Uncategorized, Christian Living

Understanding Apologetics Part 1: A Light in the Darkness – What Method Do I Use?

Author’s Note:

This post is meant to explain my own personal view and use of apologetics.  It should be noted I am not advocating for only the styles represented here, but instead hope each Christian will use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make much of the name of Jesus.  – Dylan

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As Christians, there are freedoms and rights we are afforded in Christ. The grace offered by Jesus brings us not only salvation and mercy, but also great joy; for the Christian Jesus, has broken the bonds of slavery and the yoke of oppression. We are able to enjoy this freedom within the confines of obedience. Truly, possibly and certainly the bubble of obedience is pierced we find ourselves treading on our own versions of truth which is an appallingly precarious place. Following the instruction given to us from the authority of the Bible, remains one of these particular truths. Be willing and ready to give a defense for the faith to which we cling. O of the epistles of Peter offers an excellent example, “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…”(1 Peter 3:15; ESV).

For the Christian, defending and proclaiming our hope, our joy, our love, and the truth found in Jesus is not optional. This is why apologetics is not just a discipline for the scholarly or those in vocational ministry, but rather a branch of knowledge that all people who are under the banner of Christ are called to examine.  A question I’ve gotten time and again is “how do we do apologetics, and what style should we use?”  There are essentially four common apologetics methods: 1. Classical, 2. Presuppositional, 3. Evidential, and 4. Case Cumalitive.  All of these offer different approaches, but all of them agree that apologetics is not discretionary, in fact, “If you’re God’s, to tell yourself you can’t do what you’ve been called to do is to preach private heresy. You’ve been enabled by grace.”[1] With the culture in which we now live, there is an ever-increasing assault on the meaning of truth. Moral relativism and even nihilism are nearing a fever pitch. Nevertheless, the evidence seems to indicate that even those who reject the truth are still searching for some semblance of it, and realizing even when they run from truth, they unwittingly understand at some base level truth will always be present. Douglas Groothius notes:

Truth seems to stand over us as a kind of silent referee, arms folded confidently, ears open, eyes staring intently and authoritatively into everything and missing nothing. Even when an important truth seems out of reach on vital matters, we yearn for it and lament its invisibility, as we yearn for a long-lost friend or the parent we never knew. Yet when the truth unmasks and convicts us, and we refuse to return its gaze, we would rather banish it in favor of our own self-serving and protective version of reality.[2]

If Christians know the truth,  it stands to reason we are the harbingers of such immense news. The question then is not should we know and defend our beliefs, but how do we accomplish such a task?

Christians are divided over many issues including doctrine, denomination, ordinances, etc. It should be no wonder that apologetic methodology is included in this seemingly expanding list. There are a few main apologetics methods that are used by both lay people and scholars, and each of these methods holds certain benefits and downsides. The good news is the Christian has a significant volume of material from which to draw. I have been engaging actively in apologetics for nearly a decade now, and I have used the primary methods of apologetics at different ventures and with different audiences. However, there are two distinct styles or methods of apologetics which I use with greater frequency than the others.

It should be noted that I am doctrinally aligned with the reformed or Calvinist (as it is commonly known) view on Scripture and Christianity. Many Calvinists assert the only acceptable and Scriptural method of apologetics is the presuppositional model. This method was popularized most notably by Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. The primary understanding of the presuppositional method is the Christian is not to use logic or reason outside of the strictly Christian worldview, but rather the argument must be made to the atheist or anti-theist that their worldview can actually only be understood by the lens of Christianity.

In other words, all rational thought can only be understood and thereby explained from a biblical point of view, and anyone seeking to claim they understand such things, must presuppose the Bible and Christianity are true. Bahnsen articulates the following, “The Christian can show that the particular objections raised by the unbeliever would, within the Christian outlook, not prove to be legitimate objections or intellectual problems at all. Thus who really “knows” what he is talking about, the Christian or the non-Christian.”[3]

This method is proven by many adherents and has been quite fruitful for me on a numerous occasions. I have most often used this method with people who have some foundational information regarding Christianity. These are people who perhaps were once parishioners of a Christian church or maybe even at one point claimed orthodox Christianity as truth, but they have now rejected the biblical claims and have become either agnostic or in extreme cases embrace a view like Gnosticism. I really enjoy this method when dealing with individuals who have a basic grasp on the Christian worldview yet reject it because I am able to use their knowledge to show them why their new version of truth is in fact erroneous. If I can pinpoint how their ideology is not only untenable and the Christian worldview truly is the only possible way to legitimize rational thought then a great blow has lands on the non-believer.

Using the presuppositional method provokes the non-believer to understand or at least consider their claim and framework may be fallacious. Their worldview becomes at best inconsistent or contradictory and at worst unviable options altogether. Perhaps the best success with the presuppositional method for me has come when the person with whom I am dialoguing is not an anti-theist but rather a person from a different religious background such as Islam or Mormonism. In cases like this I am pointing out inconsistencies within the varying religious texts. These are found by showcasing how and where these other texts borrowed from and then departed from the Bible. Cross examining this kind of rationale with the Bible in a presuppositional way provides evidence for a mistaken worldview, and it provides evidence through Scripture with accuracy and honesty.

On several occasions, I have offered answers to Muslim friends by way of presuppositionalism. One of the primary ways I have been able to accomplish this is by invalidating the truth of the Qur’an by not only offering evidence of the contradiction and fallacy found within its pages, but I follow up with the reasonable and logical consistencies of the Bible. One might argue that Islam and Christianity could be engaged in a classic version “your word against mine”, but this too can be defeated because both holy texts differ in critical ways. Again, to quote Bahnsen, “Islam can be critiqued on its own presuppositions…The Koran acknowledges the words of Moses, David, and Jesus to be the words of prophets sent by Allah – in which case the Koran may be, on its own terms, refuted because of its contradictions with earlier revelation (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5).”[4]

This same methodology proves helpful and effective in dialoging with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, as they are commonly known. I have an absolute passion when it comes to conversations with Mormons. For reasons unbeknownst to me God has laid upon my heart both a love and passion for reaching the member of the LDS church. I seek out these conversations as often as I can, and even try to make the trip to Salt Lake City at least once a year. My approach to speaking with Mormons is a presuppositional approach. Again, pointing out discrepancies and illogicalities within their holy books is not only a good idea, but it is essential. In the case of Mormonism, for example, there are over 27,000 words directly plagiarized from the Bible.[5] It is clear how using a presuppositional approach with members of the LDS church is both effective and necessary.

