Apologetics is about love. Wait what? Apologetics? About love? You mean to tell me that apologetics — making a defense for the Christian faith — isn’t about academic scruples that few people care about? Don’t apologists thrive off arguments and heated discussions? How could it be about love?
While I can’t speak for my fellow Christian apologists, love motivates me to study apologetics. Jesus tells us the greatest commandments are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. I believe one way we can obey these commands is to grow in our understanding of apologetics. Make no mistake about it, apologetics can be intellectually fulfilling. Love, however, must be the primary motivation. The goal needs to be winning people’s hearts, not winning arguments. And it’s my love for the following people that compels me to do apologetics.
LOVE FOR NON-CHRISTIANS
Like everyone else, I have friends who aren’t Christians. Some of these friends belong to other faiths while others are atheists. I love these friends and want them to receive salvation. Yet they, like me, are deeply entrenched in their worldviews. Quoting Bible verses to them often doesn’t persuade them because they don’t believe the Bible. They don’t care that Genesis says God created the world. For them, the Bible is a mixture of bad history and old wives’ tales.
I could respond to these friends in one of two ways. I could throw my arms up in the air and say what’s the use? They’re on their own. Or, I could try to learn their worldview and do my best to show them why it doesn’t square with reality. Furthermore, I could also try to answer any objections they have to my worldview. I chose the latter.
Because I believe Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again for our sins, I desperately want my non-Christian friends to trust in him. I want them to receive forgiveness of sins. I want them to have eternal life and experience true and lasting joy that only Jesus can give. And because I love these friends deeply, I’m committed to studying apologetics with the hopes that God might use it to draw them to himself.
LOVE FOR MY CHURCH
The reason I emphasize apologetics in my local church is because I love my fellow church-members. We live our lives to the fullest when we pursue a dynamic relationship with Jesus. And in my experience, apologetics has bolstered my relationship with him.
Not only do I possess greater assurance for my faith — it’s reasonable to believe what I believe — I am also prepared to share my faith with more boldness. Trepidation doesn’t overwhelm me anymore. I’m prepared to answer most questions and objections people have about my faith. In a very real way, apologetics has increased my ability to fulfill the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20).
Whether people realize it or not, apologetics is the evangelism of today and of the future. While we should never avoid sharing the simple Gospel message — that Jesus died and rose for our sins — we must be able to provide good reasons for believing that Gospel message to be true. After all, we live in a post-Christian, pluralistic, skeptical culture that distrusts any form of religion. They don’t take the Bible at face value. They think religion is a personal matter — your truth is good for you, but not for me kind of mentality.
Most Christians struggle navigating these kinds of conversations. As a result, they feel defeated because they didn’t know how to respond to the skeptic’s objections. Or even worse, they begin to lose their faith. For these reasons, I make it my aim to emphasize apologetics in my local church. This emphasis equips my church to more faithfully live out their life on mission for Jesus.
LOVE FOR OUR YOUTH
Multiple studies report that a majority of students leave the church when they head off to college. In fact, one Southern Baptist study reports that 88% of children born in evangelical homes leave the church at age eighteen.1 According to most of these studies, the main reason students leave the faith is because of intellectual doubt.
It’s no secret that professors at secular universities are more disposed toward atheism and skepticism than the general public.2 In fact, many of these same faculty have a general dislike for evangelical Christianity. How then do we prepare our students in youth group for the onslaught? With more games? By focusing more on inviting friends than personal discipleship? With short lessons on moral purity?
We throw our youth into the lion’s den with little more than a butter knife to defend themselves and wonder why they don’t make it out. We’re failing our youth if we don’t change our approach. Fortunately, excellent resources exist for equipping our youth in apologetics. Currently, our youth director is taking our students through The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.
We have some great students in our church. I don’t want to see them become another statistic. I love them too much.
LOVE FOR JESUS
Jesus proclaims, “If you love me, keep my commands” (Jn. 14:15). I don’t know if most Christians recognize this, but God commands us to do apologetics. First Peter 3:15 asserts, “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
Occasionally I’ll hear someone say Matthew 28:18-20 isn’t the “Great Suggestion,” it’s the “Great Commission.” In other words, Jesus was serious when he told his disciples to go spread the Gospel message. It’s not optional.
In the same sense, 1 Peter 3:15 doesn’t offer a suggestion, but a bona fide command to do apologetics. And doesn’t love for the Lord manifest itself in obedience? Christians aren’t simply hearers of the word, but doers also (Js. 1:22). I don’t always obey God’s commands as I should, but my love for Jesus compels me to do apologetics.
APOLOGETICS IS ABOUT LOVEIt’s not merely an academic exercise. It’s not about silencing your opponent. Apologetics is about persuasively sharing the Gospel to win people to Christ. It’s about fulfilling the greatest commandments to love God and our neighbor. In fact, Jesus tells us in the greatest commandment that we are to love God with all our “mind.” That is, loving God necessarily includes mental engagement. If you’re ever tempted to think that apologetics is unloving, I hope you’ll be reminded of Jesus’ words and think again.
AUTHOR: RYAN LEASURE
Holds a M.A. from Furman University and a M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as a pastor at Grace Bible Church in Moore, SC.
Joanne and I traveled to South Africa on the 15th of August. It was Joanne’s 1st trip and my 5th. Joanne had a great time making new friends, ministering to some of the women, and seeing some of what South Africa has to offer. She stayed for about 10 days while I continued there for another 10 days.
It was my 3rd trip to Living Word Bible College in Pretoria. I had the privilege to teach both 1st and 2nd-year students. Once again, I was thoroughly impressed with the level of competence the students demonstrate. It’s no accident these students are so doing well. Mainly, it is the approach that the Bible college takes to studying Scripture.
Ironically, it is the same method I used when I first began to study the Scripture using Robert Traina’s book, Methodical Bible Study. Traina’s book is the time-tested standard for inductive Bible study. Several other “method” books have been written over the years, but nothing comes close to Traina’s “method.”
The students at Living Word go through the Bible in nine months, diligently outlining each book. They spend hours each day reading, observing, and writing charts of sections and paragraphs. It is very intensive and productive work.
On this last trip, I learned that the same method the students at Living Word use is now available online. That’s right! You can enroll in the EBS (Electronic Biblical Studies) online and study the Bible one book at a time. The study is broken into eighteen modules made up of several books. The student will be given 90 days to complete each module. The thought behind this is that without a set goal, he or she may never get the work done. You can, of course, finish sooner.
We hope to have this up and running by January 2019. All the proceeds will go to the Bible college in Pretoria, too. I will only act as a promoter and when the need arises a consultant here in the USA.
When the student finishes the course of study, they will have the tools for a lifetime of research because the student will be able to lay aside preconceived ideas and let the Scripture speak for itself.
This study will teach:
-Basic principles of interpretation
-Types of literature used in the Bible
-Chronology of events in the Old Testament
-Significant historical background
-And most importantly, how to find answers for yourself.
The module cost between $50-100 depending on the number of books in the module. There are also downloadable audio lectures for each text on the cultural and historical background.
This is an excellent opportunity to learn how to study the Bible accurately and unbiasedly. Only learning the inductive method of Bible study ensures this. We are very excited to offer this and see the multiple benefits from this program. We hope to have more information shortly. Please pray for us as we embark on this endeavor.
Usually, when you hear or read those words, you may think that some kind of offense has occurred. Not so with this post. In fact, this is the new title of my blog postings. I'm preparing to write a blog that speaks more to personal responsibility than to particular offenses. In this first blog (in a long time) I'm writing about how I made the decision to become a Christian case-maker.
