern for the rhetoric- “A vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary”. In my case, that statement is not only logically false, it’s false by any sense of the imagination. I can vote Constitution Party and have no effect whatsoever on my states choice of who it will cast its electoral votes.

Furthermore, as a Jeffersonian, I’d like to take the time to point out that all we are doing is merely electing the Executive of the General Government. He is not the king. He is not even Prime Minister. God knows that he is not our savior! He is one part of three equal branches of a General Government in which the powers enumerated to them by the states through their ratification of the Constitution are limited, separate and equal.

Ours is a system of government, compounded of the separate governments of the several States composing the Union, and of one common government of all its members, called the government of the United States. The former preceded the latter, which was created by their agency. Each was framed by written constitutions; those of the several States by the people of each, acting separately, and in their sovereign character; and that of the United States, by the same, acting in the same character, but jointly instead of separately. All were formed on the same model. They all divide the powers of government into legislative, executive, and judicial; and are founded on the great principle of the responsibility of the rulers to the ruled[1]John Calhoun

As voters in the modern era, it’s easy to forget that the most important duty of the Executive is his role as Commander in Chief. His role is Constitutionally limited throughout. He is not the Chief Economist or Judge of the Nation. He should do little to unilaterally influence change in America although his character should represent what’s great about the Republic and follow the Washington model of handing power back to the people.

An important role he does play is nominating Supreme Court Justices BUT, and that’s a big BUT, he does so only with approval of the Senate! The Executive does not choose who gets to be on the Supreme Court. He merely nominates them. A sturdy Senate should reject any Justice that is not a strict Constructionist or Originalist.

The President and Vice-President are chosen by electors, appointed by their respective States; and, finally, the judges are appointed by the President and the Senate; and, of course, as these are elected by the States, they are appointed through their agency.[2]-John Calhoun

That is why the elections of US Senators and Congressmen are much more important than that of the Executive (President). That’s also why it’s so disheartening to have such limp-wristed Senators as we do. They have essentially sold out the Republic for power and pension. If there were a political revolution, and I believe we are in one, it should begin in the Senate. If Evangelicals want to revolt, they should run real conservatives in place of the wishy washy, scoundrels that populate the Senate who have compromised that branch of the government, muddily merging it into a part of the President’s Cabinet for all intents and purposes. They have become a rubber-stamp of the Executive to the detriment of the people.

This is a result, in my opinion, of the great power grab of Lincoln (a Republican), stealing power from the states and in turn, the people. It’s also evidence to those willing to consider it, that the Grand Ole Party which has shown itself to be of this ilk, is the conservative party by name only. The party of Lincoln has changed little in 150 years and remains a progressive party, only playing the appeasers of true conservatism from time to time, always acquiescing to progressivism in the end.

“… This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition”.[3]-Robert Lewis Dabney

Dr. Dabney’s words would be prophetic if it weren’t that he lived through the fulfillment and his Presbyterian Theology wouldn’t allow that extra-revelatory doctrine to be applied to himself.

As important as all of that is to remember though, that’s not my only concern. I’d like to set those things aside for a moment and look at this idea of voting against Trump is in effect voting for Hillary and asking the Question-Do Christians have a choice when it comes to voting?

Unfortunately, it will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

4 (Federalist Papers, the McClean Edition, Federalist Paper #10, page 81, 1788)

[1] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (Vol. 2, p. 23). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[2] Lossing, B. (Ed.). (n.d.). Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (Vol. 2, p. 32). Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[3] Dabney, R. L. (1897). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Secular. (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (Vol. 4, p. 496). Mexico, MO: Crescent Book House.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates is a Great Apologetic 

You never know what your gonna get

“Life is like a box of chocolates” is a great apologetic.

One of the ways that people know intrinsically that they need God is the fact that none of us know what’s getting ready to happen. “You never know what you’re gonna get” moment to moment.

Surely no one knows the future,
and no one can tell another person what will happen…Ecclesiastes 8:7

One day you’re getting off work early and having supper with the family. The next thing you know you’re lying on an operating table telling your wife “I love you” for what may be the last time.

You don’t expect it. There’s no way that you could. There’s no way you could’ve known that your appendix was diseased and you’d spend the next two days in the hospital and four weeks off work. You just can’t know the future.

This was my story a week ago.

My son actually had a similar experience just a few weeks ago with his own long weekend in the hospital. He’s 18 and it was a total surprise.

We didn’t see that coming either.

Didn’t see him having an auto accident and totaling his 4Runner 2 weeks ago either.

These are the things that keep us guessing.

Guessing is not predicting though and predicting is not accurate prophesy. People are just not capable of such knowledge and that puts us at the mercy of the future.

Or does it?

img_1805Well, if you ask most people who aren’t in a helpless situation they might agree that we are at the future’s mercy except most people believe that the actions they take determine future events. They believe that is, until the future throws that curve ball that they had no such control over, such as the ones I described earlier.

Others may acquiesce to the power of the future believing for a time that there’s not much they can do to change anything about what’s going to happen. So, they just “live in the present” as it were.

The truth comes out when the future comes-a-callin’ though.

If a survey could be done at the moment that the future invades a person’s life with a vengeance, at the moment that they realize that what happens next is outside of their control (or the control of anyone else), then we’d find that most people believe someone does control the future, someone who has the right to change it and the power to do so.

There emerges a belief in God although maybe unorthodox, that people default to when in dire straits.

There aren’t any atheists in fox holes they say.

Well, that’s probably true for more people than soldiers.

There are all kind of fox holes though. There are hospital beds, waiting rooms, the back seats of police cars, mail boxes, court summons, divorce papers, cell phones, and morgues. These are just a few of the places, the fox holes where we find ourselves in the hands of the future-or the one who holds the future.

Rarely do those places find us unprepared to ask God for help, even if we didn’t admit his existence before. This little fact should be hard to overlook if you are an effective apologist.

An impulsive cry to God in a time of helpless need does not prove he exists, but it says something about what the person thinks about him, his existence and his immanence.

That’s advantage apologist!

It’s not a tool that you can use like a hammer though. But it is a tool that you have at your disposal, not as a hammer but as prescription of providence, medicine for melee. It’s a friendly reminder you can issue at the appropriate time. A responsive prayer or Scripture recalled means more than philosophical and logical arguments at that point.

People need the Lord is the song, but it’s also the truth. When the future sends us a surprise and we need future help, God is where we go, or who we go to as humans. People know that. People know they need the Lord.

He is the Lord and that means something to people on the precipice of uncertainty. Like I said earlier, people understand or at least are willing to concede as humans in the moment of need, that God is the Lord of the future-meaning once again that he has power over the future and the right to its outcome. He is really and actually sovereign is a phrase that we rarely admit until we must. At the threshold of the future, in the grips of providence, we must yield and we know it.

As a Christfollower and apologist, live with that certainty. Encourage others to have faith. Give the gospel message of hope in Christ. That’ll preach when nothing else will in times of vulnerability.

The funny thing is that, as every one of us are theologians and philosophers of some sort or another, we are willing to, as ND Wilson says, ride in space on a ball rotating at 1037 mph, spinning over 66,000 mph around another ball of fire that is about 9900 degrees Fahrenheit drinking coffee discussing whether there is a higher power. Our confidence in what’s coming is quite quaint.

You’re going to get the opportunity to use this apologetic tool sometime in your life or the life of another. It’s the nature of life on earth. It’s a dangerous place and the future can be as well. So take the Scout’s advice and obey God when he tells us to always be ready to give a defense.

The point is this: Forest Gump’s mother was correct. Life is like a box of chocolates and that’s a great apologetic. You never know what you’re gonna get. Now that we know that, let’s gracefully point out to others that there is someone who does know and can work for us there.

Modesty is Gone With the Wind

Modesty is gone with the wind.

It used to be that a person could, well, do their business without having to consider who might be watching..much less scrutinizing whether or not your some kind of bathroom snob.

I mean really, when did life become so transparent that a person had to check the latrine laws before relieving themselves?

I am a man, not a ma’am. I don’t believe that’s too confusing, and if I need to clarify it to someone that’s easy enough too. The point is though, that I shouldn’t have to do that. Going to the John is not about that for me. It’s not about my self-esteem, self-identity, or self-proclamation. It’s not about protest, equality, or rights. It’s simply about number 1 or number 2!

Furthermore, I don’t know about you but if I have to use a public restroom, it’s because I can’t hold it and there is not another, more private option available.

I hate public restrooms but unfortunately, my vocation leaves me with no other choice at times. I drive a delivery truck in a mostly rural area so I must be an opportunist when it comes to potty breaks. When opportunity knocks, well I’m forced to listen.

You see, there’s nothing private about a public restroom. For men, the urinals are side by side with a small 2 or 3-foot divider about shoulder high. Is that supposed to be private?

The commodes are usually in stalls that are about 6-foot-high but have a foot gap at the floor. I guess that floor level gap is a potential escape route if the door won’t open.

Oh, and the door…The doors to the stalls have a small turn lock (evidently developed by NASA) but have half-inch gaps on either side. I suppose the gaps are for you to see out and make sure the coast is clear while you’re timing your explosive EMP’s (Evacuates Most People) gastrointestinal traffic jam since you’ve been holding it in a futile attempt to avoid a public restroom. Otherwise, they would’ve made the doors with 6-inch gaps so the person outside could hand you a roll of toilet paper through the door.

(Side note: never refer to TP as “bathroom tissue, even though that’s what is on the packaging. During an extended stay at the hospital recently, I tried to be discrete in front of several nurses when I asked one of them for the location of the “bath tissue”. She then yelled at the top of her lungs “What? What’s bath tissue? What are you saying? I don’t understand what you’re asking.” After expressing that what I actually needed was TP, she gladly showed me to the closet where it was located…and used it as a training experience, made a Youtube video, and a podcast about it, I’m sure.)

The public restroom is for all intents and purposes the greatest equalizer of all human inventions. It is a location of great unpretentiousness. It is truly the place where the CEO puts his pants on one leg at a time while the company nobody may actually become a real pee-on. One may enter and leave a public restroom chin up, but the time spent inside should always be head down. It’s not a place for hand-shakes or looking someone in the eye. It’s a place where although utmost consideration is given to individual privacy, that effort only manifests itself as low self-esteem. People don’t converse there. Most of us aren’t interested in identity at all. It’s not about that. The only shooting the breeze in there is the spontaneous breaking of the wind.

That brings me to my question.

Why would someone choose that environment (public restrooms) to take a stand on their gender identity?

It is one of the most intrinsically embarrassing places in the world. It is a necessary place of privacy-in public. By definition, it is a place where people who are thrown into a public venue seek maximum privacy, with the understanding that it is only a façade of real privacy.

Yet, there are those who would parade themselves into that environment for the purpose of full disclosure? I don’t get it.

Let’s not talk about the obvious safety concerns with men and women in private areas exposing their private areas. Just answer why anyone, no matter how they self-identify, makes a big to do over the public poo poo and justifies making everyone else that much more uncomfortable?

I believe we can answer that with one Southern apothegm. “Let’s just say, they ain’t suffering from a lack of modesty.”

The whole point of their argument seems to be one of assimilation. They desire an end to discrimination. They want to go unnoticed and for us to pretend that we don’t notice that they’re different. Yet, they want to cause this big stink about the big stinky?

Isn’t that like running into the street naked and yelling “nobody look”?

Yep, they may have found some courage but their modesty has vacated them. That seems to be the problem with a great many people these days. In general, our culture has lost its modesty. We have actually discarded it in the name of ‘transparency’.

Well, there should be a few places, a few citadels of coyness, where modesty reigns. But, they are quickly disappearing as far as public restrooms are concerned. There will soon be no private place where a person can politely pass gas in public areas.

Why?

Modesty is gone with the wind and frankly my dear, they don’t give a d**n.

Habakkuk, John Wayne, and Apologetics

Is God at work?

It is easy for us to look at our circumstances, especially when they seem insurmountably against us, and assume the absence of God. The image we have conjured up when we think of God leaves us with rather skewed apologetics.

God is all loving. He is all good. He is all merciful. Isn’t he?

Habakkuk made a similar assumption when he thought that either God was not aware of the prevailing evil in his nation or God had determined to ignore it. His prayer was a kind of prodding of God to do his duty, of sorts.

God’s answer seemed to be a surprise to the prophet. God was sending the Chaldeans, an even more evil people, to judge the nation. Habakkuk could not believe it.

In fact, after God had given Habakkuk his answer, Habakkuk’s decision was to complain to God and wait for another answer.

Habakkuk stands in contrast to Jesus as Jesus prays, “Not my will but yours” to the Father. Habakkuk’s prayer is more like “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

Most of the time this is where we live. God’s work is often incomplete. We must continue to do our duty and wait on the Lord though. The circumstances we’ve been left in are often less than ideal. In our view God has more work to accomplish but he often gives no indication that he is working at all. Only a long view of history may reveal his providential hand.

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1, ESV)

It is then that God reveals to Habakkuk one of the most encouraging truths of all the Scripture. It is the ultimate application of the promises of God. The righteous shall live by faith!

God is not slack in his promise. His justice does not delay. His righteousness will ultimately win the day!

We must trust him.

God says to Habakkuk to write it down, make it plain.

Don’t worry. My plan is taking place. I am at work. I am not lying. Although it seems slow to you, it’s coming.

It reminds me of a line from The Searchers when John Wayne’s character Ethan promises his vengeance to Marty as they look for his sister who was captured by Commanche. Marty thinks they’re giving up when Ethan says:

Ethan: Our turnin’ back don’t mean nothin’, not in the long run. She’s alive, she’s safe… for a while. They’ll keep her to raise her as one of their own till, until she’s of an age to…

Martin: Don’t you think there’s a chance we still might find her?

Ethan: Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ’em in the end, I promise you. We’ll find ’em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049730/quotes

God’s promise of his righteous judgment is much like Ethan’s promise to Marty. It’s a sure thing.

God hadn’t changed his mind about using the Chaldeans to judge Israel. He merely gave Habakkuk the rest of the story when he told him that afterward he will also judge the Chaldeans.

Before we assume God’s mercy or even his love, we must always know him first as righteous. Gods goodness can only flow from his righteousness. He can have no mercy until he is first just. God is in fact HOLY!

You can bet on that.

Paul quotes Habakkuk when he says: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, ESV)

But to what end?

Just as the prophet Habakkuk was charged to tell the people of God’s impending judgement and his covenant faithfulness, so we too must be faithful foretellers of God’s truths.

When we are attacked by such as quarrel with God and his providence as the prophet here seems to have been—beset, besieged, as in a tower, by hosts of objectors—we should consider how to answer them, fetch our instructions from God, hear what he says to us for our satisfaction, and have that ready to say to others, when we are reproved, to satisfy them, as a reason of the hope that is in us (1 Pt. 3:15), and beg of God a mouth and wisdom, and that it may be given us in that same hour what we shall speak.

As we think about our own nation, its struggles, its uncertainty, its sinfulness, never lose sight of the fact that God is holy. All that is wrong is not unnoticed. All that is sin will not go unpunished. Judgement is coming. We must proclaim it as so for it is just as true as God’s very existance.

I don’t know whether God will revive our nation and cause us to once again fear him. I don’t know if Christians will be persecuted in the future. I don’t know if America will completely turn her back on God.

I know this-God has an appointed time for judgement and it’s racing to the end. It may seem slow but it’s coming. It will not delay.

We must wait for it. We must proclaim and defend it. We must live by faith. It’s coming.

Just like the turnin’ of the earth…

 

Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1553). Peabody: Hendrickson.

 

 

Leona and the Deposit Entrusted to Us

Have you ever wondered why you were born where you were?

Even more importantly maybe, have you wondered why you were born to whom you were?

More than likely you, if you are a Christian, were born to Christian parents. That is not necessarily true, but it is likely.

So why?

You could have been born in China, where Christianity was illegal. Much of the world’s population is. You could have been born to atheist parents, who discouraged the gospel.

But, you probably weren’t.

Such is the case with me.

I was born in the USA, not merely the USA, but the South. In fact, more specifically, I was born in the Bible Belt.

My parents were both Christians. There was a great Christian tradition in my family. The gospel was explicit in my home. Faithfulness was encouraged. Christianity was not merely a label; it was a way of life. As a child, I could not escape my ancestral destiny.

It was as if I was predestined to believe in Jesus. J

As I said before, because I’m sure to be reminded, none of these necessarily apply to everyone. Some people reject Christ who have definite Christian roots. Others who have no Christian family or context are saved despite those hurtles.

For the most part though, this is the way the Kingdom grows. Family, tradition, ancestry, and geographic context play a major role in the spread of the gospel. There’s really no denying it.

Why is this important? Well, because your first responsibility is to those who are your family, inside of your tradition, and are in your immediate geographic context.

I’m a Presbyterian and it’s kind of understood in our church that it’s supposed to be that way. That doesn’t mean that we’re good at it. It just means that that’s the way we see it when it comes to children and the church, especially when it comes to baptism.

I haven’t always been Presbyterian though, and I’ve found that the same idea exists in other churches as well, although not doctrinally.

That’s not the point though. Your family is not the church’s responsibility first. They are yours.

It’s easy to forget that.

Paul did not forget the importance of family.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul makes clear the importance of our ancestors in our conversion and our discipleship.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:3–5, ESV)

The other day my sister was in an antique store near Charlottesville, VA. While browsing around, she spotted a painting that she quickly recognized. It was our grandmothers. Oddly enough, my wife had found one of her paintings a few months ago at one of our local antique stores. Her name was Leona Griffin and like a hurricane her paintings had rekindled the memories of our beloved matriarch. 

 It’s not the fact that they found these sentimental heirlooms unexpectedly that interests me though. More importantly, I am intrigued by the fact that these paintings expose such sentimentality. My sister became emotional because of her find and as soon as my wife posted her find on Facebook many family members did the same.

Why?

Of course a lost connection has been temporarily re-established. What they have forgotten, they have once again been reminded. What they have missed, to that they have momentarily been reunited.

But there is more.

There is a connection we have with our Christian ancestors that is spiritual. They have entrusted to us the deposit of faith. They have entrusted to us the gospel.

My grandmother was the epitome of this idea. Her family understands that very well.

She was an imperfect woman who loved a perfect Savior. She told us that with words and love. She told it to the world with a paint brush and a story.

She was called the Grandmaw Moses of the Mountain Empire by our newspaper. She painted for several US Presidents. She was a popular artist at several local fairs.

She painted on canvas and creek rocks. She painted on old saw blades. She painted primitive art that told a story of her beloved mountain community. She painted what she loved-for the world to see.

On each piece of art though, she painted a church. Why? Because her life revolved around church and more specifically, her life was centered on Jesus. His grace was her testimony that she placed inside of each painting. His love was what she shared in oil and color…Intentionally…explicitly…

Several years ago I wrote a song about her and the deposit she left us as a family, as a community, and as believers.

In an old yellow trailer alongside of the road,

She sold rocks and canvas where she painted her world.

Some were of kids a playin’, some of deer and of birds,

But each one included and old country church.


I’d go to the fair held at our county seat.

I’d hear the observers as I played at her feet.

Some admired all her talent and her hours of work.

But some would look even deeper and see and old country church.


The center of life for a lady I knew.

My Grandmaw was rich but her dollars were few.

In Jesus Christ she put all her worth.

And in all her paintings she put an old country church.


Each time someone asked why she’d paint that old church on everything that she created,

With a tear in her eye and a crack in her voice she’d reply “Do you know my Savior?”


Now she’s with Jesus. From our lives she is gone.

How for the past, sometimes I do long.

I can’t wait to see her and the crown that she earned,

Sharing the gospel painting an old country church.

My Grandmother has been gone for several years now but although we can no longer hear her voice, see her face, or smell her cornbread and biscuits, she has not left us unattended. Her love for Jesus is now ours and her sense of duty to the gospel should be as well.

I’m convinced that just like the two surprises found by my sister and my wife, her testimony will continue to replenish the hearts of the ones who knew her and her paintings will continue to illumine those who look even deeper, to see an old country church.

 

Arguments Matter

“Duty is ours; consequences are God’s”-Lt Gen Thomas J. Jackson

It’s sad that another Christian “thinker” has slipped into PC quicksand and needs correction, but the consequences of their bad arguments are usually spun against all of us. It’d be easier to ignore them but as we’ll see, arguments matter.

This time though, I am not going to waste my time in satire. There is no use. Most issues like this are so emotionally charged that a response does no good except to those few who are open minded enough to consider their error.

I am not of the false impression that this particular blog will not cost me readership, either. The last time I made a defense related to this topic that is exactly what happened and I expect this time to be no different.

If that is going to be your reaction, please do the courtesy of allowing  me to summarize my position before you exit.

Why do that?

Because people, as much as they would like to believe that they are indifferent regarding their emotions and at the same time supremely logical, can not avoid the angst of my position. Their fear of being called a racist supersedes their willingness to listen to reason.

I admit that I am not unbiased. I love the Confederate flag personally because many of my ancestors fought under it and I am a modern day anti-Federalist and Jeffersonian. But that is not why I argue in opposition to Christian anti-flaggers. I am also a lover of truth. In fact, if it were between truth and the flag I’d curse that flag in a second. I believe the truth and what that flag represents coexist peacefully though, despite the cries of the flag’s detractors. In fact, I actually believe that it’s truth itself (not heritage) that is at stake here. The flag’s not going away any time soon.
But please understand, I am not dying on the hill of the Confederate flag, but I will die everyday on the hill of truth if need be.

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So what’s this about?

Just a few days ago, Oklahoma Baptist University removed a stained glass panel  from their Chapel that contained the image of the Confederate flag. I’m not sure which Confederate flag, but more than likely it was the Confederate battle flag, the same flag that has been the focus of so much controversy as of late. This version of the St Andrew’s Cross was only one of the many Christian flags flown by troops in the Confederacy chosen because so many citizens of the Confederacy had Scottish roots and Presbyterian ecclesiastical views. But I’ll leave it’s origins up to the historians.

I am not taking exception with OBU’s removal of the flag though. It is their property and their right. I am taking exception with the article that excuses that action, the argument specifically and not their ad homonym attacks on “true believers” and “insidiously” prideful people like me…they used for the sake of unity, I’m certain.

Matthew Arbo and Galen Jones wrote Symbols and Enmity: Why Oklahoma Baptist University is Removing an Image of the Confederate Flag. To summarize their argument, they posit that the Confederate flag is a symbol; symbols inherit meaning from those who view them and the Confederate flag has become a symbol of hate; therefore, it causes division in the Church and should be removed. The symbol’s original intent is irrelevant, they contend.

The confederate flag should have no place amongst a people united by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Their go to passage that they used to pass Biblical muster was Romans 14:13-19.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:13–19, ESV)

This is the also the argument of Russell Moore and Joel McDurbon, both Christian apologists. I addressed McDurbon’s article a few months ago.

I’d like to make just a few observations about this one as well.

Symbols mean what they meant regardless of what you say they mean.

The hinge pin that these people turn their argument on is the idea that symbols, in particular the Confederate flag, mean what the present culture believe they do rather than their original intended meaning.

Although this sounds good, it’s actually post-modern hogwash. Symbols may take on all sorts of meanings, sure enough. But the misuse of a symbol does not negate its originally intended meaning. Just like books, the objective meaning of a symbol depends wholly upon what the author intended to communicate by using it. Flags are the epitome of symbols and are used this way constantly.

Some examples of misused symbols that we know retain their intended meaning are the cross, the Chi Rho, and the modern Christian flag. Each one of these have been used in the commission of atrocities. We would admit none of these to the trash pile of bad symbols.

Why? Because we know what they symbolize objectively. We are not fooled by the distractions of those who abuse them.

Neither is the LGBT crowd or the ACLU bunch fooled by our efforts to blend in.

They don’t like any of our symbols, vis-à-vis the Ten Commandments on court houses, public cemetery crosses, and public manger scenes. Each of these are symbols and many more have been taken away by the PC crowd.

Even church buildings themselves can be considered symbols and have been historically. Don’t expect the PC crowd to overlook them especially with bad arguments like this one in their hip pocket thanks to these guys.

These men and their terrible argument will have the guilt of the next purge on their hands, and there will be another and another and so on.

My second observation takes umbrage with the final premise in their argument, that which causes division in the Church must be done away with for sake of the brother who is offended.

First of all, the Biblical argument here is for individuals who express their Christian liberty to abstain before a less mature or immature brother/sister who may not understand that particular liberty. Of course I agree with Paul here, he is writing under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit.

I also agree with the writer and therefore the Holy Spirit here:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 5:11–6:8, ESV)

The argument that says that we ought not place a stumbling block in front of the immature believer is incomplete and it is not the Scriptures intent to leave it there. We are not to leave the immature believer in their immaturity and they are not to be content there. We are each responsible to GROW UP! That is the duty of the Church and it is certainly the duty of OBU and any other university for that matter. If it is not the responsibility of OBU to teach truth and expect their students to mature during the process, then what do they do, babysit?

Secondly, just because an issue causes division in the Church has no bearing on whether we should reject or adopt it. This is obviously true for OBU. Notice the name of the school-Oklahoma BAPTIST University.

They are not Oklahoma non-denominational University or even Oklahoma every theology welcome University. They are BAPTIST! That by definition, is a division! It is purposeful and explicit and Biblical I might add.

Furthermore, to remove the flag to avoid alienating one group of people necessarily alienates another. The removal itself is a division! How about some consistency?

Finally, I’d like to offer some thoughts to drive my point home, why arguments matter.

This University is a Baptist University. Most Baptist theologians relegate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to mere symbols and partially by their own doing these symbols are among the most divisive symbols in Christendom. I would never suggest that these symbols be done away with because they are at least ordinances, as they say, but by using the logic of these men they ought to at least join the sacramental theology crowd.

I would also suggest another ordinance-to love the Lord with all of your mind.

God is the foundation of reason, logic, and truth. Because God is the transcendent source of these then good logic or truth must reign over not only the Resurrection and Creation, but also any other thought we entertain.

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs”-Martin Luther

God would not approve of this argument due to its bad logic.

I know it feels like you guys are doing the Church a service by ignoring logic and setting her within the safe-zone of political correctness, but please do us all a favor and stop it!

Just stop it!

Unfortunately, in the future we’ll all suffer…

Your arguments matter.

Habakkuk’s Prayer-a Preparation for Providence

It is well that there is a day of judgment, and a future state, before us, in which it shall be eternally well with all the righteous, and with them only, and ill with all the wicked, and them only; so the present seeming disorders of Providence shall be set to rights, and there will remain no matter of complaint whatsoever.[1]-Matthew Henry

This very week conversations have made it ever more clear to me that God’s Providence is often misunderstood. Unfortunately, a prevailing idea intrinsic to American Christianity is one that rules out the determinate will of God in cases that presume that God’s will can not include what we consider to be bad. In other words, folks seem to be under the impression that because God is good and he wants us to have all good things, we know what those are.

Habakkuk stands against that idea as evidence not only that we are not necessarily privy to what God has ordained, we are short sighted to think that our idea of what ought to be is even close to God’s when it comes to our prayer requests.

Habakkuk prayed to God while he was under this type of assumption.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2–4, ESV)

Was Habakkuk wrong?

Is it bad that innocents are victims of violence? Yes.

If iniquity goes unpunished, is it wrong? Of course.

What if the law isn’t enforced and justice left unserved, is that moral failure? It is.

It is sad to see bad men warming their hands at those flames which are devouring all that is good in a nation, and stirring up the fire too[2]

Habakkuk looked at his nation and those were the circumstances. Innocent people suffered at the hands of evil-doers. Sin reigned. Destruction and violence were commonplace. The culture was one of strife and contention. Law and justice were perverted by the government therefore the wicked surrounded the righteous and justice did not prevail!

The legislative power takes no care to supply the deficiencies of the law for the obviating of those growing threatening mischiefs; the executive power takes no care to answer the good intentions of the laws that are made; the stream of justice is dried up by violence, and has not its free course.[3]

The question asked by Habakkuk is one that rings familiar to us every time that we see another news clip or read another Facebook post about the sorry state of our own nation that runs parallel to his experience.

Where is God?

The assumption made may be the same as well. If justice is perverted, the wicked beat down the righteous, and the law is paralyzed, then God must be absent, because a good God wouldn’t allow us to continually be given over to unrighteous events or people, must less be in control of such things, especially ordain them.

Our prayers may resemble Habakkuk’s as well.

Where are you God? Why aren’t you paying attention?

Our ideas may flirt dangerously close to heresy if we assume so much.

If the assumption is that God can’t ordain such things, then it necessarily follows that he is not in control of them. What does this do to the Biblical concept of omnipotence? How can God still be considered able to do what he says? What do we make of his promises if there is a possibility that he wont be able to fulfill them?

Or could it be that our idea of God’s goodness is mistaken? Could it be the case that God is actually sovereign and we are not in a position to determine whether a particularly evil event may end up changing history for the ultimate good, God’s glory?

Sure enough, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But if you think about it, it is not only Biblical, it is anecdotally true because it’s simply easier to see God’s Providence looking backward. The fact of the matter is, we can’t make any sense of it looking forward because as finite creatures, we can’t know the future in this specific sense. We are riding the wave of history, unable to see but glimpses of what may be ahead. Looking into the past is our only option when it comes to broad views of time. History reveals the mystery, begging your pardon.

The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope. -General Robert E Lee

Lee's Surrender

That’s why this little book can be so helpful. Habakkuk could know the future. He was privy to God’s ordained plan, his will, if you will.

But, Habakkuk was quick to judge God in his assumptions. He was quick to inform God of what he thought needed to happen. God was quick to reply…

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”” (Habakkuk 1:5–11, ESV)

Be prayerfully prepared, ready to take the lead.

As we look at the cultural landscape of America, let’s be careful not to judge God. Let’s also be careful not to misrepresent his eternal character. God is a righteous and holy God. He is also a sovereign Creator who not only has the power, but also the right to do as he wishes (Dan 4:35). He will carry out his plans AND he will fulfill his promises.

In a time when Christian brothers and sisters need confidence instead of concern, in a day that the Church should prepare with faith instead of frustration, we can use Habakkuk’s prayer- a preparation for Providence-as an apologetic of provision. If we are only prepared for the answer we allow God to give, we are shortchanging ourselves. But if our confidence is in the Promiser then our patience will be perpetual and we will persevere to the promise.

Let us begin to allow our prayer life prepare us for that instead.

If we put God’s concerns first, then we can bring our own needs. God is concerned about our needs and knows them even before we mention them (Matt. 6:8). If this is the case, then why pray? Because prayer is the God-appointed way to have these needs met (see James 4:1–3). Prayer prepares us for the proper use of the answer.[4]-W Wiersbe

 

 

 

[1] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1550). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[2] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1550). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1550). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[4] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 26). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Habakkuk and the Church in America

“We are in the midst of a revolution, only bloodless as yet.”[1]

If you are vigilant, you probably can’t help but notice how our nation seems to be on a course of destiny. No matter how hard or how much we pray our course seems to be fixed. It feels like being on a runaway train headed toward a canyon where the bridge is out.

After almost eight years of an Administration that’s been less than friendly to Christians, it seemed like the end of the horror show was all but over. But, in a few short months our high expectations have quickly been turned into extreme disappointments.

The battle over marriage was one in which we never had the upper hand. We owned the logic. We ruled the history. We even held the majority (most of the states had voted to make traditional marriage Constitutional). It didn’t matter. With the stroke of their pejorative pens, five unelected judges overruled all of that in a decision that defies logic, history, and the Republic.

We thought there might be a pleasant surprise in all of the bad news though when Planned Parenthood was exposed for not only killing unborn humans, but also selling their body parts to recoup their cost. Video after video came across the Internet. Even the mostly liberal news media carried some of the atrocities. Nothing was clearer to Americans than this was a gross crime against humanity as we watched Planned Parenthood employees drink wine and laugh as they told potential buyers just how they could target specific body parts of unborn babies-for sale.

In an ironic twist, several months later, after Congress had failed to act and the President vowed to protect Planned Parenthood, a Federal DA charged the reporters who exposed them, with using false identification while doing their investigation.

Oh, but we’re going to elect a new President next year, we thought. He will pick new Supreme Court Judges and stop so-called same sex marriage. He will prosecute Planned Parenthood as the Executive of our Federal Government. Then Antonin Scalia passed away.

