It’s a new year. The holiday season has passed and we begin to look down the road for what this new year will bring. I am always looking at what the future will bring. It is both a strength and a weakness, a virtue and a fault. It is a strength because it allows me to prepare for what I see coming, if I see correctly. It is a weakness because I can lose focus on what is right in front of me. Some may say that if I have seen the future correctly and prepared for it, it ought to take care of what is right in front of me. Sounds logical, but doesn’t always work out that way. There’s always those unpredictable things that come up.
Well, what is coming now? How should we prepare for 2015? For me, it is simple. I have some goals that carry over from 2014. Most of them are related to education and completing a degree. The others are ministry goals - equip the church for their work of service. I know, that is pretty general. So, to be specific, I want to provide sound, relevant answers that strengthen the believer’s faith and help him/her to be a better witness for Jesus. However, that also must become more specific. What area does the church need answers for in the coming year. The answer lies in where the challenges are.
What are the areas I believe are the most challenging for the Christian in 2015? I believe there are two with which we need to concern ourselves. The two are, Islam and Secular Humanism. Ironically, these two are more dependent on each other than it appears at first glance. Islam often relies on secular humanists and skeptics to challenge the veracity of the New Testament. For instance, they love to quote Bart Ehrman and his attempts to show the New Testament is unreliable. On the other hand, secular humanists love to use radical Islamic actions to declare that devotion to religion is destructive. In order to do that they must lump all religions in one heap and then attack the entire heap. To the untrained Christian these two foes can be a bit unnerving.
Churches must educate their members about the challenges that the church faces. And, as these challenges increase the church will find itself pushed further onto the margins of society until it loses the power of its witness. The church’s lack of vision and preparation will make it anemic and an anemic church is basically useless.
An anemic church doesn’t have the strength to fight for its place in society. Worse, it doesn’t have the strength to be the witness Jesus has called it to be. I should point out that churches don’t evangelize, individuals do. Churches may organize evangelistic events, but it is the rank and file of the church that bears the witness for the risen Jesus. It is the everyday encounters with family, friends, colleagues and classmates that really matter. When people lose their courage they don’t witness. Perhaps the underlying challenge for every generation is to follow Jesus without compromise. This is the fight for every generation - can we witnesses to our world without compromising the integrity of the message? Can we uphold the integrity of Scripture’s message that Jesus is risen from the dead? It is a fight to follow Jesus in a world that continually pressures us to give in to its ways.
More than ever the church needs to equip people to share their faith. People need to be trained in evangelism and what we may call pre-evangelism, which is apologetics. To focus on the challenges at hand, I believe the main target is the Resurrection of Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament. A third argument would be the way the documents were transmitted over time. From my experience, arguments for the existence of God take a back seat to these three challenges. The Newsweek, issue of January 2, 2015 is a case in point. If you haven’t read the article on how Christians get the message of the Bible all wrong, you need to. If the arguments posed put you in a tail spin, well, good. You need to learn how to defend the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of the documents, and the person and work of Jesus as all three are targeted in the article.
One thing is for sure: Both Muslims and atheists have rejoiced over this article. However, the article didn’t start these challenges; it will just serve as fuel. You will hear these arguments echoed time and time again from both of them. Both Islam and secular humanists challenge the veracity of the message of Christ.
Are you ready for the challenges? Are you prepared to face them? Are you ready to fight to follow Jesus?
I knelt down over the large doe I’d just shot. She had dropped where she stood when I fired my primitive muzzle loader at her vitals. It was my first trip into the woods in over twenty years. Now what? In nice terms I had to “dress her.” In reality, it is called “gutting,” because of the operation of removing everything inside her-her guts. I thought to myself, “Big fish,” as I’d gutted hundreds, maybe thousands of fish. It wasn’t the neatest, but it was sufficient. She was “dressed” and ready for the butcher.
A gutted deer has no semblance of life. There’s no mistake, it’s dead. There is a process however that restores some of the image of what the deer once was - taxidermy. This is the process of a carefully trained person who can take the skin and head of the animal and make it look like its still alive. However, it isn’t difficult to tell it is stuffed. The taxidermist has used a styrofoam form that fits the deer. In about eight hours he or she can construct a fairly good resemblance.
I bring this story and concept up to discuss truth, which in my estimation has been shot, killed, gutted and stuffed by our culture. What passes as truth today is something our culture has not just killed, but murdered and neatly stuffed. What passes for truth today is not the living truth that our culture once relied on. It is a phony replica - an imposter. Truth tells us like it is. It is an accurate description of what is real. To be brief, it is objective and absolute. You may have an opinion about what is real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. You can even say that you believe that something can be true for you but not for me, but that doesn’t make that statement true either. Truth is an accurate statement about reality. Something is true if that is what actually is - as in, existence.