Do you know the story of the "perfect storm?" There was a movie made about it. The perfect storm was actually three storms coming together to form one huge over-the-top storm. In my case, it was more than three "storms" that God used to make me bring about some life changes.
The storms in my life were spread over several years. The earliest I can remember came about while I was helping a church form a church planting team. During one of the sessions, someone asked a question they encountered while they were evangelizing. The question was about the reliability of the gospel accounts. The uncivil question was asked as, "How can you believe that crap?" That particular incident caused me to question how well I could defend the reliability of the New Testament.
The next storm happened when a friend's child returned home during their first semester of college. They'd been confronted with Frederick Nietzsche in one of their literature classes. It rocked their faith, and when they asked me how to reason through the philosophy Nietzsche presented, I was without an answer.
These were but two of many"storms" that challenged me. Perhaps the most significant one that pushed me over the edge was thinking of my then newborn grandchild. I thought, "what kind of world will she grow up in?" My wife, Joanne, joined me in the question. In fact, one night, we stayed awake talking about what we could do about the world that our grandchildren would grow up in.
We had a good marriage and at the time, I was pastoring a small but committed group of people. I was just past age fifty and we thought we didn't have to do much to make it to the "end." However, one night I couldn't sleep thinking about the world we were living in and what it would be like in twenty years. As Joanne and I spoke, we thought we had enough gas in our tank to make it to the end or to the next step, but could we live with ourselves? Could we go to the end knowing we could have done something more?? The most important question we had to ask was, "What would Jesus think about all this?" I took it personally.
From the night Joanne and I spoke, I couldn't think of anything else. In fact, we continued to have conversations looking for what we could do. I had read one or two books on apologetics but didn't know the movement that was taking place around the world. Although this was the later nineties, there was already significant men practicing apologetics. There was also a band of emerging apologists who were graduating from at least two seminaries.
I began to look for places to take courses or go to seminars. I started to buy books by Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and others. One name that kept appearing in the bibliographies was Norman Geisler, and I took notice of it. When I received a brochure to a seminary in North Carolina, Norm Geisler's name was listed as the co-founder and president. At the time, Ravi Zacharias was a visiting professor and probably was the cause for me to receive the brochure.
Within 14 days, Joanne and I sold our home, packed up the cars, a truck and two dogs and moved to Charlotte, NC where I attended Southern Evangelical Seminary. Initially, I enrolled in the certificate program, but was admitted to the academic program after passing my courses with straight "A's." I plowed through my degree in two years and began ministering to make a difference wherever I could. This was all the result because I took it personally.
So, the question to you is: Do you see the state of the world we live in? Do you see our country, our culture? There is a lot happening that appears to be out of control. There is much that we can do nothing about. There's probably not a lot you can do about it, that is, not until you take it personally . . .
For the Christian, it is essential to see that Christian apologetics is biblical with biblical usage and a biblical interpretation. As with much of the Greek used in New Testament times (Koine), it finds usage in Classical Greek first. Perhaps it was Plato who popularized the term in his Apology, Socrates’ defense. Socrates who was Plato’s mentor was accused of corrupting young people, refusing to worship the gods, and promoting “new” gods. Plato’s Apology is Socrates’ defense of his actions at his trial.
Our word “apology” comes from this fine Greek word apologia. In English usage, the word apology normally means saying, “I’m sorry.” This is the proper usage of the word, just not the only one. Apologizing is not only saying your sorry; it is also giving reasons for your actions. In the Biblical sense, apologizing is to give a defense for your faith. In fact, 1 Peter 3:15 says, “ . . . always be ready to make a defense for the hope within your heart . .”
However, when we understand apologetics to be in context, and the setting is rhetoric, apologetics is also about being proactive. Remember apologetics is not in a vacuum by itself. It is both part of evangelism and role of the way of presenting evidence. As part of rhetoric, it is about persuading through evidence. Keep this in mind as we look at the Scriptures that use either the word apologia or the action of apologetics.
Along with Peter, Luke and Paul all use the word in their writings. Luke quotes Paul’s use of the word in Acts 22 and 25. Both times Luke quotes Paul using the term to describe his “apology” for his actions. In Acts 22:1 Paul is accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. When seized by Roman guards he asks to speak to the people and begins by saying, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense (apologia) which I now offer to you.” Clearly, Paul intended to defend his actions.
In Acts 25 Paul is brought before Festus, the Roman Governor of Judea. Explaining why he was there Paul recites Roman law about the accused having the right to face his accuser and then goes on to say “and has an opportunity to make his defense (apologia) against the charges.” Again, it is clear that Paul intended to state his reasons for his actions. Also, keep in mind Paul was seeking to move them from an unfavorable position to a favorable one.
In 1 Corinthians 9:3, Paul states, “My defense (apologia) to those who examine me is this:” Also, in 2 Corinthians 7:11 Paul uses apologia to applaud the Corinthians’ behavior. Here the word apologia is translated “vindication,” which could be a successful apology.
In 2 Timothy 4:16, Paul refers to another formal trial he was in. This time before Caesar and he says, “At my first defense . . .” Here again, the term apologia is used in a courtroom as a legal term. In this case, it is the whole trial that is a “defense.”
It is in Philippians that Paul uses the term apologia in an indirect reference to the gospel. Both times he uses the word in Chapter 1. Verse 7 Paul is expressing his love for the Philippian Church because they are with him in partaking of the grace of God both in his imprisonment and for the confirmation and defense of the gospel. We will discuss this idea of “confirmation of the gospel” in a later section. In this case, Paul is referring to his ministry. He was called to both “confirm and defend” the gospel.
In verse 16, he declares that he has been “appointed for the defense of the gospel.” Paul understood that the world is hostile territory and that ministry involves defending the gospel. This is no “light” statement. His appointment was to defend the gospel because of the challenges that face it. Today, this challenge is no less, and the need may be more significant. That is, there may be a greater need for some to know they are appointed for the defense of the gospel.
1 Peter 3:15 is probably the best-known verse concerning apologetics. It is here that Peter uses the term in the context of sharing your faith by giving a reason for the hope within your heart. The verse states
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
The context of this verse is about trials and perhaps persecution. Because of your positive response, while undergoing a test of your faith, Peter tells us how a Christian ought to respond. First, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” What does this mean? It means to acknowledge Christ’s lordship in your life. The heart has many functions ascribed to it, but most likely when Peter refers to it, it means the “center of your being.” It refers to your true self, who you really are as opposed to what you may like people to believe about you, or another pretentious image. Peter is urging the person to settle down and get a grip on Christ being Lord of your life. This perhaps ought to be a daily exercise and sometimes moment by moment. Sanctifying Christ as Lord acknowledges he is the ruler of the universe, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. More than that, he is my Lord. I must bow to him, outwardly and inwardly.
“Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you. . .” Readiness is an essential aspect of this command. This will be dealt with in a chapter later on in this book. For now, make a defense to everyone, is our concern.
Reasons for our faith is a necessity. From personal experience to the objective truth about God, his character, the Resurrection of Christ and his immanence in your life are all reasons for the hope within. As stated earlier, everyone ought to know not only what they believe but why they believe it. This requires some work of investigation, research, and study. Make no mistake, this is hard work - heavy lifting.
Remembering that this is a defense as in a “legal defense.” It is giving reasons for the hope within. Giving reasonable accounts for not being troubled as others are troubled when they encounter trials. When asked, “How do you know Jesus is alive?” “How do you know God exists?” “How do you know God is with you?” You can answer, “My faith rests on personal confirmation, philosophical evidence, historical evidence, scientific evidence and archeological evidence.” It is reasonable to affirm faith in God when there is so much evidence for Him.