A once five to four conservative court became four to four. Barak Obama is still in office and nominating a new judge. The Congress says it will stop him but their record says otherwise.

Finally, although we have a true conservative, a strict constructionist, running for the GOP nomination for President, one who actually has chance to win, the populist is electing, despite all reason, a lifetime liberal with a poor political record and seemingly a total disregard for the Constitution or the separation of powers that protects our Republic. Whispers of a potential tyrant float along the smoky halls and back rooms of our capital along with the ghosts of our Founders while the elitists lay their plans to buy him and revolutionaries wait to crown him.

Evil is prevailing and God is inattentive…or so it seems.

In the first chapter of the little book of Habakkuk, the prophet prays…

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not hear?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

   Why do you make me see iniquity,

and why do you idly look at wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

   So the law is paralyzed,

and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

so justice goes forth perverted[2]

Sound familiar?

It should. It’s been this way before…

“We are in the midst of a revolution, only bloodless as yet.” But every day the complications assume a more angry aspect; a fatal current seems drifting all parties with frightful rapidity towards the bloody arbitrament of the sword. Daily the public heart stands still, expecting lest the next breeze which sweeps from the South come freighted with the resounding crash of civil war, which may soon be reechoed from all other quarters. The counsels of our rulers seem to be turned into disappointment, and the lover of his country knows not whither to look for refuge, except to God[3]-Several Pastors and Professors at Southern Seminaries and Universities January 14, 1861

Habakkuk loved his nation, a nation God had favored, but saw evil prevailing. He prayed. He cried out to God. “Are you going to let this go on forever?”

Our ancestors have sailed times unsettling seas, just like Habakkuk.

Now, we travel a similar corridor, one that’s littered with uncertainty but should lead us to a greater faith.

For the next few weeks, I’d like to take a look at the little book of Habakkuk. I’d like to study his prayer, God’s answer, and Habakkuk’s response to God’s answer.

It’s a book of uncertainty and anger, prayer, judgment, promise, faith, and praise. It’s the history of the Church conjoined with the judgment of a culture, purified by fire and beautified by God.

[1] Dabney, R. L. (1891). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Evangelical. (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 413). Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Hab 1:2–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Dabney, R. L. (1891). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Evangelical. (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 413). Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

Apologetics, Kids, and the World They Live In

As published by Raising Godly Children.

This is not a post about how to help your children deal with their emotions as they face their fear of mass shootings, ISIS, or any of the other evils that are no longer hidden from them, despite your best efforts. That is a job for you and your spouse and maybe your pastor. God’s Word is permeated with “do not fear” passages and it should be no trouble for you to find one to begin with as you walk with your children through the emotional challenge that todays world must be to them.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”” (Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV)

Neither is this an effort to move parents to a place of either protecting their children from or exposing their children to the clear and present danger that is quickly becoming a characteristic of being Christian and American. That is up to you as well. You know your child better than anyone other than God himself.

And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm,” (Deuteronomy 11:2, ESV)

I worry about my children these days. Heck, I worry for myself. Times are changing. This world is quickly becoming less than hospitable to us. Almost daily a new tragedy becomes the news. Another shooting, another bombing, another terrorist attack, and the promise of more from the evil, cowardice jihadists, are scary sound bites of our culture. Team that with a Federal government that seems hell-bent (at least the Executive branch) on quieting Christianity and a culture that is increasingly opposed to it and us and it seems like the perfect storm is building against us.

We’re Christians.

People hate us. Jesus said they would…

Everyday the news contains reasons to not be Christian, much less a Christian that defends his or her beliefs. Despite our wishes for our offspring, it is looking like the times are moving us to deal with apologetics, our kids, and the world they live in.

I spent a lot of time in 1 Peter last year and one of the things that quickly became evident was that Peter was writing to a persecuted Church. There is little doubt that there were children who were part of that early Church. Let me ask you, do you think that they were sheltered or excluded from the persecution that spurred the writing of the first book of Peter?

Nope. They weren’t.

Children were all too familiar with the torture, humiliation, and deaths of their Christian parents. There is even some evidence that children were tortured and killed as well. Pliny the younger wrote in his letter to Emperor Trajan about 111 AD…

“I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.”[1]

The fact of the matter is that if persecution comes to Christians, our children are not going to be immune to its emotional consequences and are not out of reach of its financial, legal, or even physical cost.

So, how are you preparing your children to be courageous? What are you doing to instill in them the capacity to be obedient to the Spirit of God if he calls them to stand in the midst of imminent threat?

To be honest, I don’t believe that the power to stand against torture or martyrdom comes from some inner strength. I believe that kind of fortitude comes from God in his Spirit. But, the reality is that we’re not quite there yet. For the most part persecution in America is intellectual and sometimes financial. Physical persecution remains illegal, although government sanctioned “legal” persecution seems a sure thing in the future. Regardless, I am of the persuasion that God gives strength to people that they cannot self-generate in those situations.

The kind of courage that it takes to stand against persecution is the result of two things, knowledge of the truth and certainty of being right!

A person who is uncertain of the rightness of his or her plight or knows little of its substance, will cower in the face of danger. On the other hand, a person armed with knowledge of the truth and invigorated by the certainty that he is doing the right thing will not easily be moved from where they stand. Courage is grounded in the roots of truth and springs from the trunk of virtue and justice.

Now that sounds a little grandiose for little kids though, doesn’t it? Maybe it seems a little like illusions of grandeur, peewee style?

I promise that it won’t always seem that way. One day your little one will face a professor, employer, or friend that requires them to stand up for Christ. Hopefully, that will be the earliest they will be challenged to defend the hope they have. It may not be. They ought to be prepared, nonetheless.

My encouragement, as you begin to consider apologetics, kids, and the world they live in, is that you ground your children in the truth. Root them in the Scriptures and bring them up in the knowledge of God.

But that would be a job done only halfway.

Begin, at a young age to teach them the evidences for God. Teach them the historical reliability of the New Testament. Give them the historical reasons to believe that Jesus really did come out of that tomb. Then they will not only have knowledge of the truth but they will know that they are right.

Do these things and courage will grow, in you and your children. Then you’ll be certain that you will “be ready” to give an apologetic (defense) for the hope you have and your children will too.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

 

 

[1] http://www.bible-researcher.com/persecution.html#pliny

Don’t Be An Apologetics Elitist!

“You fight great, but I’m a great fighter.” –Apollo Creed

That’s a great line from the final moments of Rocky III, one of my favorite movies.

It’s a point well taken and I’m afraid a weakness of mine. No, I should confess that it is actually a bad attitude that I have to own.

My guilt doesn’t necessarily stem from my methods of apologizing or defending the Christian Faith, although I’m sure some should. What I’m actually referring to is my attitude regarding my vocation.

I’m a professional driver, and if you don’t believe me just ask my wife, I’ve told her several times.

Seriously, I am, but not in the sense of the guy in the disclaimer on the Lexus commercial. “Don’t attempt these maneuvers. Car driven by a professional driver”, the small letters read.

I drive for a living though. I have been extensively trained and am retrained quite often. I am reminded daily of my training. Driving is more than 50% of my job responsibility and I am considered a professional.

The problem that I have is that I make that fact quite clear in my attitude in too many situations.

I condescend to other drivers, not only in my method but my madness. I communicate by driving defensively but I go too far when I tell them that I am simply more qualified than they are.

It’d be easy for me to limit my transgressions of aggressions to the occasional defensive cutting off of an aggressive driver, the necessary pass of a slow driver, or even speeding up when someone tries to pass me on the right hand side-a dangerous maneuver that can’t be tolerated. But, that would only be half-truths.

I am also guilty of sneaking in condescending remarks and statements while acting as if I am simply stating the facts. In so many words I am more than happy to let you know, even discretely, that I am the pro and you are not.

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.[1]

I am a driving elitist.

That’s bad enough and it requires some confession pretty often. Repentance is tougher. I like being the most qualified person in the room. It’s a malady most of us reserve for the politically minded.

There’s an elitism that is potentially more harmful though. You may have witnessed it. You may be guilty of it.

This elitist comes wearing a few different hats. They might be an apologist. They might be a theologian. They might be a pastor.

I’ve met some high-profile apologists. People like Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, and J Warner Wallace seem to always be approachable and authentically humble people. It’s well known that many other apologists suffer from elitism though. It’s just too easy to have a haughty attitude when you have knowledge and/or training that the majority of folk in your church do not.

I heard a pastor practice his own form of elitism a long time ago. He was talking to someone about discipling an excited young Christian man who studied hard, had a heart to do God’s work, but had no formal Christian accolades. He had no MDiv, no ThM, no PhD, but he had drive, he studied hard, he needed direction. The pastor didn’t speak of their relationship as a mentor/teacher and a young exuberant student though. He saw himself as the more qualified, level headed, seminary trained pastor and the boy as the “who do you think you are” kid with illusions of grandeur.

It’s hard not to do this, even when you’re only slightly trained. One may catch himself or herself correcting, butting in, or even filling in when that behavior is not needed. The motive-look at me!

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith[2]

Apologists are prone to this. After all, isn’t it our job to correct people’s bad theology or philosophy and protect the Faith?

So, what can you do about it?

Well, the first step to curbing this inhospitable trait is recognizing the fact that we have it, taking ownership of it, and confessing it in prayer often.

After that, all you have to do is STOP IT

For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also[3]-Calvin

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 12:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Ti 1:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

You Have the Right to be Offended.

The problem with opinions is that they are like, well you know, and everyone has one. At least that’s the consensus.

Of course that’s not to say that the prevailing opinion is that people should not have opinions. Other than a few cultural fatal feelings like racism, most people still admit that everyone has a right to their own opinions, at least for now.

It’s not necessarily a person’s opinion that has become taboo. The culture seems to have adapted that idea to the 1st Amendment in a peculiar way.

The ultimate prohibition has become the expression of opinion. It is common to hear someone say people should keep their opinions to themselves. It is popular on social media to read posts that proclaim freedom from expression rather than of expression. Keep your opinion to yourself is the cry of the offended, and the culture comes to the rescue.

A better way to describe this cultural crime might be  freedom from being offended rather than freedom from expression though. To be sure, the grievance most people have with others free expression is that it may be offensive to them, not that an opinion is expressed-so their own characterization of the transgression is inaccurate. “People should keep their opinion to themselves” is only half of their assertion; the other half should read, “When I don’t like it”.

How can I say such a thing?

Well, I can make this judgment for two reasons really

1)People generally want to quiet other’s opinions when they are in disagreement with their own.

2)The very assertion that people should keep their opinions to themselves is in fact an opinion.

Now, to me the first reason is pretty obvious.

Do you ever hear anyone tell someone to keep their opinion to themselves when they’re receiving a complement or an “amen” or a like on Facebook?

Can you imagine someone saying, “your hair looks great” or “have you lost weight” and the other person saying “keep your opinion to yourself”?

Or wouldn’t it be absurd to read a Facebook post where the author chastises the readers by saying, “quit liking my status update”?

This never happens and the opinions of others are graciously received by everyone when they are complimentary or in agreement. So it’s obvious that it must be more than mere opinion that creates objections to the opines. 

More importantly though, is the fact that saying, “people should keep their opinion to themselves” is an opinion. Relativists simply do not practice what they preach[1].

It is a self-contradiction to tell someone they ought not give their opinion because to tell someone that you believe it is wrong to give an opinion is giving your opinion. To say such a thing is what is called logical suicide. It is a statement that when turned on itself, kills itself. It proves itself to be wrong.

For one cannot deny the existence or knowability of moral “oughts” in one breath and affirm an absolutist “ought” in the next breath; at least one cannot do this and remain consistent[2]

Obviously, most people who express the opinion that people shouldn’t express their opinions don’t realize the absurdity of their assertion. Sure enough, if they would’ve kept it to themselves they could’ve saved themselves some embarrassment. In the quietness of their mind they would’ve remained ignorantly blissful of their war with reason. The Law of Non-contradiction would merely be an annoyance to their logical process.

You see, people can claim ethics are relative, but when they get to an actual situation, they still make absolute statements about ethics. The concept of relativism is self-destructive[3]

But the very moment they vocalize or write or express in any way that anyone else should keep their opinion to themselves, they become a walking, talking, transgression of their own most overbearing opinion. They have created a logical prison, walked into a cell, and closed the door behind themselves.

I like to respond to these people with those quick retorts that are so effective…and fun. 

That’s your opinion is a zinger that comes to mind that points out the contradiction quickly. Or you can put the same statement in question form and simply ask, is that your opinion. Some less obvious but equally effective responses might be who says or even you tell them. If conversation is what you want, you might reply by fallaciously walking toward their comment by saying: I agree wholeheartedly or I think you’re right. It’s interesting where these responses often lead.

The point is this though; people have an absolute right to voice their opinions, no matter how we may not like them. Whether we disagree, can prove them wrong, or simply have our feelings hurt, other people have a prevailing or dominant right to say what they think. We have no right to be unoffended.

This truth should be proclaimed loudly and often-You have the right to be offended.

 

 

 

[1] Story, D. (1998). Christianity on the offense: responding to the beliefs and assumptions of spiritual seekers (p. 33). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

[2] Moreland, J. P. (1987). Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (p. 247). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[3] Story, D. (1998). Christianity on the offense: responding to the beliefs and assumptions of spiritual seekers (p. 34). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Christian Rights Make Christians Right When it Comes to the 2nd Amendment

It would be easy to run away with the idea that if something is “a right” then it is permissible for the Christian. In other words, if something can be proven to be given to us as a right then it is alright for us to participate in its enjoyment.

But, any pastor worth his salt will quickly tell you that that is not necessarily true. They may even tell you that even if a right is written in the US Constitution that does not render it permissible for the Christian. Most of the time their opinion is grounded in the fact that the US Constitution is not equal to the Bible in that it is not inspired (God breathed), as much as Americans like to believe otherwise.

An uninspired constitution is neither infallible nor inerrant, so anything coming from its pages must be measured first against the Canon of Scripture.

To that I say, Amen!

I do take exception with something deeper than merely the US Constitution’s lack of inspiration though.

First of all, if the Constitution gives people a right, it may not be permissible for the Christian to be sure. But neither does the fact that the Constitution proclaims a right to the people automatically forbid its enjoyment by Christians. The prior statement is incomplete and so is the later, so more work must be done than naive rhetorical argumentation.

Secondly, if something can be proven to be right (moral), then it is permissible whether the Constitution allows it or not. That is why it was more important to discuss the “rightness” of self-defense before the “right” of self-defense, especially for the Christian.

This introduces another issue though; many preachers and teachers who would make the statement, “self-defense may not be right for the Christian, even if it is a right”, overlook a detail I’m afraid. It is a philosophical detail that is as important to us now as it was in 1776.

If something is “a right”, it is by definition “right’ because of the nature of what “rights” are. That may be a little confusing…

In this article I intend to discuss two particular ideas. (1) What is a right? And (2) does self-defense qualify as a right?

If I am able to prove the first, then I, along with the Founders, believe the second will be self-evident.

What is a right?

There are really two major schools of thought on the question, “what is a right”. Both of those disagree on one major point and usually agree on the other. One philosophy is that of Christian or theistic thinkers and the other is that of atheistic and usually Neo-Darwinist thinkers.

Both schools of thought would normally agree on the idea that rights are universal. That means of course that a right is something that is given to all people. There are particular nuances within each of those philosophies. Some non-theists might say on one hand that rights are given to all people but on the other hand might deny that the same right has always been given.

Christians would probably answer that although a right may not have always been enjoyed by all people, it still existed as their right in all places at all times.

I am writing from a Christian point of view so I will assume the later.

The real disagreement comes between the two philosophical ideas on the origin of rights.

Where do rights come from?

While Christians say that rights are God-given, atheists deny that and point to evolution or culture as the origin of rights.

Once again, because I am writing from a Christian point of view, and this particular article is not attempting to argue for theism, I am assuming that rights are God-given. In fact, I don’t believe that any liberty that may be claimed to be a right actually exists as such unless the Creator endows it and is inalienable.

It is the fact that God endows inalienable rights to his creatures that makes those rights transcendent. And, if a right is not transcendent or if it is not endowed by a transcendent Right-Giver, then it is not a right at all. It is an opinion.

So, let me offer you a definition of a right. A right is a self-evident, absolute liberty given by God to all people.

Anything else that claims to be a right is mere opinion. Opinions change and can be given and taken at the whims of majorities or kings.

Rights are liberties that even though kings or governments may attempt to prohibit, cannot be contained. This is because we can easily observe rights as a gift that they have no “right” to take. We all know intrinsically that if God gives us something it is not mans place to take it away from us.

The Founders understood this well. That’s why they worded the Declaration appropriately, and that’s why they were willing to die for their rights.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness[1]-US Declaration of Independence

They did not pull this idea out of thin air though. This was a more ancient philosophy, but a certain philosopher in England had recently articulated it. His name was John Locke. He put it this way…

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last [198] during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”

The idea of a right as God-given comes from the idea that we are all His creation, created in His likeness, and therefore “furnished” with liberties that are immovable or unchangeable. Rights are gifts or common graces given to his special creation, mankind.

I don’t believe my Christian audience needs to be convinced any further so the question I’d like to ask you is this: if God gives us a right, can it always be wrong to enjoy it? Or put another way, does God endow us with inalienable rights that would be immoral for us to claim?

If you’re honest, you’ll answer “no”, and then we can both extend a hearty “amen”. If a right is really a right then Christians have a right to it. Rights are the kind of thing that are right to have because the y are God-given.

That doesn’t answer the question though,  “is self-defense a right”.

Rights are basic liberties humans enjoy that should be obvious to all of us.

It’s easy to recognize that humans are created in God’s Image, given life by him, and have a right to life itself. So then, if God endowed us with it, it is not our right to steal it whether it is our own or another’s.

Consequently, it is our right to preserve our own life and the lives of others if someone acts against God’s image-bearer to steal his or her God-given right to life.

In other words, the fact that God gives us life and that it is not within the liberty of another to steal what God has given, results in another endowment-the right to defend our God-given right to life.

Locke puts it this way…

“And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation

You see, it’s obvious (self-evident). Rights, as God-given liberties are inalienable in so much that we are endowed with other rights that are made necessary to defend the originals. In other words, the 2nd Amendment and our Bill of Rights are not infallible but they are not arbitrary either. They are well thought out descriptions of liberty that we enjoy based upon the fact that we are image-bearers of God and that God’s character is one of a sovereign, life-giving, immutable Creator.

We may not steal God’s gifts from others or ourselves; congruently, we may defend those gifts from people who would either steal them or change them.

Finally, before you balk on this philosophy, let me remind you of a thing or two you’ll be giving up if you disagree with the theory of inalienable, endowed rights.

Christians base our idea that abortion is wrong on the idea of inalienable rights endowed to unborn children. You can’t consistently be pro-life and anti 2nd Amendment.

Christians also base our idea that chattel slavery is wrong on the same thing. Don’t use the slavery card if you’re not willing to back it up with the right to keep and bear arms.

You see, Christians are not only right to keep and bear arms if they so choose; it is our right to do so. They are in fact one in the same. Or, Christian rights make Christians right when it comes to the 2nd Amendment.

 

Excerpt From: John Locke. “Two Treatises of Civil Government.” iBooks.

 

Excerpt From: John Locke. “Two Treatises of Civil Government.” iBooks.

 

Excerpt From: John Locke. “Two Treatises of Civil Government.” iBooks.

 

Excerpt From: John Locke. “Two Treatises of Civil Government.” iBooks.

 

[1] Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

Is it Right for Christians to Keep and Bear Arms?

Is it right for Christians to keep and bear arms?

Recently, there have been several articles published by good men, Christians who are conservative and liberal, calling into question the right of people, especially Christians, to use firearms in their own defense or the defense of others. To be honest, I have wished that these controversial articles would give those of us who disagree pause and stimulate us to consider the gravity of our potential defensive actions and the responsibility we assume when we consider such things.

It is no small thing to take the life of another person, even if it is justifiable. Furthermore, the consequences and collateral damage of violent defensive action are often difficult to deal with afterwards, and our spiritual, mental, and even financial well-being may be at stake, as well as the well-being of innocent by standers. We should have given a great deal of thought to this before we ever draw a firearm on another human being, and we should pursue a vigilant prayer life asking God to arm us with wisdom, humility, and courage each and every day.

It bothers me though that there seem to be so many who would even be partially convinced by these authors’ pacifist tendencies (and I don’t mean that as a pejorative term), especially when it’s obvious that it is that (pacifist) worldview that is the lens through which they read Scripture, at least concerning this issue. For although it is often Scripture that they cite for their authority, the ideas they propose are fed into it as one would force a puzzle piece into the wrong space. Plainly, they seem to be confusing the clarity of Scripture with something else.

The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people.[1]-Charles Hodge

Plenty may be clear but not all is explicit.

Although many righteous things are given explicitly in the Word of God, understanding Scripture as a whole and doing the work of theology help us to know much more of the truths about how God would have us live. None of that is possible without illumination from the Holy Spirit of course.

Simply put, the Gospel is easily understood by simply reading the Bible, but that does not mean that all things that the Bible teaches are simply understood. For example, one can find several verses that speak plainly about faith as a means God uses to save people. But to make the case that baptism should always follow salvation because the Bible always describes it that way is simply bad hermaneutics. One may hold that position and may very well be correct, but if the simplicity of the Bible is their reason then it is no longer their doctrine of baptism that concerns me.

It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to be understood; that they require diligent study[2]-Charles Hodge

Pacifism is a hermeneutical problem of that sort.

Passages that call us to love our neighbor, obey the government, and love our enemy are among a few that pacifists use to teach their worldview of peace. Sometimes they may even try to teach a broader principle that Christ himself came to bring peace or that we are called to live peaceful lives as did the Apostles.

The problem is that they assume the application of the passages they cite when there is not necessarily agreement on the application. They must do the work of convincing us that their application is correct.

Romans 13 calls us to obey the governing authorities certainly, but we know that none of the Apostles or Jesus himself always obeyed governing authorities. How then can we simply assume that we are always to obey the government? When is it okay to disobey the government?

In Mark 12 Jesus repeats the law as stated in Leviticus 19 to love your neighbor as yourself. The problem with assuming that this prohibits violence against another person is that some folks say that to fail to defend your neighbor from a violent attacker is not loving your neighbor. Who is my neighbor, my wife or the perpetrator grabbing her purse?

Yes, we are called to live peaceably but this can’t be merely assumed to mean that we can never go to war or that injustice should be forever tolerated. God institutes governments and sends them to war. Governments are made of people who are often part of the Church. The Old Testament is full of accounts of this and unless the Bible contradicts itself, there must be exceptions to our call to live peaceably.

You see, whether we have a right to self-defense by means of violence is an ethical problem. It is something that must be derived from a broad understanding of Biblical teaching and theology by asking the question ‘how should we live’. It should not become a dogmatic issue of the fundamentals of the Faith. It is an issue that because of a lack of clear Biblical prescription must be held in tension with other Biblical teaching that is not meant to be all-inclusive. It cannot always be assumed as right nor can it always be excluded as wrong.

It is for this very reason, the existence of the possibility of a just and violent self-defense, that people ought to be allowed to provide for their own defense effectively, and this day and age doing so effectively means using a gun. It is not the place of church leadership to prohibit gun use or to convict the consciences of gun owners because there are no clear Biblical grounds to do so. If anything, pastors should promote Christian liberty where it is not clearly denied in Scripture and resist the searing of the consciences of innocent people.

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.l So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.n[3] –Westminster Confession of Faith

If it was the purpose of some of these good men to bring to light an ugly truth about living in the world while not being of it, that is an admirable motive. If it was to spur discussion so that Christians would not be flippant gun owners, your concern is duly noted.

In my opinion though, most of these well-meaning folk have lived outside of what is the reality of fly-over American culture for too long. Most Christian gun owners take their responsibility very seriously and have already considered what must seem so foreign to these neo-pacifists. We just live in two different countries.

It’s not pretty. It definitely doesn’t seem very Christian. It is reality though, and it is right for a Christian to provide for the defense of his or her family.

But…

Because it is right does not settle the issue of whether it is a right (endowed by God). Finally, if it is an inalienable right to keep and bear arms, and it is right for the Christian to do so, then why all the fuss? Those questions will be dealt with next.

 

 

[1] Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 1, p. 183). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 1, p. 183). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[3] Westminster Assembly. (1851). The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (pp. 107–108). Philadelphia: William S. Young.

Are Informal Fallacies Bad Form? I Reckon Not.

…as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us[1]

Justin Martyr

He must have been a Southern man, this Justin Martyr. He reckoned.

All kidding aside, he was a thinker. To the Church, his well-reasoned apologetic for the Christian Faith has been a blessing through the ages.

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless[2]

For Justin though, all the reckoning in the world did little to save his own life.

I’m afraid sometimes that we share the same faulty circumstances, and we may share Justin’s fate as well.

Justin reasoned with a culture that rejected his reasons. He used logic to convince a culture that wasn’t interested in logic. He appealed to the culture’s sense of rationale, while the culture rationed sense through its emotions or experience.

We appeal to a culture that suffers from the same malady.

We generate great ethical arguments.

I am amazed at the clarity and precision of the arguments against abortion. They are so tight that debates featuring them are rarely even entertaining. They are impenetrable to the blows of pro-abortion advocates.

Yet it took shocking videos to reawaken America’s conscience when it comes to killing babies, even though those logical arguments had been around a long time. Pictures on a screen and cold words of hate stirred many to ask Congress to act. It wasn’t enough to convince the President though.

Now, those who made the videos are the persecuted at the hands of the government, the hand of the people, you and me.

As the same-sex marriage debate raged like a whirlwind across the nation, there were men and women who made top-notch logical appeals for traditional marriage. Very few were even given an ear and almost none met any real rebuttal.

Only personal attacks and false accusations of bigotry could be lobbed back at logic in that case. They were aimed at stopping the rhetorical efforts of the rational few and diminishing them as non-human.

The nation and the culture went the wrong way and no decision was made based upon a well-informed mind. The Supreme Court’s mini-majority turned history on its head in a moment of Constitutional empirical weakness that has resulted in a weak constitution for those of us who believed its words mattered.

Most of the time the same thing is true with theist arguments for God’s existence. Reason is set aside in favor of experience and desire, overwhelmingly. The good atheist rarely makes the good philosopher.
It happens in Christian intermural debates as well.

In a recent meeting with some brothers, we were discussing paedobaptism and credo-baptism. As I described my definition of paedobaptism and framed it against how I would define credo-baptism, I admitted preemptively that I was guilty of somewhat of a straw man, if only an emotional one.

My Presbyterian friend actually had a great comment. He said, “I don’t mind the occasional straw-man”.

Not only was my friends comment appropriate (my comparison wasn’t really a straw-man), but also he was right.

Christian apologists often confuse our responsibility to always be honest and represent the truth well with the idea that we can’t make our arguments emotionally effective. Most of the time we would avoid any emotion for the sake of clarity and a commitment to honesty. That’s poor debate and it disregards our responsibility to convince people for merely giving the facts. Its also unconvincing that we lack passion for what we say we believe.

Emotion is not bad.

In fact, the occasional use of informal logical fallacies are not only permissible, but I’d go so far as to say that they ought to be used sparingly. This is true especially in light of the culture we live in.

Let’s take the argument that I presented the other day.

I framed a comparative argument between two views of baptism, making them both cohere to a shared descriptive phrase; “baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant”. Since we all basically agreed that that was an accurate description of baptism, it became a good first premise.

So then, “baptism is a tangible gift from God to us (sign) that is a guarantee (seal) of God’s promise to save those who have faith in Him.” That is my view that I stole from Stephen Myers.

But, I said, “to you baptism is a tangible gift to God (sign) that is a guarantee (seal) of your faith in God.”

“Which view sounds more biblical?”

Do you see what I did there? There may be a couple of informal fallacies hidden in my framing of their view of baptism, but it’s not inaccurate in the sense that it’s not true.

It’s also an emotionally effective argument. No one wants to believe that such an important Christian doctrine is so man centered. But in this case, it just doesn’t feel right to take the second view.

Now, since most of you probably adhere to Believer’s Baptism, don’t let the content of that argument get in the way of what I’m proposing. We’re on the same team as apologists for the Faith. But notice how we can convince without tricking. I accurately framed the argument, but in such a way as to make my view seem emotionally preferable to theirs.

No harm, no foul I say.

Informal fallacies can be effective tools if you’re careful. They don’t necessarily mean an argument is false. They may not even be poor sport. They are emotionally charged and can be the prod that moves an argument from a vicious cycle of misunderstanding to where it needs to be taking place in the first place, the battle ground of volition.

What am I “not saying”? 🙂

I am not telling you to lie. Always tell the truth.

I am not telling you to misrepresent the other side. Represent them well.

I am not giving you an excuse to trick people. Only use emotion to help them see the truth when logic fails to do so.

We live in a time when logic is not king.

With post-modernism waning, rationalism has given way to empiricism for many. In the wake of relativism are the debris of broken minds and the casualty of truth. Emotion may be the glue that you can use to repair them…sometimes.

So, are informal fallacies bad form? I reckon not.

 

But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion[3]Justin Martyr

 

 

 

 

[1] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[2] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[3] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Real Shame Says God is Real

Even though in man’s corruption this last point is not clearly perceived, yet some vestige remains imprinted in his very vices. For whence comes such concern to men about their good name but from shame? And whence comes shame but from regard for what is honorable? The beginning and cause of this is that they understand themselves to have been born to cultivate righteousness, in which the seed of religion is enclosed. But, without controversy, just as man was made for meditation upon the heavenly life, so it is certain that the knowledge of it was engraved upon his soul. And if human happiness, whose perfection it is to be united with God, were hidden from man, he would in fact be bereft of the principal use of his understanding. Thus, also, the chief activity of the soul is to aspire thither. Hence the more anyone endeavors to approach to God, the more he proves himself endowed with reason.[1]-Calvin

The more I see myself for who I am, the more clearly I understand my need for Christ.

I am, as it were, very self-absorbed.

My motives, although not completely evil, always brush up against selfish ambition. No matter how pious my actions, comments, or even my thoughts may seem, I am most assuredly pointing people to my own image, at least in a negligible way.

When I attend church, I do so partly to be seen by those in whom I look for approval.

When I discipline my children, I hope to win the affections of my wife or my friends who have children.

When I work at my vocation, the glory of God is only a momentary desire as I attempt to pry it from his very fingers just as I pretend to lay it in his hand.

I love the pat on the back, the occasional accolade, and the bemused glance as people listen to or read my well reasoned and biblical responses to skeptics and or social justice warriors.

It makes sense to me that folks are interested in their own image and opposed to their own shame because they have an innate awareness of their need to “cultivate righteousness”. Something in us desires a goodness that we assume can be self-produced. We want people to see the good in us and we emanate that by promoting and protecting our self-image. That makes sense.

Let’s put it this way: Even the sinful attitude of self-promotion is residual evidence of an innate understanding of God’s existence.

All people are at least minimally interested in their own good name.

It ranges from the most self-centered, egotistical, narcissist, to the humble and most hidden monk; all people have a degree of interest in their self-image. The politician desires a great deal of image building while the pious man hides himself. But while the image building is evident with the politician, the pious sneak in their selfishness under the guise of being known as unpretentious.

Both are guilty although one may be less obvious than the other. All people have similar traits.

Shame drives the train.

Although shame is not the only factor in the interest of people to build and/or protect their self-image, it is the reason that drives the others.

Since the fall of mankind, shame has been a product of mans self-awareness.

 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked?[2]

People are ashamed of failing God, disappointing their family, their sin, their looks, their finances, etc. When people are ashamed, they hide. People hide their sin from God, their failure from their family, their faulty look, and their poverty. All of this effort to hide reality is an effort to improve ones image, an effort driven by shame.

We are ashamed of distortion.

We are ashamed of our various failures because we understand that whatever we did wrong or have become is not what we ought to have become or not what we should have done. We ought not do the thing that caused us shame. Of course shame is not always a result of this. It can be an emotion caused by errant reasons.

Not usually though. Usually shame is around because we fail to do what we ought to do. Our failure is a distortion of what was intended by God.

Admission of distortion is admission of an original better thing.

