Christian Living

The Irrationality of Atheism Part 2: Nietzsche & Nihilism Concluded

So far the background and framework for Nietzsche’s ideologies to be birthed have been visited, as well as some of his most famous works and thoughts, so what can be said about all of this from a biblical perspective? This post will attempt to answer exactly that question.

A Biblical Response and Critique

First, it needs to be noted Christianity does not affirm Nietzsche’s view that all morality is useless or non-existent, except the will to power. This cannot be overstated. For the Christian there is an absolute cling to an absolute morality. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for the light and light for the darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20; ESV). It is clear through Scripture there is a definite moral law. The Bible is replete with passages talking about the juxtaposition of right and wrong (Genesis 2:17, Titus 2:21, John 8:44, Colossians 3:21-25, etc.). As Christians, the belief is this moral law does not simply evolve or appear by chance, but rather it is intrinsically placed within us by the transcendent God of the universe (Genesis 1:27). Nietzsche’s view clearly takes a stance which declares man has ultimate meaning, and as such morality has not meaning. He desires for man to murder the idea of God in order to progress. Sproul comments, “It must be shown that what herd morality deems ‘good’ is not real virtue but mere a guise for weakness. Life is will to power and nothing else. Man must be free to exercise his own nature.”[1] This conclusion is not only empty of any hope, but it is also unfounded.

Furthermore, if “God is dead” as Nietzsche remarks, then atheism rings true, but if atheism is true then a frightening conclusion arrives. This conclusion comes in the face of nihilism. Again, the Christian faith ardently opposes the idea of nihilism because God has placed value and worth upon each and every person He creates. The factors like race, socioeconomic status, religious belief, or a person’s stature as strong or weak do not matter in terms of the worth placed on them by God. Mankind was created in the Imago Dei and because of this, mankind has meaning. But if God is not true, then does man have any actual worth? Simply put, no. If God did not create man with intrinsic value and purpose, then there is no real purpose of meaning in life, and yet the purpose of life in Nietzsche’s view is for man to create or find his purpose, then quite a conundrum exists. McFarland continues, “So, nihilism fails as a worldview, but it’s the logical outcome of atheism.”[2] If God does not exist, then, the logical conclusion must be nihilism, but the problem is nobody lives practically like a nihilist. People by and large, even atheists, live their lives with happiness, relationships, families, milestones, etc., and if this is true then nihilism must ring false.

Nietzsche also has a problem on his hands when he speaks of Christianity having some sort of link to wanting people to remain weak, and that only brute power has any worth. One need only look at examples where pity (certainly a weakness for Nietzsche) or compassion display incredible love, value, and strength. A great example of this is Jesus’ encounter with the leper. Mark writes, “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (Mark 1:41; ESV). In essence, religious people are simply to be pitied because they do not understand their purpose, and they are helplessly tied to something making them weaker by the moment and celebrating said weakness. This view, again, is not tenable. If man is the end of himself and all things then no purpose exists anywhere else, but the book of Ecclesiastes speaks volumes against such rhetoric. Sproul again concludes, “Ecclesiastes is, in the end, a scathing critique against nihilism and those who, as we mentioned above, desire to hold on to the moral framework of Christianity while at the same time denying God’s existence.”[3]

Finally, for Nietzsche, he concludes it is Christianity which is largely responsible for violence and terror in the world, and this is because of the crippling tether to God. Horrific things occur, no doubt, but Christianity cannot be blamed as a blanket for such things. In other words, “Nietzsche was wrong in his conviction that Christianity is responsible for atrocities. While some have evoked the name of Christ as they have carried out sinful actions, a careful study of the Bible reveals that righteous living is never responsible for unjust destruction.”[4] In fact, what can be extrapolated from Nietzsche’s point of view as has already been noted, is men like Hitler can take his thoughts to a logical conclusion which lead to appalling acts and atrocities.

In conclusion, while Nietzsche cannot be underscored as major contributor to the world of philosophy, it is clear his revulsion and animosity toward Christianity and God were severely misplaced and led him in a nihilistic direction. It is clear nihilism does not and cannot be a working philosophy, and it seems necessary to close with a parting word of wisdom from Scripture, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:22).

I hope to continue along the lines of analyzing and understanding more philosophers and their philosophies.  If there is one in particular you are interested in knowing more about, please comment who and why.

Be blessed yall.

 

Bibliography

[1] R.C. Sproul, The Consequence of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 165-166.

[2] Alex McFarland, 10 Answers for Atheists (Venture, CA: Regal, 2012), 47.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 166.

[4] “A Christian Response To Nietzsche’s The Genealogy Of Morals,” Apologetics Press, accessed August 12, 2018, espanol.apologeticspress.org/​articles/​240356.

Christian Living, Uncategorized

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

——————————————————————————————————————–

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.