Another way apologia is used in the negative sense. In Romans 1:20, Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Here the NAS translates an apologia, as “without excuse.” There is no defense for the actions of those who have clearly seen God’s invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature. They are without an apology, an argument. God made himself known to people through their conscience and their knowledge of reality, but they suppress this truth in unrighteousness. When it is God who provides the evidence, and the heart of man is unwilling to recognize it, they are without excuse - no argument, no apology.
Craig Keener writes this:
Stoic philosophers argued that the nature of God was evident in creation; Cicero at that time could even assert that no race of humanity was so uncivilized as to deny the existence of the gods, and along with others he argued that the human mind points to what God is like.
Jewish people scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world used this argument to persuade pagans to turn to the true God. Even the rabbis tell delightful stories about how Abraham reasoned back to the first cause and showed his fellow Gentiles that there was really only one true God. According to Jewish tradition, God had given seven laws to Noah, for which all humanity was responsible (including the prohibition of idolatry). But unlike Israel, who had to keep all 613 commandments in the law (according to rabbinic count), most Gentiles disobeyed even the seven laws of Noah.
Paul wasn’t saying something new about unbelievers. Both Jewish and Gentile had this knowledge. However, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
Look for the next post to continue a simple understanding of defending your faith.
I recently picked up a copy of my book, Apologetics for the Rest of Us: A Beginner’s Guide, for no reason in particular. I thought I’d refresh my memory on the things I’d written since it’s been several years. Not having authored many books I wanted to take a look to see if I still found it relevant.
After reading a few chapters I thought this would make good blog posts. So here we go. If you’ve read the book, thanks! If you haven’t, here’s a way to get it down piece by piece.
My contention with a lot of apologetics books as they’re similar to books on philosophy, that is, apologetics books are written for other apologists. Sorry, most philosophy books are written to other philosophers. I believe I understand the motives which I won’t discuss here. I’d like to see more apologetics books written to the rank and file, the person in the pew, the average church attender. I know what it’s like to take complex subjects and try to break them down so the rank and file can understand what you’re talking about. We feel like we’re doing the information a disservice to do something like that. Plus, it takes a lot more work.
However, if we don’t translate the information into readable language we will never get the church on board, so to speak. We’ll keep preaching to the choir, hashing out the finer points of argumentation. I know there’s a need for that, but not as much as goes on. So here goes my first offering. This is not even a complete chapter.
Feedback is appreciated!
I felt about as helpless as a fish without fins. Because I am a Vietnam Vet, the feelings of uneasiness and helplessness were not new to me. However, I wasn’t in a war zone—at least not one that I recognized. I was across the table from a young college student, and I found myself with little to say.
The college student was someone I knew, someone I had known for a long time. In fact, I had known him from his childhood and had watched him grow and develop a relationship with the Lord. Now, He was asking me questions I had no answers for. I realized he was thinking of jettisoning his faith in favor of atheism if he didn’t get reasonable answers. I had none. He questioned the reliability of the New Testament documents, biological evolution, and absolute morals. Admittedly, I was stumped. My first reaction was simply to say, “Just believe; you know Jesus is real,” but I knew that would be the end of the conversation. The only answer I could muster was, “I don’t know how to answer these questions, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll find answers to all these questions.”
This situation was one of many used by God to get me to study apologetics. I have since learned I was in a war zone, only this was a battle for ideas.
My desire to defend the historic Christian faith is matched only by my desire to build the Church of Jesus. As I mentioned in the Introduction, Christian apologetics, defending the historic Christian faith, is a subject and discipline the Church sorely needs. As American Christians who believe in the essentials of Christianity, including but not limited to the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His vicarious death and bodily resurrection, His ascension, and His promise to return,1 we find ourselves in hostile territory. These days, we cannot bring the name of Jesus into a conversation without facing mockery, disinterest, or disbelieving questions about whether we really “believe that.” Our culture has marginalized the Church, making our influence trivial. According to trending opinion, our faith is only valid in a private setting and has no place in the public square.
If morality is discussed, the Christian view is not considered, and Christians are held at arm’s length. Society does not believe that the Christian Church has anything to offer by way of morality. As we have stated already, the default position is that Darwin was right and that life exists without God. If we want to believe in God, we are told to keep it to ourselves because society, not God, is the judge of what is acceptable and not acceptable. As a result, relativism, the idea that there are no absolute truths or morals ruling the world of conduct, has won the day. No one believes in universal right behaviors or a code of conduct anymore. Since we have no final authority, society has become the final authority that determines what is permissible.
A Word about Apologetics
Apologetics, like any other subject, does not exist in a vacuum. This is true in at least two ways. The first way is that apologetics is part of evangelism. Second, apologetics is part of rhetoric, which is a manner of arguing, expressing a point, or clearly presenting evidence to persuade. Let’s look at these two more closely.
Some have called apologetics pre-evangelism because it helps people see the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also post-evangelism in that the evidence given by apologists helps to strengthen believers’ faith; they are comforted and bolstered by the reasons or proof for the validity of what they believe.
In pre-evangelism, some have described apologetics as the means to removing mental obstacles that may prohibit people from considering the truth of Christianity. Others have described it as a vehicle that removes roadblocks on the road to salvation. People cannot reach the place of salvation with these roadblocks in place, so apologetics helps to get rid of the roadblocks. Another way to express this concept is that apologetics removes the camouflage. In this analogy, the camouflage is any idea that prohibits a person from seeing the truth of the gospel. As camouflage disguises animals or hunters, divergent ideas hide the truth of Jesus. Apologetics reveals the true nature of the gospel that has been hidden by so many divergent ideas. As pre-evangelism, apologetics prepares people to hear and consider the unique truthfulness of Jesus Christ and allows the Holy Spirit to convict people concerning their lives.
As post-evangelism, apologetics strengthens believers. Doug Powell puts it this way:
The results of training in apologetics are boldness, security, and a lack of defensiveness. Apologetics enables the believer to engage the world without acquiescing to it and without compromise.2
According to Powell, knowing the evidence that supports Christianity emboldens believers and enables them to interact with the world in a secure (not defensive) manner. When challenges come and we are able to respond without being defensive, it begins to level the playing field. Removing the emotional element that so often results from being challenged causes the momentum of the argument to shift. We, as believers, are now able to frame3 the argument and present the solid evidence we have learned regarding the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus without compromising our faith.
The ability to resist compromising their faith is especially crucial for college students, who live in an environment hostile to Christianity. It is true for any Christian who lives and works in an environment that may be hostile to Christianity. However, the college environment is especially hostile toward Christianity. As one well-known apologist has said, “When you are in college, you’re in enemy territory.” Day after day, college students hear what seems to be evidence against Christianity, as well as deriding comments about Christians and the history of the Church. Many struggle to keep their faith at these times—unless they are equipped with the unique truthfulness of the Christian faith.
In a later blog, I explore the idea of certainty in knowing the exact truth. This is often overlooked as a necessary part of the Christian faith. We think that knowing prevents us from growing in faith. This is a serious problem. The truth is, our minds are not stumbling blocks to our faith. In fact, what our hearts believe our minds seek to know and understand. It is true that we cannot know everything about God, but that doesn’t mean we cannot know anything about God. Personally, I want to know as much as I can and to seek the wisdom and knowledge God. As the wise Solomon wrote, “Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:5–6). Finding evidence for my faith only strengthens it.
