We Ultimately Get What We Ultimately Pursue

August 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Whatever we are after in this life, we eventually end up with for the prize. We can know God and enjoy Him forever, or we end up with ourselves, by ourselves. So what, more accurately who, are we pursuing?

Nederlandse_schilder_(17e_eeuw)_-_De_bouw_van_de_toren_van_BabelWhen the Creator offered us Himself to enjoy, Eve and Adam chose their own pursuit. Ever since, God has been once again offering Himself, the sacrifice of His own Son Jesus to redeem us from the sin we chose instead. Specifically, the just penalty of our sin, but in a sense, to save us from ourselves.

Autonomy is an important part of self-ruling government and a society free of coercion, but the idolatry (emphasis on the “I”) of autonomy (pronounced autono-ME) is where we imagine ourselves independent of our Creator, a cancer in mankind’s history. Over what was God’s, we have elevated our own name at Babel(1), our own intellect in the Enlightenment, our own accomplishments in the Titanic, our own rights above the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and our own sexual autonomy and fluid personal identity in the current moral revolution. In the pursuit of unlimited sexual freedom, we have made our own rules for free love, have redefined marriage, and tried to anchor our very identity in the shallow pond of sexual expression. We’ve unhinged race from genetic reality and gender from biological sex(2). We are removing gender labels from toy aisles and bathrooms (to “avoid confusion”) and letting our children decide their own gender. Even species may be up for negotiation soon, as one Washington couple wants to raise their child “to self-identify with whatever species it thinks it actually is.”(3)

God is gracious even in His judgment, because even lost souls end up with what they’ve always wanted: themselves, all by themselves. Hell will be filled with those who spend this life in pursuit of themselves and ultimately get what they’ve pursued in the next. Heaven will be filled with those who pursue God through belief in Jesus Christ. If we set our sights on Him here, we have eternity with Him. Likewise, setting our sights on others—loving God and neighbor in that order—means we will not be worshiping alone in Heaven.

Have you discovered your idolatry of autonomy? There’a better Way. Take the next exit and turn around. Repent of the worship of self and put your faith in Christ, who offers us Himself instead.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

1) Genesis 11:4
2) http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thisisthat/washington-state-couple-chooses-to-raise-their-child-species-less-1.2514853
3) http://www.nationalreview.com/article/423136/rachel-dolezal-caitlyn-jenner-race-gender

Good Preachers and Bad Press

June 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

PreacherWhen I posted an online invitation to my church’s presentation Matt Chandler’s ‘The Explicit Gospel’ series, a friend advised me to “run far from Matt Chandler.” She referred to a very recent incident at Chandler’s church where a woman was rebuked for annulling her marriage to a former missionary who had been fired from the church for viewing child pornography. Chandler and his church took the man’s sins seriously, but seemed to overemphasize the woman’s hasty decision to divorce. The church later apologized and admitted its misplaced focus and lack of grace toward the woman and her situation.

Was this good reason to “run far” from Matt Chandler’s books or videos? I didn’t think so, for a few reasons:

1) Chandler’s error was a sin of omission (James 4:17, Luke 10:30-37), not a sin of commission. It was the result of what he and other leaders neglected to do rather than an intentional course to hurt someone. Sin is sin and we are responsible for our inaction as well as our action. But a sin of omission usually reflects ignorance, immaturity, or forgetfulness—where the specific problem is unlikely to persist—versus an ongoing, habitual sin pattern as what may be referred to in 1 John 5:16,17“sin that leads to death.”

2) Chandler and the leadership of Village Church repented. The assumption is that his lack of grace toward this woman and whatever led to it, perhaps confused priorities, was a course he and those involved are actively correcting. And time will tell if his apology is sincere, but scripture calls Christians to forgive a brother (Luke 17:3).

3) What Chandler may do in the present should not negate what he’s done in the past. ‘The Explicit Gospel’ was produced in 2012, and the incident at his church occurred in 2015. If an author or teacher’s previous work is sound and above reproach, those great resources don’t suddenly become invalid if he later sins, even if the sin and the previous teaching are categorically related (which they were not).

I don’t mean to pick on Matt Chandler or his ministries. There are no perfect people, and this certainly includes pastors, preachers and theologians. We are all prone to wander, and if we reject a Christian book, Bible study, blog or podcast whenever the author falls short of perfection, we would have to reject them all. On this side of eternity, the best we can hope for in human preachers is a minimal amount of heresy.