Another great example of presuppositional thinking when dealing with Mormons has to do with what their founder, Joseph Smith, pronounced. He claims that after the time of the apostles, the church went into a dark and apostate age and remained in such a state until he [Smith] was given the restored and true religion via, proxy: an angel named Moroni. This is not only inconsistent, but it stands in blatant obstruction to the words of Jesus. Ron Rhodes clarifies this by stating, “There is no indication in Scripture that there would be a time when the entire church would fall away from the word of the Lord that ‘endures forever.’”[6] The same approach can be used by pointing out the contradiction between the claim of an angel giving Smith the true and restored gospel and Paul’s claim, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8; ESV).

It is clear presuppositional methodology offers a great sense of direction and a wealth of logic through Scripture. Using this approach has garnered effectiveness when talking to most theists. It can also be effective when talking to non-theists. I have often maintained, while conversing with atheists the irrational foundations on which their worldviews are predicated. Asserting the Christian worldview alone offers answers to the logical and philosophical quandaries to which they are espoused. For instance, if the Christian worldview is wrong and God is simply a man-made creation, nothing matters. Sproul agrees by asserting, “Without God, nihilism, as nonsensical as it is, makes more sense than a hybrid humanism or any other intermediate position…God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview. To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism…the ultimate paradise of the fool.”[7]

However, as much as I love presuppositional apologetics and the approach of its methodologies, I often find myself not adhering strictly to this approach independently. I am also a proponent for the classical apologetic methodology. The classical apologetics approach can be understood as the validity of theism through rational arguments, claims, and then use of historical evidence to garner support for the claims of the Bible and Christianity.[8] The list of most influential and famous classical apologists contain the names of C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, B.B. Warfield, and R.C. Sproul.

As a Calvinist, I am often critiqued and in special cases rebuked for using such a method. The main reason for this occurrence is “classical apologists do not hold that we must presuppose the Christian God in order to know anything.”[9] The idea that God is the Author of all knowledge is certainly an undeniable claim, but the presupposition that no knowledge may be had independently of the Christian God is an unverifiable claim.

The presuppositional approach would mandate no talk of logic or philosophy until the person with whom you are dialoging acknowledges their error that logic and philosophy can be understood only and totally through the Christian worldview. In contrast, the classical approach argues a person can use reason and logic to arrive at the conclusion of Christian theism, the strict presuppositionalist maintains until the skeptic admits their foolishness and agrees with Christian worldview as the chief truth, then no logic or reasoning should be entertained even at the perfunctory level.

Although many Calvinist look at classical apologetics in a pejorative context fellow Calvinist and classical apologist, the late R.C. Sproul, surmises,

If one is going to reason with people who will never admit, or even appreciate, your reasoning it seems reasonable to abandon reasoning. But there is a very good reason for reasoning with people who will not accept reasons, who will use all their intellectual energy to refute reasons, and who will only spurn reasons they fail to refute. That very good reason is this: God commands Christians to give a reasoned defense of the Christian religion.[10]

An example of reasoning and a motivation for my embracing the classical apologetic methodology occurs when I am challenged by atheism. On several occasions, the point has been made by the atheist that all things are accidental and happen because of a random, blind, and unguided process. In fact, renowned atheist Richard Dawkins puts it this way, “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection…has no purpose in mind.”[11] What Dawkins, and many atheists for that matter, argue is despite the best evidence there is absolutely no proof for the existence of God. Using classical apologetics I can seek to refute this fallacy by posing some logical assertions.

Let me explain. One argument I could make would be that of causality. If Dawkins and other atheists are correct, then evolution is the primary mechanism by which life emerged, but where and how did it start? The answer lies in spontaneous generation. It sounds fine on the surface. The universe was primed and earth was in a perfect place in regards to location, temperature, and necessary elements (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.). Because of this perfect balance life spontaneously burst onto the scene. The problem with this assertion is that even science disavows this happening according the Laws of Thermodynamics. So the atheist is left with quite a bit of explaining. Either he denies the laws of physics in exchange for a biological theory (and a poor one to boot) and deny any causality, or he must retort and contemplate further.

To take this a step further the atheist, just like all people, is an effect of a cause. All people have biological parents that caused them to come into existence. No human being, or any other biological creature, causes their own existence. The reason we come to this obvious conclusion is because obviously a person does exist, but there is also a possibility of nonexistence. In other words, “in order to cause one’s own existence one must simultaneously exist and not exist, which is impossible.”[12]

If I am able to show an inconsistency or wrinkle in the atheist’s logic then it can be expounded upon. A preferred method I use in connection with the classical approach is that of objective morality. For the atheist, if everything is blind process, then no objective morality can exist and thus no tangible definition of right and wrong survives. All morality and ethics are subjective. Raping a child and taking a bullet to protect another person are on equal footing. However, if theism is true then it explains how we can feel and sense certain things are good and others are inherently bad. Esteemed Christian philosopher William Lane Craig regards it this way, “To kill someone or to love someone is morally equivalent. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bar, valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.”[13] For the atheist even if their response is, “Yes. That is true,” they already admit the error contained within this line of thinking. Chiefly without objective morality the atheist is unable to articulate the correct nature of their position or conversely the wrong nature of mine.

Another key reason for my bent toward classical apologetics is the miraculous nature of the resurrection. If I am able to prick pinholes in the atheistic view where no God exists and at least move them toward theism, I am able to really talk about biblical accuracy and the claim of the resurrection. This is the most important event in all of history because if the resurrection is true and Jesus really did walk out of the grave it changes literally everything for people. The non-theist will most likely deny the resurrection because it denotes a move from naturalism to supernaturalism. A common argument I have heard is the resurrection claims in the gospel of John were given much later and therefore had an ulterior motive to propagate Christianity. This presents a problem though because if the resurrection narrative was invented later to convince others of the truth of Jesus, why did the narrative include not only women, but Mary Magdalene? “An invented story, made as convincing and airtight as possible, would never have used such a dubious woman; it would surely have had men as the discoverers of the empty tomb. Accordingly, the case for the empty tomb looks strong.”[14]

Numerous other factors exist which lends evidence to the resurrection. Over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ and extra-biblical historians are just two more pieced of evidence for the empty tomb. Using a classical approach I am able to navigate the contesting of this miracle (and all miracles) by necessitating the Bible is true and history and archaeology affirm this claim. It is at this point where often the atheist moves from a resolute hardened approach in a denial of God’s existence to a possibility that perhaps the evidence says otherwise. Archaeology has done a marvelous job at corroborating the biblical claims. Gerstner writes,

That is to say, in very many instances what men have though was not and could not be true, archaeology has shown could be and was true. Incident after incident, custom after custom, narrative after narrative have been substantiated by the spade. The Bible has not only ‘come alive,’ but it has come with a new ring of historical authenticity. The stones have indeed cried out their hosannahs.[15]

Historical accuracy and archaeology only help the argument of Christian theism. In fact it should bolster certain levels of excitement for historians and skeptics to look into the authenticity of not only the biblical stories but also the truths therein. To quote the late Dr. Sproul once more, “If any area of biblical scholarship has given us reason for optimism concerning the reliability of Scripture, it is the area of historical investigation.”[16]

Using the classical approach of apologetics, I am able to facilitate a discussion between the non-theist and myself where we can discuss logical, scientific, and philosophical rationale. The aim is to show the erroneous nature of atheism and move the skeptic to recognize the probability of theism. By using this methodology I am able to bring rationalism and faith on a collision course. It truly is an outstanding and useful tool.