If something is distorted and the variation is the cause of shame, then the original thing was obviously better. Not only is it better, but we all understand better to be something objective rather than subjective, otherwise there would be no reason to be ashamed.

Rarely are we ashamed of our opinions. We are not usually ashamed of preferences either. Why would we be? They are preferences and opinions. Everyone has their own opinions and preferences, rendering them subjective.

On the other hand, we are ashamed of failures that are obvious to everyone. They are obvious because they are objectively wrong. All people understand these things to be distortions of a better thing, marred images of a perfect Original. That’s obvious and we know it, so we become ashamed. That shame is based on a failure to meet the Objective (pun intended).

When shame makes our bearings straight.

Anytime that we are ashamed and it leads us to creating, imagining, or promoting our self-image, we have bought into the lie that it is our image that matters. This comes in the form of the licentious and the legalist. Ones self-interest is explicit and lifts themselves up as autonomous, having no need of God. The others is implied and pretends to depend on God while promoting their own self-righteousness. There is little difference between the two.

But, when shame causes a person to seek God, when God’s image becomes the benefactor of a persons shame, that person has rightly discerned his predicament. They have proved themselves ‘endowed with reason’, as Calvin said. God gains glory, even through our shame.

He is proclaimed as God as well.

In shame, people are implicitly admitting that God exists. Not only does he exist, he is the ultimate image of goodness (righteousness). Our distorted images, those we surround with facades (whether selfish or self-righteous) to impress on-lookers and hide our shame, come from a better image. Our selfish efforts to make that image seem better than the one marred by reality, is evidence of God’s perfect image.

Real shame says God is real.

 

 

[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (J. T. McNeill, Ed., F. L. Battles, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 192–193). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ge 3:7–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

When the Going Gets Tough

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:66–68, ESV)

I don’t know if you keep up with current events, but unless your head is buried in the proverbial sand, you understand that the time is quickly coming that many of us will be tested.

Politics aside, there is little doubt that the Executive branch of the United States Federal government is at least unsympathetic to the natural rights of the citizens of our nation to practice their religion freely, if not explicitly opposed to those practices.

Not only has that particular group of would be tyrants implied that they have no respect for religious liberty, the culture has at its core decided that American Christians should keep their mouths shut when it comes to a perceived invasion of their sexual privacy. Sex is in fact the default religion of America today and our Constitution has been reinterpreted to represent that.

Not only has the tide turned against Christians in the good ole USA, but also the waves of progressivism and secularism are lapping up the liberty of all traditionalists, especially those who live between the great metropolises. As the knowledge of our history shrinks, the hatred of our basic freedoms grows. The first Amendments, our American first freedoms, are considered advantages for the “privileged white class”, the most hated of evil. Speech, guns, private property, and the rule of law are under attack and the movement has moved from fringe to popular to majority.

Unfortunately, many of our nation’s pulpits are filled with preachers who have never read John Locke and if they had would consider him unchristian. The man, who followed Calvin in his views of the role of civil government, accused those who would not resist tyranny of sin. “It is Christian duty”, Locke would say, “to resist tyranny”[1]. His ghost haunts the pages of our Declaration of Independence and his bent toward Calvinism color the words of the American pastors of the Colonial resistance to the King of England.

“Self-defence is a part of the law of nature; nor can it be denied the community, even against the king himself”-John Locke

Church has become a bastion of pacifists rather than one of truth and even those who wish to inform the laity of its duty to defend the Faith are not elated at the attitude of church leadership or the pew fillers who follow them. J Warner Wallace, the detective turned apologist from California who travels the country speaking to congregations with an energetic enthusiasm for apologetics, is quoted as saying,

I get the chance now to travel all over the country sharing the case for Christianity. I recognize the difference between student and adult congregations. While the Church seems to be satisfied with undemanding Sunday experiences, young people want so much more: They want answers. They are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and prepare themselves. They want their own doubts answered and they want to respond to the skeptics in their lives. Sadly, the Church doesn’t seem to recognize this yet, and it definitely seems ill-equipped to meet the challenge…It’s time for the Church to raise up a generation of young people who are equipped with a Biblical worldview and can articulate this worldview with strength and conviction[2]

The point is this: the times are a changin’ and your feet are going to be held to the fire. Your mettle is going to be tested. If you are a follower, a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, and times get tough, are you going to leave him like the disciples of John 6:66?

Are you equipped to stand against the winds of change? How certain are you that your faith is well founded?

If you’re a pastor, what’s the apologetic health of your congregation? Have you and your leadership equipped them against the wolves that are approaching? Have you been faithful to your call to teach them what they believe and why they should believe it?

Elder, are you qualified to not only teach sound doctrine but also rebuke those who promote false doctrine? Are you willing to lead the congregation into the mouth of the battle for truth?

One of the greatest testimonies of the New Testament comes in Peter’s answer to Jesus when many disciples abandon Jesus and he asks those who stay, “Well, are you going to leave too?” (Donnie’s translation).

Peter’s reply is priceless. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”[3]

Let me ask you this. When it all goes down, do you have anyone else in whom to turn other than Jesus? If not, why don’t you take the time that you have to learn to answer the objections that people have to him? Why don’t you teach your flock that desperately hangs onto their faith in the midst of doubt and skepticism why the Bible is really true? Why don’t you lead by example and expose them to the right way to argue?

Don’t discourage engagement. It is unavoidable.

Don’t hide from controversy. Their lives are filled with it.

Don’t make your church merely a hospital when they need it to be a boot camp.

In my opinion, Jesus is one of the most difficult people to understand in the Bible. He didn’t place everything on the bottom shelf. He made people think on purpose. He engaged the skeptics of his day. Sometimes people just couldn’t take it and they left.

Sadly, many times when the going gets tough, well you know the rest.

The question is, are you going to leave too?

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. -G. K. Chesterton[4]

 

 

[1] http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/222

[2] Students Love Answers More Than the Church Loves Answers)

 

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 6:68). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Aesthetic Apologetic of Christmas

You’ve probably spent at least part of the past weekend taking down your Christmas tree and maybe the other decorations you’ve spent the past month enjoying. In a way, you may be glad that Christmas is over.

Don’t feel bad. I totally understand. I drive a delivery truck for the worlds biggest small package delivery company that has a close association with a specific color…brown. My December is spent answering the question “What do you want for Christmas?” by saying “I just want it to be over”.

That’s not a feeling that lasts, at least on my account.

Actually, I love Christmas. I’m all about the family stuff, the decorations, the food. I really enjoy it. The difference for me is the fact that Christmas boils down to one day. That’s it.

There’s a feeling that comes after Christmas though, that’s often unexpected. After all of the wishing it would hurry up and leave, I’m left wishing Christmas would last a little longer.

This longing may be an emotion you’ve experienced. It may be that you would actually like to hang on to Christmas a little longer. I think we’ve all been there at one time or another. A week or two after Christmas, we seem to miss the holiday like a long lost relative, a friendly ghost we wish would hang around.

What is it that we miss about Christmas?

It’s not the shopping. It’s probably not the commercialism. It’s something else.

What we miss about Christmas is what I call the aesthetics of Christmas.

There is an apologetic of the celebration of the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth that is more than the story. There is something about Christmas that even we evangelicals must admit is a little hard to put our theological fingers on. The Biblical narrative is the focus, and it should be, but there is something about the celebration that leaves us wanting, longing, hoping for more.

An 80’s band, Cinderella (Apology for the hairband reference), had a song You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone.

That’s the thing about the month of December as it gives way to January. The lights come down. The parties cease. The trees go away. The food goes bad. All of a sudden we realize we miss it.

We miss the beauty. We miss the fellowship. We miss the carols. Sometimes it’s only then that we realize just how precious Christmas really is. For some of us it’s only then that we realize how much the celebration is the story. The narrative demands the response and we want the response to continue indefinitely.

Look back. Think of how the beauty of Christmas made you feel. Think of what it made you feel.

Joy, love, and hope can’t be found in the things we miss about Christmas. They can’t be regained permanently by keeping the tree up longer or watching another Christmas movie. We can only wait until next Christmas.

There’s an apologetic in the emptiness just as there is in the wait. Christmas is a celebration of an event that has already occurred. The Christ has come as promised, but we can no longer see him, hear him, or touch him although we’ve experienced him really. We have seen his beauty. He has touched us greatly. But we want him fully because he has left us. It’s a longing within us that we can’t quite quench…for now.

We wait though. He’s coming back. In all of his glory, he will return. One day he will take away the longing and our faith will be our sight.

It will be a beautiful celebration that will be complete satisfaction. It will be a Christmas that never ends.

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.[1]-Jonathan Edwards

What a story?

Sometimes apologetics is technical, scientific, or philosophical. Sometimes it’s just communication of common truth.

There is an aesthetic apologetic of Christmas. Don’t let it slip away unused.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3, ESV)

 

[1] Ritzema, E., & Vince, E. (Eds.). (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Christmas apologetics begins at T minus 33 years and counting.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ”” (Hebrews 10:5–7, ESV)

 

Jesus was born into obscurity.

There’s little doubt that Bethlehem was a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. A manger is not exactly a crib fit for a king. And shepherds are not what you’d call storybook subjects of royalty.

Yet that is exactly the context of the birth narrative, the first Christmas.

If you’ve done any careful study of the incarnation though, you already know that this obscurity is quite the point.

Jesus was born into humility.

He did not come as royalty. He came as an impoverished child of a carpenter and his very young wife. (Mary may have been as young as 13 years old). Jesus was born in a nasty feeding trough and was worshiped by the lowest people in that particular society.

If you had told anyone in Bethlehem that that little baby was the King of kings, their response would’ve been one of my children’s favorite, “whatever”.

Jesus was born into obscurity, but he didn’t intend to remain there.

The clock has been running forward for about 2000 years, but at the time of Jesus’ birth it was not. When Jesus was born, even though he in his humanness was not yet aware, the clock was running at T minus 33 years and counting. Jesus had 33 years to move from obscurity and humility to exaltation.

As Jesus matured, he began to understand the immediacy and imminence of his destiny. Christmas was T minus 33 years and counting. The birth of Christ was not his resting place. Jesus never intended for us to remember him as merely a little baby. And if you celebrate Christmas, you should have no intention on stopping with the story of the incarnation.

In the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Ricky prays this prayer… “Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger, just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors. I would like to thank you for bringin’ me and my mama together, and also that my kids no longer sound like retarded gang-bangers.”[1]

I’m afraid, as ridiculous as this sounds, it’s a pretty fair representation of what many people think about Jesus. As apologists, our job is not merely to defend the existence of God, the reliability of the New Testament, or the Resurrection of Christ. We are first called to defend against false teaching, and the American baby Jesus is one example of some very misleading presumptions. That is, Jesus was merely a baby of hope for the downtrodden, overlooked, and unloved; who was born into poor circumstances.

This is not the real Jesus!

The real Jesus is God who became man, and that is only the beginning of the story. One job of the apologist is to make sure to tell, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story and to make clear that the birth of Jesus, as wonderful as it was, started the countdown clock-T minus 33 years and counting.

T minus 33 years and counting to what?

This baby had 33 years to fill a big order, one that was in the plans since before time itself. Jesus was born as a man for a reason, to complete the covenants God had made. He had 33 years to complete God’s Covenant of Work, which Adam failed and we continue to prove our inadequacy. He also had 33 years to fulfill God’s Covenant of Grace, purchasing the pardon of God’s children.

Let’s take a very quick overview of what Jesus had to accomplish in just 33 years.

T minus 33 years and counting for…

Jesus to perfectly obey and fulfill God’s law.

Actually, the short life of Jesus seems like a benefit here, doesn’t it? Being perfectly obedient to the Law of God would be easier for 33 years than the usual 70 wouldn’t it?

First of all, for most of us 33 seconds of obedience is virtually impossible. For the rest of us, there’s not been 33 minutes when we haven’t entertained an evil thought or had a bad intention.

Secondly, Jesus was not merely passively obedient to the law. Jesus actively engaged the Law of God in such a way that he fulfilled it, even in his summary of it-to love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus did that perfectly, without exception.

Jesus to become the righteousness we cannot.

Jesus had 33 years not only to fulfill the law, but he had to become the Righteous One. We think of Jesus as our substitute, only giving himself on the cross to buy our forgiveness, but forgiveness is not enough. To be in the presence of God, perfect righteousness is required, something we woefully lack. Jesus earned that for us in 33 years and it is a necessary element of our salvation.

Jesus to get ready to die.

Have you ever considered what it’d be like if you knew when you were going to die. How tempting it would be to eat, drink, and be merry until a few days or weeks before. Jesus may not have known the exact time of his death as a man, but he knew of its necessity and its imminence. This pressed upon him an urgency that is obvious in the Gospels. Jesus had 33 years to live, but he also had 33 years to prepare to die, not for him but for us.

Here his infinite love towards us appears; but its overflowing appears in this—that he put on our nature that he might thus make himself capable of dying, for as God he could not undergo death[2]-Calvin

There are many other things impending in this countdown.

Jesus had to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophecies about him.

Jesus had to crush the heel of the Serpent.

he hath so delivered us from the tyranny of the devil, that we are rendered safe, and that he hath so redeemed us from death, that it is no longer to be dreaded[3]-Calvin

Jesus had to become the true and better King.

Jesus had to become the greatest Prophet of Israel.

The list could go on for another page.

Here’s the point again.

Don’t let people get away with leaving Jesus in the manger. Remind them that the manger was only a staging area for the liftoff of a truly magnificent life. The birth of Christ signified the starting of a countdown clock for that life to be perfectly lived and efficiently ended. Correct the idea that the first Christmas is the end of the story. Communicate the necessity of both the life of Jesus and his death. Proclaim Jesus as a baby that grew into a Savior.

Christmas apologetics never ends with Christmas. Christmas apologetics begins at T minus 33 years and counting.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV)

 

 

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0415306/quotes

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 71–72). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (p. 72). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The Apologetic of Waiting

If there is anything we don’t like to do in America, it’s to wait.

My vocation depends upon this cultural identidy. I am a UPS driver and I can guarantee that people do not like to wait. This is especially true during the Christmas Season, or what we call “Peak”.

There’s plenty of evidence, other than my anecdotal, that we have become an impatient bunch.

Go to Disney and one of the best investments you can make is a pass that takes you to the front of every line.

Go to YouTube and the first place we move our cursor is over the “skip” button.

Go to the doctor and they post how quickly they “move” their patients from the waiting room to the examination room.

We don’t like to wait.

It’s a little dated, but an old favorite song of mine is by Faith Hill and is called “The Secret of Life”. The song is a conversation between two bar buddies about the so-called secret of life. Near the end the bartender answers “The secret of life is gettin’ up early. The secret of life is stayin’ up late. The secret of life is tryin’ not to hurry, but don’t wait. Don’t wait.”

It is ingrained in us. There is nothing worth waiting on and even more importantly, waiting is a waste of time.

American culture is essentially about production. We produce goods and services efficiently and by that we mean quickly.

UPS moves at the speed of business.

Amazon Prime is free, two day shipping.

Christmas is advertised at Halloween and Thanksgiving is the necessary pit stop in the middle.

Black Friday…Oh how I loathe Black Friday.

It used to be that the Friday after Thanksgiving was a family day. Those who had traveled to eat together, be thankful, and visit relatives, took one more day to enjoy each other’s company, hunt together, or eat leftovers while playing games, etc.

Now it is a Friday that actually begins late Thursday, as a competition about who can be first to get the Christmas stuff that they are afraid to wait on!

Ironically, this hurry up and shop holiday begins with massive lines that progress into fights over merchandise. This celebration of American values follows Thanksgiving, another uniquely American holiday instituted to cause Americans to pause long enough to give thanks for all God has given us…

I digress.

There is a holiday of sorts that follows Thanksgiving. Even more ironic I suppose is that it is a period dedicated to waiting.

It’s called Advent.

Advent is something relatively new to me. I have recently become Presbyterian after becoming reformed a few years ago. None of my former churches, which were not reformed, celebrated Advent. So, I was and remain pretty unfamiliar with Advent, but I’m learning.

Advent capitalizes on the idea that through the Covenants of God, the people of God knew that they were waiting on God to provide a Savior, the promised One of Genesis 3:15, the True and Better Ark, the Descendent of Abraham, the Seed of David. God’s promise was guaranteed in the signs he had given, they believed him, and they waited on the Lord.

Waiting in this sense is good. Waiting on the good gifts of God, especially his Son brings us to a wonderful attribute of patiently waiting. That attribute is anticipation.

Anticipation can be good or bad. It can lead to excitement or worry. Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid though? Christmas was awesome, not because it came quickly but because you waited on it, sometimes all year.

Why is this important?

I believe waiting brings back some of the joy to Christmas that some of us lose in all of the hustle. This is because waiting is intrinsic to this particular holiday.

I’ve already mentioned those who covenanted with God who waited all of their lives to see those promises fulfilled. To be honest, sometimes trying to gain the perspective of those Old Testament waiters is fairly ambiguous. They waited their whole life and continued in faith. Really, how can we even come close to that?

I’d like you to consider two other people though, two people who waited but their faith became their sight. These two people had all of the covenants and the expectations that came with them. But on top of that, they had their own personal promises from God.

Simeon is probably my favorite character in the birth narrative of Christ. The climax of his story is usually the focus but it is the waiting that makes the climax so great.

Simeon was patient. He waited a long time to see the promised Savior. Day after day he probably went to the Temple and was disappointed at the end of the day. The next day would come and he would go back to the Temple. Simeon was actively waiting.

Finally, the day came. He heard the cry of a promise. He held the weight of a tiny fulfillment. It wasn’t only the beginning of the life of Christ; it was the end of a long wait.

Mary’s wait wasn’t near as long, but to her it probably seemed like an eternity. Nine months after the visit from the angel some time after her visit with Elizabeth, Mary delivered what she waited for. Her wait grew inside her. Yet she had to go through days of sickness and embarrassment. One day, in a little shepherd town, her wait came to an end.

Both of these stories are pieces of the beginning of a greater story, the story of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

Neither of these stories would be as grand nor their climax as definitive if it wasn’t for the wait.

Can you imagine the anticipation of Mary as her day approached? Can you imagine the nervous expectation of Simeon as he grew near his own death without seeing the Messiah as it turned into uncontainable joy when he hears the baby?

It was the slow and patient wait that made the birth of Christ so grand for Simeon and Mary. Maybe something we’ve lost that should add to the joy of Christmas is the wait.

We already know that being in a hurry causes us to miss many of the little things that make life so good. Flying to Christmas without taking the time to wait has the same result, take my word for it.

If you don’t attend a church that celebrates Advent, or if you just never take the time to wait because shopping, cooking, or even giving take priority; consider Mary and Simeon. Think about how much better the day may be when it finally arrives if you only take the time to wait.

Anticipate Christmas. Be excited. Wait. Good things may come to you.

Religious Racism?

The well known, California based apologist, Greg Koukl said something that needed to be said a few weeks ago during his podcast/radio show, Stand to Reason. A lady had called in with a question about a situation that had arisen regarding her and her husband’s adoption of a black child. These North Westerners were both white and evidently there were those who had given them a rough time over the family that was now racially mixed.

I’m sure many of you are thinking what you’ve been conditioned to think right now, aren’t you?

I’d bet that several of you are already passing judgment on someone who you imagine is belittling this adoptive family by virtue of the mixture. “Surely we are over this idea of anti-desegregation”, you might have quaintly thought.

Well, if that’s what you thought, you’re wrong!

Actually, the lady claimed that they (the two adopting parents) were being chastised and harassed by folks who believed that the two parents had no right to adopt a black child because they wouldn’t be able to indoctrinate that child to be “black”. In other words, they weren’t black enough to help the child become truly black.

Yea, you got it.

They couldn’t teach the child to feel slighted by society. They couldn’t make the child be angry enough at the white-heavy culture. They couldn’t coerce the child into holding a grudge against all white people because her ancestors may have been slaves. That was at least what her accusers were implying.

Think about that.

Isn’t that what our culture has demanded for all of this time?

An assumedly middle-class, white, suburban couple adopts a potentially orphaned black child…and what happens? A bunch of white liberals condemn them for being colorblind!?!

Koukl answered this ladies apprehensive suggestion (she’d been so conditioned that she was afraid to ask outright) with a slight chuckle and his usual clear-thinking winsomeness.

He knew the truth of what’s going on in our culture. The racist shoe is actually on the other foot.

You see, he understands that it’s the liberal, white culture that actually wants to keep minorities, especially black folk in their place. They want them to remain chained to their ethnic “modus operandi” by making sure that they act the way they’re supposed to, and they can’t do that if they are raised in a white, middle-class family. Keeping black folk in their place insures these liberal whites a superior place at the vestibule of virtue.

Koukl told the story of a man he knew who moved to America from his native African nation.

The man was very apprehensive because he had heard of the so-called undercurrent of racism, especially in the American South, and he was moving to Atlanta.

The problem was that after several years spent living in the South, the man realized that he’d never experienced the so-called undercurrent of racism by which he was supposed to have been accosted. It wasn’t there, at least in his experience.

Wow! The South, not racist? Who’d have thunk it?

Koukl went on. He explained that he had understood that people in the South were “still fighting the Civil War”, but not because of racism (because that wasn’t what it was about to begin with), but because they held a grudge against the North.

He also said that many black folk were still fighting the equality war for the same reason, a grudge.

In both cases, he maintained that people’s memories were way too long.

Neither group has a reason to be angry, he proposed.

Koukl’s main point was this: the racial tension in this country is being perpetuated by a liberal ideology that is actually racist. Oh yea, racism exists, but it exists for the most part in the hearts of the very people who wag their fingers at the people in the South.

It’s also present in the Church, I’m afraid, but maybe not as much in the pews as in the pulpits.

Bigots are the new tax collectors and prostitutes.

Naturally segregated churches (white, black, Latino, etc.) are accused of a deep-rooted aversion to the Gospel.

Whole denominations are being reformed by extra-biblical standards.

This self-righteous ideology not only comes from secular superiorists but also originates in the obstinately ordained.

These mostly intellectual elitists, both secular and sacred, unknowingly perpetuate hatred between ethnic groups and they’d like to blame us Southerners, when in fact we get along pretty good down here regardless of our past errors.

Oh, we’re not perfect. There are some bad apples, but as a whole, our culture does it better than most. We get along and we have for a while. We’re over it!

The reaction of the city of Charleston to the shooting by a crazy racist was a shining example of that…until the liberals couldn’t stand it anymore and tried to incite violence and riots by holding up a symbol of Southerness as their holdout of hatred. Really, it still didn’t work so now they’ve moved back to Missouri or Baltimore or Chicago…

And racism in the Southern Church has been for all intents and purposes dead for some time, but there are those who want to resurrect it because they didn’t get to personally protest in Selma. And if they can, they’ll drag us from forgiveness back to unforgivness so we can reenact contrition as if it were a part of the Passion. Their resurrection of racism may have more to do with their cultural Pharisaism than it does curing any so-called church segregation.

It makes me wonder, just what is racism anyway? Is it really what the culture demands that it is?

Racism is not the idea that some people are different than others, is it? Heck, we’re all different, even ethnically. Isn’t that what’s called diversity? Isn’t that the strength of our multiplicity?

Racism can’t be the idea that some of those differences intrinsic to our diversity are often beneficial to one group or person and detrimental to another, can it? Most of that is common sense. It is in the weakness of one person that the benefit comes as another loves them enough to add to them their strength. To this point, both the giver and the receiver benefit from God’s grace and both will always find themselves in need of the other.

Racism, real racism has more to do with our idea of the value of a person. That’s not to say that the value we place on a person is the crux of the matter, although it’s a symptom of it. Real racism is the wholesale devaluing of an ethnic group’s intrinsic and transcendent worth. Real racism says that an ethnic group of people has no value because they have no God-given value.

That kind of corruption of the Imago Dei doesn’t necessarily play out in job interviews in Atlanta. It’s more likely to emanate from abortion mills in New York. It’s probably not in the naturally minimally diverse churches downtown but in the contrived congregations in suburbia. Real racism doesn’t disciple all of the nations but rather it disregards nations and disdains God’s actual creative diversity.

That’s the worse kind of racist, those who use religion to devalue the worship of God’s chosen and supplant cultural submission for the Great Commission!

Religious racists merge “them into us” rather than all into Christ.

Religious racists originate onus to overturn objectivity.

Religious racists contrive contrition to capitalize on culture.

Religious racists regurgitate repentance to reinvent revival.

The truth is that God’s in the business of saving the nations, whatever they look like and wherever they are. In the Kingdom all nations are represented, not merged to look more like you think they should, which just happens to look more like you.

The Church needs to stop dragging the culture back into its deep-rooted self-reproach about racism and instead lead people to real repentance and gospel given freedom, which by the way not only includes contrition and change but taking hold of the promise of forgiveness and the power and freedom of truth. What good is a repentance unaccompanied by forgiveness? What is forgiveness if healing does not follow it? How can there be healing if we keep dragging the skeletons of our forefathers out of the closet to worship at the altar of pretentiousness and erect a façade of humility?

Somewhere, sometime, the USA may get this race issue fixed, but it wont be before the Church does, and the Church will never be redeemed of racism until the truth about it is brought to bare from her pulpits and the fear of not being politically correct dissolves like so much filth from the minds of her congregations.

Religious racism is still alive in American churches, but in my opinion, it’s hidden behind a mask of theological narcissism by hypocrites who see themselves as religiously superior.

May God help us to see our sin as it is and give us real contrition for what we hide rather than fear of what we’re hiding from.

“Calvinists need to read their Bible”

“In the freest manner, and on no mercenary grounds, does God bestow upon us his love and favour, just as, when we were not yet born, and when he was prompted by nothing but his own will, he fixed upon us his choice.”[1]-Calvin

When I’m speaking with my Reformationally challenged friends, a point of contention that comes up often is one of choice. I don’t mean “pro-choice”, although their position could be loosely described as such. The idea that people “have to make a choice” to either trust God or not to trust him is often a point of contention, at least in their eyes.

This of course, is because I am a Calvinist.

After a few questions about my view, this claim, the one of choice, almost always comes up. Many times my friends hear the term predestination or election and automatically presuppose that I don’t believe that to become a Christian a person has to make a choice.

To be honest, and I don’t want to sound condescending, but I almost chuckle now when I hear them state, “but people have to make a choice”. One reason I find this slightly humorous is that I can almost see it coming in a conversation. We begin to talk about God’s sovereign choice and man’s inability and boom, they say it! “But people have to make a choice.”

It’s almost as if they think I’ve never thought about that or after 400 years of Calvinism and 1400 years of Augustinianism and some of the greatest minds of Christianity, no one else has either. In one initial thought it seems to them, that they have defeated a theology that has existed for centuries.

But what contributes more to my affections of amusement is probably the fact that I used to do the same thing.

I didn’t used to be a Calvinist. I wasn’t raised in a Calvinist tradition. I became a Calvinist after being born again for 30 years, listening to someone teach on it, 6 or so months of struggle with God and his Word, and causing my wife to suggest I get some help. I made the same mistakes when I thought about predestination. In fact, it wasn’t usually when I was face to face with a Calvinist that I would consider this rejoinder.

I’m not sure if I even knew any Calvinists in my first 30 years as an Independent Fundamental Baptist. Usually, when I’d read those confusing passages like Ephesians 1 or I’d hear John 6 or 10 preached, I’d wonder about how all this fit together. Then, I’d just chalk it up to my lack of understanding and move on. I, like my friends now, just assumed that those “predestination people” needed to read their Bible.

I totally understand why the question comes up. I am not laughing at my friends. I’m laughing at my self.

All of that being said, the people that usually posit this ‘rejoinder’ to Calvinism may not have thought deeply about these doctrine of grace as described by Calvin, and many others, but they are usually passionate about their rejoinder. It is as if they are questioning your view of God and your passion for the lost. Usually there’s a lot of heat involved in this so-called defeater.

Now, at the risk of being accused of becoming obnoxious, I’d like to offer a quick response to move the conversation to a more substantive place. It’s simple and could come off as a little mean hearted, but it may help if you’re stuck here with one of your unreformed Christian friends.

The next time one of them sends the choice salvo your way by saying, “but they have to make a choice”, simply reply with the following question.

Is there anything about the choice itself that requires God to save you? In other words, does the fact that you made a choice coerce or force God to save you?

It is a dangerous proposition. If God is required to save anyone then it is not of grace. If we can say that our choice coerces God to save us then it is not unmerited favor but mere necessity from a God who is not sovereign but just pretty powerful. If our choice is the determining factor in our salvation then God is left as a helpless proprietor, selling mercy to choosers backed by the heavenly better business bureau, making sure God does his part.

On the other hand, if it is God’s choice that is the determining factor in our salvation (including our own choice), then he remains the God described in Ephesians 1. He is the God who predestines according to the council of his will, not strong-armed by our free will.

This is not an end all by any means to the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. It is not meant to even approach that. It is meant as a quick and hopefully effective way to move someone’s mind from a place of “Calvinists need to read their Bible” to “huh, I better back up a second and think about this”.

They’ll come up with something, but in the mean time, you can enjoy the squirm. While they’re thinking just say to them, “By the way, I do believe we make a choice.”

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:4–7, ESV)

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (p. 201). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Discipline is Essential to the Church

Church just ain’t what it used to be. For so many good people in so many good places, church is lacking.

Church planters say that churches are lacking focus. Churches need to focus on outreach, focus on becoming a part of the community, focus on worship, and the list goes on.

In my humble opinion, those things are secondary results of just being Christian. They are not essentially what a church is.

Pastors like to focus on preaching. Preaching is central to the church, they might say. So, if that’s true then is church essentially the place the Word is administered? That’s definitely a piece of the puzzle, but is that all?

Some of the more theologically astute might say that church is where the sacrament is administered. Baptism builds the church through admittance and the church is edified or built up by the bread and the wine, but the sacrament can’t be separated from the Word. They work as a team rather than two individuals. There is no doubt that baptism and communion are essential to church though, but do they complete what is essentially a church?

The sacraments should never be divorced from the Word, for they have no content of their own, but derive their content from the Word of God; they are in fact a visible preaching of the Word[1]-L Berkhof

A lot of churches do these things well. A lot of those churches still find themselves trying to figure out what’s missing. A piece of the puzzle that is church is being left out. What is it?

It is true that churches should place a great emphasis upon the proper preaching of the Word of God and the proper administration of baptism and communion. These two marks are essential to church. If one of them is absent, there is no church. Although this would even give Berkhof pause, (Strictly speaking, it may be said that the true preaching of the Word and its recognition as the standard of doctrine and life, is the one mark of the Church. Without it there is no Church[2]), he admits and agrees with Calvin that the sacrament is essential as well.

There is another mark of the church, although with Calvin it is less obvious at first, which is essential to a church’s very being. That mark is discipline.

Calvin admits over and over that wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists[3]. You have to be careful here though not to exclude discipline as essential to the church. For Calvin, it seems to be less of a mark and more of an intrinsic element. “Accordingly, as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place[4]”, is his description of the necessity of discipline to the church.

One of the weaknesses of the modern American church is the lack of discipline.

Discipline is seen as meancommunion-1042687_1920 or unnessesarily exclusive.

With one of the most popular verses of the Bible now being “Judge not, lest thou be judged”, to practice discipline seems at the very least archaic and to many contemporary Christians, it is flat out unchristian.

With that being said, who among you will cast the first stone? Well, I guess it has to be me.

An undereducated, biblically illiterate laity and its equally unqualified leadership has left the authority of the Church impotent. If you were to go to the websites of most churches, it would be extremely difficult to find anything about discipline in their doctrinal statement, if there is even a doctrinal statement to be found. Most of what churches promote are their welcoming, come as you are, relaxed, and informal atmospheres. They go out of their way to get formality out of your way, so that you’ll come their way.

Who can win the numbers game when there is a real fear of being disciplined?

Although formality for formality’s sake promotes legalism; and churches should be welcoming in a sense, the idea that those things promote when they are at the forefront is one of disorder. As you know, the church is to be orderly.

Now some of you just had a kneejerk reaction. You are probably equating discipline with traditionalism when traditionalism not what I mean to promote. I am not promoting dress codes or certain brands of worship music or church covenants limiting Christian liberty. The fact that most folks minds go to those things and become defensive about them in a discussion of this sort is a sure sign that churches have done a poor job teaching their people about discipline.