Admittedly, it’s not just the Church that has become anti-intellectual. American culture in general has placed a decreasing value on diligent study and thorough knowledge. Consider this quote:
"Rhetoric faded in academia during the 1800s, when social scientists dismissed the notion
that an individual could stand up to the inexorable forces of history. Who wants to teach leadership when academia doesn’t believe in leaders? At the same time, English lit replaced the classics, and ancient thought fell out of vogue. Nonetheless, a few remarkable people continued to study the art. Daniel Webster picked up rhetoric at Dartmouth by joining a debating society, the United Fraternity, which had an impressive classical library and held weekly debates. Years later, the club changed its name to Alpha Delta and partied its way to immortality by inspiring the movie Animal House.4"
This is an extreme example, but it touches on the course of education in America. The classics have been replaced and rhetoric has been abandoned at the behest of social scientists. We’ll talk more about this later; for now, let’s look at the importance of rhetorical skills and how they relate to apologetics.
The second companion to apologetics is rhetoric, which is a way of speaking. Rhetoric as a term has been hijacked and given a pejorative meaning that wasn’t part of the original definition. Thus, to many, rhetoric is a style of speaking that twists truths and gives snide responses. In reality, rhetoric is a style of arguing designed to convince other people to change their position.
We find a good example of this in Acts 17:1–4, where we discover that it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue and reason with the Jews, explaining and giving evidence that Jesus was the Christ. Although Paul did this from the Scripture he was employing rhetorical skills that would have convinced those particular Jews who were born in the Greek culture. By birth they were Jews, but by culture they were Greek! They understood Greek thinking, Greek language, and Greek rhetoric. They are the Hellenist Jews of Acts 7. Knowing this, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead...” (Acts 17:2–3). In verse 4, we see that some of them were “persuaded” and joined Paul and Silas.
It is no accident that Luke used the word persuaded in conjunction with reasoned, explaining, and giving evidence. This is rhetoric at its finest. Paul moved these Jews to see his point and change their beliefs. Paul was doing the work of an apologist, defending the faith by using rhetorical skills. Thus we see that apologetics resides within the realm of rhetoric, which, unfortunately, is something the Church knows far too little about. And that, of course, is one of the purposes of this book. Let’s step up to the plate to learn.
Apologetics, Apologetic, and Apologists
Before we go too much farther, however, we need to clarify some terminology. Terms such as apologist, apologetic, and apologetics are new to many believers. They sound a lot like apology, which is what we say when we are sorry for something. Certainly, we are not saying we are sorry we are Christians!
Those who are familiar with the word apologetics, unfortunately, often think of it as winning an argument or an ideological fight. While it is true that some people study apologetics to “make points,” as if scoring more points than the opponent is winning, that is not the ultimate purpose of apologetics. As Americans, we live on one-liners. We love to believe that with a quick quip we can shut the opponent down. This is not Christian apologetics. Winning arguments and losing friends (or potential converts) is devastating to the Christian message, and it is not representative of Christian apologetics.
My apologetic ministry sponsors seminars called No Pat Answers. A pat answer is a trite, glib shot from the hip that is not well thought out. For those who inquire about the Christian faith or those who argue with the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, there ought to be no pat answers. Our answers must be clear, cogent, and compelling responses. We must learn what apologetics is before we can harness the strength of this art form.
Apologia, the Greek word we derive our word apology from, means “a defense.” Paul helps us to understand that with his usage of the word in Acts 22:1, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense….” The word for “defense” is apologia. This refers to a defense in the legal sense, as a lawyer would use in a court of law. It is not a military defense. When Peter tell us to always be ready “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,” he also tells us to do it with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). The emphasis on making a defense is modified by gentleness and reverence. In other words, the attitude of the apologist must take the listener into account. Gentleness is strength under control, and reverence is respect for the people we talk to. Apologetics is not about winning arguments and making the other person look bad. In the context of rhetoric, it is about winning people over or moving people to see our position in a favorable light. Thus, we can adopt the motto: Argue without being argumentative, and defend without being defensive.
Too many believers are turned off by “apologists” who seek only to win an argument by points or, worse, to show off how much they know. Instead, apologists ought to seek to win hearts and minds through the use of persuasion, explanation, and evidence.
In philosophy, apology is a rhetorical term that means “to move people, to persuade them, to help them change their view and to understand and accept yours.” When we are apologizing, we are giving an argument (another term that is too often misused and misunderstood). In rhetoric, as already stated, an argument is not a fight; it is not trying to score points and put the other person down. It is persuading through reasonable statements and offering evidence to prove our point and show our point’s validity. Apologists “argue” in order to persuade, to move other people and help them change their position. They should not argue to put other people down or simply win the argument. It is about hearts and minds. So the art of rhetoric is persuasion, and apologetics is the heart of that art. Apologia is the legal defense, but it is used to persuade.
Make no mistake; apologists seek to make their defense strong, cogent, and persuasive. Remember, Peter denied Jesus at Jesus’ trial and then cursed and swore when questioned about knowing Him (see Matt. 26:72–74). This same Peter tells us to always be ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope within our hearts, yet to do so with gentleness and reverence (see 1 Pet. 3:15). Blustering, spontaneous Peter, who was remorseful for his earlier actions, reminds us to be gentle and reverent when we are making a defense. So, apologists argue and seek to move people from an ignorant view of the Christian faith or to show that Christianity is reasonable and move it into a more favorable position in their opponents’ minds.
At one time, apologetics was not “the” sought after subject and did not draw large crowds. It still does not in some places, though the mood about apologetics is changing. Until recently, when I asked a congregation if anyone knew what apologetics is, very few would respond in the affirmative. Now, more and more people are becoming aware of and interested in apologetics. What was once reserved for the ivory tower of seminaries and higher education is now making its way to the “water cooler,” “lunch table,” and “kitchen counter.” It is becoming the interest of church-goers, Christian education teachers, and small groups. As a result, an increasing number of resources are becoming available through such stellar ministries such as Focus on the Family, Reasons to Believe, Faith and Reason, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and others. These ministries help to keep apologetics in a context, not in a vacuum that exists by itself. A good apologetic ministry understands both of the contexts of apologetics—the rhetorical and the evangelistic.
In summary, apologists are those who defend the historic Christian faith. This discipline or skill is called apologetics. There are many ways to defend our faith and several views on how apologetics ought to function. Those who use history support a historical apologetic. Others use science to defend their faith. Still others have a philosophical argument for apologetics. Then there are those who use all three—history, science, and philosophy.
You can purchase the remainder of "Apologetics for the Rest of Us" here or directly from our ministry for $10 plus $4 shipping. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for purchase.
I had been teaching and preaching for forty years when I went to my first SCORRE Conference, which explains a simple way to present any topic. Some may wonder why I would attend such a conference after public speaking for so many years. It wasn’t because I was an inferior speaker, but that I’m a lifelong learner and I love what I do. Any chance to better myself is always welcomed. I would like to share with you what I have learned and put into practice from SCORRE.
Public speaking is one of people’s greatest fears. Individuals who are confident in one-on-one or small groups settings see their confidence flee when they stand behind a podium to make an announcement or give a short presentation. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Everyone can be an effective public speaker by employing four simple practices.
Before I share these simple practices, I want you to understand that this isn’t about you. That is, the talk you're going to give or the announcement you are making, isn’t about you. Here is an indication that you are too focused on yourself and your fears: the first thing you say is how nervous you are and how you hate doing this. At that point, you’ve given away command by focusing on your fears and dislikes. It may seem that I am lacking compassion in this area, but this isn’t about you and your fears. This event is about delivering the “message” that people need to hear.
Next, as a public speaker, I often find the Holy Spirit convincing me that no matter how strongly I feel about saying something, it isn’t necessarily what He is saying. Don’t despair. I’m not saying you have to have a “thus says the Lord” message. If the task falls to you to stand before a group and give testimony or a simple announcement, reconcile this as something you believe they need to hear. This example may sound like overkill and church announcements normally don’t fall into the category of the importance of a sermon or teaching. However, church announcements play a role in the functions of the church to accomplish something God is doing. Testimonies point to God’s faithfulness, provision, and in some cases a short learning lesson. They all qualify to be said in public because they will serve the Lord and the church. This is the most extended concept to grasp, but it undergirds everything else.