In conclusion, I stand in many ways as one who gives much praise and admiration to the presuppositional apologetic method. I believe it has inherent strength at getting skeptics to recognize and admit their preconditions are flawed, but I also strongly admire and practice the classical approach. Once again, my preferred style could best be described as a hybrid of the two approaches. Both possess value, worth, and are effective and useful. My personal philosophy is not to get so caught up in the method that I leave no room for the Maker. The Holy Spirit cannot be stopped and ultimately His will be done. To argue God can only use one style of apologetics makes less of God and places Him in a position of limitations; however the prophet Jeremiah writes, “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might” (Jeremiah 10:6; ESV).

 

 

[1] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 171.

[2] Douglas Groothuis, “Why Truth Matters Most: An Apologetic For Truth-seeking In Postmodern Times,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 3 (2004, September): 441.

[3] Greg Bahnsen, “Presuppositional Procedure,” Penpoint 7, no. 8 (1996, September).

[4] Greg Bahnsen, “Presuppositional Reasoning With False Faiths,” Answers In Genesis (blog), accessed July 13, 2018, http://www.answersingenesis.org/​apologetics/​presuppositional-reasoning-with-false-faiths/​.

[5] Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures With the Mormons (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 121.

[6] Ibid., 47.

[7] R.C. Sproul, The Consequence of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 171.

[8] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 93.

[9] Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches, kindle ed (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2015), 183.

[10] Robert Charles Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 17.

[11] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W.W. Norton &​ Company, Inc., 1986), 9.

[12] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. Kindle (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 288.

[13] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, 1st ed (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 35.

[14] Stephen T. Davis, Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 72-73.

[15] John H. Gerstner, Reasons For Faith, Kindle ed (New York: Harper &​ Brothers Publishers, 2016), 78.

[16] R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 26.

Uncategorized

The Serious Nature of Sin

We live in a politically charged world.  There are few if any people, whether Christian or other, who would counter the validity of this statement.  At every corner, it would appear there is a new social justice movement for the masses to rally behind and bring to the forefront of consciousness.  Meanwhile, the issues which were previously of paramount importance fade away like phantoms, leaving only the wake of pseudo-importance behind them.  Why?

Now, before you become confused by the paragraph above and how it relates to the title, allow me to say there is a point where these two join in a nexus.  As we are drawn to new issues like moths to a flame we make great efforts to address the great injustices which are brought before us.  We want to make right what is wrong.  We want, no, we need answers for wrongdoing and seek to be the harbingers of justice and retribution.  Yet, with all the dreaming and attempting to right the numerous wrongs we seemingly spin our wheels until we are weary from the incumbent plight and quietly move on to a more relevant issue.  I want to explain why this happens.

The reason we, especially as Christians, continue to fail at fighting the issues of injustice is not that of a lack of diligence or fortitude, but rather it is because we persistently fight the symptom and ignore attacking the disease:  SIN.

Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, school shootings, sexuality, etc. are all symptoms of the disease of sin.  No amount of campaigning, crowd sourcing, or any other type of awareness can prevail completely against any of these issues either collectively or singularly until we acknowledge that all of the issues and problems in the world stem from sin.  However, it is not satisfactory to only acknowledge the sin problem, but an effort must be made to hate sin and actively engage in fighting against it.  So why do Christians, including myself, often have such a hollow view of the reality of sin and the consequences are in its escort?  I think honestly we do not quite understand how to adequately understand sin.

The Subtlety of Sin

Søren Kierkegaard’s definition of sin in his book,  The Sickness Unto Death, defines it this way, “Sin is: before God in despair not to will to be oneself, or before God in despair to will to be oneself.”[1]  What Kierkegaard is postulating is the essence of sin is placing the defining characteristic or identity from our own goodness or any other exterior thing.  When we seek to define who we are based on self-worth or any number of factors that are not God we commit sin.  Sin is not something we can escape either.  The Bible tells us all people, regardless of ethnicity, social status, political leaning, or any other possible factor are in fact riddled with this inescapable condition of sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).

Sin is an inexorable part our lives.  It is a relentless pursuer whose prize banner is destruction and whose prize is death.  Sin will not give up.  Even understanding our penchant for sin, it is still clear that often we either underestimate sin or worse, we are indifferent toward it.  I think both are true, but for the sake of this post, I am going to be mainly addressing the latter.  Sin seems to have the upper hand for large portions of the time in the battle of my own spiritual life.  I would be willing to surmise this is a true statement for many Christians.  It is not that we always seek to open the door to sin knowing the cost and finding comfort in it, and yet if we are indifferent or apathetic about our sin we might as well have giant neon signs above us proclaiming an open invitation of vacancy for sin to inhabit.

All sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), but somehow within the recesses of our minds, we determine that some laws are in fact not as great as others which results in concession.  The moment sin, even seemingly insignificant sin, is conceded and allowed, it has the foothold needed to do its clever and covert work.  When apathy is in our hearts and on our lips the subtlety of sin goes unnoticed, and soon without even knowing it has happened, we are consumed by the darkness.  As believers in Christ we know there is a spiritual battle being waged in our lives daily between the will of the Father and the will of self (Romans 7), and until we are willing to acknowledge our sin problem we will never fully crave what is good because we will find ourselves falsely satisfied by what is in reality quite bitter.

Sin has a deft way of making us believe that all pleasure can be derived only from it, and in fact, we should seek to be consumed with it in order to find true satisfaction.  It enters with a certain muted quality just beneath the radar and promises to sell a bill of goods which can never be delivered.  Sin invites us to imagine that true gratification can be elucidated by our own clever invention, but Ravi Zacharias offers a counterpoint when he states, “Once we glean what God invites us to, we find that the imagination harnessed by God can be a wellspring of enthrallment.”[2]  In other words, once we stop relying on sin and begin believing true satisfaction comes from God it takes from occasional fleeting pleasures to perfect and ever-present joy.  As Christians, we are yearning for the light, but we only find it when acknowledge we are in darkness and step out.  When this happens God replaces our desire for sin with a desire for holiness.