What I am saying is that most modern or contemporary churches don’t practice discipline and have no inclination to do so. They are missing a key element of what it means to be a church.

This is also true in many small, rural churches. Although there may be a policy of church discipline somewhere in the back of their church constitution, small congregations have a hard time being faithful to their own disciplinary process.

Small churches are often made of neighbors, family, and close friends. They understand discipline as merely excommunication and this unhealthy perspective causes them to neglect true discipline. Rather than beginning with a Biblical process of working to bring members to repentance and reconciliation, small churches have a tendency to ignore sin, something God never does. This ignorance can have a lasting effect and the testimony of that church, the holiness of the Church as a whole, and the glory of God suffer for it.

Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ[5]-Calvin

Those are the reasons that discipline is necessary. The holiness of God’s Church and the glory of God himself are the victims of an ordinance of obstinacy. A church that decides to forgo the proper discipline of God forgoes the teaching of God and stands as unfaithful stewards of their own self-righteousness, instead of standing faithfully on the precepts of a merciful God who gives and glories in the repentance to his children.

Its easy though to talk academically or theologically about the importance of church discipline. It leaves it out there in space, just out of reach of practicality. It remains a concept, an unreality, rather than an integral part of church life.

It might be better to put some feet on it.

As I went through an almost year long process of attempting to convince the leadership in a small church the necessity of discipline in the case of an elder, one in which the two-thirds of the church made it clear that they desired resolution, I wrote this down in my frustration…

“Sin is like pet poo. It doesn’t matter who does it or how they cover it up, its still the same when you step in it and our church has it all over its feet because we covered  it (up) in our house.  Everyone smells it and we can’t pick it out of the tread with (our) smiley faces or (we) pretend not to smell it. We try to ignore it but it overpowers all else. We walk with a limp but we still track it everywhere. Finally though, we get used to it and its stench no longer affects our nostrils. Unfortunately when a visitor comes, it hits them like a ton of bricks. They can’t see it and they don’t know who did it or tracked it in, but they know it’s there. It hangs in the air over our little church. It sneaks into the hallways and the classrooms. It permeates the walls. Finally, it sticks to our reputation and testimonies. We are associated with it instead of holiness. Instead of on us, it becomes us, our shadow of sin, and our putrid personality. It’s the opposite of the sweet aroma we should be to The Lord. There’s only one way to get rid of it and that’s to wash it off with the water of confession and repentance. We have not, so we leave it up to God to purge us with fire. Oh that we would have had men who love righteousness and holiness rather than security and congeniality, truth rather than facade. Why do we despise discipline? Why do we fear correction and rebuke? Are the words we preach false? Do they not apply to us? I wonder if we trust them?

As for now, we will keep teaching, preaching, praying, worshiping, gathering, and partaking, but will it matter? We will look like a church and wear the church garment, but are we dressed in the nakedness that we ourselves are oblivious? Will we find correction in our teaching? Conviction in the preaching? Confession in prayer? Humility in worship? Accountability in fellowship ? Discipline in the bread and wine?”

That church imploded ten months later. People scattered. Some of them who were faithful don’t even go to church anymore. A community that loved eachother is now separated by anger, hatred, and pride. An almost empty building testifies each Sunday of a failure to trust God and a willful ignorance of public sin. People still hurt a year and a half later.

This is the collateral damage of a failure to properly discipline. Discipline is essential to the Church.

Therefore, all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration—whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance—are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church[6]-Calvin

 

 

[1] Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (pp. 577–578). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

[2] Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (p. 577). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

[3] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 1023). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[4] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 1230). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[5] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 1230). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[6] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 1230). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Fly-over Country Apologetics

One of the great things about America is its vastness. America is an expanse of land that is a beautiful testimony of God’s creativeness. From the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina to the Northern Pacific in Washington, America spans the width of a continent, from sea to shining sea.

Folks who reside in other nations often think of America as being a nation of cities. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco epitomize America to much of the world. Although these great metropolitan areas are of great significance to her, America is much more than cosmopolitan.

God has blessed this nation with another group of natural resources, most of which lies in less developed areas on the map. By that you may think that I am referring to wonderful places like the Rocky Mountains, snow capped and stretching into the sky of the West. Maybe I mean the Great Plains, endless seas of grass and grain that feed the world? Could I mean the ancient Appalachians that roll from the pages of history as the first wilderness conquered? No. As valuable as these places may be, they are only the abode of America’s persona.

One of the most important resources in America is what holds her character captive. It is her conscience. Yes, I said her conscience.

The United States is a Republic, at least what’s left of one, and her strength of character is in the hard-nosed, common sense, moral people represented mostly in the middle. These are the places where folks still go to church on Sunday and eat supper together during the week. They’re numbers are fewer than they were 50 years ago, but their influence on America is immense. The people who live between New York and Los Angeles may be outnumbered by those who live in the coastal cities, but America is who the middle makes her to be.

Middle America (fly-over country) doesn’t decide the direction of the country, but the country has a hard time deciding without it. If America moves in a direction that the middle oppose, then it’s almost certain that America is moving in the wrong direction.

When the coastal and metropolitan toddler throws a temper tantrum to get its way, its usually the more mature middle that’s whispering “no, its no good for you” in the background. Fly-over country is where the conscience of this country is located.

Why?

Most churches are in the middle. Most churchgoers are in the middle. That’s the brut fact.

Small churches are far and away the majority of churches and people who attend them are significantly greater in number than others. Most of these are in fly-over country. Let’s call them fly-over churches and fly-over Christians.

Now lets get to fly-over apologetics.

Listening to Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason podcast last week brought me to the brink of tears yet gave me a new vigor. A caller named Benjamin Nagel from Indiana called in with an apologetics method question for Greg. As they worked through presuppositional vs. evidential apologetics, Benjamin expressed his frustration with the seemingly forgotten land between LA and NY when it comes to apologetics. It was tough to listen because on one hand, Benjamin was fully engaged but spinning his wheels as an excited apologist in a land barren of other apologists or apologetic conferences. On the other hand, I could feel his pain as he described his loneliness as someone who can see the need, is willing to help, but cant seem to land the big one.

It’s frustrating to have such a passion for the beauty of the Church, the glory of God, and the march of the Gospel of Christ as defended by apologetics, but to be unable to convince other people to buy into that thing that you know they need.

It’s easy for some of us who run in these apologetics circles to see the encroachment of an anti-Christian culture upon the Church, know the result of 100 years of not loving God with our minds, have the fix ready to go, and not understand when the leadership doesn’t take an immediate vote to build a new apologetics study wing complete with a library behind the sanctuary.

O be not too quick to bury the church before she is dead! Stay till Christ has tried his skill before you give it up for lost.-John Flavel[1]

There are a few observations I’d like to share.

First of all, the Church usually moves slowly. I am beginning to see progress in several churches though. Little by little they’re waking. Small churches are beginning to see the need to prepare themselves to give reasons for their hope and they’re moving toward solutions that fit their context. Their solutions may not look like small Biolas but at least they’re moving. The sleeping giant is rolling over.

Secondly, million dollar apologists are getting closer together. Every year, every time another tent maker goes to Frank Turek’s Cross-examined Instructors Academy, Stand to Reason conference, J. Warner Wallace lecture, or Ratio Christi program, another small town gets a new apologist. One more small church gets an excited case-maker. One more hermeneutic hot shot lands in fly-over country.

Finally, the closer we get, the stronger we’ll be. Fly-over country apologetics is beginning to look more like a web than dots on a map separated by 100s of miles. Dropping back into their hometowns like paratroopers, a million one dollar apologists are filling in the spaces between the others. The gaps are filling, slowly, but surely. One church at a time, one University at a time, one coffee shop at a time, the web is being built, not by accident but by providence. This means more support infrastructure will be in place in the future and the Church may react more as a unit than it does now and small town apologists may enjoy some of the big time apologetics perks of strength in numbers.

For the Church is like a city of which all believers are the inhabitants, connected with each other by a mutual relationship[2]-Calvin

Be faithful. God is at work.

Our job is to be faithful and to be patient. God is working out the big picture. We must be faithful to take care of our responsibility and to trust that he will preserve his Church.

Like I said in my last post, apologetics is a means to this end. Sometimes it’s a slow process. That’s just the way it is with fly-over country apologetics.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV)

 

 

 

 

[1] Ritzema, E., & Vince, E. (Eds.). (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 225). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Apologetics Are a Means to an End

Sometimes I wonder why I, or anyone else for that matter, should be interested in apologetics. To whom or against what are we providing this defense?

At the moment, I’m not involved in a specific teaching ministry. In fact, I’m in between churches. After leaving a church where I was involved extensively in teaching apologetics, especially to young people, I am in a limbo of sorts. I haven’t continued to teach apologetics in an official capacity but I continue to be passionate about apologetics per se.

In this no mans land where I have found myself, I have had some time to search my motives, especially as they pertain to apologetics. Bear in mind, introspection is often complicated (at least my introspection) and most answers are a sign of my depravity. Hopefully though, there is a beneficial sliver of truth that is hidden somewhere in the messiness of my mind.

If you are involved in apologetics, I think it may be helpful to periodically spend some time examining your motives as well. If we would take the time to pray that God reveal our motives to us and seek the truth of who we are in the Scriptures, we would often be disturbed at just how rotten we are. We want affirmation and power and are extremely interested in promoting our selves rather than Christ. There are a few ministries in the Church that breed such a haughty spirit and a proud heart. I’d list the top three to be pastor, singer, and apologist, probably in that order.

On the other hand, when we get to the nitty gritty of what drives us, we also find a glimmer of hope. Placed in us by the Spirit of a gracious God is a new desire, another motive that is different and greater than the wickedness that seems to permeate our being. Our old man is being pushed aside by a new one and this newness of heart given to us by God (not self generated) frees us to become effective followers of Christ. It is not our motive but God’s will being played out in us.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)

Even at our best though, it’s often difficult to discern whether our motives are Biblical. Sometimes our bad motives can be conflated with righteous motives and the mix can be hard to separate.

Unfortunately, I have found that this mixture between good and bad paralyzes otherwise well-meaning Christians because they are afraid that their bad motives are more prevalent than any righteous desires and that the ends won’t justify the means.

While its true that good ends don’t justify ungodly means, its also true that the illumination of the extensiveness of our depravity does not eliminate our responsibility to obey God. In other words, when we discover that our good acts are often riddled with bad motives we remain responsible to act good.

If you go to church for the wrong reason, you should still go to church.

If you read your Bible to gain academic knowledge, you should still read your Bible.

If you pray to get stuff, you should still pray.

Do you see what I mean? If God has told you to do something, it doesn’t matter that your motives are not fully righteous. Do it anyway!

Now, how does this apply to apologetics? Let me list some all too familiar motives for apologists…

Self-affirmation, pride, academic respectability, anger, revenge, power, religious laziness, false piety, fear mongering, self-promotion, etc. (I’m sure you can add to the list)

I’m just going to say that everyone who reads this is guilty of most of these while doing ministry. I know I am.

Nothing in the whole nature of man, no power or faculty of the soul, is fallen under greater disorder and depravation by the entrance of sin than our affections are.¹-John Owen

On the other hand, some misunderstood motives that lie underneath all of our filth become, well, misunderstood because of our guilty consciences. Defense of the Gospel, defense of doctrine, argumentative process, logical defense, defense of the Church, defense of the Word, and even evangelism are ends to our means. The fact is that even though it is obvious to us that we are to provide these defenses, preach the Gospel, and make disciples; many Christians are frozen by bad motives. One reason for that is that we do not perceive apologetics as a means but rather an end.

Apologetics is a means to an end, not the other way around.

We don’t defend the deity of Christ for the sake of the defense. We do it for the sake of Christ.

We don’t defend the Church against wolves posing as preachers or teachers to do hits on narcissists. We do it for the sake of the Church.

To bear with the vices of the ministers is to promote the ruin of the church. For what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides?²

Richard Baxter

We don’t remove stumbling blocks to the Gospel because its fun to make a cumulative case. We do it to get to the Gospel.

We don’t give reasons for God’s existence as first cause of the Universe to display our prowess as cosmologists or philosophers. We do it to display the glory of God as Creator and Sovereign of all that is.

Apologetics is a means. The beauty and holiness of the Church is an end. The Gospel of Jesus is an end. The glory of God is an end. We should never confuse them.

God uses means to achieve his ends. He is not handicapped by our sinful motives. He knows us better than we know ourselves, yet he chooses to use us to give a reason for the hope he has given us. Realizing that is truly freeing. Living it despite ourselves is true freedom.

It really all boils down to this. Our hearts are desperately wicked. God chooses to use us anyway. He places in us a new man and commands us to go and make disciples (Mat 28: 18-20), be ready to give reasons for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), keep the faith we have been taught (Titus 1:9), and do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We are to do it all with a sound mind and a pure heart (Titus 2:2).

It would be easy to say “Good luck” and leave it at that, but we don’t need luck. We only need to be obedient to what God has already said. He provides the means and the ends.

Its good to take some time, probably daily, and do some self-examination. That’s part of our sanctification and it definitely gives us something to pray about. When we pray Father, not my will but yours, we are actively seeking to change our motives.

After that though, we should stay the course of apologetics because we are commanded to do so. We are the ordinary tools God uses for his extraordinary defense. His Word, His Gospel, His Bride, and His glory are at stake. Those are the ends. Apologetics are the means to an end.

¹Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 7, p. 411). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

²Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Uncertainty is Cultural Orthodoxy-Apologists Stand Between the Pew and the Propaganda

A man cannot conceive himself capable of a greater certainty than to know that any idea in his mind is such as he perceives it to be[1]…He that demands a greater certainty than this, demands he knows not what, and shows only that he has a mind to be a sceptic[2]-John Locke

In my last post I ended with the question “Is uncertainty virtuous?”

It seems to me that in the present age of skepticism that has resulted in a culture of doubt, the idea that one ought to be uncertain about everything has permeated even Christian thought. The layperson in the pew may not realize it, but they are probably as susceptible to this idea as the atheist or agnostic.

As I taught young people a few years ago it became apparent to me that I couldn’t necessarily count on my students to believe any particular doctrine or idea that I put before them. If you are a teacher or preacher in church you have probably realized it too. In fact, even now that I am not involved in a teaching ministry, while I enjoy listening to my pastor preach I can’t help but be keenly aware of the skepticism that hangs over the congregation like some epistemological interference, white noise in the minds of the people of God.

In fact, some time ago I listened as two people behind me audibly questioned a pastor as he preached. It was disrespectful and to be honest I considered confronting them, during and after the service. They questioned the pastor to the extent of saying it aloud during a sermon and as far as I was concerned should’ve been disciplined for it. Ultimately, it was not my place.

A friend of mine who attends another church told me the other day that there is one person in particular who actually comments and deliberately interrupts the sermon on a regular basis. He has no respect for the office of pastor, the preaching of the Word, or God’s elect. My comment to my friend agreed with his sentiments…where are the deacons?

Other than the apparent lack of ecclesiological understanding and/or respect, these examples demonstrate an era of mistrust that exists between the pew and the pulpit.

Part of the blame belongs to church leadership. I have written extensively on that. In an age when wolves (John 10:12) roam about like roaring lions (1 Peter 5:8) devouring congregations that have given their complete loyalty to a man rather than Christ, the lack of proper discipline and theological understanding has left the sheep without qualified shepherds to protect them (Titus 1:9).

All of this cannot be blamed on elders and deacons though. People are lazy and have been all too satisfied to leave the heavy Biblical lifting to their pastor. Very few Christians have a vibrant prayer life. Very few of them regularly read must less study the Bible. Even fewer seek any theological training.

Most people have given Sunday morning to the pastor as only a piece of their theological puzzle. The problem with that is they haven’t given the rest of the puzzle to study and prayer but to Google and Oprah. Luther and Calvin have been replaced with Osteen and Dr. Phil. Ask most people in the pew and they will tell you that the Christian life is to be epitomized by love for everyone, working hard at being a good person, and avoiding the temptation to judge others.

If you asked them to give practical definitions of those three tenants of the Faith their response might be something like this: love is to accept people as they are; being good is treating every one and their ideas as equally valid; and judging people is a sign of bigotry and hatred.

For those of you who are a little more engaged with theology or apologetics these unbiblical ideas have become frustrating road blocks to having substantive, faith driven conversations with many of your friends. If you must accept all people and all ideas as equally valid then doctrine doesn’t matter, theology is a human construct, and what else is there to discuss?

Why do people think this way? Well, there are many reasons. Some of them include Biblical ignorance. Much of it is a result of post-modern influence. One piece of the post-modern puzzle is the cultures insistence on uncertainty. People are conditioned by post-modern philosophy to question everything; especially anything that claims exclusivity, and truth is essentially exclusive.

“There is no truth”, some say. “Truth is relative”, others claim.

Philosophically, the idea that truth cannot be known can be dealt with in just a few logical steps though. I think in about thirty minutes most folks can be taught a very basic epistemology. But that’s not exactly the question that I’ve asked, is it?

The question I have asked involves a different approach and has different consequences.

The question “Is uncertainty virtuous” is a moral question rather than one that is merely epistemological. It’s not a question of is as much as it is a question of ought. We could reword the question into a statement that might look like this: we ought to be uncertain.

Do you see how that is different than understanding that we can be certain?

To teach someone that certainty about an idea or truth claim exists is different than telling them that they should or ought to be uncertain about truth claims or ideas.

To teach people that truth exists is different than claiming to know it or to have certainty of your knowledge of it.

To claim to have certainty puts a period at the end of a truth claim. To make uncertainty virtuous puts a question mark at the end of everything. The former is considered post-modern heresy. The latter is cultural orthodoxy.

In my opinion, churches need to help their congregants develop a healthy epistemology. To teach people the truth about God, churches often need to teach people about truth itself, and the two questions that need to be answered are as follows…

What is truth? And can we know truth?

But now we have a new task. Not only must we develop a proper epistemology in our ranks, we must first convince people that we are advancing a moral pursuit, one that our culture is quickly denouncing as anathema. Pastors and teachers must take serious the words in Titus 1:9. To be able to instruct in sound doctrine is only half the battle. The other half is to rebuke those who contradict it.

Uncertainty is cultural orthodoxy. Christians are called to faith. Apologists stand between the pew and the propaganda.

 

 

[1] Locke, J. (1894). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (A. C. Fraser, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 177–178). Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

[2] Locke, J. (1894). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (A. C. Fraser, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 178). Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Virtue of the VERITAS

One of the first steps that must be made by the Church if she is to reclaim the meaning of the word faith is to continue hammering the nail of truth.

Faith as we understand it is grounded in truth. Faith is not a guess. It is not a blind leap. Faith is trust in the truth based upon knowledge of that truth as it (the truth) is expressed through evidence.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

Our culture is in denial of truth, not a particular truth but truth itself.

Flanked by uncertainty

Truth is not the only front of this battle though. The present culture not only has denied the absoluteness of truth (its essence) but it has begun to doubt its (culture’s) own ability to trust. This mistrust of our own ability to trust is expressed in uncertainty.

Furthermore, this incessant worry over a lack of certainty has merged from vice to virtue, even in Christian circles.

From vice to virtue

With books like Benefit of the Doubt by Greg Boyd, Christians are being conditioned to doubt and not only doubt but also believe that to doubt is virtuous.

People like Boyd promote uncertainty in a post-fundamentalist Church where the memories of closed minded teaching marginalized any Christians who had healthy doubt as people whose sin somehow overcame their faith.

It is an easy sell to many who first of all had significant doubt and secondly were smart enough to realize that no one has absolute certainty on every Biblical doctrine.

Where doubt is conflated

Many Christians may have little doubt when it comes to God’s existence or the deity of Christ, but when it comes to the days of creation or some eschatological claim about the Second Coming, certainty becomes more difficult to own.

The old fundamentalist teaching that questioned the saving faith of those who doubted minor or less essential doctrine drove many away from the Church who could see the hypocrisy. “If you don’t believe that God created the Universe in six literal days then how can you believe that he rose from the dead in three?” they might say.

This conflation of essential and nonessential beliefs left many laypeople either with faith grounded in “what the preacher says”, a misplaced trust, or faith permeated with doubt.

That kind of false teaching not only drove doubters who needed to be taught to love God with their minds away from church, it created a giant black cloud which overshadowed the reality of what faith is. True faith, as fundamentalists presented it, was unattainable. So, people either threw the baby out with the bathwater or avoided giving it a bath all together.

For perfect faith is nothing else but assured hope and confidence in Christ’s mercy.

Thomas Cranmer[1]

 

Postmodernity

Other factors have played a part in determining the dependence on doubt. The post-modern fundamental tenant of a general mistrust of authority has taken its toll as well.

From government to the media we as a culture have lost our trust of all things authoritative. With confidence levels in the President in the 20% range and Congress even less, coupled with ten twenty four hour news channels telling us why we shouldn’t trust them, we have all but given up on any kind of certainty.

Science and medicine have also suffered at the hands of culture.

A great deal of trust has been placed on those two fields in the past only to be let down by events like the AIDS epidemic and the space shuttle tragedies. It’s hard to continue to trust and then be let down, constantly.

All of this and more have led us to a path of uncertainty and embracing it as right. The more uncertain, the better, many of us would say.

Meanwhile, those who hold to high amounts of certainty have been labeled as the simple-minded.

We have decided that to be open minded and intelligent we must be constantly and insistently uncertain about everything. Uncertainty has become the virtue of the VERITAS to be certain.

The question that I would like to ask though, is uncertainty Biblical? Can a believer hold to their own uncertainty as a virtuous quality?

It will never be well with you so long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more upon your five senses than the four evangelists.… As the body lives by breathing, so the soul lives by believing.

Thomas Brooks[2]

 

[1] Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Faith Belongs to the Church

When I have listened to sociologists and philosophers discuss the abiding effect of post-modernism on the common person in today’s culture, I am often perplexed that there is such a disregard of its power. It seems to me that in their haste to classify common folk as nonacademic, they have misunderstood the appeal of post-modernism to the masses.

I believe that they have made this miscalculation for one reason. The very people who make this judgment fail to grasp the extent of human depravity.

Why would an everyday person be drawn to a philosophy that deconstructs language, literature, and law?

Isn’t the definition of common sense logical truth that is common?

What would entice common people to accept a philosophy that tears down the meaning of the very documents they depend on for cultural distinction? (Constitution and Bible)

There is only one possible answer. People do not want to be held accountable. And if anything can be redefined to fit his or her particular desire or behavior, then no one has the right to say “you are wrong”.

Marriage becomes essentially love. Tolerance is the veritable equality of all ideas. Truth has been determined by the individual, not its relation to reality.

One other casualty of post-modernism is faith.

Faith is a term with Christian roots that has enjoyed a particular meaning for several hundred years. But it has been under attack for quite some time.

If you’ll take notice the next time you listen or take part in a discussion with a skeptic whether atheist or agnostic, a conversation in which faith becomes an issue, they will always relegate faith to a “blind leap”. “It is”, they will say, “a bridge between fact and fiction”, “belief without evidence”.

The problem with their deconstruction is that for 400 years the Church has understood faith to be something much different and for 2000 years the writer of Hebrews was the Biblical definer. Even during the Old Covenant faith was a trust in God based upon the evidence he provided in his trustworthiness.

Faith is no blind leap. It is a trust in the things that we know to be true.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

Even though faith has come under a direct attack, one aimed at its very nature, it has also been exposed at its flank. There has been an effort not only to undermine the very meaning of the word faith, but there has also been a cohesive and cooperative effort to damage the understanding of the virtue of faith.

This effort has come in the reversal of our cultures epistemological trust, whereas the virtue of faith was once understood to be realized in greater degrees of certainty, virtue now lies in doubt rather than certainty and those who display great amounts of certainty are accused of being ignorant or closed minded.

Make no mistake; we cannot attribute this battle of the mind in all of its cohesiveness to a person or even a unified group of people. The obvious immensity and transcendence of this effort coupled with its metaphysical nature leads me to believe it is not flesh and blood, but spiritual powers that we struggle against.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

In my opinion, the Church has relinquished too much ground in this battle, most of it voluntarily.

It is also my opinion that this ground will not be retaken without first educating the Church about one of its greatest tenants. How can we ask God’s people to have faith when we have failed to help them understand what faith is?

We are called people of faith. Its time we came into our own and reclaim what is rightfully ours.

Faith belongs to the Church.

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.

  1. K. Chesterton[1]

 

[1] Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Protestant Pope

With the recent visit of the Pope to America, conversations abound about the Roman Church. From inclusivism to the “Pope-mobile”, the topic of the month is the pontiff visit.

Many of these conversations have involved papal authority and as a Protestant that’s pretty understandable. We have a doctrinal aversion to the papacy and it’s at times like this that we tend to bristle up and defend our Protestant tradition.

A problem with this strong defense is the hypocrisy that undermines it. Our churches don’t like the idea of a supreme head of the Church, other than Christ, but ironically many of them merely substitute one pope for another.

I came from a tradition that is very independent. The autonomy of the local church is a doctrine of extreme importance. Not only have traditions like my former one taken on the Roman Church’s doctrine of apostolic succession, but they have also rejected any form of church government that includes a hierarchy outside of the local assembly.

The Presbyterian type church government is often maligned by these small churches like so much trash talk over congregational turf.

Now before you Baptists get your feathers ruffled, let me explain.

Although I am in favor of a Presbyterian type government that is representative in nature, I am not condemning Baptist theology. I was a Baptist most of my life and I believe Baptists are making a great effort to be Biblical. I still respect the reasons Baptists prefer their independence.

On the other hand, I do believe that there is a particular “congregational” type church government that is conducive to error and because people are often more than happy to be uninvolved they are therefore ready to give too much power to those who are willing to take it.

In the rural South there are small, independent churches everywhere. Many of those churches are great congregations with a passion for the Gospel and self-sacrificial leaders who love Jesus and are committed to feeding his sheep. These churches are probably the majority.

But, there are those churches that probably started well and contain remnants of what used to be thriving congregations but have slipped into lethargy while giving all authority to a single man. They have for all intents and purposes elected their own protestant pope.

It’s easy to do. Sometimes it’s even accidental. Good people with good intentions fall for a wolf, sneaking in over the fence, stealing and devouring the sheep. They trust him and why not? He’s the pastor.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, ESV)

The pastor is God’s authority in a church. He is called and sent. He is God’s man. He is the under-shepherd of Christ.

He is not infallible though, he is just a man.

If pastors are to have authority but they are fallible men, then where do they get their authority?

If we are to assume that they have been sent as God’s authority, then how much authority should they have?

Unfortunately, these questions are never asked (openly) and that has led to an unhealthy understanding of pastoral authority.

I’ve experienced this first hand. Maybe you have as well.

There is little that compares to the Godly leadership of a pastor who understands his job. But for the parishioner who sits under the iron fist of a pastor who sees himself as supreme ruler of “his” church, nothing is more upsetting.

“The man who is always describing himself in terms of his position or office leads with the statement ‘don’t you know who I am’. The man who is enjoying unction leads with the statement ‘don’t you see who He is’”. Allistair Begg

In small churches across America congregations sit in fear of their protestant pope. Elected by unsuspecting congregations, these men abuse power delegated to them by people in need, stolen from God for their own narcissistic glory.

The priority of these men is to protect their turf. Their interest is power and their love is of self. Anything new is competition and they and their cronies who are usually yes-men hand picked by his majesty, neutralize any threat to his pompous papacy.

All too often, this is the deathblow to apologetics ministries in small churches. But like the theological Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the direct result clarified the Gospel. Likewise, the indirect result of that Reformation was decentralization. The Pope remained in power but he was marginalized.

The same is true for the protestant pope. He may keep his church but he will slowly become irrelevant. He just can’t keep hiding behind a façade of fear when the Church has seen that the emperor has no clothes.

All of this was to say, do not be discouraged if you pour yourself into a ministry that eventually finds itself in the cross hairs of a protestant pope. If you are left with no other choice but to leave, shake the dust off your feet and move on.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14, ESV)

 

A Review of “God’s Crime Scene” by J Warner Wallace

When I received J Warner Wallace’s recent book “God’s Crime Scene” several weeks ago, I was pleasantly unsurprised. It was fairly thick and extensive.

If you’ve ever met Jim or have had the privilege to hear him speak, you will understand what I mean when I say that Jim Wallace is a man of substance, and his book represents him well. He has a drive that’s contagious and his books show it. “God’s Crime Scene” is no different.

There were eleven things that I quickly noticed as I began to read “God’s Crime Scene”.

  1. The book was packed with information. Most of the primary apologetic arguments for God’s existence were addressed.
  2. The book was written from the perspective of a detective. Like “Cold Case Christianity”, Jims first book, “God’s Crime Scene” is peculiar in its authorial perspective. (Jim Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in the Los Angeles area)
  3. The book unfolds its case step by step. There is a logical progression to the book. It is not merely a book of data or information.
  4. There is an attempt to bring the reader into the detective persona. Because of the books peculiar perspective and its logical progression, it forces the reader into the shoes of an investigator.
  5. There are morsels of data. Not only is “God’s Crime Scene” packed with general information, there are some very useful, more specific facts distributed throughout its pages.
  6. There are references to additional data and recourses. “God’s Crime Scene” is meant to be a general apologetic argument for God’s existence. It is not meant to be comprehensive in any specific sense. But, there are references for further study in each chapter and a “further study” section that accompanies each chapter.
  7. “God’s Crime Scene” oscillates back and forth from crime scene to crime scene. Jim tells stories of actual crimes he investigated and relates them to the crime scene of the Universe.
  8. “God’s Crime Scene” exposes counter arguments fairly. Jim treats the counter arguments against God’s existence fairly by representing them accurately and referring the reader to the works of his opponents.
  9. “God’s Crime Scene” does not presume the reader will agree. It’s frustrating to many who read apologetic works that most of those works presume the assent of the reader. This book does not do that.
  10. “God’s Crime Scene” leads the reader to a decision. Because the book lacks the presumption of the readers assent, Jim can ask the reader to decide. He does that with each piece of evidence in “God’s Crime Scene”.
  11. There are pictures. For many of our cultures modernists, words are sufficient. But in “God’s Crime Scene” J Warner Wallace informs the existentialist and the post-modern skeptic with pictures. Some people only trust what they see.

Those eleven things grabbed my attention pretty fast but as I read “God’s Crime Scene” another strength began to emerge. It was in my opinion the overarching strength of the book and like a doorway to truth, the strength did not come from the open space through the door but it rested in the epistemological support above the opening.

In today’s culture, facts are spun, data is cherry picked, and statistics are contextualized in such a massive corruption of truth that causes most people to become natural skeptics. The media has their finger on the pulse of this skepticism and in my opinion author their own brand of it.

Fox News is the alternative to the “liberal media”, “We report, you decide”.

CNN is the standard bearer of reporting fact as they simply say, “This is CNN”.

Social media is the new news source where people reject absolute truth by fixating on their presuppositions and ignoring all other perspectives (unless they’re a troll).

We live in a culture formed by post-modernity’s founding principle that rejects “trust but verify” for “never trust any attempt to verify”.

In the present culture’s wholesale rejection of truth, most folks extend that rejection to the truth bearers. Some mottos might be: trust no one who attempts to convince you of anything; opposition to presupposition; or the truth is not what you say it is.

Post-modernism though, in all of its glory, is very peripheral. It’s more like poison ivy than it is leukemia. It’s a skin rash or maybe acne. Its effects are easily visible and extremely uncomfortable, but they don’t run very deep.

Epistemological skeptics are only skeptical of those things that they don’t want to believe.

They still go to the bank and assume the value of the numerical system and the money they deposit. They remain committed to ideas like equality or moral systems that encourage goodness and punish injustice. Post-modernity hasn’t breeched those truths.

That’s where the strength of “God’s Crime Scene” lies.

In “God’s Crime Scene” J Warner Wallace takes the hand of the post-modern skeptic and walks them from those minimally accepted truths found in criminal investigations to equally reliable truth claims in the Universe and leads them to a conclusion about God’s existence that mirrors the same conclusion from a legal perspective that they have already accepted as valid. Wallace trades upon the value of evidence in the legal system to force the reader to make a decision that they would normally refuse to admit into their courtroom of conscience.