The first simple practice is to decide whether you are going to persuade your audience or empower them. To persuade people would provide them with something they should do. You must give reasons why they should do it. “You should do this because …”. This is a persuasive talk.
To empower would encourage them that they can do something. You would need to follow this type of talk with steps on how to achieve this goal. “You can do this by….”. This is an empowering talk. Additionally, it is essential to be clear in these points without rambling. This leads us to the second practice.
The second simple practice is the hardest part of preparation. This principle is found in a few steps. In organizing your talk, begin with your 1. topic/subject, 2. develop a overall theme and 3. construct an objective statement.
Here’s an example of using the subject of “Defending the Faith”. My theme is the “need to defend the faith.” My objective statement is: Everyone either should learn to do this or can learn to do this. It’s decision time.
If I want to persuade people that they should learn to defend their faith, I must tell them why. I can do this by presenting either the challenges to the Christian faith or perhaps the mandate that every Christian should do this as part of their Christian calling. So my objective statement could sound something like this: Every Christian should learn to defend their faith because of the current challenges the church faces. Notice the “should” and the “because” in my statement. That could be a simple announcement for an upcoming class or the objective statement for teaching or preaching.
Here’s a simple example about persuading people to participate in small groups: Everyone should attend a small group because the benefits they provide are edifying to the church. Now I only have to list the benefits. Notice again that benefits are plural as were “challenges” in the previous example. This step strengthens your reason for persuasion.
If you want to empower people to defend their faith your objective statement could be, Every Christian can learn to defend their faith by learning these three important concepts. Or, Every Christian can participate in small groups by committing themselves to 3 principles of growth.
The third simple practice is if you have the time, provide brief illustrations for each of your points. List your benefits for participating in small groups and give a short example how this benefits the church, such as building relationships or recognizing gifts.
The fourth simple practice is not the least and extremely important. Evaluate! Go back over your notes and evaluate. Look to see if everything you’ve written down is strictly in line with your objective statement. It is tempting to either leave this step out or just gloss over your notes. This is a mistake. Often, you’ll catch details that will not add but only take away from the point(s) you’re trying to make. I repeat: don’t skip over this step.
In closing, I would suggest sticking to your notes, at least until you memorize your objective statement and the points you are going to make.
Tony Moss, Pastor of Long Branch Covenant Church, put together a helpful short explanation of the SCORRE method. I changed the order to fit with my outline here. See below.
• Choose your approach: persuasion or empowerment?
- Are you telling people they “should” or they “can”?
- “Should” will lead you to say: “why” or “because”
- “Can” will lead you to say “by” or “how”
- This will also help clarify your key thought in your mind
• Make your topic specific.
- Clarity is essential, without it your content becomes muddled
- With a short talk, less is always more (better)
- Too much information is a trap
-It allows minor points to overshadow your main point
- Example: “Angel Tree” is a broad topic, “The Blessings of Angel Tree” is narrower,
and “Your Role in Angel Tree” is even more specific.
• Write a “key thought” sentence (objective statement).
- It should summarize all you want to say in one thought
- Everything you say should directly support it
- This is the key to clarity; it forces focus
- It helps you decide what to put in or leave out
- Each story or illustration should support the key thought
• Evaluate: rehearse and make adjustments
- Record your talk and listen to it
- Ask someone to listen to you (and time you)
- Check that you are:
• Loud enough • Speaking clearly
• Not too fast • Not too slow
• Making eye contact • Using emphasis wisely
If you’re interested in the SCORRE Conference itself follow this link:
Practice this methodology before you have to make the announcements or present a teaching. Choose a subject, develop the theme and then write the objective statement. I practiced by picking things at random. Doing this will help you have command at the podium.
At the end of the year, it is pretty reasonable to look back at what has happened. It’s also pretty reasonable to look forward. Before I mention what is coming up in this new year, I want to look at what transpired this past year.
The diagnosis that my daughter received is a primary focus of any remembrance of 2017. Dare I say it is the principal focus. However, other things did happen in 2017. We did present our three free seminars this year. We also had not one, but two conferences here in New Jersey. Our annual conference had Dr. Richard Land, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary as the keynote speaker. My friend Laurie Stewart spoke also. City of Hope International Church in Kearny, NJ hosted our other conference where Dr. Frank Turek was the keynote speaker and once again, Laurie Stewart joined us. I spoke at both conferences, too.
In June, Dr. Juan Valdes of Reasons for Hope joined me in presenting our No Pat Answers Seminar. I enjoy working with Juan. He’s definitely on our short list for speaking. I was in South Africa for about a week before I returned home because of my daughter’s diagnosis. Undoubtedly our lives changed with a phone call. Joanne and I have put many things aside to help our daughter. We’d do it for any of our children.
As we have mentioned in other newsletters/emails, Joanne has spent most of her time helping Jen and her family. Until recently, she’s spent five days each week in Maryland where Jen and her family live. Joanne is now able to go every other week when Jen has chemo treatments. All that to say, Jen has received some positive reports from her PET scans and blood tests. We’re awaiting another PET scan on December 28th. We should get results back right after New Year’s Day. Please continue to pray for Jen.
One of the decisions made during this time was to live as normally as possible. Jen continues to work full-time. She’s a real trooper. Joanne’s support allows Jen to focus on her job while the house is kept running. I’ve kept my ministry going as normal as possible. I was able to present our September seminar, travel to Charlotte for the National Conference on Christian Apologetics and then travel to Sarasota, Florida to teach a conference at The Tabernacle Church. (Please see the endorsement below). At the same time, our team here in New Jersey hosted Tricia Scribner for our fourth women’s conference. The reports of Tricia’s teaching were terrific. The women attendees loved her which is always a good sign.
Throughout 2016, I’ve had the privilege to speak to different churches and here at Long Branch Covenant Church. Joanne and I know we’re here to help LBCC accomplish the mission God has called the church to finish. We continue to help strengthen the leadership and congregation.
We find ourselves facing this new year with hope and faith. Personally, I like the “new” that the New Year brings. I’m scheduled to be in South Africa at Lewende Woord Bible College from February 8 through the 25th. I’ll teach a week to the new first-year students and a week with the second year also. I enjoy the interaction with these students as they’re motivated to learn and I am more than willing to leave a deposit of truth with them as the Lord allows. I make many new friends each time I’m there and strengthen the bonds of friendship I’ve already made. I hope to make another trip to South Africa in August, too.
In April, we have our annual conference with Andy Bannister from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Dr. Bannister is an excellent speaker with a lot to share. We’re very excited about that. I’ve also been asked to help put on another No Pat Answers Seminar in Schenectady, New York. MaryJo Sharp and Bobby Conway will be speaking there with me. (Both of these conferences will get more attention after the first of the year.)
If I can encourage you with anything this coming year, it would be to make sure you read through the Scripture. I cannot think of another way to know the Lord than to see how the Scripture reveals him. When asked which is the “great commandment” in Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus answered to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love others as yourself. He then said all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. That is, the whole of the Old Testament reveals that loving God and others is the point of Scripture. What better way to learn this than through reading the Scripture?
Although there are dozens if not hundreds of ways to read through the Scripture, I recommend The Bible Project, www.thebibleproject.com. This program is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. You may be thinking, how can one reading program be better than another? Well, the Bible Project is not just a reading program. It has many helpful videos that outline the books of the Bible but also has videos on words, themes, and types of literature. My favorite series is “How To Read the Bible.” What a great tool! If you need another incentive, it is also free! So, get to reading. Explore the website and download their app in the app store - READSCRIPTURE. You’ll love it.