The Offense of Sin

It is one thing recognize our sin.  This really is the first step in this great journey.  We must be willing to acknowledge that all that is wrong with the world and with us is this awful issue stems directly from sin.  The next question we must attempt to understand is why sin really is so bad.  There is a whisper in our ears that sin, at least most sin, really is not as awful as we make it out to be.  After all, sin feels good and looks good, ergo it must be good.  This is the greatest lie of all time.  Sin is wildly egregious to God.  In fact, the late R.C. Sproul writes, “Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.”[3]  The reason sin is so despicable is that it is offensive and abhorrent to our Holy God.

The reason sin is so provocative and vulgar to God is that sin seeks to rob Him of the glory that He alone is worthy of.  Let me explain further.  God’s holiness and our sin are incompatible.  God cannot tolerate sin on any level.  If He did it would quite literally violate His character and He would be unable to be God.  This makes us (before or without regeneration) quite literally enemies with God (Ephesians 2:3-5).  Sin is a serious point of contention because sin makes gods of us and seeks to make little of God.  This holiness that God alone possesses is the lens by which our sin must be truly viewed.  Anything less will continue to placate our view of sin as something minor.  When we look at our sin compared to the holiness of God we not only recognize the great offense of sin to God, but we further understand our absolute need of Him.  Again to quote Sproul:

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness.  Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.  Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. [4]

The response for the Christian is to hate our sin.  It is not enough to affirm the existence of sin.  That much is undeniable according to Scripture, but we must also “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) which will cause us to have a holy hatred toward our sin in the same way God does.

A Proper Response Toward Sin

We must actively fight against and abhor sin.  So often I know that I am content to merely brush my sin aside as something that even though I know is offensive to God, carries little weight for me.  I am guilty of viewing my sin as something external and not something internal.  I am guilty of apathy and not active enmity for my sin.  This is not the way it should be.  All Christians, including myself, should be grieving over our sin.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).  James tells us to let our “laughter be turned to morning,” (James 4:8-9) and yet continually we find our hearts are not breaking for the things that break God’s.

If we find a lack of grief or heartbreak when we commit such grave offense against a holy God then we should be concerned.  Our only response when we encounter our sin and see it rightfully for the despicable thing it is before God Almighty should be mourning and repentance.  This does not mean just a casual acknowledgment of sin, but rather it means a recognition and confession that there is but one God in our fallen state we have tried to (and failed) be Him.    Our hearts should be troubled that we would dare seek to find true and lasting satisfaction in any place, person, or thing other than Jesus.  Only He is all-satisfying.

The bottom line is not only is our sin repugnant to God, but it leads to an absolute certainty of death (Romans 6:23).  Our sin and rebellion against God can only lead to destruction.  The response for all people needs to be a recognition of sin, a repentance of sin, and the realization that only Jesus is capable of abating our sin by the blood of His cross.  Our responsibility when sin rears its head is to confess it is there, confess the need for a savior, acknowledge that only Jesus is sufficient to be that savior, and repent.  It does not mean we will cease the endless and age-old struggle against sin, but it does mean that your sin was nailed to cross of Christ and it has been killed.  You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  None of this happens though until we come to a place where we acknowledge just how serious sin is.

Do you want to make a difference?  Do you want to see justice enacted?  Do you long to see change?  If the answer is yes then you must first understand that we can no longer fight the branches, but we must instead attack the root.  Until sinfulness is addressed then the actions of sin will remain hostile and prevalent.  I urge you today to understand the absolute perilous nature of sin.  It is a powerful thing, but take heart, because Christ has already won (John 16:33; Revelation 1:18).

  1.  Søren Kierkegaard and Walter Lowrie, The Sickness Unto Death (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 81.
  2. Ravi K. Zacharias, Cries of the Heart: Bringing God Near When He Feels So Far(Nashville: W Pub. Group, 2002), 126.
  3. Sproul, R.C., Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, Inc., 1998), 144.
  4. Sproul, R.C., The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), 179-180.
Christian Living

Why Are Young People Leaving the Church?

There is a startling trend that seems to be coursing its way through the veins and vessels of the American church.  It is both alarming and unsurprising simultaneously.  This phenomenon causes anxiety, disbelief, anger, and even a blissfully unaware disposition among the other members of the body of Christ.  What I am speaking of is not new, nor is it hopeless, but it is something that needs desperately to be addressed.  What I am talking about is the number of young people who seem to be leaving the church at a rapid clip.  I think the church has known for some time now that many students quit going to church or even having any sort of spiritual/religious component in their lives at all once they leave high school and embark on their path to college and career.  Before we move on we need to establish what we mean by “young people.”  I feel young (most days) although if you ask my students if I was young, you’d likely see widened eyes and hear smatterings of laughter.  By the definition I am going to use I am no longer a part of the “young people” because that age range is 15-22 years of age.

Christianity Today published findings that 70% of young adults drop out of church [1].  What I want to look at in this post is why is this trend happening, and what can we do to stop hemorrhaging?  So let’s dive right in.  Why are young people seemingly leaving the church?

1.  Churches Are Avoiding Hard Conversations and Failing at Discipleship

By this I am not speaking of a view where everything is permitted and there are no checks and balances.  This is chaos.  No one expects (or frankly wants) the church or any place else to function in a way where nobody can have differing opinions, disagreements, or even wrestle with issues.  When I speak of safe place what I am referring to is somewhere where people can be themselves, baggage and all, and still be met with biblical truth.  A safe place is where a skeptic can ask hard questions without fear of anger or judgment.  A safe place is where Jesus is more important for the church goer than their own bubble of comfort.  A safe place is where a body of believers gather together to life up the name of Jesus regardless of political leaning, race, ideologies, or baggage that is carried because there is a recognition that everyone is jacked up and everyone needs a Savior (John 8:1-11; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).

I am not saying the church fails everyone, nor am I saying the church concedes biblical principles in order to accommodate everyone’s personal opinions and the social justice flavor of the week, but what I am saying is that unfortunately most people are more familiar with church’s anger and vitriol on politics and issues they are opposed to than the love of Jesus which should supersede everything else.  My friend Simon once told me, “People know the church more for what they hate than who they love,” and I agree.  I work with youth (7th-12th grader) and have for 17+ years, and in that time I’ve engaged with some really hard difficult questions from students.  I have also seen students ask questions and been offered no response, a canned response, or repudiated and rebuked for even being willing to ask such questions by others within the church.