“God’s Crime Scene” is more than an investigators case file, it’s the argument of an apologetic attorney who has picked his jury and is ploddingly proving his paradigm.

I enjoyed the way that this unfolded early in the pages of the book, but I’m not sure that there would be any suspicion of Jim’s epistemological effort until page 131.

It’s on that page that this book makes a decisive turn.

In one of the inserts he calls A Tool for the Call-Out Bag, Jim says, “When examining any set of accounts, we must always recognize the ratio of liabilities to virtues. When an explanation suffers from more deficiencies than assets, its reasonable to favor the explanation with fewer liabilities.”

Suddenly, Jim is exploring more than evidence. He is probing views of certainty and trust by stating an obvious standard on how the reader should come to a conclusion, weighing the value of evidence against the skeptical readers refusal to commit.

As if he can sense a level of distrust creeping into the mind of skeptical reader, on page 134 he makes an effort to retain and recapture the trust of the post-modern reader who has recognized the books immerging truth claim by walking toward them epistemologically. He asks the question “How Can We Guard Against Bias and Presupposition?” in the next Call-Out Bag as if he anticipates their cry foul.

His answer is to impose the skeptic’s assent to the judicial system back onto their doubtful mind. He forces the reader to think about the power of humans to overcome presuppositions in favor of evidence. We do it all the time in courts when making judgments that effect peoples lives forever. We must trust our ability to judge without having complete certainty because we realize that we can’t have absolute certainty in almost anything.

Truth does not depend on certainty and neither does our assent. We can know truth and Jim explains how as he described some essential qualities of truth.

Truth must be feasible. Truth will usually be straightforward. Truth should be exhaustive. Truth must be logical. Truth will be superior.

Why are some explanations more reasonable than others? This description helps the reader recognize why as it helps the reader recognize truth itself.

This is Jim’s effort to rebuild trust in truth. Trust in truth is a form of certainty that is healthy and virtuous. This trust of truth is a building block of faith and although we can have absolute certainty about very little, what we can have is faith. I don’t mean faith as in a blind leap and Jim doesn’t either. In so many words, this trust in truth is a description of faith and flies in the face of deconstructionists.

Post-modernism is a supernatural attack on the virtue, essence, and etymology of Christian faith. It is deceptive deconstructionism and Jims book stands against it and holds skeptics accountable in a winsome and subtle way.

As J Warner Wallace compounds his cumulative case for the existence of God in the rest of the book, he continues to build an epistemological arch above it.

On page 152 he asks, “How Much Evidence Does it Take to Refute Eyewitness Testimony?” This is an effort to help us trust what we observe to be true.

On page 171 he calls skeptics back to reason and reality when he asks, “What is the Value of Nonphysical Evidence?”

On page 172 he asks, “How Do Multiple Lines of Evidence Point Us to the Truth?” This is an exploration of the value of a cumulative case.

On pages 175 and 178 he explores exculpatory evidence. What evidence can exclude God as a suspect as creator of the Universe?

Finally, on page 202, he calls the reader to epistemological responsibility by explaining the responsibility of jurors in criminal trials.

“Jurors evaluate evidential cases every day across our country, and they are asked to make a decision even though they don’t have every question answered or every possible detail explained. When the overwhelming evidence points to a reasonable conclusion, jurors make a decision, even though the case may not be perfect.”

Make no mistake. This is no mere statement of fact. Jim Wallace has moved from the evidence to the closing argument. And just as if the reader was sitting with eleven of his peers deciding on the guilt of an accused man, each juror is required to decide.

If you’re looking for a book that is an accurate display of the cumulative case for God’s existence, “God’s Crime Scene” is a good one.

If you seek data or resources, “God’s Crime Scene” has it.

But don’t fool yourself; “God’s Crime Scene” is much more than a great resource for the apologist. It’s a handheld guide to the truth about the Universe for skeptics and laypeople alike.

The Wrong Question About Kim Davis

It’s understandable that unbelieving, pro-gay activists or even unconvinced by-standers might condemn Kim Davis for her actions. To them, her decision to not give in to the coercion of the “supreme” court and act against her own State Constitution (the mandate of her constituents) is both hypocritical and illegal.

“She is disobeying the law of the land”, is their cry.

“Elected officials are exempt from religious exemptions and should enforce the law”, is their protest.

Well, other than the short memories that these folk seem to exhibit (Obama refused to enforce the US law disallowing same-sex marriage, sanctuary city mayors refuse to enforce Federal immigration laws), the bias here is understandable. They wouldn’t know the ethical debate in Christian theology of whether Mrs. Davis had the right to disobey Romans 13.

That brings us to the other condemners of Kim Davis…Christians.

There is a debate in theological circles and the laity that proposes the question of whether Mrs. Davis should’ve refused to obey Federal law. Most of that debate centers around the question of whether there is sufficient cause as explicitly defined in Scripture for her to disobey the mandate in Romans 13 (obey the government) and to act contrary to her covenant with the people of her county.

I read one post by Jack Cottrell, a professor at Cincinnati Christian University, which he stated that Mrs. Davis “WRONGLY ASSUMED that her religious belief left her with the sole option of going against what she was legally required to do.

I’m not sure that she was “legally required” to do anything first of all. But to say that she “wrongly assumed” that her religious belief left her with this dichotomy begs the question.

Other Christians like to pose the question of consistency.

She puts her names on divorces, doesn’t she”, one woman posted.

We can’t pick and choose (sins)”, another wrote.

For so many, the only thing that is cut and dry is that nothing is cut and dry.

A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.-K. Chesterton[1]

Actually though, I believe these folk and others are asking the wrong question about Kim Davis. In a Christian subculture that is used to being spoon fed ethics, many folks want a Bible verse to say, “Kim Davis should not give out marriage licenses”.

It ain’t in there.

What is in there is this…“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, ESV)

As Paul confirms Christian liberties like eating and drinking alcohol, he warns mature Christians to refrain from rubbing their liberty in the face of less mature Christians so as to not cause them to sin against their conscience.

That’s the question of the faith of Mrs. Davis. It is not whether we can find sufficient cause in the Scripture for her conscientious objection. Although I believe that’s pretty easy, it’s not a matter of explicit mandates in the Bible.

Neither is it a question of whether you believe her actions are Biblical or Christian. You are not the party making a moral decision.

The Christian question for Mrs. Davis and in fact the 1st Amendment, is this; “would issuing same-sex marriage licenses cause Kim Davis to sin against her conscience”.

She may not be consistent. She may not understand the nuance between obeying her legal obligations while being true to Scripture (although I think she nailed it). She may seem as though she is picking and choosing. None of that is relevant.

The only question is one of her conscience. Does she believe that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples is wrong according to her religious beliefs?

That’s all that matters as far as she’s concerned.

If she believes issuing same-sex marriage licenses is wrong, she should not do it!

That would be sin, period.

That’s Paul’s point, and it should be ours.

Oh, we can debate the theology. We can post our opinions on the extent of Romans 13. We can discuss the line we will not cross.

But we cannot condemn her for not acting against her conscience. She should not.

And, oh! that this truth were fixed in the minds of men, that nothing ought to be attempted except what the mind feels assured is acceptable to God, men would not then make such an uproar, as they often do now, nor waver, nor blindly hurry onward wherever their own imagination may lead them. For if our way of living is to be confined to this moderation, that no one is to touch a morsel of meat with a doubting conscience, how much greater caution is to be exercised in the greatest things?[2]-J Calvin

 

[1] Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 512). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Children’s Apologetics-Begin With Jesus

Children assume God exists. That’s just the way it is.

Whether born to Christians or to atheists, Islamists or Hindu, children have an intrinsic belief in the existence of some being that shares attributes like omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience (Rom 1:19-20). Until they reach an older age usually in their adolescence, children do not need to be convinced by classic, philosophical arguments for God’s existence.

That’s not to say that there is no practical need for parents to teach those arguments in some minimal way, to their children. It’s only that for the parent concerned about their child’s ability to know what they ought to believe about the things that matter most and why they ought to believe those things, those classical arguments may not be the place to begin.

So if you’re thinking along those lines as you raise your child in the fear and the knowledge of God, the place to begin might not be so obvious. The beginning, and I mean Genesis 1:1, has its benefits when teaching children, but it may introduce more questions than you’d prefer.

So where, if not in the beginning, should a parent begin teaching when introducing apologetics to their children?

I actually don’t believe that’s a difficult question and many of you have probably already answered it.

Children’s apologetics should probably begin with Jesus. So here are three reasons Jesus should be the genesis of what your children believe and why they believe it.

  • Jesus is what it’s all about anyway.

It’s pretty common for parents who are interested in raising Godly children to tell lots of Bible stories, usually from a Bible storybook. Many, in fact probably most of those stories are of the Old Testament variety. That’s probably a good thing because it creates a Biblical foundation that may not fully exist without those lovely blue books.

Unfortunately many of those heroes of the faith take on personas that misrepresent God’s purpose for preserving their stories for us.

A good reason to begin your journey through the Bible and your introduction to teaching your child what they should believe and why to believe it with Jesus is that all of those great stories in the Old Testament are meant to point to him anyway.

It’s easy to look at the lives of those great people of the Faith and assume that their testimonies are meant to be examples for children to follow. Although there is some truth in that, much of the truth of those stories is the failures of each one of those great people. Because each one of them failed in various ways but were always granted grace from the Father in his covenant and the promise of a coming Savior, their stories easily segue into the greater, truer fulfillment of what each of the Old Testament faithful should have been.

Instead of children being left wondering, “what’s this all about”, beginning with Jesus and making him the focus of your teaching explains so much of the “what” for them. What’s this all about? It’s about Jesus.

  • Jesus makes sense of it all.

In and of themselves, those stories are difficult to make sense of. I mean really, what’s the point of most of the detail? Noah survived but his children who God saved with Noah made a mockery of him. Abraham wasn’t patient so he listened to his wife and created a problem for God’s promised seed. Although he was a witness to miracles unimaginable, Moses couldn’t hold his temper enough to trust God fully. David murdered a woman’s husband even though he was the promised ancestor of the Messiah and King of God’s chosen people.

If these people aren’t the heroes that they are often assumed to be, and God chose them to be his faithful few, then what of this mess of marauders? They’re not really so faithful are they?

Interestingly, it’s actually not their faithfulness that’s so important. It’s the faithfulness of God that’s the real story. But the problem is their lack of faith (and ours) coupled with God’s faithfulness leaves children with only a partial understanding of the whole story. It all only makes sense when they see the object of God’s faithfulness, Jesus.

Jesus is the answer to the question “why”. He is his own apologetic as well as the apologetic of God’s Word (John 1:1). When you lead with Jesus, kids get the Bible.

  • Jesus is the end for all of the means.

So when you’re teaching your kids those stories, when you’re raising Godly children, what’s the point?

You spend hours with them reading and explaining. You teach them while they’re standing, sitting, and lying down (Deut 11:19). You pray together and commit them to Sunday school, for what? So they’ll be good people? Maybe, but I hope not.

You are leading them to someone. You are leaving them to someone.

Jesus is their only hope and you know it. All of the teaching, instruction, and praying is the means God uses through you to get them to his Son, Jesus.

Why teach the rest if Jesus isn’t the point of it all (John 14:6)?

Most of this is common sense to parents who are interested in their children’s call to love God with all of their mind (Luke 10:27), but it’s often good to remind ourselves that parenting is not merely a call to stewardship but an evangelistic and apologetic call. Our instruction is not only to raise Godly children to merely be “good” children. We are many times the evangelists God uses to express the Gospel of his Son to our children. We should be the first apologists our children ever meet as we teach them why the Gospel is true.

Sometimes all of that responsibility is overwhelming, especially in our busy lives as parents who first have to make a living. Sometimes we need a focus or a refocus in how we are evangelists and apologists for our children. It’s good to remind ourselves that the focus is always Jesus, front to back.

This article was first posted at Raising Godly Children where I am a guest writer.

Abortion Advocates Continue to Shadow Box

Abortion advocates continue to shadow box. Why?

I’ll tell you why. They can no longer engage the arguments against abortion because abortion has finally been confirmed to be the killing of an unborn, human person.

There is no justification for that.

Abortion advocates have stuck with the same old boring arguments of women’s suffrage, choice, health care, and religious oppression. I can’t say as I blame them. I wouldn’t want to be burdened with the task of defending murder either.

In case you have had your head in the sand the last several weeks, videos (both edited and unedited, full length versions) have been released by the Center for Medical Progress that expose Planned Parenthood (a federally funded abortion provider) as dealers of human body parts. During abortions, this organization dismembers the unborn human persons body and sells the pieces to stem cell researchers for profit.

The direct result has been the public cry for justice beginning with defunding of Planned Parenthood. Surprisingly, most folks don’t want their tax money used to fund this federal Frankenstein.

The indirect result is that the culture is taking a second look at its rubber stamp approval of abortion. The pictures of the unborn are unbearable reminders of just what a fetus or embryo is, unborn human persons. It was easy to think of them as mere biological clumps of tissue in the past, but now after seeing the faces, eyes, arms, legs, and organs of the smallest and most helpless people on the planet as they’re premeditatedly killed, dismembered, and sold, the conscience of the culture has been pierced.

With the momentum in our favor, I’d like to offer a few quick retorts that you may use to refocus the discussion if someone tries to cling to the same ole, useless and lazy arguments for abortion.

“Women should have the right to do what they wish with their body.”

I agree that women have often been treated unfairly and considered unequal, and that they should have control of the care of their own body. In light of that though, wouldn’t you say that the rights of all women should be protected? If so, what about the women who are unborn persons? What rights do you think that they should be afforded?

“Abortion is a matter of choice.”

It’s true that a any woman should have the right to make her own choices about her healthcare. If a wart or growth exists inside of a woman, she definitely has the right to choose to remove it. If though the choice is being made to end the life of the unborn human person living inside her, do you still believe it’s a matter of choice?

“Abortion is a matter of women’s healthcare.”

Abortion can be considered a healthcare issue for women, but it is equally a healthcare issue for the unborn human person she is choosing to kill, isn’t it?

“There is no verse in the Bible that speaks to abortion.”

You are correct. There are no passages in the Scripture that use the word abortion…or trinity for that matter. That doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t speak to the Trinity. The same is true about abortion. Abortion is the unprovoked and premeditated killing of unborn human persons and that is murder. ““You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, ESV)

“Pastors are not medical professionals and are not qualified to speak about abortion.”

Which medical professionals? Why do you only cite medical professionals who agree with your position? What makes a person qualified to “speak” to an issue? Doesn’t that qualification come from education? If it does, then why are you opposed to educating women about the human person inside of them?

Make no mistake; the abortion fight is not dead. We have been given the opportunity to defend the defenseless and those who have a vested interest in keeping the institution of abortion alive in America will use the sound bite culture of social media to make their case. For them and many of their readers, arguments and logic have long lost their appeal. We must be apt at using the same tactics and to force the discussion back to its proper place.

Nancy Pearcey said recently that we should stop arguing the old “life” argument. Everyone, including medical professionals already understand that the unborn is “life”. Pearcey encouraged us to argue that the unborn are persons. Recently that has become obvious to the willfully ignorant. The videos exposing Planned Parenthood have uncovered that truth and have infuriated those who have to ask themselves, “Why am I angry at Planned Parenthood if those babies are not persons?”

The answer is as obvious as the nose on the faces of those aborted babies.

So, while abortion advocates continue to shadow box, don’t let them out of the corner. Take the gloves off and force them into the ring of truth.

 

Some Christians Are on the Wrong Side of the Planned Parenthood Debate

Today the Planned Parenthood protests will take place across the country. After several weeks of videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), those opposed to infanticide will finally take to the streets en masse.

Of course the supporters of Planned Parenthood, a Federally funded women’s health organization that participates in abortions across the country, are attempting counter protests. I’m not sure if they’ll stick to their usual tactic of countering arguments by claiming that those against abortion are “right wing nuts” or “religious zealots”, but I do know that it is now much more difficult for them to defend abortion itself.

The existential benefit of seeing images of unborn human persons and hearing the testimonies of those who sell their body parts (tissue has no body parts) has won the hearts of those that mere logical argument would not.

The videos and photographs that have been released by CMP have awakened those who thought the fight against abortion was over and have enlightened those who have been on the fence.

Unfortunately, there remain those who claim Christ that are not swayed by our arguments against abortion. Some Christians are on the wrong side of the Planned Parenthood debate. They remain unconvinced that the Bible speaks against abortion. One lady on my FB wrote…

“I’m tired of religious bias. I’m tired of rhetoric not based in study or education or compassion. I’m tired of the use of verses that do not say anything at all about the topic they are applied to. I’m tired of the stripping away of women’s dignity and the constant demoralizing of reproductive decisions that women make with medical professionals. I’m tired of the harshness of the religious rhetoric. I’m tired of hearing that abortion is a sin. There is no verse anywhere in the Bible that discusses abortion, and shame on all of you who use the Bible as a weapon of damnation for those who make this decision.”

This lady who is obviously angry about the exposure of her golden calf has either misunderstood what abortion is (not likely), knows little of the teachings of the Bible, or is a post-modern deconstructionist of the first degree.

Sadly, she is not the only Christian with whom I am acquainted that has this misconception. Lets examine her argument though because it represents their view fairly well.

She says that she is tired of religious bias.

Well, I would simply ask this question, is she not expressing religious bias? She is claiming to be Christian and her indignation is laced with so much Christian moralism and ethic that come from her particular point of view. Bias is the expression of favor of some idea or worldview, isn’t it?

She says that she is tired of rhetoric not based on education or compassion.

The fact that most of the protesters today have watched seven videos is at least a minimal education, but that’s not all of their education. Most of those folks will be armed with logical arguments that may or may not include Biblical arguments and both ought to be considered education.

Make no mistake though; knowledge of the situation is not what she means. She means to say that anything that doesn’t agree with her point of view is uneducated and is uncompassionate because her assumption is that anyone against abortion is against women. “How can anyone be ‘educated’ if they are not the one who is having the abortion?” That is her argument.

This ad hoc argument is in fact rhetoric. She is tired of rhetoric. My suggestion to her; stop using it so badly.

She says that she is tired of people using verses that have no application to the topic they are applied to.

I suppose she is angry that folks opposed to killing unborn human persons refer to Exodus 20:13.

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, ESV)

or maybe Christ when he reiterates this passage to the religious nit pickers…

He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,” (Matthew 19:18, ESV)

I guess those are too ambiguous for her particular exegetical fancy. Oh, and I’m always amazed when these things are pointed out and people like her will attempt to spin it by quoting Jesus when he says…

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22, ESV)

Isn’t it fair to say that Christ is not condoning murder here?

He is merely saying that we are all guilty. That is by no means an excuse to kill an unborn human person.

She wants the constant demoralizing of reproductive decisions made between women and their medical professional to stop.

If a decision is immoral does it matter who makes it? If a doctor decides to end the life of someone immorally, isn’t it still wrong? If a woman decides to kill her child, does it matter that she is a woman?

This is gobbledygook! It’s not even rhetoric. It’s definitely not logical.

She’s tired of the harshness of religious rhetoric.

Religious people are tired of her tiring defense of the public funding of the murder of unborn human persons!

She is tired of people using the Bible as a weapon of damnation for those who make this decision.

First of all, if people use the Bible as a tool of damnation, they shouldn’t. The Bible is the story of Christ. He is the one who damns and the good news is that Christ died to forgive the sin of abortion. Although he was a man, he is acquainted with the sorrow of women as well as men. He loves those unborn human persons but he also loves the mothers who carry them.

He is not merely a God of love and mercy though. He is a righteous judge and it is his words that condemn this act. We are not to condemn those who make this decision but we are to speak the truth of what he says about this decision and that is not up for debate!

Interestingly, this lady ends her post by quoting James 1:26…

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)

I’m not sure if this is intentional irony but it is ironic regardless as she destroys two of her previous points by both using a passage that has no application to this as a weapon to condemn people. LOL!

In fact, the very next verse describes true religion.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27, ESV)

Orphans and widows are the defenseless in the culture of James. Today, that would likely include unborn human persons.

Pure religion makes a stand today for the defenseless. Hopefully it will make the same difference it did in the culture of Rome as Christians went to the local dumps to adopt the unwanted female babies that Roman citizens would simply discard as trash.

I’m sure each Christian wasn’t convinced of the rightness of saving the discarded babies of Rome just as some are not convinced of the ethical duty we have to defend the unborn today.

Some Christians are on the wrong side of the Planned Parenthood debate. But, by the grace of God and real education (exclaiming truth), that is changing.

It is time to be courageous and defend the hope you have graciously, especially to those who should know better.

 

 

 

Scouting for Sign

I was in the woods at a pretty young age. My dad was a deer hunter and I was going to be like my dad.

I wouldn’t say that the things he taught me about woodsmanship and hunting were always intentional as far as logical or chronological order, but he started me young and taught me well.

And, if I was going to be successful, I had to pay attention because unlike today, deer weren’t plentiful in the mountains of Tennessee.

Hunting in the Appalachian Mountains was different than hunting in the farm country of the Midwest or the Deep South. Deer were more patternable and sign was critical to success. It wasn’t like those television shows on the Outdoor Channel. Simply sitting in a blind waiting on the “right” buck to show up didn’t work. Consistent success didn’t come with mere patience; I had to learn how to hunt.

The first thing I learned to look for was habitat. Deer have to have two things, food and cover. In the mountains that means mast like acorns and thickets in which to hide. Other food sources were important too and sometimes cover might come in the form of the depth of the mountain, but both must be present or there would be no deer.

Habitat was essential but not sufficient, though. Just because there were acorns and a thicket to hide in, there was no guarantee that deer were present. It was just one piece of the puzzle.

Experience taught me to do this part well. After years of deer hunting by learning to read the woods, I can walk into a new area now and intuitively recognize a place as “deery”. It’s almost a sixth sense that tells me I’m not alone…

OUR UNIVERSE IS THE KIND OF PLACE THAT BEGS US TO ASK THE QUESTION, “ARE WE ALONE?”

There is a great suspicion that haunts each person when we look at the Universe. We are not alone! Even atheists look for explanations that involve extra-terrestrials.

After I found the right habitat, I began to look for “deer sign”.

The first signs of deer use in an area usually came in the form of what we called “movement”.

Leaves turned over in such a way to indicate feeding, and foliage moved in such a way to indicate travel patterns were one of the first signs to betray big game.

Signs of “movement” are very unspecific though. Movement does not necessarily indicate deer exist. There could be turkeys or bear leaving the same signs. One thing that did become more likely though was the fact that something had been there.

Once I found the spot, I started looking for the most obvious signs of a deer’s existence. It’s fairly easy to tell whether big game is living in and using a particular piece of woods. There are certain things in the woods that happen naturally like overturned leaves and broken sticks, but the conspicuous presence of “movement” in particular areas that hold food and cover while the rest of the woods remain untouched, raise suspicion levels and warrant further scouting…

WE REALIZE INTUITIVELY THAT SOMETHING’S BEEN MESSING AROUND WITH THE UNIVERSE WHEN WE LOOK AROUND AND SEE THE “MONKEYING AROUND” IN IT

You don’t have to be a scientist to look at the Universe and understand innately that it’s no accident that things are the way they are (just right for life). Things could’ve gone south too easily if this was all an accident. Something (or someone) has been manipulating everything to make it just so.

Game trails are a much more obvious sign of the presence of deer. When accompanied with deer tracks, game trails are unquestionable indicators of the existence of deer; at least one would think so.

The problem with trails though, is age. It’s easy to look at a trail and assume that “this is the place” when there may not have been a deer on that trail in weeks. The skeptical hunter learns to read a trail by becoming familiar with everything from dirt to manure. Hunters are trackers by default.

I always questioned the temporality of any trail I found. Although trails were definite signs of the existence of deer, they were not a guarantee of their continued presence. Well-Used trails were a powerful addition to the other signs…

THE CAUSE OF THE UNIVERSE SEEMS TO HAVE LEFT “FINGERPRINTS” IN THE DETAILS OF CREATION-A TIMELY, TRAIL OF TRANSCENDENCE

A quick look at the history of the Universe reveals more than vague possibilities of guidance. Logic, math, morality, and consciousness are tracks left by a first cause that is more than just a chaperon, one who is personally involved irrespective of space and time.

After I determined that deer were using a particular piece of woods, I began to look for what we called “buck sign”.

Bucks (male deer) leave specific calling cards in the fall of the year. It’s mating season for deer and bucks are very territorial that time of year. They leave some signs that are easy to spot in the woods so other bucks will know to stay away and does will know that they’re ready to mate. That time of year is called the rut.

During the rut a buck’s first calling card is called a rub.

Rubs are markings on small trees made when bucks rub the bark off and leave scent on the tree. These marks or rubs are easy to spot in the woods and many times they are left in a specific pattern depending on which way a buck travels.

Often though, trees will get diseases or will be injured and may resemble a rub. In each case, verification could only be had by studying the rub itself as well as making sure it was accompanied by other rubs in close proximity. A pattern of rubs confirmed the presence of a buck.

I’ve spent many a frosty morning perched high in a tree or hidden above a succession of rubs called a rub line. If I had the patience, I usually spotted a buck using that trail. Why is this a successful tactic? Because there has been a pattern discovered and not just a random set of similarly marked trees that resembled rubs “by chance”. Rub lines are deer trails with a purpose…

THE UNIVERSE HAS OBVIOUS MARKS OF DESIGN AND CHANCE CAN BE RULED OUT AS THE PUPOSE PUZZLE TAKES SHAPE

Not only are there specific marks of design everywhere we look, but there is in that design purpose in the Universe making it philosophically untenable to hold to a worldview that posits time plus chance as causal.

Finally, an important discovery in the deer woods is scrapes.

Scrapes are pawed up pieces of ground, usually about a yard square or more, that are often placed on deer trails in areas where trails funnel does into small passageways.

Scrapes are made by bucks and are recognizable by several characteristics. The pawed up ground is cleansed of leaves. There is usually a rub close by. There is almost always an overhanging limb or branch for licking. Bucks and does urinate in the scrape leaving a musky smell from their glands. Most scrapes are riddled with hoof prints.

Scrapes may seem random and chaotic at first glance, but they’re most definitely not.

Scrapes are systematically sited and methodically made. They are placed so the buck can approach from downwind to avoid detection. They are positioned directly in the travel paths of the maximum number of does possible. They are located between bedding areas and feeding areas for accessibility and cover. They are designed to capture the scent of “ready” does to conserve energy chasing does that are not ready. Scrapes are designed to transfer the maximum amount of information about other deer to the bucks using them by utilizing scent, a deer’s primary tool.

I’ve always believed that Scrapes are difficult to hunt because bucks place them in places to deliver to him aromatic information from a distance. They are tempting to hunt because of the amount of detailed information they contain leaving no doubt to the hunter what made the scrape. I’ve always considered them intricate indicators of information…

IN A UNIVERSE DESIGNED TO DELIVER AND OPERATE USING INFORMATION THERE IS LEFT LITTLE DOUBT OF ITS ORIGIN

From space itself to the smallest of organisms, it appears that information is intimately involved in all we see and even all that we don’t. For information to exist, there must be an originator of it, and that can only be a mind.

There’s one final point I’d like to make about scouting for sign.

I’ve spent many days from daylight to dark, never seeing one deer, enduring cold, rain, snow, and disappointment. Yet, I kept returning to the same place that I had scouted earlier.

Why?

That’s easy. I knew he was there. I saw the signs.

 

 

 

 

What’s “for” For in Acts 2:38?

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, ESV)

 

In my friend Billy Dyer’s article Don’t Slip on the Eis (Ice), Billy asserts that the only way to properly understand this particular passage is to see the word “for” as obtaining the forgiveness of sins. He makes this assertion by doing the exegetical work on the proper translation of the Greek word εἰς.

Billy is one of my favorite writers and he is busy doing apologetic and pastoral work both on his blog dyerthoughts.com and in the person. Most of his work deals with defending the Faith against skeptical ideas that come from outside of Christianity. Sometimes though, Billy defends his particular perspective of the Christian Faith. This is an important part of apologetics. I commend Billy for doing this with a passionate but loving spirit.

I am sure that Billy would agree with one of my favorite Christian sayings by Rupertus Meldenius.

unitatem in necessariis, in non necessariis libertatem, in omnibus caritatem-in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

It’s in that spirit that I reply to Billy’s article, with utmost respect and love as a brother in Christ.

So that I do not misrepresent Billy’s position, please always refer to the link provided and read what he has written.

In Billy’s article, he makes the claim that the word for that precedes the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38 must be interpreted to mean to obtain.

The thrust of Billy’s argument was that although the word for, which is the Greek word eis, can be interpreted several different ways, in this particular sentence it can only mean to obtain.

His accusation was that Greg Koukl (and all others who don’t interpret this passage to propose the doctrine of baptismal regeneration) are interpreting this through their theological presuppositions rather than proper exegesis.

I’d like to give four reasons that I disagree with Billy and why that exegesis is important but it’s not the only hermeneutical method one employs to determine the meaning of a particular passage or even a specific word.

Clarity is also an important principle.

The Reformers agreed that there exists a principle and doctrine of Scripture by which the message of the gospel is made clear. We cannot always and immediately understand each part or even word of Scripture but even the least educated layperson may understand the message of the gospel by simply reading the Scripture.

This is an important piece of the puzzle when trying to understand a passage that deals directly with Justification, especially when Scripture clearly describes justification as coming through faith alone in so many other passages. (John 3:16; Rom 3:22, 24, 26,28-30; 4:3, 5,11,16; 5:1; 9:30; 10:9-10; Gal. 2:16, Gal. 2:21, Gal.3:5-6, Gal. 3:8, Gal. 3:14, Gal. 3:22, Gal. 3:24, Eph. 1:13, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 3:9, 1 Tim. 1:16.

So if it is true that Scripture is clear in so many places that Baptism is not a necessary element for justification, and Scripture does not contradict itself, then the weight of clear evidence must be considered.

When it comes to clarity or perspicuity, we do not use this doctrine to circumvent the words of Scripture, but we may use it to determine if those words meet the clear message found throughout it.

The perspicuity of Scripture is sharply affirmed, in the sense that the saving truth is declared to be placed in Scripture within the reach of all sincere seekers after it[1]-BB Warfield

This is because of the principle that Scripture must interpret Scripture.

We must understand the parts of Scripture that are ambiguous by the parts of Scripture that are clear.

Thus, not only is there a doctrine of clarity but there is also a doctrine in which Scripture is its own interpreter.

If it is true that all of Scripture is God’s Word, then it must be true that its message is coherent and consistent. God’s Word does not teach us one thing in one place and then teach another somewhere else. It is perfect.

We, on the other hand are not perfect. We are finite and our understanding is limited even though God’s condescension to us in language is efficient. We must remember that it is also sufficient, meaning that it can be understood in its totality.

Should we take Acts 2:38 and place it upon the many other texts that describe justification as coming by faith alone? I don’t think so.

There are Greek terms interpreted one way that have multiple meanings outside of Scripture.

Greek terms are not bound by mere Biblical use. In fact, much of our understanding of specific Greek terms and their grammatical uses come from ancient sources outside of the Scriptures.

Take the Greek term βαπτίζω (baptizō). We have all heard that this word for baptize has merely one meaning in all of Scripture and that is to immerse into water.

Unfortunately, the LXX (Septuagint), the Greek Old Testament, uses this very word in Leviticus 14:6-7.

He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.” (Leviticus 14:6–7, ESV)

May I ask you how the body of a small bird can be immersed in the blood of another small bird?

Of course in this passage the word baptizō can only mean to sprinkle or maybe pour.

It may be a shock to some of you, but scanning through the Scriptures or a Google search on Gotquestions.org does not so easily dispatch Greek definitions, contrary to your tradition.

Maybe in this case, Billy and many others have allowed their theology to get in the way of their understanding of baptizō.

Actually, The idea that there can only be one meaning to this Greek term is special pleading. The wordεἰς-can be used as “for” as in “in light of” as well as many other meanings.

The context of Acts 2:38 should determine more of what εἰς means than mere Greek definitions, and credo Baptists need to be careful with that!

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”” (Acts 2:39, ESV)

Ones theology is not an arbitrary means of understanding Scripture.