Are there valid reasons to reject the message of an author or teacher? Obviously, outright purposeful heresy is a great reason. Some preachers of the Gospel start out on the right track and go astray, changing the Gospel to something else. “Run far” from these folks.

In 2002 or so, we presented Rob Bell’s Nooma video series to our high school youth group. Even then, Rob was fairly soft on theology and a bit too heavy on experiential Christianity, so you could see his fall coming. But at the time, his message was not outright heretical. I DO mean to pick on Rob Bell here, mainly to affirm what Scripture warns about false teachers like this. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1:6,7).

A dozen years later, can you imagine presenting anything by Rob Bell to anyone you cared about? This leads to one reason we might reject a good preacher’s material: When controversy surrounding a preacher becomes a distraction from whatever he’s taught in the past. Bad press still doesn’t alter one’s past teaching, but it can make it unpalateable. I don’t think Matt Chandler is anywhere near that position, but Rob Bell’s apparent Universalism certainly is, even if he repents and turns from it (which he hasn’t). Tony Campolo’s recent embrace of homosexuality will surely put him out of touch with most evangelicals (and many saw this coming too). Beth Moore has been accused of claiming a special revelation, but the confusion over what she means by “hearing from God” doesn’t seem to have overshadowed the benefit people get from her studies. Mark Driscoll’s resignation over self-confessed anger in his leadership and dishonesty in marketing his book will probably leave his materials still useful for some, but not for others. Driscoll apologized and is seeking reconciliation. But to some a recent controversy like Driscoll’s makes it hard to focus on the truth that he stood for before the mess. And this is unfortunate.

Again, much depends on the nature of the crime, and our tolerances. A lack of grace in leadership style or secondary theological issues are much more redeemable than an abandonment of essential and historical doctrine. In my opinion, time and repentance mends that type of damage far more readily than a huge moral collapse or a wholesale abandonment of the Gospel. And I think there’s a case to be made that you just can’t get people past bad PR. After all, “a good name is more desirable than great riches…” (Prov. 22:1). The Bible that tells us this remains our standard for both what Christians preach and how we select our preachers, and the grace we measure out for the saint-sinners to whom God has entrusted it.

Marriage Apologetics

November 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Christian apologetics has been around as long as Christianity has, because followers “of the Nazarene sect”(1) have always needed to provide a defense to its skeptics. Marriage, however, has met with very few challengers since its institution thousands of years before Christianity. That is, until recently. Now that there is the need to make a case for traditional marriage in the face of alternatives, we in effect have a use for marriage apologetics.

Mark-What God Has Joined 1920x1080Who are marriage’s great apologists? In my opinion, there are many, and I’ve decided not to attempt a list for fear that I’ll be coming back to add to it time and time again. But all of them provide logical and level-headed reasoning on why the man-woman marriage prescribed in scripture and universally accepted by every culture throughout history is best for society. A good marriage apologist can defend marriage with or without the Bible. As a fundamental relationship of any society, cultures and governments look to marriage as the primary means of family and flourishing and the good of society, and children do better with a mother and father.

But marriage apologetics is far more complete when we don’t leave out the Bible, for the same reason that most marriage defenders are Christian, or at least have a regard for the book of Genesis(2) as authoritative. The religiously faithful are naturally the most ardent defenders of marriage no doubt because of the understanding of its divine origins. From a Christian perspective, if the Bible is God’s Word, then marriage is God’s design, and thus “not ours to alter. It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate.”(3) That last affirmation derives from The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium, a global conference of faith leaders hosted by the Vatican. Lately, there have been a number of big conferences aimed at discussing the importance of marriage, including the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s National Conference(4), where it could almost be said that marriage apologetics is a subset of Christian apologetics. (In fact, the heavy-hitters on the roster at the ERLC conference make up for my lack of a list of marriage apologists.)