Let’s face it, there are just some questions we are not going to be comfortable talking about.  Whether we don’t have enough knowledge on the subject, we disagree with a stance, we feel awkward, or we are simply apathetic, this will be picked up on by young people.  Once they sense an unwillingness to even have a conversation they are often turned off altogether or worse they seek answers from sources that are not biblically grounded.  So what happens when church is no longer a place where young people can be real and ask hard questions?  They leave. David Kinnamon found in a study that nearly three out of five young Christians disconnect from church after the age of 15 [2].

Young people, perhaps more than any other demographic are looking for answers to life’s questions.  They are still trying to figure out their place in the world and this looks like, and so they will have a naturally curiosity and perhaps even a cynicism that is blossoming.  The church historically would rather gloss over these issues and questions and just feed young people very safe answers in order to maintain a certain type of image.  Issues like sexual identity, science, and even things like reliability of Scripture, evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, or basic critical thinking questions are often simply discarded and disregarded.  This makes young people (and all people really) feel like they’re opinions, thoughts, and questions are not worth talking about and as a conclusion, neither are they.  The church [body of believers] must do what the Bible says and calls us to do that is to give biblical answers to those who are asking questions (1 Peter 3:15).

I understand there are certain topics that are not part of everyone’s circle of expertise, but there is always someone who can be called upon to help, and in this age of Google there is more information at our fingertips than any other time in history.  Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but let me see what I can find out.”  When it comes to the church we can disagree with people, we can say we don’t know, and we can find out as much as we can to better answer questions and lead people to a Jesus shaped life. The only thing we cannot do is do nothing.

If you are a church member and a young person finds the courage to ask you a hard question or raise a controversial issue the best thing you can do is affirm them, love them, and present the Bible. You may not know as much as you’d like and it will likely cause you to exit your comfort zone, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do (Matthew 16:24-26).   Invest in young people or else we show apathy in their exodus.

The other part of this equation is churches are with an alarming frequency failing to make disciples with young people.  This is the antithesis of what we are called to do in the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  In the area of youth ministry I see this far too often.  Many youth ministries are so focused on getting their numbers up for their weekly attendance or entertaining students they often forget or fail to create disciples.  So much of the time youth ministries focus on games and entertainment, but put little to no emphasis on training the next generation of church leaders and Christ followers.  The same study by Christianity Today remarks,

“If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don’t expect young adults to stick around. If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay.”[3]

The focus of the church whether it is youth ministry, children’s ministry, senior adult ministry, etc. is to teach biblical truth unapologetically and truthfully.  We must be willing to understand that our goal is not building up our ministries, but our goal is building the Church.  I understand I am making a very general statement, and there are many local churches which are making disciples who will make disciples, but it is still something we must understand and be honest about.  The only way the church will be able to climb out of this pit and help young people stay connected is by being prepared to adequately respond with a biblical worldview and a resolute yet tender response to tough questions and issues.

2.  It Starts and Ends at Home

While the church and the ministries therein certainly play vital and pivotal roles in the spiritual formation of young people, it cannot be understated that  Christian parents are the primary ministers and influencers in the lives of their children.  There is a real problem which seems to be growing more each day.  What’s the problem?  With an alarming frequency, Christian parents are relying on the church to form the bulk (if not all) their children’s spiritual foundations.  Parents feel awkward too, and often they are faced with questions they either do not have answers or are uncomfortable discussing and so what happens?  They tell their children to ask the youth pastor, pastor, children’s pastor, Sunday School teacher, etc.  Instead of just addressing the awkwardness parents push their children to another source.  This is quite problematic.

Christian parents have an unbelievable opportunity to speak truth and life into their children every day, and yet more often than not they rely on others in the church who only get around one to two hours a week with their children to the spiritual sowers.  This picture is all wrong.  Yes, ministers, pastors, church members are called to help spiritual growth and offer all the resources available, but the primary people who should disciple and minister to their children are dropping the ball and relying on a model that is not found in the Bible.  I’m not advocating that children and youth ministers should not have a place or job in the church, but what I am saying is these positions exist because Christian parenting by the standard of the Bible has largely diminished.  What is the standard?

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9

Monica Geyen writes,

Our children are watching us. Do we merely talk about Jesus occasionally, or are we daily being disciples of Jesus? If children are “like arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Psalm 127:4), we need to be consistently mindful of the bullseye. These arrows will fly aimlessly if they are not aligned with the Great Commission. We have the privilege of cultivating disciple-makers by inviting our children into life on mission with us. [4]

My friend, Jane Wilson of the BGCT, calls parents who expect the church is the place where all spiritual formation takes place “dry cleaner parents.”  What she means so often parents drop off their kids at church for an hour or two a week and somehow expect their kids to arrive at home “clean” and spiritually formed.  Too often parents have relied more on the church and ministers to do a job that was designated as  a responsibility for the parents.  When their young people leave the church they look bewildered and wonder why the church failed them, but the painful truth is they have in many ways failed their own children by refusing to be the primary ministers and disciple-makers within their homes.

In an alarming survey, out of 2,000 Christian parents who regularly attend church were asked to define successful parenting only 24% included their child is godly or has faith in God as a marker for success. [5] Is it any surprise then that so many young people are leaving the church when their own parents are not making concerted efforts at home to promote spiritual formation, growth, and discipleship?

The other main issue that occurs at home that is a key contributor to young people leaving the church is many Christian parents put emphasis on the wrong things and then wonder why their child leaves the church. The blame has often been on college.  College is an easy scapegoat for parents as an answer to why their children have left the church.  Perhaps young people are being exposed to new ideas and religions or perhaps science and philosophy are to blame, but that is not what the data says. Matt Chandler, pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, in a recent sermon affirms the data that is already being found and shared when he says,

Kids are not being secularized in college.  They’re being secularized t home before they’re sent to college by well-meaning Christian parents who can’t tease out the value balance between sports and activities and the gathering of the people of God…this is what’s true about the data, half-hearted obedience to Jesus Christ in this generation leads to full rebellion against him in the next…I’m dedicated to helping my children as best I can understand what is of supreme value and what is a good gift. [6]

As parents, if we do not show the supremacy of Christ in our lives and the value of Jesus over and above every other thing then what we are essentially doing is elevating gifts above Giver.  Neither Chandler or I are advocating that sports or any other extracurricular activities are wicket inherently and provide no value, but rather the argument is those things far too often take precedence over spiritual formation and growth.  Our job is not to make sure our children are the best athletes, musicians, scholars, or anything else, but our job is to make sure our children make Jesus and the church the ultimate priority starting young, and this will extend into adulthood.

I realize that I have made many general statements that are not universally true.  There are tons of Christian parents who are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.  They are making much of the name of Jesus and created disciples at home.  I understand there are many churches which are engaging culture and difficult issues/questions so please do not hear that I am attacking anyone or any institution.  Rather what I am seeking to do is answer the question, why are young people leaving the church?  I understand it’s a broad topic, but I believe the two reasons I have highlighted here are two of the key components that help us answer that question.