Billy makes the argument that many understand Scripture through a (preconceived or presupposed) theology. The concept he postulates is one that places the value of exegesis over any manmade system of understanding it.

“You can’t place Scripture in a box”, he might say.

I truly understand the sentiment here. Each of us wants to remain faithful to the text, not binding it to our presupposed ideas of what we want or need it to say.

I also understand that we stand on the shoulders of many great men who have gone before us. None of us come to Scripture with a blank slate. We always have presuppositions. We always have our minds made up about what it ought to say.

We need theology, both systematic and biblical, to direct our interpretations.

We should not put Scripture in a box, but we should be very careful to keep our minds contained in orthodox beliefs.

Theology is a very helpful guide for us to do that. It is not some manmade way of containing Scripture. It is a way of understanding Scripture, both as a whole and piece by piece.

The problem with Billy’s argument here is that each of us already have a theology, whether we like it or not, and we use that theology either inadvertently or purposefully to understand Scripture.

So, since theology is a way of understanding Scripture as a whole, and theology uses Scripture to develop itself, and Scripture is cohesive and coherent in its message, it is not necessarily wrong to use ones theology to understand Scripture.

Billy used his theology to understand Acts 2:38.

Finally, I hope you don’t find this mean spirited Billy. Just as you “corrected” Greg, I only mean to reopen the minds of those who you may have swayed.

Most importantly, and I’m sure Billy would agree, I wish for people to begin to seriously study Scripture rather than merely breezing through reading plans or making their self-imposed quota to win God’s favor, something unobtainable by our works.

All of that takes work though, but its why people like Billy and I wake up early and stay up late. The work is hard but the reward is great.

If you haven’t been taught the process of understanding Scripture (hermeneutics) or given those valuable tools, may I suggest this series: https://www.reclaimingthemind.org/members/category/credo-house-curriculum/boot-camps/how-to-study-the-bible/

 

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[1] Warfield, B. B. (2008). The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (Vol. 6, p. 232). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

PARENTS ARE THE FIRST APOLOGISTS YOUR CHILD SHOULD EVER MEET

With the recent SCOTUS ruling and the likely avalanche of lower court decisions and runaway cultural zealots like the Atty. Gen. for the state of Oregon who recently decided to completely ignore the First Amendment placing a gag order on a couple to “cease and desist” from speaking of their Christian convictions to not participate in a so-called same-sex marriage ceremony, there is a branch of Christian study that will likely be thrust into the forefront of all others. It is the study apologetics, the defense of the Faith.

Until recently apologetics has been relegated to either post-Sunday school backroom discussions or precollege youth ministry in most churches. Now it will be imposed upon everything from the adult Sunday school class to the exposition of the Sunday morning sermon. To be honest apologetics should have been present in all those places already.

One ministry that I am afraid that will be left out of this new attention given to loving God with all of your mind (Luke 10:27) will be the children’s ministry. It will be easy to assume that because of the nature of apologetics small children will not be able to comprehend that kind of information. At best apologetics for most churches will begin at the high school level because of the obvious need there and because of the misconception that small children cant handle it. In other words, it will be difficult to convince local churches to substitute paintings of Anselm and Thomas Aquinas for Noah’s Ark and Daniel in the lion’s den. Unfortunately those in the culture interested in imposing their will on your children will not be so naïve.

This inconvenient truth will leave parents of very young children with the awkward decision to either completely shelter their children from the attacks of the culture (an impossibility) or train their children to deal with them. Parents will be either forced to remove their children from public school, an option that is not available to everyone and will be the likely target of many legal battles as the culture begins to see private education and homeschooling as a threat to their agenda, or to leave their children to the whims of government sanctioned propaganda. Most people will have no choice but to accept the former.

Just as cultural change is forcing the church to love God with her mind again so will it do the same to parents. Cultural change then becomes part of the manifold grace of God, a blessing in disguise. Any time God uses a perceived evil to sanctify this church and to make her more beautiful we should praise him for it is true that PARENTS are the first apologists your child should ever meet.

As parents striving to raise their children in the fear of the Lord we are all familiar with the passages in Deuteronomy instructing God’s covenant children on the importance of raising their covenant children under the law of God.

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:18–19, ESV)

There are three points or ideas I would like to offer you as parents responsible to teach your children to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you are familiar with this passage then it is likely you are familiar with the first two actions that Moses the human author, and God the Divine author of this passage require of you.

First of all as parents we are to love God’s law in such a way that it is integral part of all of our lives. For the ancient Jews actually physically writing God’s law across the forehead and wearing it around ones neck was a constant reminder of submission to God’s ownership and sovereignty and the constant every day, all of the time, living out of God’s law. The same should be no less true for us. Our children should not be able to distinguish our lives apart from our love and understanding of the law of God. There should be no separation between secular and sacred. All is God’s, and any effort to instruct our children to love him with all of their minds will be an exercise in futility without this cohesiveness.

Secondly we are to be teaching our children to love God and his commandments all of the time. We are not to delegate our responsibility to the Church, the Christian school, the parachurch organization, the youth group, or any other substitute. Furthermore daily devotions are not sufficient on their own. We must always and constantly be diligently involved in looking for ways to teach our children God’s law. Who can deny that our culture provides us with a plethora of opportunities to instruct our children? Why then would we diminish those opportunities to 15 or 20 minutes of Bible reading at night? Of course we should not.

Finally but probably the most overlooked truth taught in this passage is that this passage is not merely talking of memorization or even of life application. Moses is instructing the children of Israel to love God with their minds and therefore to teach their children to do the same. It is easy for us to believe that when Moses says to place these things on our hearts and our souls that he’s referring merely to the act of memorization, but that is not true. Both the word heart (לֵבָב lebab (523b); from an unused word; inner man, mind, will)[1]and the word soul (נֶפֶשׁ nephesh (659b); from an unused word; a soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, emotion)[2]in this message are referring to a deep love with the emotion and deep understanding with the mind. Although memorization is a great place to begin doing this it is only a beginning and in and of itself is not sufficient.

Charles Simeon explains this in the classic Horae Homileticae: Abraham was particularly commended for his care with respect to this: and the injunction in the text, confirmed by many other passagesl, requires that we should “diligently” perform this duty. Nor should we imagine that the mere teaching of children to repeat a catechism will suffice: we should open to them all the wonders of redemption, and endeavour to cast their minds, as it were, into the very mould of the Gospel.][3]

Although (“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”) (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

Is a kind of go to verse for apologists who intend to convince Christians of the necessity of apologetics, this command in Deuteronomy from Moses is really the heart of apologetics, to know what we believe and why we believe it, to love God with all of our minds.

As a parent you must realize the great responsibility that God has given you in raising his covenant children to love him with all their hearts and souls, mind and strength. It is you and not the Church that stands as the first and greatest influence on how well your children will do this. It is the family that God instituted first and parents are his tools he uses to begin to shape his present and future Kingdom.

Although the church is responsible for the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, in the lives of children it stands as a mere extension of the home.

So, if you’re looking to your pastor to save your children from the culture, stop it. If you’re looking to your youth pastor to influence your children into buying into Christianity and resisting the temptation to assimilate into a godless worldview, forget it. If a Sunday school teacher is your first line of defense against what is being taught in your children’s elementary school classroom, you have misunderstood the role of the Church? Parents are the first apologists your child should meet, and in the words of your little ones…YOU’RE IT!

 

I first ran this article as a guest writer at Raising Godly Children

 

[1] Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

[2] Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

[3] Simeon, C. (1836). Horae Homileticae: Numbers to Joshua (Vol. 2, p. 334). London: Samuel Holdsworth.

Nominal Christianity in the South (part 3)

In the last two articles I’ve made an assumption. That is, there is problem of nominal Christianity in the South. I’ve made that assumption without definition.

Furthermore, in those two articles I’ve argued that 1) the overt Christian culture in the South is something other than mere hypocrisy and 2) the only accurate and Biblical assessment we can make involves the confession of self-described Christians, no more, no less.

If as I proposed last time, we can say that many of the self-described Christians in the South are actually Christians due to their right confession of the person and the work of Jesus; and those individuals are what make up the culture which is overtly Christian rendering a Kingdom focused and Christ centered cultural confession; then the original assumption of the problem of nominal Christianity in the South must originate from something other than inauthentic or fake Christians.

In other words, there must be something else causing the symptoms of nominal Christianity by which church leaders are making their judgment.

Lets take a closer look at the symptoms before we jump to another conclusion.

Apathy

If there’s anything that aggravates pastors and church leaders, its apathy. Apathy comes in many forms for Christians. One of the most noticeable is of course church attendance. Church attendance is down everywhere, including the South and in a region of the country where your self-identity remains linked to the question “where do you go to church”, that form of apathy sticks in the crawl of those who reflect on the condition of the culture. Other forms of Christian apathy include lack of involvement in church, lack of involvement in evangelistic activities, decrease in tithes and offerings, lack of involvement politically, lack of Bible study, minimal prayer life, and a general lack of interest in spiritual matters.

There are many other types of apathy that could be listed here. I’m sure you’ve already thought of several you’d add to the list. The point is though that apathy is common in the Church as a whole and in a culture that still places a great deal of value on church activity, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sinful behavior

Sunday mornings are times for the Bride of Christ to come together and worship the King of kings and be fed by the Spirit through the preaching of the Word and the administering of sacrament. All too often though, the sermons turn into blistering lectures on why the pastor or his staff is “fed up” with the behavior of so many wayward Christians. It’s easy to excuse the unregenerate that know no better, but what can be said about the thousands who “live like an angel on Sunday but like the devil on Monday”?

To hear of and experience sinful behavior of the many folks in the community who profess Christ is disheartening. It’s only natural to look for a reason for this behavior and its so easy to go to the laundry lists the Apostles give us in the New Testament to merely relegate those folks to “false professions”, knowing full well that those lists are not meant for us to judge others profession of faith as false, but for us to judge our own.

This self-righteous finger pointing often exacerbates the problem of nominal Christianity especially in a culture where morality remains an integral and virtuous part of a person’s self-identity.

Lack of Biblical knowledge

In a culture where even the most agnostic of people can probably quote several Bible verses, it’s frustrating that those who profess Christ and even worse confess some form of Sola Scriptura (Biblical authority), have such a limited Biblical and theological foundation.

Some of the ethical issues of the day are so easily dispatched by such a minimal exegetical, theological, and apologetic foundation that it’s more than maddening that discussions about same-sex marriage or abortion should ever need to take place.

Even worse is the fact that most of the people both inside and out of church who claim to be regenerate haven’t even a laypersons understanding of grace, a vital tenant of our Faith. Most Christians would accidently attribute some work to their salvation and thus depreciate the work of Christ as sufficient and efficient.

The fundamental doctrines of the Faith have unfortunately been highjacked by fundamentalism in the South and have been conflated with works. The lack of understanding of Theology 101 has led to a total misunderstanding of the Gospel, the person and work of Christ (John 17:2-9), the Trinity (John 1:1), the nature and authority of Scripture (Mat 4:4), Original Sin and the inability of man (1 Cor 2:8-14), and God’s gracious gift of salvation (Eph 2:8-10)).

All of this has been replaced by folk theology like “Left Behind”, I can do it, try hard, don’t’ drink, don’t chew, and don’t hang around with those who do.

All of a sudden, a culture that prides itself on its allegiance to the Bible looks hypocritical.

The Church in the South has reaped what she has sown…

The logical progression of these three symptoms would indicate the fault of all of this lies entirely on the Christian gone astray. But, what if we reverse the order? What if we begin with the lack of Biblical knowledge? What does that do to the blame?

Whose fault is it that 100’s of thousands of Christians are walking around with almost no Biblical and theological understanding?

Well pastor, elder, deacon, church leader, I’m gonna do a little finger wagging.

Although someone who is newly converted should have a desire to go to church, read their Bible, and pray, pray, pray, they probably need your help.

I know it’s a radical concept, but doesn’t the Great Commission say something about discipleship?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

How is your teaching ministry? Not your preaching, I’m sure it’s great, but how well does your church disciple its members and converts?

Do you teach theology? If not, how do you expect your people to put this huge Biblical narrative together without falling into some heretical quagmire?

Are you training your congregation in apologetics? If not, how do you expect them to know how to answer the questions that our well-prepared culture fires at them?

How’s your Gospel presentation? Are you emphasizing the work of people to come or to do? Or are you offering the gift of salvation to those who believe?

It’s my opinion that a misunderstanding of grace leads to a believers final realization that they cant live up to God’s expectations and they can never earn his favor, finally giving up in exhaustion because they’ve never been taught that grace has nothing to do with them and their value as participants or their ability to live up to it.

That one thing eventually leads many back into sinful behaviors that they have never realized or been taught that they have been freed from. Why try so hard? It’s impossible to please a God who’s constantly writing down the things you do so he can see if you measure up.

Sinful behavior is discouraging to authentic Christians. Those who are finally beaten down by trying to live up to God’s favor give in and throw in the towel. Apathy reigns in the Church because grace has been relegated to the sidelines, discipleship has been left to the lone disciple, and teaching has been dumbed down to glorified VBS in most churches!

The fact is, if you reverse the logical order of the symptoms of nominal Christianity, whether you’re in south Alabama or southern California, the result is a guilty Church standing hand in hand with an inept Christian. No longer can the pulpit blame game be played placing it all on the guy who “may not be a Christian”.

All of this is a sociological theory of a “good ole boy” I know, but 40 plus years of experience on both sides of the fence in a culture that I love and long to see flourish in the grace of Christ has caused me to examine deeply the concerns of those who I respect as Church leaders.

What can be done to reverse this tidal wave of tainted tradition?

Let’s look at that next time…

Nominal Christianity in the South (part 2)

I wish I could say that I believed everyone who said they were Christian actually was. The South is full of them who do, but the fact is there are some who are not Christian at all.

On the other hand, it would be equally false to say that most of those who have this cultural confession found in my homeland of the Southern United States are not Christian or that this appearance of Christian influence down South is hypocritical.

As discussed in my last article, there is a couple of reasons why that conjecture is impossible and in fact, unbiblical.

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12, ESV)

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, ESV)

A few bad apples…

Obviously, although a few rotten apples will spoil the whole bunch, you shouldn’t cut the tree down that they fell from because all of the good apples fell from the same branches. In other words, just because there are those who claim to be Christian but aren’t, doesn’t mean that the entire South is full of delusional hypocrites. If that were true it wouldn’t only be true in the South, but it would be true in every church in the world.

What’s the standard?

Outside of judging an entire culture because of a perception of false piety, there is in fact a standard that may be used to determine if an individual has authentic faith in Christ. It is called confession.

Of course I don’t mean the kind of confession that is done in the Roman Church involving a booth and a priest. I mean the kind of confession expressed in a classical sense. I have in mind the same confession that Paul has in mind in the tenth chapter of his letter to the Romans-faith that is expressed with the tongue.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8–9, ESV)

That’s pretty simple it seems to me. Where’s the loophole?

It’s really a syllogism of sort.

Premise 1-confession that Jesus is Lord

Premise 2-belief that God raised him from the dead

Conclusion-That person is saved!

In fact, the commentators agree that confession of Christ as Lord is a necessary outcome of true faith and true faith will always result in true confession.

These are not separate activities but two aspects of the one expression of faith in Jesus as Lord. Believing with the heart without confession with the mouth is not true faith. Confession with the mouth without belief in the heart would be hypocrisy. Those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths are saved.[1]-DA Carson

“Since the Lord sets his word before our face, no doubt he calls upon us to confess it.” For wherever the word of the Lord is, it ought to bring forth fruit; and the fruit is the confession of the mouth[2]-Calvin

This confession voices faith; for true faith is never silent, it always confesses[3]-Lenski

Since we know that we are not able to judge the heart and discern whether true faith exists within it, we are left with mere confession as our point of determination.

Is this person a Christian, you ask? Tell me, do they confess Christ as Lord? Do they believe that God raised him from the dead?

If their answer is yes, then you must say that they are a Christian.

I know that sounds simple and for some it may make you bristle a little considering the sinful lives lived by so many who confess Christ, but you are warned by Scripture to pass no judgment in this regard.

We may speak of what it means to confess Christ as Lord. We can nuance what it means to believe God raised him from the dead, but would you complicate what God has made simple so as to disqualify those sinners who you would not save?

Simply put, this confession and faith is simply stated. The person and the work of Christ are always the question. Who he is and what he did is the gospel.

Do not complicate that which God condescends to the child and the simple minded.

As far as this idea that there is a plethora of false Christians in the South, I just don’t buy it.

Many have passed judgment on this culture because of conditions they would place on Christ’s gift of faith.

The perception of racism (one that’s overestimated as proved by the folks in Charleston, SC), the problems of fundamentalism and traditionalism, and plain apathy negate saving faith as God’s requirement for His salvation for those who come to judge. And although I don’t deny that these problems and many others exist in some measure, as far as what I can see in Scripture, Christ died for those sins. We cannot destroy the blood of Christ with a zeal for holiness, however genuine that zeal may be.

I’m sorry, but you are left with confession as your pointer and guide. What one says about Christ is your only way to know whether to call them brother or pray for their conversion.

That being said, I’ll bet if you went door to door, asking those folks who you so quickly judged “just who do you believe Jesus is?” They’d say “Jesus is God”.

I’ll bet if you asked them what did he do, they’d reply, “he died for my sins and rose from the dead”.

Not all of them would answer that way. Some would get it wrong. Some wouldn’t know what to say. But I’ll bet you’d be surprised at how many of those who you disqualified would answer with a right confession. If so, you should be ashamed.

So why does this matter?

If many of these professing Christians are in fact confessing Christians, what will it hurt to treat them as less than-Christians and continue giving them the gospel? Are we failing at anything else? Is this miscalculation blinding us to another problem?

The gospel won’t hurt them, of course. It can only continually sanctify them. Denying that there are thousands of Christians that need something else by merely disqualifying them eludes the real problem though.

Avoiding, evading, or misunderstanding the real problem of nominal Christianity in the South is another question. It’s one I’ll deal with next time…

 

 

[1] Kruse, C. G. (2012). Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (D. A. Carson, Ed.) (p. 410). Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos.

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 392). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Lenski, R. C. H. (1936). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (p. 655). Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.

Nominal Christianity in the South

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, ESV)

A goal of Southern by His Grace is to bring change to a culture that takes a great deal of pride in its heritage. The American South is one of those places in the USA that being Christian is still a good thing. We have a heritage that comes out of our love for the Christian Faith. Going to church is something people still do on Sunday. Most people in the South can quote at least one Bible verse. Being Christian is just a part of who we are. In fact, although people from other parts of the country may see the phrase as pejorative towards them, Southern by the grace of God is not meant to be a putdown to northerners, but we actually believe that it is God’s grace that has placed us in such a Christian culture, thus the name of my website and its play on that theme.

So that you won’t be put off by this first paragraph and it’s seeming bias composition, here are some recent surveys that put some meat behind it.

In a 2015 survey, Barna researched the top 5 Bible minded cities in America. They defined Bible minded as – captures action and attitude—those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures. The rankings thus reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in various cities of the nation.[1] Each of the top 5 most Bible minded cities in America were in the traditional South, what would be thought of as the Old South or those that were in the Confederacy during the War between the States. If we include WV, KY, and MO, states that are now considered contemporary or sympathetic southern states, the first 22 Bible minded cities are in the South.

In a recent study by Pew Research[2], more people in the South claimed Christian affiliation than any other part of the US. People in the South claimed Christianity by 76% while the runner up was the Midwest at 73%. The rest of the country lagged behind in the 60’s.

Let me now make something very clear, not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually a Christian. As you disagree with the rest of what I am about to write, please refer back to that statement. I am not saying that everyone in the South is a Christian. I am not saying that everyone who lives in the South and claims to be a Christian is really a Christian. So, let those statements stand on their own, please.

I read a post the other day by a brother who I am positive has the greatest regard for the Kingdom of Christ and a great love for his brothers and sisters in Christ. His motives I do not question in the least. He himself is a brother with a passion for the Gospel. To that I say amen.

His post bothered me though. I will not quote it so that his identity will remain undisclosed. Let me generalize for a moment so that I can deal with a larger, more prevalent attitude that he and some other Christian leaders seem to have which I believe to be a misunderstanding.

Generally, there is an attitude of those who either visit the South or hear of its Christian culture, that the Southern Christian culture is a façade. Theirs is an attitude that comes from a passion for the gospel and a love for people. It also comes from a frustration that is realized when it seems that people in the South are so familiar with the gospel that they do not actually hear the gospel and are therefore, they believe, unregenerate. The accusation is levied that most people in the South are fake Christians.

I understand what they mean to say. Although it is true that if you went door to door in the South and asked folks “Are you a Christian”, they would not only answer in the affirmative most of the time, they would be offended at the question.

In fact, not only would they expect you to assume that they are Christian, but they may not give you the same respect. They may judge you as unchristian because you are not Southern.

Frankly, that’s hard for some church leaders to swallow.

Outsiders, people that have not been raised in the traditional South, have a hard time understanding the dynamics of Christianity in the South. On the other hand, their ability to introduce an outsider’s perspective remains beneficial as long as their assessment is accurate. I don’t believe that it always is.

It’s a shock when you become immersed into another culture. If you’re not a Southron, when you come to the South you’re probably going to notice some things pretty quickly. The overt Christian culture may surprise you. It’s like stepping into the past 50 years if you’re from the Pacific West or the Northeast. Where you find yourself is so different than where you’ve been that it’s surreal. It’s as if the Kingdom of God is actually at hand!

Not only is Christianity prevalent in South, it is an integral part of Southern culture. Hospitality, friendliness, and a generally polite demeanor are again, shocking signs of something different. People wave and say hello. Men hold the door for ladies. Children say, “Yes ma’am” and “yes sir” and “Mrs. Brenda” or “Mr. Donnie”. If someone’s truck breaks down, people stop and help. Cars pull over for funeral processions. Elderly people are respected. Needy are fed. I could continue but you get the point.

These things may happen in other parts of the country, but they are very common in the South.

The reaction to these things by many Christian leaders is an accusation that these virtues are skin deep. My reaction to that, “you ain’t seeing the forest for the trees, sir.”

It’s obvious that everyone who claims to know Jesus is not known by Jesus. Mat 7:21 ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, ESV) What’s not so obvious is which ones do and which ones don’t.

You see, it’s easy to sit back and say, “not all of these people are Christians”. It’s more difficult to say, “Hardly any of these people are Christians”. Why?

There are a couple of reasons why it should be difficult to judge the authenticity of a cultural confession and how it resembles something more than what’s so often being espoused as nominal Christianity in the South.

We’ll explore those next…

[1] http://cities.barna.org/2015-bible-minded-cities/

[2] http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/#geography

Calling All Apologists. “I want you!”

As I make my way around various circles, as I have written, read, listened, and conversed, I feel a little like the old Uncle Sam. “I want you!”

Communicating my passion for and the need of apologetics in the local church has shed some light on people’s perceptions of apologetics. Most of the time those perceptions are pretty revealing of the Churches failure to love the Lord with our minds for 100 years or so.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an all too common misunderstanding of what an apologist actually is, both by leadership and laity. Many times the prevailing view is that an apologist is a kind of lone wolf or loose cannon. “The apologist”, people might conclude, “is that person who goes around correcting bad theology in the church and keeping the church safe from atheists.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Another common misunderstanding is that the pastor is the apologist. Especially in small Southern or rural churches, there is an overestimation of just what the pastor’s role is in the church. Everything from janitor to choir director are assumed roles for many pastors who I’m sure would rather focus on their primary duty, preaching the Word. It’s easy enough to convince people of that kind of pastoral abuse by the church though.

It’s a little more difficult to convince many rural, busy, and traditional laypeople to stop relying too heavily on their pastor for every spiritual gift listed in the New Testament. In those little churches, which make up the majority of American churches, the pastor is everything spiritual, at least in the eyes of his congregation and apologetics falls into his required bag of tricks.

This is also false.

In fact, there is not such thing as an apologist per se. In the list of gifts that God gives his church, there is no “defender” or “apologist”. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV) That’s one example of a gift list and there are no apologists listed here.

Now, of course what I mean is not that there is actually no such person as an apologist. What I do mean to say is that there is no Biblical office of apologist listed in the Scripture.

Given that you have already acquiesced that apologetics, the mandate of defending or giving a reason for Christ’s hope is in fact a necessary element of being Christian, you must be asking yourself then, “what is an apologist?” In other words, if apologetics is necessary to the church but there are no official apologists, then who are the apologists?

Well I’m glad you asked.

If you are a Christian, whether you are a pastor, elder, deacon, musician, teacher, soundman, janitor, or just a pew filler, you should be an apologist!

Say what, you say…

It’s true. Each one of us is called to be apologists.

That is why Jim Wallace is right when he says that we don’t need to teach apologetics in churches, we need to train apologists. We are all apologists. We may be bad apologists, but we are apologists just the same.

So pastor, if you are overloaded already, and my guess is that you are, don’t attempt to become the apologist in your church. You should only be an apologist in your church. You should be one of the best, but one among many. Take the role of pastor seriously enough to shepherd Christ’s flock by training them to be apologists.

Elder and deacon, it is not your place to relieve the pastor as the house apologist. Your job is to join him as one of the best apologists and train the rest of the apologists, namely the congregation.

Musicians, if you are not incorporating apologetics into your music ministry, you are missing a real opportunity to testify to the glory of God and give people a reason to do the same. Lead people to the throne and teach them of the holy God that they worship along the way.

Teachers, you are probably on the front line already. You see the need because you are asked those tough questions. You know the people in your class more intimately than any of the others who are in leadership. You know their struggles and their doubts. Help them. But don’t help them by giving them fish, help them by teaching them how to fish. If you have not yet begun to incorporate some kind of apologetics training into your program, do it now. Keep them coming back and the only way to do that consistently is to teach them the truth about why they ought to keep coming back.

Oh, and the people like me, those lone wolves who aren’t necessarily involved in leadership but love apologetics enough to do the hard work of it, begin to find a way to serve. Stop absorbing information and begin sharing all you’ve learned with the people who need it. Whether you need to train laypeople to become better apologists or help leadership be better equipped to train them, do it. For you have been called to such a time as this and your lack of zeal to train will eventually leave your pursuit of knowledge empty and hollow.

Layperson, you cannot escape the fact that Scripture demands that you are ready to give a defense of the hope that is in you, with grace and respect. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

How will you continue to call yourself obedient to God if you do not obey his commandments? ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)

In all that has happened recently in America and around the world, the attack on the Christian worldview and the violent persecution of Christians, how can we remain idle? If it is not enough that Scripture is God’s Word and our revealed authority, then will it not be enough that the world is asking of you, “who do you serve?”

Will you continue in your impotence and hide your head in the sand?

Next year your church may lose its tax exemption. In six months your pastor may be charged with a hate crime. Tomorrow the world may require an answer from you. What will you say? “I didn’t have time?”

You ask, “Who are the apologists?”

The apologists are you!

When God asks “Who are my apologists”, he isn’t asking someone else. He is saying…

“I want you!”

The preposterous, illogical hypocrisy of flying the Christian flag (cross, fish, Chi Rho, oil lamp, etc.)

As an extremely conservative evangelical apologist of Christian Faith and religious freedom, I say that there is no good biblical, historical, or strategic reason to defend the flying (display) of the Christian flag (cross, fish, Chi Rho, oil lamp, 10 Commandments, etc.) today. To defend the display of any of these symbols is complete hypocrisy, sentimentalism, and ignorance. Instead, every real Christian should be calling for the expulsion of this symbol(s) from any public area (churches, schools, government buildings, etc.) for the cause of Christian honor and the march of the Kingdom of Christ into the nation.

Being a follower of Christ and a student of the history of the church I am quite aware of the arguments Christians make for the integrity of our precious symbols. I am persuaded of their intrinsic good intentions. The difficulty is that it is simply too easy for liberals (Christian and secular) to manipulate the calamities and hysteria associated to them, and it is too short of a leap from what was decent about Christian values to focus only on the sin of the past.

Perceptively, I understand why those who hate the symbols of Christianity argue against them, especially those who continually (but errantly) make the connection between the travesties of the past and the truth that is our Faith. For them, the crusades, genocides, inquisitions, and oppression of minorities continue and are as real to them as the truth of the gospel is to us.

Hypocrisy

Unfortunately, if Christians continue to pressure others to accept their symbols either in public displays or on the top of their very tall and offensively visible steeples under such principles as liberty, life, and holiness, they are engaged in one of the clumsiest projections of hypocrisy in history.

First of all, churches everywhere are poisoned with corruption, poor leadership, lack of love for neighbor, and a complete distortion of the gospel. The twenty four hour news cycle is full of sexual abuse, adultery, intolerance, hate, and even racism in churches. All of this occurs while parishioners and pastors shout the glory of the cross, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and liberty for all. What a bunch of crap!

The fact is that the Church screams that the culture needs to accept their “faith” at the same time that they refuse to accept the majority’s desire for equality for the oppressed. Until Christians can actually be consistent in their appeals for Christian virtues, tear down that flag (pluck that fish off your car, erase that Chi Rho off your website, symbol of the Trinity, cross, etc.)!!!

Yes, oppression was a cause

Although very few would deny that Christians generally teach and desire some of the great virtues of life, almost no honest Christian would deny that the Church has explicitly pursued the oppression of the masses, at least at times. This was at least one cause of the Reformation. The reformers revolted against the oppression of the 1500 year old regime named the Church of Rome. This skeleton in the closet of the Church has been hidden under the banner of the Roman Empire’s armies, the shields of the Crusades, windows of the witch hunters, the stocks of Puritans, and the bumper stickers and window decals of a thousand road rage revivalists.

Even though there are a great deal of good and virtuous ideals associated with the Christian Faith, there is no way to get around so many casualties of Christian malice. The results speak louder than the preaching. Books have been written, apologists have defended, films employed, music played, teaching the truth-and much truth can be found in them. All people are sinners. We are people too. I get it. The problem is that the in your face symbols of Christian crosses, high on steeples, statues of Christians, fishes on cars, and Bibles in every motel are too much of a distraction.

Furthermore, over the centuries Christians have penned documents that condone slavery, bigotry, unjust war, genocide, rape, tyranny, and much more. Even worse, for centuries the Church was the ruling government and impressed their debauchery onto the masses by force. And their constant effort to obtain more geography to rule over proves that our ancestors intentions have been imperialistic, spreading their vile hate over the nations of the west forcibly. In fact, it is one of the Churches commands, to spread the gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, ESV)

It is a distraction

For the millions of Christians who have placed so much time and effort into the placement of the Ten Commandments on courthouses, manger scenes in courtyards, Bibles in schools, crosses on public Easter displays, car bumper stickers, church signs, etc., its time to let it go! All of these symbols are distractions. Get away from your sentimentalism! We must not hold on to such insignificant images. We are merely called to portray the image of Christ. His cross, book, incarnation, commands, and ecclesiastical rule of his Kingdom have become idols we worship and our attachment to them diminishes the gospel.

Tear them down!

Go to the motels and rip out the Bibles! Go to the courthouses and tear down the Ten Commandments! Jerk those crosses off those offensively tall steeples! Burn the flags that are not merely the American flag, which portray the offensive, bloody, and divisive cross! Take a hairdryer and carefully heat up and peel that fish off your BMW! You’ll feel better. Heck, we’ll all feel better.

If there’s one thing Christians should be interested in, it’s assimilation. We need to become a culture that is barely recognizable. We should not remain overly divisible. Stop holding onto the past. Don’t tie yourself to some symbol that is inseparable form the greatest wickedness of its era. Chain yourself to Jesus who is the only one who can rid our culture of its own evil.

 

 

Will Apologetics Leave Fundamentalist Kids Behind?

Like many of you, I grew up in Fundamentalist traditions, specifically, Independent Fundamental Baptist traditions that are prevalent in the Southern Appalachians. You and I can recall the days when the pulpit was hot with topics like the evils of alcohol, rock n roll, and the movies. For me, it seems like a distant dream…a bad one.

If you are reading this article though, you have probably moved on from that expression of Christianity. More than likely you’ve assimilated into an Evangelical Church, and your past is a part of your personal history that you have learned a great deal from but are determined not to repeat.