Finally, thank you for walking with us as we follow the Lord. Our heart is the same as always. We want to strengthen your faith and witness as you follow the Lord Jesus. Pray with us that we will be more effective in reaching the church here in the Northeast, especially in NJ. We believe this is the sphere God has given to us here in the US. Pray also for my travels to South Africa. I believe this is an important time for this nation and I am preparing workers for the harvest.
Thank you also for helping us financially. We could not do what we do without the faithful giving of those of you who support us. Thank you for faithfully obeying God with your love and support. It is especially helpful as we walk through this difficult challenge. Again, we could not do this without your help.
Please continue to pray for our daughter Jen’s complete healing. Joanne and I are so grateful for those who stand with us in prayer and help with the finances as we walk through this. We are so grateful for all your faithfulness.
Endorsement from Pastor Dwain Kitchens of The Tabernacle Church in Sarasota,FL:
"Thanks again for doing an awesome job leading our Apologetics Conference! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the presentations. The material was excellent; and I know our people were blessed, educated and edified in their faith. You had a great way of breaking the material down so that those new to apologetics could understand and assimilate the truths and principles"
The movie, The Shack hits the theaters with many lauding its story. Back when the book was published I wrote two reviews. My first review was posted on a couple of different sites and when that happened I thought to review my review. Although I attempted to be even handed in my first review of The Shack, my second review was a bit more critical. After discovering some views of the author I thought I had to write the second review.
So, read both reviews to get the whole picture. With the movie hitting the big screen you will more than likely get some other reviews. My reviews will make life and the conversations interesting. Please remember I wrote these reviews some 8-9 years ago. I’ve edited both of them for clarity.
First Review: Sometime in December 2008 (I think).
The Shack is a compelling story of tragedy and restoration. Admittedly, I approached the book skeptically as I’d heard it expressed some unorthodox views of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I understood the book is fictitious and the author seeks to extend some ideas to those who struggle with a strict religious background, unforgiveness, or tragedy. To this end, The Shack may be successful. The way in which the author gets there is exceedingly unorthodox.
I don’t mind stretching my mind to comprehend things about God. The Shack certainly does that and expresses God’s love, forgiveness, grace, desire to indwell people and walk in the relationship. The last seems to be the strongest point made about God and people; He wants relationship, not religion. Well said.
The Shack opens with Mack, the principal character receiving a note from “Papa” who requests he visit “the shack.” The story then spins backward four years to the time when Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy was abducted and murdered by a serial killer. “The Shack” is where they found Missy’s clothes; her body had not been discovered. Mack reluctantly returns to the shack, the place of his deepest pain.
Mack is guided by God through a series of conversations to face his grief, forgive his past, and also forgive his greatest offender: Missy’s murderer. The story unfolds nicely and draws you into itself making you hungry for the next episode. It is a compelling story.
Papa, the name Mack’s wife, used for God, meets Mack at the shack. Here’s where things get strange. Papa, who is God the Father, appears to Mack as an African American woman; you can almost hear Oprah’s voice when she talks. The Holy Spirit is an Asian woman, and Jesus is an ordinary man, not the risen and ascended Jesus of Revelation.
This departure from Biblical imagery is troubling. I understand that the author wished to help people get outside their self-constructed boxes in which God fits. This attempt certainly does it, but I’m not sure if the author loses something in the translation.
This image in The Shack is not the “wheel within a wheel” in Ezekiel. Neither is it the Jesus of Revelation. This picture is a weak construct by the author.
What makes a book like The Shack difficult to comment on is that it is a fictitious story that also makes statements about reality, especially God. Anytime someone leaves the Bible behind and tries to describes God, more than likely you’ll end up in trouble. To infer that God the Father is a loving parent doesn’t elevate God but lowers Him to humanity. The author’s descriptions of the Holy Spirit represented by an Asian woman does the same thing, no matter how many colors accompany her. It lowers rather than raises an understanding of God.
Then there are the statements that aren’t biblical. Young makes comments that all people are God’s children, that the Trinity became flesh in Jesus and also was on the Cross with him. That is erroneous at best, heretical at the worst.
Other elements are simply wrong. As much as The Shack does say, what it doesn’t say is as important. It never mentions why the price Jesus paid is the way to the relationship with God. It does mention Jesus’ death but never about forgiveness of sins. There is never a call for repentance, but a “returning.” This image seems like a postmodern deconstruction and reconstruction. Young Asserts our first parents, Adam and Eve didn’t fall - they turned. And now they must re- turn. It’s sort of like doing a 180. There is no repentance.
The Shack does make “independence” a problem but never calls it sin. You have to give up your freedom and allow God to lead you. Well enough, but it doesn’t quite say it as Peter did in Acts 2 or 4. Although some tout The Shack as one of the most poignant messages in our lifetime, I find that a bit difficult. I mention this because it is nothing like The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis. Nor does it compare with anything allegorical like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Pilgrim’s Progress, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra or That Hideous Strength. The Shack isn’t close to Lewis or Tolkein on one of their bad days.
Here are some quotes from The Shack that are troubling:
Mack: “Why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father?”
Papa: “Well, responded Papa, turning away from him and bustling around the kitchen, “There are many reasons for that, and some of them go very deep. Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed- but an emphasis on father ins necessary because of the enormity of its absence.” pg 94
Although God as Father is in the Old Testament, it is a revelation brought clearly by Jesus in the New Testament. Only those who receive Jesus and believe in Him have the right to call God their Father. This is not a reaction to man’s sin, but how God determines to reveal Himself. In other words, God would not equally reveal Himself as “Mother” according to the Scripture. Although God is without gender or sex, He chose to reveal Himself as Father. What Paul Young wrote in The Shack is not just conjecture, but is fiddling with God’s nature.
“When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood.” pg 99
This statement is heresy. God the Son became flesh, The Word became flesh, the Holy Spirit did not, nor did God the Father. It sounds from this that this is a confusion of persons in the Trinity - denying they are distinct persons in one Godhead. Some may think this is a “Jesus only” heresy.
Mack gingerly reached out and took the poisonous twig, “ If you had not told me this was safe to touch, would it have poisoned me?”
“Of course! But if I direct you to touch, that is different.” pg 132
This quote could be considered a violation of natural laws which God only miraculously overrides. The statement also sounds like “voluntarism” that is, God can do whatever He likes, and doesn’t live out of His essence.
“Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy, being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus,’ it means for your independence to be killed.” - The Jesus character, pg149
Paul exhorted the church to “imitate him as he imitated Christ.” Obviously, Jesus is the supreme example of selfless love, submission, and obedience. Being a follower is being an imitator. If Jesus is not our example, who is? If the author wished to express that believer ought to let Christ live through them and not follow Him he ought to have demonstrated how this works without imitating Christ.
As far as literary style I’d give The Shack an “A.” As mentioned, this is a compelling story. In relevance to the Bible I’d give it a C and in theology, I’d give it an F. The Shack as I’ve said is compelling as a story, but it goes too far astray from the Scripture and leans more on one’s feelings. God is only love but not wrath. He is forgiveness but not holiness. The Shack doesn’t respect the Scripture but takes a “Joan of Arcadia” approach to God’s person. I can’t recall one Scripture quoted. In fact, only once is the Bible mentioned in a constructive way.