So What Can I Do?

If you’re a church member, minister, lay person, etc. then you can be real.  Be honest.  Be vulnerable.  Be willing.  Allow your comfort zone to collapse and engage young people without fear or ulterior motives.  Instead of trying to convince them you’re right, show them the truth of God’s Word which never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

If you’re a parent, be willing to be the primary minister to your children.  It’s hard.  It’s awkward.  It’s frustrating at times, but in the end, it will always be worth it.  Showcase Jesus in your own life and model how that looks to your kids.  You’re going to fail.  Be OK with that, but be willing to acknowledge your failure contrasted with the redemptive work of Christ. Your responsibility is mammoth, but the reward is great.

Sources

[1].  “Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer. Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html.
[2]. Kinnaman, David, and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me Discussion Guide: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church–and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2012.
[3]. Ibid.
[4]. “Stay-at-Home Disciple-Makers,” Desiring God, last modified April 12, 2018, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/stay-at-home-disciple-makers.
[5].  Magruder, Jana. Nothing Less: Engaging Kids In A Lifetime of Faith. Nashville: Lifeway Christian Resources, 2017.
 [6].  “Dangers of Secularizing Our Children.” YouTube. December 22, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neGGIN9Y2hg.
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Should Pastors Be Held to Higher Standards than All Other Christians?

This has been a long debated and often contentious question that has been asked by pastors and congregants of the local church alike.  It’s a question that I have personally wrestled with and wondered about, but it is also a question I have never full addressed with any sort of real clarity. That has changed recently as I was asked to convey my thoughts on this subject by a dear friend of mine.

My friend’s are Chip and Halee Anthony.  Chip is the head pastor at North Orange Baptist Church in Orange, TX.  Chip has been in pastoral ministry for a substantial amount of time, and because of this he, Halee, and their four children have been under the microscope of peer scrutiny for some time.  It’s part of the territory for pastors.  When we respond in the affirmative for God’s call to be ministers, there is no question that we are responding in the affirmative to take on much of the baggage which comes with ministry.  Does it mean all pastors/ministers are supposed to be held to higher standards than other Christians?  Keep in mind, I’m not asking whether or not pastors/ministers should be held to high standards, but rather I’m asking should they be held to higher standards just based on their position than all other Christians within the body of Christ.

This is the question I will be addressing.  Halee, in addition to being a dear friend and someone who lives in the public eye as a pastor’s wife, also has an amazing blog of her own.  In fact, the tagline of her blog reads, “Pastoring and Parenting In the Public Eye.”  Halee asked if I would be willing to write a guest post on her blog, and I eagerly accepted the invitation.  My thoughts on the question of pastors being held to higher standards than those of other Christians can be found on her blog by clicking the link below:

The Fishbowl Family

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Spiritual Warfare: An Examination

The Deceiver.  The Accuser.  The Dragon.  The Devil.  The Adversary. The Tempter.

For Christians, these titles correspond to one individual, Satan.  For many, his name strikes fear into hearts and brings about images of evil and frightening faces clad with horns, sharp teeth, and awful eyes.  For others, the imagery of the devil brings about a visage that is cartoonish with a goatee, pitchfork in hand, and a pointy tail.  The problem with both views is that they overly simplify and make light of Satan’s very real existence. This post is certainly claiming to be comprehensive, but I do think there are some important things to note here. So let’s look at the bad news first and then the great news.

The Bad News

Satan is not an impotent foe with ambitions simply to detour you and make you have a bad day.  In fact, the Bible teaches that Satan is a very real and formidable enemy.  John says he (the devil) comes to destroy (John 10:10).  He is referred to as our adversary and that we need to keep watch and be wary (1 Peter 5:8-9).  The imagery that is used in this picture is one of a hungry lion who is seeking weak and easy prey.  If you know anything about nature, or if you’ve ever watched Planet Earth or anything on the Discovery Channel, you know that lions are not in the wounding business.  When a lion stalks prey it is because they are seeking to kill and devour.  This is precisely the aim of our adversary, Satan. He is not seeking merely to hurt us, but rather he is seeking to eliminate us.

But what does that mean and what do we do this knowledge?  In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes some very interesting words:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:21-25

Paul conjures up images of a war, but this war is unlike any great battle that mankind has faced in some field or with tangible weapons.  This battle is spiritual.  Paul alludes to this again when he says that we are not fighting in the flesh nor are the “weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  There is a battle raging and you and I are right in the midst of it.  The interesting (and rather terrifying) truth is that we often do not even realize we are engaged in such a struggle against flesh and spirit, and I posit that is precisely where Satan wishes us to be.  If we look at how Satan works in the Bible we never find an aggressive and heavy-handed approach.  Why?  If we see evil for what it truly is we would surely flee, but if what we see is nuanced and seemingly unharmful to anyone else then our guard is down and our defenses are lowered.  In our spiritual vulnerability, Satan creeps in and uses his best (and most infamous) tool, deception.

One need only look back to the Garden of Eden to see deception played out from the beginning.  He used deception to manipulate and bring about rebellion against a Holy God (Genesis 3:1-6).  Satan even attempts to deceive Jesus by offering him bread after Jesus had fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11).  He is a master deceiver and as long as he can continue to deceive mankind, he will convince us that our sin really isn’t a big deal and that we really are in control.

In his phenomenal work of fiction (that reads very much like non-fiction) The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis paints this same picture as one demon (Screwtape) pens letters to his nephew and protogé (Wormwood) to showcase just how to keep humans in the dark.  In one of these letters, Screwtape says to Wormwood, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…”[1].  Spiritual warfare is quite real and deception from the evil one keeps us caught unaware.  Satan will use the arsenal of deceit to make us think that we are better gods than our Father.

Now, most Christians would never make such an audacious declaration that we are a better god (at least not using those words), but our actions tell a different story.  As we remain deceived we truly begin to disengage from seeking God’s holiness and righteousness and we easily and tragically began to settle for our meager attempts to be holy and righteous on our own.  We become the rulers of our worlds and the captains of our ships, and in our arrogance and pride we completely shut out the things of God and embrace the wicked nature of our flesh.  Deception is powerful, but unfortunately, it is not the only tool Satan has at his disposal.