Part of that resolve has come from the experience that many of us had in leaving the church. Many people who are now in the game of apologetics represent the very statistics that we preach to our new churches. We were the 80% that left after high school and by the grace of God we are the 35% that came back after marriage and children. We still have the bad taste in our mouths that our former traditions left when we realized the gross neglect of grace and the focus on the law that they so vehemently preached but so vulgarly read into the Scripture.

More than likely you are stalwartly opposed to legalism. It may have been the very inconsistency that drove you away from church. After your parents gave you the okay to live freely, you shed yourself of the chains that you knew held you down deceptively and the message that the Bible was a book of do’s and don’ts was the first to go.

Furthermore, the accusations of the self-righteous folks who remained but tried to explain you away as if you were some heathen opened your eyes to even more hypocrisy. “Have these people ever heard of grace?” might have been your response. The answer may have been, no.

It’s been several years since I experienced my departure from church. I can actually say it is a miracle of God’s grace that I returned, and let’s just say that I was generous in my former illustrations about leaving fundamentalism. Your experience may have been even worse.

There is one mistake made by those people who judged me as unchristian when I left that I have been resolute not to repeat, though. I will not judge those who confess Christ as unregenerate merely because they have left the church, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, ESV)

So if I am willing to admit that about Christians who have left the church, how much more should I be willing to give the same consideration to those who remain in fundamentalist traditions, even though grace is clouded by their fear of freedom? How much of my antipathy to fundamentalism should I be willing to set aside for the sake of my compassion for fundamentalists, especially their young people?

You see, although I have left that tradition far in the past, and although I see some of the legalism associated with IFB traditions, I have a great passion for the people who remain there. They are my people. More importantly, they are God’s people.

My worry is that apologetics is leaving fundamentalist young people behind.

Here’s the rub. They may not want our help.

An important piece of the fundamentalism puzzle is the intrinsic mistrust of anything outside of itself. It is that very mistrust that gave birth to the fundamentalist movement in the first place.

In reaction to liberal theology, Christians withdrew into their own subculture. “We are in the world, not a part of it”, was their anti-battle cry. Soon, not only liberal churches couldn’t be trusted, in their minds no other church could be trusted. Becoming so self-extracted from the world inherently breeds mistrust and that attitude gave birth to the independent church movement. It is also the reason that it will be so difficult to convince IFB churches to implement apologetics programs.

But, I only see this difficulty as a potential bump in the road for those of us interested in apologetics in small churches and an almost non-existent problem for the God who both governs them and us. To those of us who love small churches and understand the dynamics of rural American theology, there may be opportunities others who are outsiders may not enjoy, and the God who knew our very paths before we traveled them gives us both the desire and the means to serve his Church, no matter how it is expressed. The question is of course, what are the means?

If we have a love for the Church of the Living God, and we understand that to include Fundamentalists, then what will we do to insure that apologetics won’t leave Fundamentalist kids behind?

The question I leave to you is this, will apologetics leave fundamentalist kids behind?

Apologist, Are You Your Brother’s Keeper?

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”” (Genesis 4:9, ESV)

I make excuses.

When I forget to take out the trash, I do it. When I make a mistake, I do it. When I pray, I do it.

It’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t make an excuse for something that I’ve done or failed to do.

Truth be known, you are the same. None of us like to take blame.

Excuses are a rhetorical way of avoiding blame. More specifically, each time we make an excuse for our failures, whether it is a moral failure or some other, we are trying to avoid a couple of things.

Excuses are attempts at avoiding responsibility and accountability.

We often try to avoid responsibility because we desire absolute or extreme autonomy. We don’t like the idea of being tied down to some obligation or duty. If we can avoid it, we will. Obligations or responsibilities are things that tend to force us to make decisions based upon something other than our own selfish desires.

We don’t like to do a thing because it restricts our freedom to act for our own benefit, so we make excuses to avoid those types of responsibilities.

We also make excuses when we have failed to fulfill a particular responsibility and are held accountable. For example, when most folks have a fender bender, they find things like mechanical failures to blame their inept driving. The “brakes didn’t stop the car fast enough” rather than we weren’t paying attention.

If our boss confronts us about a mistake we’ve made, we usually find some technical difficulty or even another employee on whom to blame our slack. We don’t like to take the blame.

The same is true for us spiritually.

We constantly attempt to pass the buck when it comes to our sinful behavior. We do not like accountability. Even in confession to God, we often minimize our sin as if God is ignorant of our wicked heart. It’s kind of the default position of being human and although we are already justified and at once sanctified, we are yet temporally being sanctified. We should be mindful of our proclivity towards excuses when we pray and confess openly to our Omniscient God.

As servants of God, we make excuses to avoid our responsibility to him and our brothers and sisters in him. If we are faced with a difficult circumstance with another person, we avoid dealing with it biblically because then we might be responsible to do an uncomfortable thing.

We may be called to ministry (service) in the Church. Many times we avoid that call by making excuses about our abilities or talents rather than being obedient. Ministry is difficult and cramps our style, or at least confines our freedom a bit.

Sometimes excuses are what we give rather than joining a church. The covenant involved there both makes us responsible to that fellowship and renders us accountable to it.

The good news is that making excuses is not necessarily a Christian thing.

The bad news is that making excuses is historically a human thing.

One of the biggest and oldest excuses of all time has translated into a major Christian excuse, unfortunately. In fact, it’s rhetoric that is found in the early chapters of the first book of the Bible, is answered throughout the rest of the Bible. The excuse of Cain, dripping with anger and hatred, is answered by friendships like David’s to Jonathan, refuted by proverbs, explained away by the preaching of Jesus, and finally sufficiently and fully exposed by the cross of Christ as Jesus acts as the true and complete “brothers keeper”!

Let those, therefore, whose consciences accuse them, beware lest, after the example of Cain, they confirm themselves in obstinacy. For this is truly to kick against God, and to resist his Spirit; when we repel those thoughts, which are nothing else than incentives to repentance.[1]  -Calvin

You’ve guessed it by now. Cain’s excuse is ours. His fist held in the face of God we replicate each time we refuse to love our brother or sister, serve them, and obey Christ’s words. We excuse ourselves from loving Christ each time we fail to serve our brother or sister, by serving his Church. Our slack fulfilling our duty to become our brother’s keeper is testified to by the blood soaked soil where they lay victim to the attack of abhorrent worldviews, false teaching, and poor reason.

Apologist, are you your brother’s keeper?

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, ESV)

This was the extent of Christ’s final answer to Cain’s rhetorical excuse, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus laid his life down for us.

Would it be so hard for you to step up for your brother? Do you have time? Will it mess with your tradition or schedule? Will you be responsible? You are accountable.

You see, apologetics is not merely defending the Faith against the New Atheists. There is a great battle taking place for the lives of our brothers and sisters. It is being waged on a spiritual plane but the casualties will be apparent to us all very soon. I’m sure that it’s obvious by now that he or she needs you, your service, your keeping. This is apologetics at its very core, the keeping of your brother, and the antithesis of Cain’s excuse. So may I ask apologist, are you your brothers keeper?

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;” (1 Peter 5:1–2, ESV) …

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9, ESV)

[1] Calvin, J., & King, J. (2010). Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Vol. 1, p. 206). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Can You Stand the Heat of the Tolerant?

It’s early June in Tennessee and things are really heating up.

If you’ve ever visited the South in the summertime, you’ve been introduced to the idea of sweltering heat.

No, it’s not that 100º plus heat of Arizona. That’s hot for sure. The heat in the southeastern U.S. is different and in my opinion, much more miserable. A combination of hot temperatures plus the added discomfort of high humidity takes a person’s breath. If you’ve visited any of these places, you know what I mean. It’s a hot that’s sweats you like Barak Obama at a NRA convention.

There’s another heat that’s been building. It’s a heat that unfortunately, is going to shock many good people. It’s the heat of the marriage debate.

This heat is not going to shock people because they are unaware of the debate itself. You’d have to literally have your head in the sand to miss it.

This heat is not going to shock people because they haven’t seen the heat of the debate. The rhetoric is hard to miss if you’re on social media or even watch the news.

This heat is going to shock many people simply because they haven’t been exposed to it personally.

You see, you can read about the heat of South Mississippi. You can know people who have travelled there in dog days and have complained about it. You can even watch videos of hot Southern afternoons complete with images of sweaty foreheads, heat mirages, condensation on tea glasses, and post-rain steam. But until you drive into it and open that air-conditioned car door one August afternoon, you ain’t experienced it.

That sweltering shock, that sultry surprise, that dog day disbelief is going to hit some of you square in the face like Al Wilson on a run blitz! All of this consternation calefaction will come as a result of not thinking clearly about the things that matter most. Buying into a few of the simple but effective rhetorical sound bites of the LGBT militarists will have cost you your comfort, your air conditioned continuation of neutrality.

It’s been easy so far for many people to buy into just a few statements that get repeated over and over for the sake of so-called same-sex marriage. These rhetorically strong but logically weak aphorisms are used in place of real arguments to avoid the obvious, marginalize the objections, and deflect the uncertain into the pro-profanation category.

Here are just a few of those statements and why they are simply false.

“Same-sex marriage is about marriage equality.”

The rhetoric behind this statement is employed first to say, opposing same-sex marriage is the same as opposing equality. This pushes people who haven’t engaged the issue thoughtfully into the profanation camp by pressuring them into either admitting that they are opposed to equality by discriminating or submitting to the rhetoric. The obvious truth that is avoided here though is the fact that there is already marriage equality.[1]

All people have the same right to marry because marriage, by its very nature is between one man and one woman. No one is being discriminated against in this sense. Of course a man cannot marry a man because that would be absurd considering the nature of marriage. Marriage is the description of a thing that does not include the circumstance that occurs between same-sex couples, multiple people, or even people and animals. Marriage is a particular thing and to merely call same-sex partners married is like calling a car a rocket ship. Sure, both travel from one place to another but they are not essentially the same.

As far as discrimination goes, we discriminate according lots of things when thinking of marriage. A 10-year-old boy cannot marry his 30-year-old mother. We have no problem discriminating on the basis of family relation. A man cannot marry 10 wives. That is also discrimination based upon number of people. Two 14 year olds cannot marry. We discriminate on the basis of age as well.

The question does not lie in whether we discriminate but why we discriminate and what discrimination ought to include according to what marriage is.

“Same-sex marriage does nothing to harm heterosexual marriage.”

This rhetoric marginalizes the objection by simply stating “no harm, no foul”. Well, doesn’t that just beg the question? Who says it does no harm to real marriage? Isn’t same-sex marriage an inclusion into marriage, or is it some other thing? If same-sex marriage advocates are admitting it is another thing then let’s call it something other than marriage for why would you call a car a rocket? No, they are not admitting that. It is obvious that they are in fact attempting to redefine marriage as if reality, that which is, is definable rather than discoverable. They are simply asking you to keep quiet.

This is the normal rhetorical tactic of same-sex marriage advocates. “We know better and are being tolerant. You ignorant people should keep quiet.” Truly they are attempting to deflect the argument against them by avoiding reality, contradicting themselves along the way. “We want to change marriage to include same-sex couples. We don’t want to change marriage.”-That is what they are actually saying.

“Same-sex marriage will not hurt you.”

This rhetoric is an attempt to marginalize the data that proves otherwise. Bakers lose their businesses[2]. Florists are sued and sent to re-education camps.[3] Fathers are denied access to their children at government schools.[4] Churches are harassed. Everyday, ordinary, peace-loving people are called bigots and racists. All of this at the hands of the so-called ‘tolerant’.

The high-pressure crowd wants you to believe that there’s “no pressure here”. “We only want equality” they say. They attempt to deflect the argument from “why are you hurting people who disagree” to “you won’t be harmed”.

Here’s the truth. This tolerant bunch have not only shown the proclivity to harm those who disagree with them, but they incessantly show the appetite to destroy any institution or person who makes a stand in opposition to their totalitarian philosophy.

Unfortunately, many common people buy into this claim despite the obvious. We read in the papers and on the Internet, hear on the radio, and see on the nightly news a new attack of same-sex militants on people of conviction (religious or not) every week. This is the obvious thing they want to avoid, at least until they have full legal power to fix us. Even if you don’t own a business or don’t plan on making a personal stand in your workplace or your child’s school, you aren’t going to be safe, even at church. Let me quote the United States Solicitor General in his argument to Justice Alito a few days ago, speaking of tax exempt status for religious institutions that will not affirm same-sex marriage.

“You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.” Don Verilli Solicitor General USA[5]

Please read Al Mohler’s article. It’s a good one.

“Same-sex marriage opposition is the same as racism.”

Here’s the biggie. It’s where the real heat is going to be for some of you. It’s going to be where the car door opens and that 95º and 90% humidity are going to punch you in the mouth. You are a bigot!

This is a non-argument for sure. It is definitely an attempt to marginalize anyone who ultimately disagrees with the LGBT philosophy. No one wants to be a bigot, do they?

What’s funny is the fact that these folks masquerade under the façade of tolerance, yet any idea that opposes them is not tolerated. All you have to do to see this is to open Facebook to a debate on the topic and it will quickly become evident how tolerant these folks are. That’s the obvious thing that they try to avoid.

The truth is, they are not tolerant and if you oppose them, no, if you don’t affirm them, they will hurt you!

What is obvious to many of us is the fact that the same-sex marriage movement is not about equality or tolerance; it’s about affirmation and coercion. It is the neo-orthodox position of the left and it is the golden calf of the culture. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand the dynamics at play here.

There is not a lot of light in their arguments though. You can read them, think on them, and post them, but all that will be generated will be heat.

All of these rhetorical phrases are being used to put you in your place!

When you finally open that car door and step out into the reality of all of this, their heat’s going to hit you square in the face. The question is, will you be able to stand it?

[1] http://www.str.org/blog/understand-the-same-sex-marriage-issue#.VW8piuthPzI

[2] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2015/0122/Denver-baker-sued-for-refusing-to-write-anti-gay-slogans-on-cake

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/02/20/washington-florist-rejects-settlement-offer-after-court-rules-she-cant-refuse-service-to-gay-weddings/

[4] http://blog.cultureshield.com/hocker-sex-ed/

[5] http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/04/29/it-is-going-to-be-an-issue-supreme-court-argument-on-same-sex-marriage-puts-religious-liberty-in-the-crosshairs/

Lay Apologists are the Church’s Boots on the Ground

There are a lot of things going right for the Church these days. I know it doesn’t necessarily seem like it with all of the LGBT hoopla, but it’s true.

The recent push for the Church to alter the gospel to include the culture’s golden calf of absolute sexual freedom along with the recent Pew study that reveals a declining Christian population in America seems to be waking a few churches to the need of at least some level of preparedness to defend the Faith. That revival can be both positive and negative.

With the availability of apologetics training popping up in several seminaries and many Internet ministries, it’s easy to take a top down approach. It’s easy to determine which church leader(s) has the capability (free time) to be trained and let him loose on the congregation. That approach lends itself to a major mistake. When the apologetics ministry is focused on the leadership, the laity is subjected to apologetics teaching. How is that a mistake? Let me tell you.

In the world of church leadership, especially in smaller churches, it’s easy to see oneself as the person who stands between the world and the congregation. It’s easy to take on the role of protector. Sure, you teach the laity the Scriptures, but in the end, it’s easy to believe that it’s your spiritual leadership that guides them and keeps them from spiritual harm. In other words, it’s easy to assume that because you hold a title that you are called to some ministry while the laity are merely the uncalled masses who you are called to instruct how to live.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that church leaders who fall into this trap are guided completely by their depraved motives. I don’t believe that is true. I don’t believe that many church leaders are power hungry manipulators, although I have known a few. I’m simply saying that it’s easy to assume those roles without a great deal of diligence and introspection.

What would be a culpable error would be to realize that you have slid into this trap and continue without repentance.

Why is this an error?

The mistake is not in the original thought that church leaders should be called people. Pastors, elders, and deacons should not be elected due to seniority or availability. Neither is a degree or pedigree a qualification. Even the Biblical qualifications for elders and deacons listed in Timothy and Titus aren’t enough. These qualifications are prerequisites. They are not sufficient in and of themselves. A person must meet these qualifications but meeting them is only sufficient if that person is called.

The mistake is not realizing that the laity are called as well. Their call is different, but they are called just the same.

They are called to a vocation just as you are. The difference is that their vocation probably places them in many more hostile situations than you will ever face in full time ministry (ambiguous term used for descriptive purposes). While you sit at home or at church in your office, or while you visit the sick or evangelize to the needy, you are doing exactly what everyone expects of you. On the other hand, when lay people are practicing their vocation (nurse, teacher, business manager, office tech, machinist, baker, etc.) they are expected to practice only their respective job. In fact, any religious activity during their scheduled work is often discouraged. Furthermore, they come into contact with many more people who may openly confront them about their Faith. These people, the laity are the Church’s boots on the ground for Christianity. You on the other hand, are more of the drill sergeant.

So, do you still believe that you should get the training and they should merely be students? Do you still see yourself as the one who is qualified or called but the congregation is just the people you teach? Are the people who fill your pews the subjects that ought to listen to your lectures? I hope not.

You see, it’s been said that the people don’t need to be taught apologetics, they need to be trained how to do apologetics. They don’t need to recite or regurgitate your lectures, they need to think clearly about what they believe, know why they believe it, and be able to defend that hope winsomely to the people they work with or go to school with. Lay apologists are the Church’s boots on the ground.

If you have spent most of your apologetics ministry in your local church lecturing, it may be time to consider complementing those lectures with hands on training. There are a few of things I have in mind. You may think of others, but here are just five ideas.

Make your lectures more interactive. Ask questions while you teach. Don’t solve every apologetics problem for them. Pose difficulties and let them solve them. Make them into thinkers.

Young people especially enjoy interactive instruction. They appreciate it when you allow them to think on their own. Becoming interactive places value on their minds rather than focusing on yours. Don’t bore them any longer. Get down from the podium and train them to think.

Assign work. Most folks are not used to homework when it comes to church, but assignments are an effective tool to get them used to critical thinking and force them to use some of the plethora of apologetics self-help Internet sites. Give them a problem to solve, give them the tools to solve it, and quiz them the next time you meet. They will surprise you more than likely, and hey, you might learn something yourself.

Give them books. Most of the people in the pews are not going to spend a lot of money on apologetics resources. It’s just not realistic to think that they would. What better way to use your budget than to equip your people, especially your young people, with a library? Many times you can pick up great apologetics or theology titles for a very small price, even in print.

The best way though is to find Kindle deals, etc. Most people either have a smart phone, tablet, or laptop. There are Internet sites dedicated to supplying people with apologetics deals on great books. Most of the time they are under $1.00. What better way to spend that budget? The last time we bought books for our high school students, they began buying their own out of excitement for the class.

Cultivate a question friendly environment. One of the greatest factors young people cite for leaving the church is that there is not an environment that welcomes questions.

People are people. They have doubts just like you and I. Don’t discourage their questions and don’t give them pad answers. Invite them to speak and encourage them to reveal their doubt.

Doubt is like a sore that festers. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. Get the doubt out in the open so it can be treated and don’t assume that treatment means doubt disappears. It may not. But if you give an honest answer that not only deals with the question but the person who asks it, you will have shown that the one thing doubt doesn’t have to cause is fear.

Hold them accountable. In church, most of the time when someone either gives a wrong answer to a question or makes an errant statement, we try to soften our correction by merging their false statement into some ambiguous blob that becomes the truth after five minutes of a weird explanation.

This does two things. It leaves the person with the errant view and it gives them a false sense of the real world.

Hold them accountable for their bad theology and their bad thinking. When they’re wrong, tell them. Correct them graciously, but tell them they’re wrong.

Let me tell you, if you don’t some atheist or skeptic will. Life is tough. We need to be tough too.

These are just a few ideas I’ve used in the past to train rather than teach. Maybe you can add to the list. Whatever you do, train the laity. Lay apologists are the Church’s boots on the ground.

Apologetics of the Church’s Perseverance-We Ain’t Goin’ Away

Since this was written, the US Supreme Court ruled that the states must recognize same-sex marriage as the law of the land. Even though the question of how they would rule is now answered, the question of what will happen to the Church in light of SSM remains…

The Feds may rule that so-called same sex marriage is the law of the land. So what? It won’t be the first time that our strong, centralized government put in with the devil.

As I’ve contemplated the different scenarios of what may occur after the Supreme Court imposes its will on the people as far as same-sex marriage goes, there is something that becomes clear to me. The Church of the Living God ain’t going away!

There will be those who apostatize. Some already have, like the PCUSA. That’s okay. They have shown themselves as a denomination to be very willing to deny Christ’s revealed truth.

The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;” (2 Timothy 2:11–12, ESV)

There will be those who capitulate. Fear may rule the hearts of some and they will give in to the pressure of the ‘tolerant’.

Without a doubt though, many of us will stand. More likely than not, millions of American Christians who ought to be protected by a Constitution that begins with their right to worship but will for all intents and purposes be denied that right, will stand.

Millions will not back down. We will not move left or right. We will refuse to accommodate. We will not be quiet. We will not hide. We will not be intimidated. We will not acquiesce. We will not go away. Although there will be many who will be blown away when tossed by the threshing fork, many will remain, remain true to their faith, true to their God.

So what will the so-called tolerant do about us?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

They have no power over us. They are not permitted to destroy us. We are the Church.

Oh, they will tax us. They will harass us. They may even jail us or kill us, but we will not be annihilated. We are the Church.

The Church will persevere for a thousand years and more. The culture and its recent infatuation with LGBTism will fade obscurely into history in a hundred. The millions spent by people like Elliot Mitchell and Clark West will be forgotten faster than an Alabama scoring drive while the Church will march on like the Power T on a Saturday in Knoxville!

I read so many naysayers who are selling the Church in America short. There’s no need for such panic and excuse filled bloviating.

“The Church is not Western”, they say. “The Church is not American”, they explain. They are making excuses for a loss that hasn’t happened and never will. They sound like Derik Dooley practicing in front of the mirror on a Saturday morning in October.

Just stop it!

You are selling God’s people short and you are selling God short.

People who didn’t take kindly to religious persecution founded this country. That attitude is not only in our history books, it’s in our heritage; it’s in our blood. That’s why Europeans came to America, made war with the worlds biggest empire, and wrote such a great document (abused as it is) like the US Constitution based upon protection of religious freedom.

Not only has it been in our American blood for the past 200 years, it has been in the DNA of the Church for 2000 years. Read Foxes Book of Martyrs and learn how easily we die as opposed to giving up. Stop giving up before the real fight begins!

In the famous words of that Southern bumper sticker, “Ain’t Skeered!”

With all that seems imminent, how can we be so confident? How can we be so certain that the Church will outlast the real haters? What is the apologetics of the Church’s perseverance?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, ESV)

I am confident that persecution will finally come to the American Church. I’m not as confident that we will lie down and take it. We are Christians and called to peaceful lives, but we are also Americans, born out of war and rebellion. For now though, we will persevere through whatever comes our way, whether merely financial, penal, or physically abusive.

Ultimately, my advice is “don’t panic!” We are the Church. We’ve done this before.

An Ounce of Inoculation is Worth a Pound of Argumentation

It’s a cool title, huh?

Well, that’s because it’s true.

There’s not a great deal of debate when it comes to the necessity of apologetics for young people these days. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who is actually interested in what’s going on in the Church that there is a definite need there. There are those in denial, but that’s all that it is, denial.

Now I don’t want to pretend that there’s not an issue of getting apologetics into churches. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Convincing churches, especially small rural ones, to implement apologetics ministries remains a concern of many others as well as myself. People that attempt to stay in the know about the condition of the Church understand this.

So, how can we help? How can those of us with the passion transfer their ideas to those with the need? That’s what Southern by His Grace, and many others are all about.

As I was teaching a group of young people few years ago, and as I began to implement apologetics into our class time, one of the basic principles that I used to undergird the curriculum was inoculation.

Inoculation is the principle learned from the medical field in which a medical professional administers a measured amount of a particular disease to a patient. When that occurs in a controlled environment, the body develops a resistance to the limited or measured dose of the disease. Of course you know that the reason this procedure is followed is that when the body has already developed a resistance to a measured amount of the disease, and then the body is faced with a full-blown version of the disease, it will be able to fight it off. The body will know that it has already seen this disease before and will easily fend off the attacker.

When teaching young people headed for the real world, it makes sense to use the same principle. Give them a dose of the same arguments that the real world’s going to give them so that when they come up against a full-blown version of the same argument, they will be able to fend off those arguments because they’ve heard them before.

There’s a couple of ways to go about this.

One could use the strategy of folks like Brett Kunkle who favors “role play”.

Brett teams up with a youth leader who is interested in just how well his students are versed in “what they believe and why they believe it”. Brett is then introduced to the class as a visiting atheist or skeptic and after a presentation, challenges the students with some tough questions and/or statements.

Usually Brett claims that most of the students are left defenseless and the teacher is left flabbergasted.

This is obviously a great way to challenge both students and teachers to “get into the game of apologetics”. It’s a controlled and safe environment that challenges the class right where they are. From there, the teacher can build on what he sees and the students are exposed to atheism. That’s one way of inoculating Christian students.

There are some difficulties with “role play” when it comes to small churches for a couple of reasons. To name just two, its easier to role play in front of 50 students than it would be 10 and it’s difficult to go incognito in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else.

If you’re in a small rural church, you may prefer something a little more like what my friend and I did in our local church a few years ago. We called it “Apologetics 5” and “Fallacy 5”. We ran it as follows.

Our class was both an apologetics and theology based curriculum. During the times that we were teaching more apologetics based curriculum, we would supplement it with “Fallacy 5”. During times when we were more theologically centered, we’d do “Apologetics 5”.

At the end of each class, we’d announce either the apologetics or logical problem for the next week. We’d do so in such a way as to assume the role of an unbeliever, skeptic, atheist, or “bad” thinker. We would introduce them to the topic with a statement like, “The Trinity contradicts itself when it says that three people are actually one person”, or a statement like “there is no way God exists because he would end hunger”. If we were going to do “Fallacy 5”, after they learned basic informal fallacies, we might make a statement like “Christians are wrong about homosexuality because they were wrong about slavery”, or something like that. Then the question to them might be, “what is the logical fallacy here?”

This method is a little more controlled than role play and it’s easier to prepare for, especially if you’re a full time youth teacher with a 50 hour/week job that has nothing to do with church, as is the case for so many people who work in small churches.

Another benefit is that it gives the students some time to prepare to answer. This incentive does a couple of things.

One, it forces them to think on their own. They aren’t able to merely regurgitate what you’ve told them. They have to actually use their brains.

Two, it teaches them how to use other resources. We tried to give links to trusted online apologetics resources so that when the students began to look for answers, they’d learn to navigate relative sites rather than fall into the Google pit of endless nothingness.

Thirdly, and very importantly, we were able to really tease out the arguments because we felt like some of the students had studied enough to get past the surface issues. We encouraged them to NOT give us the pad answers and if they did, we’d use everything from solid rebuttals to ad homonym attacks to refocus them to more serious treatments of the issues.

Finally, and I believe this is integral; we did not throw soft balls! Everything from the theological and scientific lingo to the arguments themselves were tough. I received a little push back on the tough words but I really insisted on them. Even some of the parents didn’t care much for some of the words like “soteriology” or “ontological”, but we insisted that the kids research the words themselves and then we would correct their bad definitions if needed. We would always include lists of definitions for all of the class but the importance of learning to research issues on their own trumped the security of spoon-feeding the students. The use of “big” academic terms is especially important to inoculate them to college profs who will use those same terms mercilessly, twisting the definitions to meet their own goals of confusion and fear. It’s a goal of many academics to make you feel that you are unworthy of their arguments because they have some letters after their name. I say blah! From what I’ve seen so far, many academics are so haughty that what they say is actually simple and worthless anyway. I hoped to steal that academic fear from each of my students.

The confidence to bare the arguments and rhetoric of skeptics, atheists, and even misinformed Christians is an important piece of the puzzle when we teach apologetics, especially to young people. An important part of teaching people how to do that is exposing them to a heavy dose of the same arguments that they will experience in college or the work place. When someone is convinced by the arguments of atheism it’s much more difficult to re-convince them of Christianity. One way that we lose people is not that they’re convinced of anti-Christian arguments but that they’re convinced that we’ve not dealt with those arguments in an intellectually respectable manner. They’re convinced that either we are ignorant of the “facts” of science, or we’ve hidden the truth from them by keeping things simple. They think we have given them the short end of the stick, as it were, by leaving out the big words, the tough arguments, and the academic responses to Christianity.

In that case, an ounce of inoculation is worth a pound of argumentation.

Don’t be satisfied with the pad answers.

Give them the tough stuff. Don’t be afraid that if you give them a robust argument to defend against that they’ll leave the faith. Don’t sell them short or give them the short end of the stick. Give them an ounce of prevention. Inoculate them, because if you don’t, there are those who will. I guarantee it.

Reasons to Join a Church

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, ESV)

In this day and time, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on individualism. “It is ones right to choose”, is a post-modern motto. Tolerance, the idea that groups must side step the choices of individuals, is the idol of the culture. The neo-Christian memory verse is not John 3:16 “for God so loved the world”, rather it is an edited version of Matthew 7, “Judge not, lest thou be judged”. Isn’t it interesting that the whole world knows that verse now, in King James English no less?

An integral piece of the post-modern puzzle is this idea of absolute individual. The reader, not the author, determines the post-modern hermeneutic. Morality is relative to individual preference, not objective and transcendent. And then there’s covenant. Post-moderns avoid covenant like J.E.B. Stuart’s acquisition of Pope’s coat. They want nothing to do with joining anything organized, especially the Church.

That being said, I’d like to offer a few reasons to join a church, and why their façade of philosophy has stolen communion from under their nose. So, here are some reasons to join a church…

Preaching of the Word. There is little doubt that a need of every Christian is to feed on the Word of God and an ordained and efficient way for that to occur is sitting under preaching. I have written on the importance of unction, the effective ministry of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of a preacher. One cannot receive this efficacious sacrament unless they sit submissively under a preacher. The key word in that last sentence is submissively. To sit under preaching one must submit to the authority of the called one, the preacher. It is difficult to imagine this to be the case if the person will not willingly submit to the authority of the pastor himself. That comes by covenanting or joining a church.

Unfortunately, there is an intrinsic mistrust of authority in our present culture. Some of that mistrust is accurately placed, but for the most part, the pulpit of Christ should be presumed as innocent. That mistrust robs people of a specific grace that comes when we are fed efficaciously by a man of God, giving us the Word of God, by the power of God.

  1. Administering of the sacrament. Most churches hold open Communion. By that I mean that a church offers participation in the Lord’s Supper if a person is a Christian and enjoys a clear conscience. Membership to that church is not required. I would not say that I am a fan of open Communion. I would not say that I am not either. I would say this; if you consistently attend a local body and partake of the Lord’s Supper without joining that assembly in a covenant relationship, your conscience needs to be informed. How much of the Eucharist is done individually? Is it not meant for us to feed on the body of Christ and drink of his blood in community, thus the name communion? There is discipline found in the body and the blood of Christ. Take it carefully lest you be guilty of it.

    “first of all, it strikes us, that Christ instituted a supper, which the disciples partake in company with each other. Hence it follows, that it is a diabolical invention, that a man, separating himself from the rest of the company, eats his supper apart. For what two things could be more inconsistent than that the bread should be distributed among them all, and that a single individual should swallow it alone?”-Calvin¹

Did you catch Calvin’s, even Christ’s emphasis on the company, the togetherness of the table. It is at the table, not the chair, that we find fellowship with Christ in his death. Calvin goes so far as to say that the idea of separateness at the table is of the devil.

I think of the word chose by Calvin and others to describe this sacramental meal and what that word meant to my earthly family’s own togetherness when I was young. Supper was a time in the evening, not merely a meal. It was a time in which the family gathered together for a common meal, reflected on the day, grew through each others experiences, and fellowshipped through a common love for one another. I’m convinced that my life would’ve turned out miserably if it were not for suppertime at my home. So it would be for the Christian who attempts to avoid true fellowship at Christ’s supper. I’m afraid that so many have lost this integral, immediate, and intimate moment of Christian life and with it a real presence of Christ that can be found in no other place.