The most effective part of apologetics, in my opinion, is personal testimony. At the end of the day I don’t think there is anything more convincing in Christian apologetics than stories of how Jesus Christ has changed a person, and of course what He has saved them from. Likewise, marriage apologists should be telling stories of great marriages. Christian Author John Stonestreet has often said, “We need to tell stories that portray the beauty of lifelong love as well as the power of the natural family. And, we need to tell the stories of those who are being victimized by the so-called ‘right’ to same-sex marriage. There are plenty of stories that fit both of those categories.”(5)

Finally, we can’t overlook the greatest connection between Christian apologetics and marriage apologetics, which is their shared ultimate purpose: the Gospel. According to the Bible (Ephesians 5), God’s larger purpose for marriage is to display the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, and because this satisfied our debt of sin, it pleased the Father. Christians live a joyful and fulfilling life when they live it in love and submission to God and His word. The greatest joy in a lasting marriage comes from a husband sacrificially loving and leading his wife and a wife joyfully loving and submitting to her husband.(6) In this way, marriage points to something far more evangelical. When we live out marriage the way God designed it, we display the Gospel, and what better mission can a husband and wife engage together?

1) Acts 24:5
2) Genesis 2:24
3) http://time.com/3597245/vatican-evangelicals-mormons-gay-marriage/
4) http://erlc.com/conference/
5) http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/evangelicals-and-same-sex-marriage-interview-with-john-ston.html?paging=off
6) Ephesians 5:21-33

Three Challenges for Muslims

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Of the many challenges for Islam, here are three that I think effectively show the incoherency of the Muslim doctrines of the corruption of Biblical text, of salvation, and of forgiveness.

1. Integrity of the Scriptures

This challenge is similar to one that Paul Bramsen presents in his book One God, One Message (pg. 29-31). The Qur’an speaks of the Gospel of Jesus (Injil) as a true revelation from God sent for “guidance and light” (Sura 5:46), and so was the Torah (Tawret, Sura 5:48). The scriptures were “granted inspiration”, and the people who possess them can attest to it (Sura 21:7). It’s actually eternal judgment that anyone who will “reject the Book” faces as the Qur’an warns in 40:70-72. Also, Sura 10:94 bids us to “ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you” to confirm God’s revelation, and Sura 3:93 names the Torah as the book that “truthful,” or “men of truth,” study.

Islam teaches that the Torah, Psalms of David, and the Gospel were true in their original form but have been corrupted, at least where they contradict the Qur’an. But when and how were these scriptures supposedly corrupted? The Qur’an was “revealed” between 610 and 632 A.D. Since the Qur’an regards the Torah, Psalms and Gospels as true, they obviously weren’t corrupted BEFORE the Qur’an was written. The Scriptures could not have been corrupted AFTER the Qur’an either, since by 600 A.D., hundreds of thousands of copies were in circulation in Europe, Asia, Africa in many languages—Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and others. The Bible we use now is translated from these early manuscripts, of which we have whole and portions of scripture numbering over 24,000, all of which agree more than 99.5%. How could ALL these manuscripts circulating by 600 A.D. have been CONSISTENTLY altered so they reflect the same corruption that Muslims claim must have occurred?

There simply is no opportunity for the Biblical scriptures to have been corrupted. The Qur’an is correct in its claim that the Bible is the true revelation of God, the same Bible we have today.

[You can see how this argument works practically in a debate I posted on the topic: Quran:Read the Bible…]

2. Sincere Repentance (Really Sincere)

The Qur’an requires, in addition to righteous deeds, “sincere repentance” for the forgiveness of your sins (Sura 25:72 and 66:8). Ibn Hajar maintains that the most important definitions of sincere repentance (al-tawba al-nasuh) according to al-Qurtubi in his tafsir (exegesis), include “to sin and then never return to it (Umar)”, to hate sin and seek forgiveness for it every time it occurs to one (Hasan al-Basri), “to be genuine and true in one’s repentance (Qatada)” and to have sincerity in one’s repentance, all of which seem to affirm what the Qur’an says.

How do you know your repentance is sincere enough to earn forgiveness? What if we sin and return to it? What if we repent but don’t truly hate the sin? Or we miss a sin? And when we rely on our own sincerity in repentence, how do we repent of the sin of pride that comes from relying on our own sincerity to merit forgiveness, especially when the sincerity of the repentance is what is supposed to grant Allah’s forgiveness? We are then stuck in a never-ending circle of needing to repent of the sin we committed during repentance.

3. Forgive Me Maybe

What’s more, Sura 66:8 says “O you who have believed, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds…”. Allah doesn’t actually promise to forgive, but “perhaps” he will. Sura 2:105 says, “But Allah selects for His mercy whom He wills…”, so he doesn’t promise he will apply his grace fully to all who repent, assuming he wills that you are one whom he will forgive, and further assuming that they meet the undefined standard of “enough” in their level of sincerity.