Perhaps as powerful as deception and used with the same (or more) frequency is the tool of shame.  Again let’s travel back to Genesis 3.  Satan had only just used deception when he then uses shame to continue the fight.  God asks Adam where he is and Adam’s response is that he was hiding because he was “ashamed” (Genesis 3:10).  Shame is a powerful agent that causes all who are caught in its grasp to feel powerless, worthless, dirty, fear, and hopelessness.  It’s no wonder Satan loves this tool so much.  In his book, Devoted to God – Blueprints for Sanctification, Sinclair Ferguson writes,

As the masters of the spiritual life have believed, there may be times in our pilgrimage when Satan engages in blackmailing us. We have secretly given in to sin. He whispers that we have failed; we are unworthy. He will keep our secret — so long as we keep it a secret too, and hide or disguise it. No one else must be told.

We are already ashamed, but now, in addition, we fear what others will think and say. The result? We become isolated within ourselves; we feel there is a secret nobody else must know, we fail to deal biblically with our sin; we develop habits of despair about it. We thus hide our sin; we do not admit it even to God.

This, insinuates the evil one, is the only safe way.

All very subtly we have begun to lose sight of the fact that there is forgiveness. Satan will make sure that we continue to feel our guilt and shame. What would others in the church think of us?[2]

Satan knows what you’ve done.  He keeps it in his pocket and pulls it out at the precise moment of weakness for you and for me.  He is the accuser, and if we are particularly vulnerable he will use shame and deception together to make us feel like God is the one causing these feelings within us that we are now altogether unworthy of any love or forgiveness by a truly Holy God.  What we must remember at these moments is “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God is not our accuser.  That mantle belongs to Satan.  The fight is real, and it is for this reason the Christian is told to get ready and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).

The Great News

So now that we’ve gotten some bad news, let’s take a minute and rejoice in the best news, and that news is that even with all his craftiness and cunning, Satan does not get the victory (Isaiah 54:17).  As the sons and daughters of God, we have been promised not only an inheritance as heirs to God, but we’ve been promised that the Lord is victorious.  Satan is powerful certainly by our standards, and I don’t think any Bible-believing Christian disputes this, but in comparison to the power of Jesus, the enemy loses his power (1 John 4:4).  Go back once again to Genesis 3 with me.  God tells Satan that the seed of the woman shall crush or bruise his head (Genesis 3:15).  That seed would be and is the person of Jesus Christ.  It is he who has the authority, power, and ability to destroy and defeat the enemy.

There is no greater time than this Easter season to celebrate and proclaim our hope in life in death as we remember the great sacrifice made on the cross where the blood of Christ was spilled, but thanks be to God, Jesus did not stay in the grave, but He is risen and we have hope and victory!  All we need to do is confess our sin before a Holy God, acknowledge that Jesus alone can save (John 14:6), and call on him to deliver us, and he is faithful to do just that (1 John 1:9).

This is the hope and the salvation of Christians.  Satan wars and seeks to kill and destroy, but the great promise of Jesus is that those who put their hope and faith in Christ will not be overtaken (Matt 16:18).  Jesus came to bring glory to the Father, to reconcile fallen man, and to destroy the father of lies (1 John 3:8).  It is only because of and through Jesus that the Christian can rejoice and proclaim boldly and loudly that there is victory in Jesus.

Be aware.  Be on watch.  Be sober-minded.  Be ready.  We are engaged in an ongoing and serious spiritual battle, and if we are depending on ourselves or anyone else (outside of Jesus) to deliver us we will find ourselves flailing aimlessly, but for those who trust in the Lord, they will not be moved (Psalm 125:1).  We can rest confidently knowing that even though our trials are not over, and even though the adversary will continue to attack we can put our hope and trust squarely on He who is greater and not in our own wisdom (Proverbs 3:5).  I’ll leave you with a final note of courage and good news.  Remember that no matter how fierce the battle gets or how strong your enemy may appear to be Jesus’ promises are to be trusted and what he says is this:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 

 

1.  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Ireland: CrossReach Publications, 2016), 61.
2. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 159-160.
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Can We Be Good Without God?

This is a question that has often been raised by those who are opponents to the Christian worldview.  When answering this question there are many factors to consider and many different viewpoints from which we must look.  The answer is not easy, but still we must wrestle with this and other questions of morality from a delicate place.  My initial response would be that according the Bible there is no one, regardless of religion, race, creed, etc. that inherently is “good” (Romans 3:9-23).  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even if we do something “good,” the measure of our goodness or righteousness before Almighty God is still not up to His standards (Isaiah 64:6).

This states clearly from the Christian worldview that each and every person has hardwired within them a bent toward sin over righteousness or goodness, and even if something good does come from us, it is still by all intents and purposes not really good. Yet the question remains, does this mean that no morality can exist apart from God?  Are atheists incapable of being moral?  The simply answer is no, and it reminds us that even the Christian or religious person can also be immoral at times.* In fact any Christian who insists they have no sin problem is a liar according the Bible (1 John 1:8-9).  I would argue that man in fact apart from God (whether again religious or irreligious) may attempt good deeds, but without Him and His purpose in mind even those things are only extensions of self-righteousness.

So the better question to ask in my opinion is:  what defines morality and why is it important?

You see, everyone at their core understands that some things are morally right and others are wrong, but where did this come from?  My argument is that only the Christian worldview provides enough ground and evidence to satisfy an answer to this question.  No reasonable person, regardless of religious or nonreligious persuasion can rightfully say that all morality is subjective.  In other words, there are things that all can agree are absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  For instance, no rational human being would say that the Holocaust was ok or good.  But from where did this idea of right and wrong stem?

The Christian worldview answers this question in what is known as the Moral Argument for God.  It states:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. *

What this position is arguing is that all moral absolutes depend on an absolute moral law giver, and only the God of the Bible and of Christian theism meets this criteria.  Relativism is simply not possible.  If one is a relativist then they will either say that all truth is relative and therefore no absolutes exist (which of course is an absolute statement) or morality is relative and what may be right for you may in fact be wrong for me and visa versa.  The problem with this view of course is that if I wrong you, you still get angry or sad or hurt, but why?  Because morality cannot be merely relative.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a fascinating piece of conversation that states, “You mean everything is permitted?  Everything is permitted, is that right, is it?”* This line of thinking would lead to destruction and outrage.  If all things are relative and anything is permitted then nothing would be truly evil or good, but again, we know that there are things that are good and evil inherently so the argument of relativism is defeated.  To put it another way:

Biblical Christianity not only articulates the common ethical standards that transcend culture, it also explains the origins of mankind’s moral awareness.  It “helps make sense out of how [our] moral faculties could have come about in the first place,” notes Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland.  “How is it that humans can have intuitional insight into the nature of morality? God has created us to know moral values.”*

The reason we have a concept of a moral law built within each of us is because the God of the Bible created us with this moral law hardwired within each person.  Without the Law Giver, the law itself would be rendered useless and empty (Romans 2:15).  So can man be good without God?  The answer must be obtained by the definition of morality.  Only the Christian worldview satisfactorily answers the question of where our moral values originated.