  1. Discipline of communion. Finally, there is an important role the church plays in the spiritual growth of an individual. The first two of these “reasons” to join a church were just mentioned as preaching and sacrament, but there is another.

One finds accountability in community. This is the discipline found only in a covenant between a local assembly and its members. Just as the family you were born into as a human being, the family you were born into as a child of God expects. They expect you to participate, to be obedient, to work for the good of the family. They expect you to refrain from those things that bring dishonor to the family. They expect you to forgive those in the family who have hurt you but have rejected that means of pain. They expect you to love, fight for, stand with, and sacrifice for their sake.

In all of this, there is accountability. There is discipline. Whether it comes in the form of the intrinsic discipline found in ones own love for their brothers and sisters, or in the form of official church discipline, real covenantal community holds a loving watch over its members.

In today’s culture, this doesn’t sound liberating. It sounds constricting and binding, and in a sense it is. But those restrictions are for the good of the individual, sanctifying them, changing them to a more Christ-like person.

The sovereign grace of God sanctifies us, but it acts within normal means to do so, most of the time. A very great and magnificent part of those normal, yet sacramental means is found in a covenantal relationship found inside a local church. To miss out on that is to miss out on a major facet of God’s grace.

Hopefully, by God’s grace, the generation of post-modern believers that have rejected covenant in local church fellowship will awaken to the benefits God has ordained but confined to church membership. I am convinced that Christ’s Church will persevere to its eschatological climax, but there is no promise that there wont be a void left by an abhorrent generation. Let us parade the reasons to join a church by displaying the wonder found only in its covenantal community.

¹Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

5 Bad Reasons to Leave a Church

“we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord”[1]-Calvin

My last article described some legitimate reasons that one may have to leave a local church. I thought it was a much needed article for those who may be stuck in an unhealthy local church and are not sure if it would be Biblical to make an exit.

There is another side to this story though.

Although it may be legitimate to break ones covenant relationship with a local church for some very specific reasons that are essential to what church is, most of the time I suspect that people leave for the wrong reasons. I’d like to list 5 bad reasons to leave a church.

  1. The people. Many people exit local assemblies because of failed relationships inside the church. Sometimes this means that relationships have been established and have been damaged by conflict. Sometimes this means that there has been no real attempt at forming relationships because there is some perceived difference that would be difficult to overcome. Both reasons, and many others that have to do with relationships, are illegitimate reasons to leave a local church. We are called to strive for unity. We are a part of a greater family of God.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1–7, ESV)

Your calling is to stick it out! Even if you don’t like the people, strive for peace and unity. Leaving, in the case of failed relationships, is not an option.

  1. The music. Worship music is a pet peeve of mine, a golden calf, if you will. If there’s something that really gets my gourd, it’s bad worship music. I don’t like music that centers on me, myself, and I and I hate music filled with mysticism, and it’s almost impossible to choose a contemporary song that doesn’t drip with that kind of junk! Never the less, the worship music shouldn’t be a deal breaker for me, and I realize that (begrudgingly). It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for you either.

How many times do people either choose to leave or to join a church simply because of the worship music? It’s really silly if you think about it. People allow personal preference to turn them away from covenant relationships with very good local churches.

If you have a pet peeve like mine about worship music, pray about it. Pray for the worship team. Pray for the worship leader. Pray for yourself, but stay. The music, no matter what your preference, is no reason to leave.

  1. Tertiary doctrine. Many times local churches can make mountains out of molehills when it comes to non-essential doctrine. Eschatology (end times) and origins are some of the biggest. Sometimes small churches especially will find their identity in an issue like the rapture or the age of the universe. Sometimes those who hang their theological hat on one of these doctrines of the third kind will seek you out in a dogmatic witch-hunt. If that happens, you may not have any choice but a quiet exit. Otherwise, you need to pray for longsuffering when it comes to these issues. In themselves, they are no reason to leave. Stick it out if you can. Community is more important than your theological respectability.
  2. Number of ministries. Sometimes we are quick to judge the health of a church because of the number of ministries in which it may be involved. Missions, youth programs, elderly visitation, and rescue ministries are some of the most prevalent. There is no doubt that a local church should be in service of its community, but it is just as true that a ministry of one local church may not look anything like that of another. Some churches do one thing very well. Others do multiple things with ease. Different churches exist to glorify God in various ways, and just because you may not like or understand a particular church’s call is not a good reason to leave. It may be a good reason for you to leave your pride at home, roll up your sleeves, and learn how to love people the way your church already does.
  3. Change. This is probably the biggest agent of change when it comes to people leaving. People don’t like change, especially Christians. We’ve all heard the saying, “last words of a dying church…we’ve never done it this way before”. Well, it’s true. Change, most any kind, ushers people to the door quicker than a knife fight in a phone booth. This is especially true in my part of the world. Around here, tradition is something we take pride in and change would be to admit that our tradition might be wrong. At least that’s how we take it sometimes. Even in the American South though, change on its own is no reason to leave. In fact, it’s a reason to stay, at least long enough to say, “I told you so”.

“The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all, or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation”[2]-Calvin

I hope you can add to this list. I tried to do this with a fairly lighthearted attitude, but in all seriousness, Christians can be guilty of leaving church for the wrong reasons. We covenant together with people who we may not know or even like so that we can learn to love with the love of Christ. Keep that in mind. Church is not always about getting your way or finding reassurance for your own pet doctrines. We need the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and the discipline found in a communion of our brothers and sisters. Their idiosyncrasies identify and distinguish them from other communions that God loves. You may not fit in like you think, but by God’s grace and your perseverance, your edges may be rounded off enough to find real communion in a culture that is repulsed by conformity. It’s that testimony, the testimony of unity in diversity, which may be the most powerful apologetic of the Church.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

[1] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

When to Leave a Church?

For whoever either disregards the holy assemblies, or separates himself from brethren, and takes little interest in the cultivation of unity, by this alone makes it evident that he sets no value on the presence of Christ[1]-Calvin

The question comes up sometimes, “should I leave my church?”

When to leave a church is a question that has several answers, and without the proper information, I can’t answer it specifically.

It’s not a question that can’t be answered though. There are reasons, Biblical reasons that would indicate whether you should either stay or leave the church you’re attending.

Obviously though, if you’re ever left asking this question, then there’s some kind of problem. It may not be a significant problem, but there must be some circumstance or situation that has left you wondering, should I leave.

There have been several podcasts and articles that I’ve seen or heard lately that entertain that question. One great one was one of my favorites, Theology Unplugged from the Credo House in Edmond, OK.

This particular podcast wasn’t originally to deal with this question specifically. It was dealing with a subject that lead to it though. It was a podcast on authority, in particular Biblical authority in the local church. Interestingly, one problem with authority in the local church seems to be that people don’t recognize the Bible as the authority that it should be and therefore, they do not submit to it as it is preached and taught by local church leaders.

One of the problems that they dealt with on this particular podcast was too many people leave church without going through the Biblical process. This process, as they saw it, was one of discipline. One should submit to authority, placing themselves under the teaching of the local church and if there is conflict, it should be dealt with under Matthew 18.

On the other hand, if a person who is a member (in covenant) of a local church and leaves without resolving the conflict, then the church leadership should seek reconciliation under the mandate of Matthew 18.

So first, a church must have two-way discipline.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”” (Matthew 18:15–20, ESV)

The point of all of that is that people should be held accountable as members of a covenant and churches are doing a bad job at requiring that kind of accountability.

In all of that though, the accountability of 2 Timothy 5:19-22 was barely given a mention. It was as if the laity is almost always at fault when there is conflict and the leadership needs to be obeyed.

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” (1 Timothy 5:19–21, ESV)

I agree with their assessment of accountability as far as leaving a church flippantly. There needs to be more accountability between the church and its members and people shouldn’t just come and go as they please, leaving those left behind wondering “what happened”!

What I may be somewhat critical of is the perception that this is the prevailing issue in the local church as far as discipline or accountability is concerned.

It seems to me that although the laity does not normally submit to authority as they should, and they are not held as accountable as they ought to be, both of these failures are not necessarily failures of the laity. Rather, these failures are failures of church leadership. Biblical leadership ought to teach proper submission first by their own understanding of ministry (service), and then by teaching the truth of the Word of God about accountability and submission, finally by practicing healthy church discipline.

On top of that, a greater issue is one of lack of accountability of church leaders.

Church leaders, especially elders (pastors, elders, bishops) are rarely held accountable for their public sin.

When was the last time you went to church and heard a public confession of sin from the pulpit and a plea for forgiveness from a authentically contrite pastor?

When was the last time you saw church leaders being held accountable by the laity for their public sins?

When was the last time that you witnessed church leaders submitting to the authority of the church when that authority comes in the form of people in the pews?

1 Timothy 5:19 mandates that!

When was the last time that you heard that passage expounded as the whole counsel of God?

That brings me to the first reason you might leave a church.

No discipline!

If your church is not practicing proper church discipline, and I mean in both directions, then it is not a Biblical church.

This is not automatically an excuse to leave though. By leaving, you are practicing the same omission that they are and you are just a guilty as they may be.

Pray a great deal. Go to your leaders. Ask them the tough questions. Make sure that they know your concern. Give them a chance to do what the Bible requires. Then, only after you have gone to them and they have refused to follow proper Biblical discipline, leave.

In this case is the exception to leaving “wrong”. If they will not practice church discipline then I don’t see how you can leave correctly. You can’t hold them to a Biblical standard and they wont hold you to one. In that case, your only choice is to give your reasons (preferably in writing) and walk away.

The other two reasons to leave a church are pretty much universally accepted and ought to be common sense for most of us.

A favorite quote from Calvin about church is:

Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence[2]

Sacraments can be rightly administered. That would indicate that they can be wrongly administered. If the sacraments are being wrongly administered in your church, you should go to the leadership for clarification. Beware! There is little that gets collars so ruffled as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Approach these subjects with leadership humbly, asking for clarity, and willing to listen.

Assuming that you will do those things and providing for the possibility that their answers may not satisfy the Biblical standards for what is proper in the administration of the sacraments, discipline may be pursued.

It is likely that discipline will end at the first step, going to the elders. In that case, if you remain convinced that the sacraments are being administered improperly, or not at all, leave. Pray for those left and leave. You should not be at this church.

Finally, the Word of God must be preached. But Calvin does not merely say that it must be preached, his assertion is that it must be sincerely preached.

I have written some on this already. I may take a harder stand on preaching than you, so walk carefully as you criticize the preaching of your pastor. Do not think that you may never do so though.

Preaching is what it is. It is a basic exposition of Scripture that must be short enough to keep your attention, meaty enough to preach to the learned, and simple enough to give the Gospel to sinners. It is not meant to be a theological treatise nor is it supposed to be purely evangelical. It is preaching.

That being said, preaching must be the exposition of God’s Word. Nothing else will do. Stories and illustrations are not preaching, although they may be used in preaching. Lectures are not preaching, although their subjects may be found in the Word to be preached. Preaching is God’s Word, given by God’s man, to God’s people, under the power of God’s Spirit.

It may be something else where you go to church. If it is once, then it may be overlooked as a mistake. If it is regularly, then something is wrong. If it is, then you may follow the disciplinary procedure outlined in Scripture.

Once again, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to move further than your initial questions. At that point, you have every reason to leave that church after explaining your concern and receiving no satisfactory Biblical response.

None of these things should ever be taken lightly. One problem with the American Church is that we do not take church seriously. Church is one of the things that matter most.

Always do a great deal of self-inspection before you enter into any criticism of your local church. Repent of your own shortcomings when considering your responsibility to your covenant relationship to your church. Leaving church is a serious thing. Many times it becomes necessary because you didn’t take joining that same church as serious as you should have.

When it becomes necessary to leave, always do so well informed by God’s Word, informing those you leave as you go (not gossiping but lovingly instructing), praying for God’s forgiveness and his Spirit’s leading along the way.

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 361–362). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The Wagon Wheel Apologetics Method

If you spend any time at all proposing apologetics to potential churches or trying to convince Christian leaders to initiate apologetics into their church, you have already been asked the question.

“What kind of apologetics?”

When someone asks that question, put on your thinking cap. It’s about to get deep.

That’s alright though. Although I have a particular view about what is the best way to do apologetics, I am not so predisposed to that particular method that I would dismiss the others out of hand.

Most of the time someone asks that question, they are Presuppositionalists. That particular brand of doing apologetics stems from more Reformed circles. I am Reformed, so I run into it quite often. Presuppositionalists have a particular view of how to do apologetics that usually leaves them in opposition to any other method. Some are more pugnacious than others though, but I don’t sweat it. The few that are confrontational in a mean sense are just that, only a few.

Few of the other views of how to do apologetics leave people in any confrontational posture when it comes to method.

A good resource on the different methods or views of apologetics is the book Five Views on Apologetics by Steve Cowan.

That being said, my motto is whatever brand of apologetics you or your church favors, do it. Don’t let the debate over what apologetics method is proper keep you from obeying the command to be ready to give a defense.

I have a view though. It might be called Classical Apologetics. It’s a methodical approach to apologetics that I’ve learned from people like RC Sproul and William Lane Craig. Sproul’s method in particular is the closest to my own.

Apologetics methods can be a little monotonous to describe and even more so to debate or study. A person usually has a particular bent, their epistemology, and they will gravitate on their own towards one method or another.

Instead of giving a long explanation of my own particular view, I would rather produce a visual so that if you are inclined as I am, you may easily adopt this approach.

I call it the wagon wheel apologetics method.

Wagon wheels are made a certain way. There are three basic parts to them.

There is the rim, the spokes, and the hub.

All three of the parts are important to the whole and they each work independently towards a purpose.

The first part of the wheel, the part we contact first, is the rim.

The rim is the part of the wheel that makes contact with the ground. It is the part that “rolls”.

In apologetics, the rim would be analogous to knowledge, truth, and reason. These are the first parts of apologetics to make contact with people. People seek to know truth and they come to that knowledge often times through reason.

Now, I know that presupps would differ on this. I actually believe that people really come to truth through the testimony and effectual work of the Holy Spirit. I believe though that he uses our minds (reason, knowledge) as a means to accomplish this.

Therefore it remains for us to assert with Lactantius that no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth.-Calvin¹

Never the less, my method places these things on the rim of the apologetics wagon wheel. They are first things, but not the only or most important things.

The next parts of the analogy are the spokes.

While the rim makes contact with the road, the spokes connect the rim with the hub. Their purpose is two fold.

First, the spokes connect the rim to the hub. They are the way that the rim causes the hub to turn, making the axle turn under the wagon, moving the wagon.

Secondly though, the spokes secure the outer rim from the hub. As the hub travels, the rim is secured to it by the spokes, insuring the strength of the hub transfers to the rim.

Being dual in purpose, the spokes have two facets in my analogy.

One is Specific Revelation. The other is General or Natural Revelation.

Specific Revelation has four basic parts, or spokes.

Hence, we must strive onward by this straight path if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truly and vividly described to us from his works, while these very works are appraised not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth.-Calvin³

There is direct revelation. Direct revelation rarely occurs but has historical significance. There is some evidence that God may speak to some people, especially those who are Islamic, through dreams, etc.

There is also prophecy. Prophecy is another rare occurrence in our contemporary context. But just like direct revelation, there may be some instances of prophecy in isolated areas of the world that the Word of God is not prevalent.

I listed those first because they are most rare and most controversial. I am not charismatic in any theological sense, but I wouldn’t personally say that God can’t or is unable to use these means today.

Another of the Specific Revelatory spokes is of course the Word of God. By this I mean the Bible. It is the primary means of God’s testimony and revelation of his son, Jesus. The Scriptures are invaluable to the apologist and there is no substitute for their effectiveness. All of our arguments are found within it in some sense, and we should use this means liberally.

The final spoke of this type is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. There is a distinction between him and the others because of the specific means he uses to testify to the truth. The preaching of the Word and the existence of the Church testify of Jesus and these are his normal means.

The other type of spoke, the one that secures the hub to the rim is called General Revelation.

Lest anyone, then, be excluded from access to happiness, he not only sowed in men’s minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.-Calvin²

Just as God has revealed himself specifically in his Word, he nonetheless did reveal himself in nature.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, ESV)

Often times we can find some security in this revelation and we may use arguments for this type of revelation to get to the hub. These are different than the Word (Specific Revelation) though in that they are not efficacious to people’s ultimate salvation. They say lots about God’s existence but very little about his nature and nothing about Jesus.

They are best argued by the classical apologetics arguments.

They are usually as follows:

Cosmological; Teleological; Ontological; and Moral.

These point to theism but they are not to be considered the end, only a means on the way to the end, and sometimes a secure fix from the end to our experience.

Finally, there is the hub.

The hub is the strength of the entire wheel. In it the rest of the wheel relies. If it turns properly, the wheel is balanced and force is delivered to the rim. If it is strong, the spokes may find their ultimate strength in it. The rim is merely a weak vessel doomed for breakage without the hub. It is the hub that actually carries the load of the wheel.

What is the hub?

The hub is Jesus of Nazareth.

All of the rim should travel around him and find its strength in him.

All of the spokes should point to him and all should secure the rim to him.

The purpose of the rest of the wheel is placed on him and he drives the centrifugal force of it.

Jesus is the ultimate goal of apologetics. We should always intend to work our way from the rim to the hub. The spokes are the means by which we do that. We should never intend to only show the spokes and they are not our ultimate focus.

The rim is often times flattened or broken just as people’s understanding of truth and knowledge may be. If we start there, we may re-round the rim, proceed to the spokes, but always point to the hub.

Do you get the picture?

Apologetics is a whole. It may not always be an immediate evangelism success, but the goal should never merely be theism. We are Christians, followers of Christ. He should be our goal. Theism does not save. Jesus does.

None of this is to say that each time you are called to defend your faith that you must lead a person to Christ. Life does not always lend itself to those holistic presentations. Sometimes we take what we can get. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you must be Billy Graham every time you’re on a plane or a bus, etc.

We should have a holistic approach to our apologetic method though. Whether we end up as Presuppositionalists or Evidentualsists, or somewhere in between like Classical apologists, our end goal should be Christ and we should have a way to get to him in mind.

I hope that this wagon wheel apologetics method visual might help you put your own picture of apologetics together.

[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[3] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Is Ethan McReynolds Unresponsive

Is Ethan McReynolds unresponsive? Well, that’s a good question and it’s one that remains unanswered.

You probably have never heard of Ethan. I hadn’t either until this week. An article written by an apologist referring to him came across my Facebook feed.

It seems that Ethan is a young man from my part of the country, East Tennessee. Evidently he was involved in some sort of church ministry in Lenoir City, a small town just outside of Knoxville. From what I can tell, he has left the Faith and has become an evangelical atheist, telling his deconversion story in a new blog called Saving Souls and Finding Holes.

It wasn’t his Facebook feed that crossed mine though. It was the feed of Ryan Moore, an apologist from the same area.

In his article An Open Letter to Churches in Loudon County: It’s Time, Ryan called churches in the area to wake up to the need of apologetics for their congregations. As I read his article, I was introduced to Ethan’s story. I followed the appropriate links to Ethan’s blog and read his article Response to Ryan Moore. The back and forth has been interesting. As usual there seems to be some talking past each other. Ryan seems to be engaging Ethan and his articles in hope to offer some rebuttal of Ethan’s claims. Ethan seems to be saying that he is making no claims, only telling his story.

In Ethan’s article, Response to Ryan Moore, Ethan claims:

  1. He is not rebutting Ryan’s claims.
  2. Ryan is not a serious blogger.
  3. Ryan does not take his writing seriously.
  4. Ryan’s arguments do not solve Ethan’s claims because apologetics arguments are false.
  5. Both the Christian arguments and the atheist’s arguments are the same as usual, and people know that the Bible and Christianity have errors.
  6. Ethan already knows (all) of the apologetics arguments.

There are only a few remarks I would like to make about this article.

The title to Ethan’s article is Response to Ryan Moore. In the first paragraph Ethan writes “I won’t be doing a rebuttal to his response”, referring to Ryan’s article about Ethan. He then writes about five hundred thirty five words in response to Ryan’s article.

This is what is normally referred to as a contradiction. Ethan may not realize it, but he has actually contradicted himself. To say that one will not respond (A) and then to respond (non-A) at the same time in the same context is exactly what Ethan accuses the Bible of in Genesis 1 and 2.

What Ethan misunderstands to be a contradiction is actually not. The first two chapters of Genesis are not a case of A and non-A are true at the same time but rather A and B are true at the same time. Although it may be difficult for Ethan to understand how both A and B may be true at the same time, it doesn’t follow that they are not by necessity.

Ethan’s next two points seem to actually be the same point. He seems to be making a couple of assertions by his implicit ad homonym attack on Ryan.

The first assertion is that Ryan’s article is not worth responding to because of Ryan’s lack of seriousness. The second is that because Ryan makes some grammatical errors, Ryan is not taking Ethan seriously.

Ethan’s genetic fallacy here is subtle but that is only because it is masked in ad hom attacks. He makes an informal logical error by disregarding Ryan’s claims on the basis of Ryan’s supposed sincerity, otherwise known as seriousness. It is alright to decide to ignore Ryan’s claims, but Ryan’s character is not a sufficient reason for Ethan’s un-response.

Basically, the next three reasons that Ethan gives of his unresponsive response are all the same. Ethan says that he knows the arguments of Christian apologetics and he is not impressed with any of them (my summation of Ethan’s implication).

That’s quite a claim. In just a few short years, months, or however long Ethan has been an atheist or at least skeptical, Ethan has read every apologetic book, listened to every apologetic podcast, and absorbed all things apologetic and found every one of them (so far) wanting. It is this particular faith in atheism that displays his lack of understanding.

For example, I am a Christian. I believe Christianity is true and evidence can be given to point to its validity. I don’t believe that atheists have presented enough evidence to the contrary. I am not arrogant enough to say that they have presented no evidence whatsoever! There are some good arguments given by atheists. I ultimately disagree with them, but I would not say that there is a total lack of evidence.

Ethan is not interested in the evidence. He says that there is none for Christian truth claims. He is being intellectually dishonest.

More than likely, there is another, more intimate concern separating Ethan from faith in Christ. I don’t pretend to know Ethan, but his rhetoric seems to be quintessentially volitional.

There is one other point I’d like to make about Ethan’s attempts to discredit Ryan by attacking his “seriousness” as a writer, calling to task Ryan’s spelling and grammer. This atak is cumpleetly uncaled four and it haz nuthin two do with the truth uv it.

All of this is written with the hope that the reader will enjoy it through his or her sense of humor. It’s all in good fun.

In all seriousness though, Ethan, if you are going to attack Christianity, if your intentions are to evangelize your unbelief, by your own admission you should understand that you might have a target on you. The question you should ask yourself should not be “will I be challenged”, but “will my new beliefs be able to withstand challenges”. You can choose to ignore challenges to your new faith, but they will come nonetheless. You can pretend to have comprehensive knowledge of all things apologetic, but how does that exhibit intellectual vigor? You can reduce your response to ad homonym attacks, but as you know, that is usually a sign of a fragile confidence in your own argument.

The question from now on will be, “is Ethan McReynolds Unresponsive”?

My prediction…I doubt it.

The Apologists Call is to Love

Recently, I saw a meme on a local atheist’s Facebook page. It was actually a picture from a “free-thinking” society in Asheville, NC. The meme read, “God hates facts”.

Atheists love to call Christians arrogant. In fact, the only interaction so far that I have had with this particular group resulted in the same treatment for me. Although they did encourage their readers to read my article, all in all their reaction to me was to call me “condescending” and “arrogant”.

It seems that the epitome of arrogance is in statements like this one though. “God hates facts”? (Please understand, that’s a shot at the intelligence of all Christians.)

What are facts? It seems to me that facts are by definition true statements. They are true by definition.

What is truth? Well, I could write a book on that. Many have. I will resort to the simple definition. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. Truth is what is.

Here are some things that are…

All things that are an effect have a cause.

What this means is things don’t spontaneously come into existence. Some people may deny this, but they don’t live as if they believe their own defiance of reality. They sit on chairs unafraid of the spontaneous appearance of snakes instead. They walk as if they don’t expect tigers to suddenly appear in front of them. I could go on. The fact is this, skeptics deny the reality of the law of cause and effect, but they only deny it in theory.

The universe (or its theoretical predecessors) had a beginning. There has been much debate over the origin of the universe. Great efforts have been made to get away from the fact that because the universe is, there must have been a time when it was not. Especially since modern astronomy has found a great deal of evidence for the big bang, atheists have looked for a way to dodge the implication of a beginning.

Unfortunately, science is only catching up with philosophy as far as the beginning of the universe is concerned. For centuries the beginning of the universe has been practically assumed by philosophers. It’s been fun to debate, but it’s a philosophical impossibility for the universe to be infinite.

That radiation is residual heat from the Big Bang, the event that sparked the beginning of the universe some 13 billion years ago.” Craig Hogan, University of Washington

To juke science and philosophy, skeptics have come up with theories like the string theory and the inflationary theory that on the surface seem to indicate an infinite existence of something other than this universe. This something is what generated our present universe.

Universe generators, strings of universes, and even infinite numbers of universes are postulated to make the present universe’s obvious beginning merely the product of another, more infinite universe.

Of course the problem with all of these theories is the same problem the theorists began with. Everything that is an effect had a cause. They must answer the question, where did those strings of universes, universe generators, etc. come from?

Another fact is the anthropic principle. There are certain constants in the universe that make life possible. Not only do these things like the gravitational constant, atmospheric density, and the tilt of the Earth make some life possible, if they varied in very finite amounts human life would cease. Furthermore, if the universe had expanded too quickly or too slowly it would’ve been a catastrophic failure, one way or the other.

All of those facts point to the theory of design. The universe seems to be uniquely designed for human existence and flourishing. It’s a fact that even many skeptical, agnostic and even atheist astrophysicists don’t deny.

Fred Hoyle (British astrophysicist): “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”[1]

Skeptics deny the fact that the universe is uniquely fit for life. Rather, they claim coincidence. If there is life, then of course the universe must exist in a way that allows for it.

I admit that the import of a designer into the universe is a matter of perspective, but the facts that point to design are indisputable. Yet, in the mind of the skeptic they are deniable.

Morality may be the hardest of all of these facts to deny. It seems that the whole world would agree that there are those things that are universally immoral. Whether ideas like racism or acts like rape, immorality is ascribed to them as real. By real I mean to put into lay terms the transcendence of their condemnation as immoral.

Immorality itself though can be slightly arbitrary, but only if it is relative to people or people groups. That is a misunderstanding of what transcendent morality is though. Immorality can only be understood in light of morality. It can only be known to be really immoral if we already know real morality. Otherwise, it is only preference.

We intuitively agree that it is not only preference though. We know down deep that what Hitler did when he killed so many Jews was wrong. We know inside of ourselves that raping and torturing young children is wrong. We know these things because we know intuitively, goodness.

Real goodness that is transcendent points to a transcendent moral lawgiver. Therefore, skeptics try to deny transcendent morality. Many of them actually would agree that what Hitler did, although reprehensible, is not really wrong.

Now I would say that I’m not sure about everything that God hates. I doubt that facts are one of those things. I would say that he doesn’t like dishonesty, even intellectual dishonesty.

On the other hand, it seems that skeptics go out of their way to avoid facts. They tend to build all kinds of counter-facts to avoid the implications of reality. They may not hate them but they sure are uncomfortable admitting them. They are so uncomfortable that they often attack us rather than our arguments or the facts.

This can be one of the most frustrating parts of presenting the Gospel, denial of the facts. Expect it though.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18, ESV)

If you are inclined to give the Gospel to a skeptical person, be ready for their denial of the facts. Have answers for their questions though. Why? Because it is not the facts that they hate. Skeptics hate God. That’s really what bothers us when we give the Gospel. Don’t return that hate. Return to them the love of Christ.

That may be the hardest part of this ministry. That may be the hardest part of evangelism and apologetics, not giving the facts, but giving the love. Yet it is our call. The apologists call is to love.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

I guess what I am trying to say is this. After all of the ad homonym attacks and the back and forth debate, doing all of this the right way may be the most important part of it.

[1] Hoyle, F. 1982. The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics: 20:16.

Disconnect Between Apologetics and the Small Church

I’m always struck by the realization that apologetics is such a little known field of Christian study every time that I mention the name of an apologist that I think everyone should know to a pastor type and they just stare at me like I’m from outer space. It’s both a surprise and an epiphany when that happens. It’s surprising that the people that I listen to everyday and are so well known in apologetics circles are so undiscovered in the Christian culture. It’s an epiphany to suddenly realize that these folks are dancing on glass that’s’ cracking under their own weight and they don’t even know it.

That’s’ not to say that they don’t hear the cracking and see the fissure. Young people are leaving church after high school and not returning. The laity is concerned with what the History Channel had to say about the real Jesus. There’s considerable concession if not capitulation given to the high-pressure rhetoric of the pro LGBT push to change the Gospel. And there’s just a general uneasiness when it comes to some of the hard questions everyone has.

The problem is that most small churches haven’t put two and two together. Its’ not that they don’t care or that they aren’t willing to begin some apologetics ministry to equip their people. I believe that the main problem is that they don’t have any idea of how to approach these fissures and that there is an apologetics army growing for the purpose of helping them. The way to kind of turn the tide here would be to merely unite those churches with people in that army.

I wonder though, are those of us attempting to make this push to increase the availability of apologetics in smaller local churches just spinning our wheels?

There are two thoughts I’d like to explain.

As I began southernbyhisgrace.com last August, I really had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t proficient at using social media (I’m still not) and I had no idea how to get what I was writing in front of the people in the pews. The normal procedure I learned was to write, post to Twitter and Facebook, friend people on those platforms, and repeat. I found that I needed to write as often as I could and post as much as I my time allowed. Furthermore, to establish any real viewership, I needed help re-posting by an already established writer.

It’s been seven months of very slow growth, partly because of my start from scratch attitude. I’m not big on buying views and I began with a very meager Facebook following and no Twitter account. One of my goals was to write well enough and often enough that would provoke readers. This has given me a more pure picture of what’s going on.

The very little success that I’ve had has caused me to become aware of another problem.

As I sit and look at WordPress stats, Twitter Analytics, and Facebook insights, I’ve noticed that most of the apologetics material is only being consumed by apologists. Whether by academic or accomplished professional apologists or by lay apologists, much of the material being produced remains in the tracks of apologetics tires. Other than that, I admit that there are some churches building apologetics ministries that benefit from this plethora of material. There are those conferences that draw a few youth groups as well. But for the most part, the small (average) church remains isolated from apologetics.

The other thought I have about this actually compounds the previous observation. Most of the Church in America is made of small churches.

A study by Barna Group illuminates this.

Overall, the research found that the typical Protestant church has 89 adults in attendance during an average weekend. In total, 60% of Protestant churches have 100 or fewer adults on a typical weekend, while slightly less than 2% have 1000 or more adults. Examining the figures in terms of where adults attend, however, the statistics show that about four out of ten church-going adults (41%) go to churches with 100 or fewer adults while about one out of eight church-going adults (12%) can be found in churches of 1000 or more adults.[1]

That study is from 2003, but the stats are relatively unchanged.

A couple of interesting facts revealed by the same study are as follows.

Small churches are less likely to attract academically minded people; mid and large churches attract aggressors; mid and large size churches tend to be more conservative in their theology.

There are some questions here that need to be satisfied.

If most American Christians are attending small churches and most small churches are not engaging intellectually, then most of America’s Christians remain un-baptized in the waters of apologetics.

Although we see evidence of large churches (1000 plus) holding apologetics conferences, etc., those churches represent less than 5% of the entire Church in America.

Here are some questions that many of us in this apologetics army need to ask ourselves.

How can I help small churches begin an apologetics ministry that they can sustain both financially and logistically?

Am I willing to serve in a small church?

Is there a way to unite groups of small churches to work together for apologetics?

Are gifted people already attending a small church that I can help disciple as apologists?

The strength of the American Church probably does not reside in her mega-churches and she will need all of her strength to endure the likely persecution that is coming. Can we help equip the people who sit in the pews of the thousands of small churches in America? I hope we can find a way to bridge the disconnect between apologetics and the small church.

[1] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/126-small-churches-struggle-to-grow-because-of-the-people-they-attract#.VXtJ9-thPzI