The Shack is a mixture of biblical themes, New Age, Emergent, and Oprah-ology. Perhaps some would consider that to be too harsh. The problem with books that state they are fictitious and then make theological statements is that they bear no responsibility. Because there isn’t an “argument,” there is nothing to refute or agree with formally. Several times I had to wonder if the author was proposing universalism, which everyone will be saved. My conclusion was that I didn’t believe he was, but I couldn’t be clear as neither was the author. Pragmatists will declare how many people are helped by this book. That may be so, but pragmatism is not a test for veracity. One must be careful that this is not proposing “another gospel.” The message of The Shack is warm and fuzzy; that is a sign of the times.
The book may be helpful to people who receive the message of forgiveness and abandon themselves to God. Readers ought to remind themselves that the book is fictitious but makes some theological statements that aren’t true. The troubling part is that some statements are true and others aren’t. When this is done it serves only to confuse unsuspecting people.
The Shack has taken on a life of its own. Producers are speaking about making this a movie. Again, this is unfortunate because it creates unbiblical illusions about God. Although it portrays God as approachable, that is both true in one sense and untrue in another. It is true that God is approachable, but not without conditions. The conditions are to believe in Jesus as Savior. The Shack gives the impression that there is no distance between humans and God. According to the Scripture, the distance is separation and is made by sin and Christ must bridge it by His atoning work. Our culture wants an approachable God without the cross, without the blood of Christ. Cultures may want an approachable God, but Scripture is clear about what the right way is; we can only approach God through the person of Jesus.
The Shack is a good read, a welcoming story. However, it has some pitfalls as I’ve mentioned. I find this to be the most disturbing thing about the book. It’s kind of like running into low clothes lines. My recommendation is to read with caution; enjoy the story but don’t take the theology seriously at all.
Back to the Shack - reviewed again
My review of The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young, some months ago, posted here on this site, was subsequently posted on two other sites. Both garnered some comments and discussion. Most of the discussion was positive, although some whimpered at my mistreating this blockbuster novel. Today, I still have strong feelings and would make some adjustments to my recommendations.
Reading back through my assessment of Shack, I believe I should have been more direct and not so forgiving of Young's book. I even made a comment to “read with caution.” Knowing what I know now about the author, I would write, “Do not read,” and if you have a copy - “Go straight to trash and dispose of.” If you think this is harsh, you may want to read on.
Since my review of the book, (I read it twice and listened to it in an audio format,) I’ve been amused to read some of the other comments and reviews. After a while, I began to think maybe I ought to make some adjustments.
Just recently, I came across a couple of insightful, if not, telling reviews. One review was written by a friend of William P. Young, author of The Shack. James De Young wrote an extensive review of which I will just mention a few quotes. His analysis is telling and confirming. Although I gave Paul Young a pass, that he was not a “universalist,” De Young asserts that he most assuredly is. [That’s what I get for being a nice guy. I should have gone with my gut.]
Someone who is a “universalist” believes in universal reconciliation. That is, there is no final judgment, no hell, which obviously affects the destiny of humanity. Everyone is reconciled to God in the end according to this view.
De Young describes Young’s portrayal here, “
“Paul has written a creative, provocative novel. Unfortunately, it is creative theologically in the sense of reinforcing universal reconciliation that distorts the evangelical understanding of God, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the meaning of the death of Christ, the necessity of belief in Christ, the final judgment, and the destiny of all humanity. In the sixth century, the church called universal reconciliation heresy, and it has treated this belief as such ever since.”
“While he frequently disavows general universalism, the idea that many roads lead to God, he carefully affirms that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that all will be reconciled to God either this side of death or afterward.
A careful reading uncovers universal reconciliation remains as a strategic focus of the book. And this is not unexpected when the author (in his “Acknowledgments”) attests to having been influenced by many writers that include several universalists. He cites one at the beginning of chap. 14. His earlier claims were that Christian universalism changed his life and his theology.” ( I quote this as is from De Young’s review, “At The Back Of The Shack A Torrent Of Universalism: A Review” (Revised ed., May 2008. HTTP:// theshackreview.com/content/ReviewofTheShack.pdf)
Most of De Young’s comments are similar to what I wrote in my review. Creative writing is to be welcomed and encouraged. Creative theology is another story. The popularity of The Shack is indicative of the church’s overall theological demise. The church has become theologically ignorant - stupid, in everyday speech. Abandoning theology is not the answer for an anemic church. It is misunderstanding theology and its purpose that has led to this powerless, self- centered purposeless church. Not knowing what it is we believe and why we believe it is the sound of death to any movement.
Today, evangelical theology is abandoned for a “mystery” faith that is feeling and experientially based. If we are not moved emotionally, it can’t be God.
If our ears are not pleased - it’s boring. The idea of “studying” is repelled because that is “modern.” We are more esoteric in our approach to Bible study than we care to admit. Most people do not know what the Bible is for, misread it, and misinterpret its meaning. Some of the worst statements I’ve heard are things like, “I don’t want a God I can explain.” Huh? I think the person who says that means they don’t want a God they can fully explain, but that’s not what is said. No evangelical theologian has even attempted to say that they fully understand all that there is to learn about God. However, in response, any attempt to explain anything about God is rejected. To say I don’t know everything about God is not saying I don’t know anything about God.
Somehow the idea of studying the thought and ideas of past theologian/ churchmen is “putting God in a box.” We don’t want a God restrained in a box; we want a God cloaked in mystery - why? So, we can worship what we don’t know? We do not read to understand today. We read to be “surprised” by a zinger of a statement that moves us emotionally. We don’t read to reason through someone’s arguments.
Admittedly, I’m conflicted over the attention Shack receives. Conflicted because I think it is rife with heresy and garners high approval. No doubt it is a moving story - but it is also the biggest pile of popular theological rubbish written. I’m also conflicted that so many cannot perceive the biblical and theological corruption. It is worse when people say they don’t mind the corruption - it’s a good story. That’s like excusing Hitler’s atrocities because he was a good speaker and leader. Where are the moral and ethical components necessary to make decisions?
Another example of a good review comes from Paul Grimmond in We Need More Shack Time. This reviewer made a tremendous insight.
“Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we have thrown God away. As we have done so, it has become necessary to make our decisions about right and wrong. What is the only basis that we have for making such decisions? It is the presence or absence of pain. So the existence of pain has become the problem that God must solve to be credible in the eyes of judgmental humanity. A key to The Shack's Christian appeal is that many of us now think this way
C.S. Lewis compiled a group of essays in God in the Dock. Way before his time in assessing culture, Lewis pointed out that before the 20th century it would be unheard of to question God. I don’t mean asking God questions, but the idea of God being “in the dock,” basically means putting God on trial. That is what is happening in our culture and the church. We have begun to prosecute God and the Scripture.
I agree with Grimmond; The Shack is Young’s attempt to make God account for pain and evil in the world. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Or, as in Shack, how can these atrocities happen to innocent children? The setting for this story is brilliant in that it grabs you by the emotions right from the start. This idea gives one reason not to be observant of other considerations like “Is it biblical,” or “Is it theologically or doctrinally sound?” Those questions are eclipsed by the grief-stricken Mac as he reluctantly responds to Papa’s note. One might say these issues aren’t even on the radar.
I just have one question: “What about Job?” Does this biblical account of pain, evil and suffering not matter? Did Job suffer the loss of everything dear to him - his riches ransacked, his family massacred in an unbelievable accident? After Job’s interactions with his “friends” and then a brief rebuttal by Elihu, God spoke to Job . . .
Then the LORD said to Job,
“Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it.”
Then Job answered the LORD and said,
“Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (Job 40:1-4)
The next passage is telling.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man;
I will ask you, and you instruct Me.
“Will you really annul My judgment?
Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:6-8)
“Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” that is the question to ask Mac. Do we believe we must make God account for His actions? In a world of “down-sizing” have we down-sized God to a manageable deity? Our rejection of the ancient paths has led us up a dead end creek to a human sized God, one without wonder and mystery.