On the “righteous deeds” that the Qur’an requires in addition to sincere repentance (Sura 2:277, 5:9, 8:29, 25:70,71, 28:67, 42:26, etc.), how do you know your deeds are righteous enough in Allah’s sight? Sura 23:102-103 seems clear: “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will be successful. But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in hell will they abide…” How “heavy” must our balance of good deeds be? If “Allah will choose for his special mercy whom he will,” how can any Muslim know if his deeds, his adherence to the six pillars, etc. have warranted God’s mercy, even if the good deeds meet the target “weight” required by Allah?

Breakdown

In these ways, Islam is internally inconsistent. The Muslim’s reasons to reject the Bible are unfounded and contrary to the evidence, the Qur’an’s requirements for reconciliation with God are insufficient, and Allah’s capacity to forgive seems hopelessly limited.

Before a holy and righteous God, we are all in trouble. When God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, it was the only perfect sacrifice that could be made for the sin of ALL mankind. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) comes from the hope and promise of God that “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9) Sinful man will always come up short before a holy and perfect God, but Christ’s payment is enough.

There is no rational basis for rejecting the Gospel of Christ—for Muslims, or anyone of us.

Students Telling the Good News is Hardly News

September 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Newsflash: Christians talk about their faith in school.

That’s the thrust of an article this week in The Guardian: How Evangelicals are Making Children their Missionaries in Public Schools. The subhead, “Adults can’t proselytise in schools – but kids can. Hence a new scam by fundamentalists to circumvent church-state separation.”

Katherine Stewart’s sleuthery uncovered the shocking truth that Christians encourage other Christians to evangelize. This “news” is no recent exposé, but came out around 30 A.D. at Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, where believers are called to “go and make disciples”. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” —speaking of a local missions effort— “and to the ends of the earth.”—to meet the need for the Gospel in other parts of the world. For the past two mellennia, evangelical Christians have been heeding the call to be missionaries for the Gospel wherever they are and wherever the Lord leads them to go.

As one serving in youth ministry, I encourage young people to follow Scripture, to live out their faith at school, or at work, or wherever they happen to be; to be prepared to have an answer for those who may ask about the hope they have; to share the love of Christ with others because it is simply too good to keep to ourselves. This adult is guilty as charged.

Also not new is the presence of various religious clubs in public schools, which date back to the pre-colonial era. Albert Mohler, on his Sept. 27th podcast notes that “from the very beginning of the school systems in America, children have been able to speak to one another, prosthelytizing for various ideas or ideologies or worldviews or of course religious faiths as well.” He rightly points out that what would be required to make sure that school kids didn’t share their beliefs, or learn at home or at church from adults how to share their beliefs, is to repeal the right to free speech and liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution. Nothing particularly new there either.

Katherine’s article continues, speaking of Christian clubs and organizations in schools: “These initiatives are “student-led” in the same sense that a pee-wee soccer league is student-led. Yes, it’s the kids kicking the ball, but you have to be pretty detached from reality to imagine that there would be kids on that playing field in the first place without the grown-ups organizing and funding their activities, and cheering them from the sidelines.” 

What kind of success would you expect of a pee-wee soccer league run exclusively by pee-wee soccer players? The expectation that such initiatives exist without any involvement from parents or other supportive adults and their vision is indeed a detachment from reality. And again, nothing new, in any context.

The article concludes: “At their core, [evangelical Christians] do not accept that we live in a diverse society with a secular form of government. If their activities degrade support for the public schools or even destroy them, they will not be sorry to see them go.”

Actually, most Christians do understand that society is diverse in its beliefs and that administrations progressively have sought to secularize government as best they can. Many Christians also see that without the fundamentals taught in Christian theology, principals of government wouldn’t exist, and neither would the value in education (Education in America was largely founded upon Christianity). The framers of the Constitution understood this too, and that the protections afforded by “separation of church and state” were meant to go both directions, that legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Guardian has finally caught on to evangelical Christianity’s ancient zeal to spread the Gospel. Sadly, it has missed the point.