 

SOURCES

* “Can Atheists Be Moral? That’s the Wrong Question,” ReasonableTheology.org, June 05, 2015, , accessed March 14, 2018, https://reasonabletheology.org/can-atheists-be-moral-thats-the-wrong-question/.

*”Moral Argument,” AllAboutPhilosophy.org, , accessed March 14, 2018, https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/moral-argument.htm.

*FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (S.l.: SC ACTIVE BUSINESS DEVELO, 2017), 263.

*Nathan Busenitz, Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence that Confirm the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 53.

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The Prosperity Gospel: Cancer of the Church

There are many preachers in America today who have sky rocketed to nearly rock star level notoriety.  They lead huge congregations, write books, appear on TV, and reach a wide audience.  As Christians, shouldn’t we be thankful for this kind of exposure?  If the cross of Christ is being preached and the gospel is at the forefront, the answer is a resounding yes, but the problem is that with these giant audiences, many of these preachers are simply not preaching the gospel at all.  They preach what has been coined as the prosperity gospel and, and in doing so a great multitude of people get the wrong ideas about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

The idea behind the prosperity gospel is that if a Christian has enough faith or believes hard enough, they can ask for and receive literally anything, but specifically wealth, health, and prosperity.  The claim is that the promise of prosperity and health are given in the Bible.  They cite verses like Malachi 3:10, Jeremiah 29:11, and John 14:14 and assert these verses indicate Christians will have whatever they desire if their faith is strong enough, and therefore if the Christian does not receive these things then their faith was clearly too weak.

This is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture.  All of these verses, and the other verses, used by the prosperity pastors/preachers are taken severely out of context.  There is no place in all of the Bible that affirms any Christian will have security, wealth, or health if they have enough faith.  It’s a false doctrine that needs to be eradicated.  I have three reasons why the prosperity gospel is not be believed, practiced, praised, or spread.

It’s Not Biblical

Not only will you not find any passage in all of the Bible that promotes prosperity, health, money, or even happiness, but in place of this you will find instead that the Bible speaks much more of suffering.  The Christian is not promised an easy life or that suffering are eliminated simply by calling on Jesus.  The opposite is in fact true.  James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).  Suffering for Christ is not only possible, but for the Christian is unavoidable.

Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (1 Timothy 3:12).  The truth is that if one is truly a believer in Jesus, they should expect hardship.  This can of course take on many manifestations.  It’s possible for a person to wealthy and still be a Christian obviously, but just being wealthy does not assuage all hardship.  The Bible speaks repeatedly about suffering or enduring hardship for the cause of Christ (Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, etc.).   Our suffering is not pointless.  It magnifies and makes much of the name and power of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:17). If this is true then the prosperity gospel must be false.

God often uses the most awful circumstances to make much of His glory and power.  We have hardship not because God is a cosmic bully, but because it teaches us to completely rely upon Him.  C.S. Lewis famously writes:

We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (Lewis, Clive S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014.)

We rely on the old philosophical law of noncontradiction.  The gospel of Christ and sharing his suffering and the prosperity gospel cannot both be true.

It Makes Much of Us and Little of Jesus

One glaring problem with this prosperity gospel is how much power and elevation it gives to people.  John writes famously, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  What this means for the Christian is we are to lift up and make much of Jesus.  We submit to Him as the ultimate authority and Lord of our lives.  We crawl on the altar and lay down our hopes, wills, dreams, desires, and rights and acknowledge that apart from God we are absolutely incapable of holiness (Romans 12:1-2).  Our goal is glorify Him and point others to Christ, but the “name it, claim it” prosperity gospel says the opposite.

If the prosperity gospel is true then everything really is about us.  It is OUR faith that grants us these elaborate gifts, it is OUR will to have health and wealth, it is OUR ambition to have much in this world, and this makes everything about OUR desires.  What we want becomes key.  Our lives are lived not to make much of Jesus, but rather we live in order to gain more of what can ultimately not satisfy.  We rely not on Jesus as the all satisfying necessary component of life, and we trust in the power of self.  Keep in mind, your “self” is a rebel against Almighty God and a slave to sin (Romans 6:16).  The goal of the Christian is to look less like self and more like Jesus (1 John 2:6), but this cannot happen if the prosperity gospel is true.  The gospel, life, or anything else has ever been, is, or will be about you.  Every aspect of the Christian’s life is about glorifying and pointing Jesus, not self.

It Robs Us of Affection for Jesus

If the prosperity gospel is indeed true then our satisfaction and joy are cheap and can be easily purchased by wealth and health.  This is incompatible with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  If Jesus is not enough for us then we have made idols and gods that are weak, powerless, and unsatisfactory.  As stated earlier, the prosperity gospel makes much of us and what we can gain, but the gospel is not about what we can get.  If we find that we are pursuing Jesus because of what he can give us then we are not pursuing him at all.

What happens is the Christian begins to love the gift over the giver.  We create countless idols and gods that leave us wanting and joyless.  When we find our ultimate hope and satisfaction in Jesus however, we find our affection for him deepens and we are filled with insatiable thirst that only he can quench.  While things life health or money can no doubt be a good gift, they are void of any real power and are cheap and terrible gods.  Jesus wants all of us. He wants our affection.  We cannot give our affections to what we obtain and to Jesus at the same time (Matthew 6:24).  Everything we do as Christians will either stir our affection for Jesus, or it will rob our affection for Jesus.  The prosperity gospel does the latter because creates affection for stuff instead of affection for Jesus.  We would love and follow Jesus because of what we gain rather than just for who he is, and this is a fundamental problem.

The Response for the Christian

The mark of a believer is not in health or wealth, but the mark of a Christian is in obedience in Christ.  We will not make much of Jesus by peddling a false gospel with no power to transform to those who are in desperate need.  Christ is not magnified by what we have, but Christ is magnified in that we point a broken world to the only one capable of change.

The reason the prosperity gospel is so dangerous is it teaches that joy and hope can come from something outside of Jesus.  This is categorically false.  We cannot sit by and mutter things like, “well at least people are hearing something positive so it’s not all that bad.”  It really is that bad.  If we preach anything other than Christ crucified and the grace and mercy that are offered by him then we are not preaching the gospel.  It is a dull heresy that not only offers no hope, but it enslaves us to the master of self.  As Christians we must war against the prosperity gospel, and instead wave the banner of truth that apart from Christ we have and can do nothing. (John 15:5).  Our faith is not about what we gain or how it benefits us, but rather our faith is the mark that we are completely and utterly dependent on the work of Christ.  It cannot be both.

Clive S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014), 90-91.