I reject the unbiblical view of God crafted in a heretical imagination. This idea is “every lofty thing raised against the knowledge of God.” This idea is also no real surprise as the mood in the church welcome something like this book. Biblical illiteracy has led to this embrace of non-biblical stories in place of an authentic biblical worldview.
People are so starved for a relationship with God they will feed on anything. The problem is they have rejected God’s means of feeding His people. So, they think The Shack, is great! [I shudder to write it.] We can approach God as if he were a warm-hearted woman.
When we fail to recognize the centrality of God’s sacrifice in Jesus - the price he paid, we lose redemption and the very nature of the redeeming God. God is not so brokenhearted over man’s sin that He will excuse anyone’s behavior. To say “God is love” and forget “God is holy” is a huge mistake. Al Mohler says in effect that we live in a world today where holiness is not popular. Where we once sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” we now sing “Jesus is my buddy; he’s a good ole’ boy.”
The idea that God has somehow changed to accommodate our modern or postmodern mood is ridiculous. Job gives the answer to our suffering and grief when God puts things in the correct biblical, theological perspective. The rest of Scripture answers the question on the character and attributes of God. We don’t need novels to make us feel good about ourselves or to help us get a grip on God. We need to receive the transmitted revelation from God’s “word.”
Finally, what Shack demonstrates is the church’s inability to know the truth. Jesus said it simply, “. . . If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. That ought to be enough for us. However, because we don’t “continue” in his word (s) we go sniffing for something “new” and “fresh.” The result is something like Shack which is so far off of Biblical revelation that it appears like a newly discovered or uncovered view of reality. Please, don’t tell me it’s just a novel. Oh, but wait . . .
It is novel in that its approach to conveying ideas is new. In a generation that lives by its emotions, it grabs your insensible emotional reactions first. Once you’re emoting for Mac’s daughter and Mac himself you've been had. You readily inhale the rest of this misinformed, misleading repertoire of conjured theology and doctrine. It is a “gotcha” moment.
Shack has garnered way too much attention. Again, it reveals the shallow understanding of God and His word in the church today. A compelling story ought not to be the criteria for good literature when it conveys heresy. For those who would like to move the boundaries of heretical thought and doctrine, I would only say go back to the Scripture and see what it says about such actions. I believe you will find the results are devastating.
By Tricia Scribner
Traditionally apologetics has been a discipline dominated by godly, vocal men. Even now, apologetics is often perceived as men debating on stage. But believe it or not women have a unique place in God’s kingdom work through apologetics. Here’s how.
Apologetics is not only helpful for us as believers to respond to unbelievers but to strengthen our own faith. My college years were pretty miserable. My professors taught views views diametrically opposed to everything I believed. They said humans were innately good, Darwinian evolution explained the development of all living things, and that tolerance required us to accept others’ beliefs as just as valid. All the biblical knowledge I had so diligently learned under the teaching of godly pastors and my parents while growing up was viewed as the product of magical thinking and indoctrination. The problem was that while I knew what I believed, those beliefs stood at odds with what seemed to be reasonable assertions and evidence to the contrary. I became very anxious and dreaded my classes, especially nursing, psychology, and philosophy (I dropped philosophy after three weeks and never returned.) I was desperate to find answers to these challenges, knowing if I didn’t find them, I would have to choose to accept Christianity as true in complete opposition to all the evidence to the contrary. My yearning to understand led me to Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and there began my journey into apologetics where I found that the evidence for Christianity was overwhelming.
You, too, as a Christian woman, can learn how apologetics can strengthen your own faith, and help you respond confidently to the questions and objections raised by family, friends, and co-workers.
Tricia Scribner's post can be found on her website here.
OceanFest on July 4th draws over 100,000 people who visit various booths along the Promenade in Long Branch, NJ. To be sure it is a festival of sorts. People come from the surrounding area as well as from other states to walk the Promenade. There’s food, entertainment, all kinds of goods to buy, activities, and then there’s some like us.
For the second year, our church had a booth at OceanFest where we presented The God Test, a simple tool for presenting the Gospel. If you’re not familiar with The God Test here’s a brief description: the “test” asks ten questions to people who say they believe in God and another ten questions to those who do not believe. The questions are designed to help people see what they think about God whether they’re religious or not. It also reveals areas where the questioner can ask more questions to help people clarify what they believe. The God Test is a useful tool that can adapt to many situations. I like it as an outline to get a conversation started with unbelievers.
This year, it was clear that those who gave the test had a much higher degree of confidence than last year. The people who participated in giving the test were more eager to give the test this year anticipating great results. Last year was the first year our church used the God Test and there was a bit of anxiety in the test givers. This year, there wasn’t much of this at all.
By the end of the day, over one hundred people heard about salvation in Jesus Christ. The mixture of people was astounding. We spoke to people from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, ethnic groups, and occupations. To say this was a great opportunity and experience would be an understatement. The chance to sit with unbelievers, skeptics, and nominal Christians rarely presents itself with these numbers. What we have found in both years at the booth was that many people are anxious to tell you about their beliefs and also see what the Bible has to say.
Pastor Tony Moss of Long Branch Covenant Church stated as he looked at the event admirably, “This is the church being the church.” Indeed it was as members stepped out of their comfort zone and spoke to complete strangers about Jesus. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of sharing Jesus, we came away with three important facts.
The first was that you learn a lot about what unbelievers (and those who say they believe) think about God and Jesus. Most who came into the booth this year claimed to believed in God, but we quickly found out that the beliefs people profess are not anywhere near orthodox Christian beliefs. Hearing what people think is always eye-opening. Sometimes people fumble for answers and need a little help. Other times it is clear that people are hesitant to sound judgmental. Most people were drowning in political correctness as they could not say Jesus was the only way to God. However, also apparent was how eager people are to talk about what they believe. Most of those I spoke with were eager to hear what the Bible says about these questions, too.
The second fact was that a vast majority of people we talked to moved closer to knowing God through Jesus. Greg Koukl calls this putting a “stone in someone’s shoe.” We put a lot of stones in people’s shoes that day. If people didn’t make a confession of faith, they did leave with a free book and at least one new truth for them to consider. Watching people leave our booth with a smile on their face gives a sense of accomplishment. Knowing they have something to wrestle with is probably more important.
Lastly, we did lead some to either re-commit or make a first time commitment to the Lord. This is something you don’t do every day. At least I don’t. I had a few opportunities to help people see Jesus as their Savior, but one I remember most was when I spoke with one high school girl who was waiting for her friend. One of our “barkers” (designated men or women who get people to come into the tent) convinced her it was painless and fun to take the test. After brief introductions, we dove right into the test and within a few minutes, I realized she was thinking seriously about each question. She was responding to each question as I would have scripted it. As a father and grandfather, I could do all I could to keep myself from getting emotional. I could see her countenance change with each answer she gave and responded positively when I asked her if she would want to follow Jesus. We bowed our heads and prayed, and I sensed we were standing in eternity as she passed from death to life. When she lifted her head, her smile was infectious. She knew Jesus forgave her and God was making himself real to her. Moments like these outweigh all the awkwardness and intimidation a person could feel when they hesitate to share Jesus with someone.
When the day was over everyone involved had a sense of elation. Some moments were funny, some moments were intense, and also moments of a breakthrough for both the test givers and the recipients. OceanFest is a great venue to meet people we would otherwise never meet. It is also an opportunity we recognize God put right in our neighborhood to share Jesus with these people. The God Test is a great tool to get the conversation going, too. The volunteers who helped man the booth were the instruments God used to reach a lot of people. Our hope and prayer is that God in some way met all the people who took the test, dropped a stone in their shoe and helped them come closer to him.