Basics of Apologetics: The 1 Peter 3:15 Model (Part 3 of 3)

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

The last of a three part series, this post dissects 1 Peter 3:15 and relates a framework for what I consider to be the ultimate goal in doing apologetics.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord…”

Regardless of the approach we use (see previous post), we should keep the goal of apologetics in mind and follow a blueprint that will get us there. With the goal of presenting the Gospel in mind, there are often courses and directions that will take us there efficiently. I think the best way is the introduction of the sin problem. It’s something that everyone has in common and so many relevant arguments about current issues and common questions that lead there quite naturally. There would be no need for the Gospel without the reality of sin. Get people talking about sin and present the Solution that is the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Our calling seems to be continual (“Always…”). The primary method of being continually prepared to give an answer about Biblical Christianity is to study the Bible. There are great books and resources available to help with that. Some are pretty deep in philosophy but others are not.

Know what you believe, but avoid being ignorant of other beliefs. Take the time study the doctrine of other religions and worldviews if that’s who you are having a dialog with.

Another great way to get into defending your faith is to simply practice it. Engage in a conversation with that friend, neighbor, family member, co-worker or classmate, and you know who they are. There are many more opportunities online for apologetic debate that aren’t as nerve-wracking as face to face debate. Online discussion forums or the comment area beneath most news articles are great venues to do apologetics for two reasons. Firstly, you have opportunity to research your answers before you give them (it’s natural to feel unprepared going into any conversation). And secondly, your discussion often remains public for many to see and perhaps be persuaded.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel argues with the ump

Lastly, Paul encourages gentleness and respect in our discourse with unbelievers. NEVER engage in personal attacks, excess sarcasm or course language. Christians argue that our faith is set apart from the world’s, so we should be set apart from the world’s way of debate. G. K. Chesterton notes that many people quarrel because they don’t know how to argue. An argument is a statement of a position that doesn’t require it to be heated or angry, and reasonable arguments follow civil guidelines. Do it with gentleness and respect!

By the way, you don’t rob anyone of respect if you politely get out of what Proverbs 26:4 considers “foolish arguments” (Don’t Waste Time on Apologetics).

Follow these guidelines and there will be NO guarantee that an unbeliever will see the truth. God can and does use apologetic arguments to open darkened eyes, but ultimately this responsibility is the work of the Holy Spirit (Let the Spirit Do His Thing). Do apologetics, pray as you go, and leave the rest to Him.

Basics of Apologetics: What-Who-Why (Part 1 of 3)

September 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is the first of a three-part series on some fundamentals of apologetics, based on a small group study I am leading on the topic, designed to give a bit of an introductory overview.

The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer, 1854

Derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to make a defense, apologetics by definition is a systematic argument or defense of an idea or doctrine. While any religion or belief system (even atheism) can include apologetic discourse, most often when you hear of “apologetics” it refers to a defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity.

Who does apologetics?

All Christians are commanded in Scripture to do some type of apologetics. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” Many apologists consider this passage more or less a banner for what they do.

Moreover, everyone is compelled morally to give a defense for whatever they believe and argue for the validity of their convictions. When we defend Christianity, in a way we are doing what we are made to do.

Why do apologetics?

Ultimately, I think the goal of apologetics should be bringing people to Christ. There are many Christian doctrines to defend and many methods by which it can be done; but any way we do it, I think we ought to make it our aim to, at some point in the discussion, introduce the Gospel. The first part of 1 Peter 3:15 calls us to “honor” (ESV) or “revere Christ as Lord” (NIV) in our hearts. That’s central to Christianity and ought to be our central commitment. While apologetics and evangelism are two separate things, apologetics is an integral part of evangelism and can be a very effective way to go about it. Since a commitment to follow Christ is intellectual, there is no evangelism that doesn’t use some line of reasoning or evidence to persuade the unbeliever. Apologetics is often natural and done without being aware of it.

Want to be like Jesus? Do apologetics. Jesus did (for Satan in Matthew 4:1-11 and the Pharisees/Sadducees in Matthew 22:15-45). Later, so did Paul (for the Jews in Acts 9:22, the Greeks in Acts 17:17-34, and believers in Romans 1:18-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58), Peter (Acts 3:11-26) and others.

Personally, I’ve seen two major benefits in knowing how to defend my faith. The first is that I’ve learned how to use apologetics as an opportunity to present the Gospel, which is part of our Great Commission. The second is that I’ve gained confidence in what I believe through defending it. It’s statistically supportable that many walk away from their faith if they themselves are not firmly grounded in it. Don’t be a statistic.

1: What-Who-Why | 2: Four Methods | 3: The 1 Peter 3:15 Model

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