Here’s how this plays out in our culture - We are in a media centered environment that miscommunicates and misleads what actually is. It has gutted and stuffed reality with phony impersonations. The news media is largely to blame for this skewing reality to promote an agenda or simply to boost ratings. Movies, music, TV, and the internet are all purveyors of distorted reality. They rarely tell it like it is. The problem is we trust it. (I say “we” as a culture.) That brings us major problems - pitfalls, but first understand what authority has to do with this.
We accept something as an authority when we believe in its representation of what is real. We trust someone’s word or description about reality. Here’s an example: At one time what was morally correct was the right choice to make. Over time, this has been replaced by “whatever feels good - do it,” kind of ethic. I hear people say, “Whatever floats your boat,” as a new deciding influence for their actions. It has nothing to do with morality, nothing to do with reality, just whatever feels good - do it. The is a result of cultural influence - secular cultural’s influence. Secular culture has become the authority for this “taxiderm-ied” truth.
What secular culture doesn’t tell us is that there are pitfalls to misunderstanding reality and dissing truth. As an authority, secular culture doesn’t seem to care. So let me list at least three pitfalls.
Pitfall #1 of choosing the wrong authority is you’re likely to make bad decisions. I say, “likely” because there is an outside chance that what floats your boat may be the right choice. If secular culture is misrepresenting the way things really are there is a good chance it will mislead you and you’ll make bad decisions. The equivalent of this is having a broken compass. This is losing the “true north” indication - you won’t know which way to go to get to the correct destination.
Pitfall #2 of choosing the wrong authority is that you’re likely not to come to the right conclusions on important concepts. Readjusting concepts of life is an important part of growing up. One principle I was taught, no, it was drilled into me was to respect your elders. However, the turbulent time of the Sixties shouted this down with, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” Aside from being a fairly stupid idea, it had “legs” among a young disgruntled population. (You have to wonder if those who first stated this really thought they wouldn’t ever turn thirty years of age.)
The idea of coming to the wrong conclusion or definitions of concepts can be devastating.The obvious one is truth. Redefining the concept of truth has had an enormous impact on our lives. If truth is not objective and absolute then there is no “true north” to life. There’s no way to navigate, to know what is right or wrong, and anything goes. This is exactly where we are living. Every moral fiber that established our culture is up for discussion and we have the world of the media - movies, music, TV and the internet to guide us.
Pitfall #3 in choosing the wrong authority is loosing the ability to think seriously and deeply about everything important. If you can't properly define the concepts how can you think clearly. No matter how strongly secular culture states that can you make the decisions that matter, the aim of culture is to decide for you. Without addressing some conspiracy theories, the role of secular culture seems to coerce us into their way of thinking. Some tactics are intimidation, bullying, and chastising. Instead of promoting dialogue and truly hashing out the concepts, secular culture tells you, “obey or else.” Name calling is another tactic. “You’re ignorant if . . .” “You’re a racist if . . .” “You’re intolerant if . . .” People, and many Christians succumb to the intimidation and fall into line.
So there you have it - a secular culture that has gutted truth.
Pitfall #1 you'll make bad decisions
Pitfall #2 you'll not be able to correctly define important concepts
Pitfall #3 you'll lose the ability to think clearly
What’s a person to do? First, recognize that your ability to think is a God-given characteristic that acknowledges your Creator. We all trust authority - some choose to trust science, some trust the Bible, some trust other people. The ability to think, reasoning, is the way we come to the conclusion of which authority best represents the truth. Personally, I believe the Scripture is the best representation of reality. Every other authority that clamors for my attention must line up with that. However, I have the ability to think through the process and see if that authority truly lines up with my understanding of God’s revelation to us in the Scripture. I don’t see Scripture and science at odds with one another - just one is subservient to the other. However, what I do recognize is when something is consistently wrong or skewed, like secular culture. Don’t accept a gutted, dressed and stuffed version of reality, but the real one that is accessible through a renewed mind.
Learn to think biblically and theologically. Learn to think through the lens of Scripture; see life as God would see it.
In the first part of Renewing Your Mind, I wrote about the benefits of renewing your mind. Now, I would like to tell you how you can renew your mind. This is not an automatic process as we ought to notice in Paul’s admonition. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We must note that this is a command, not a suggestion. So, the objective is to be transformed, that is, have our lives changed further into the image of Jesus. Conversely, the world pressures us to be conformed to its pattern, but we are to be transformed. It pays to mention again that the term conformed is to be forced into a mold and the term, transformed, is a change from the inside out. It is true change. It is change that flows from what is already inside of us, that is, the Spirit of God.
There are more than a few words in the New Testament that are translated as mind. It’s hard enough in English to define mind, but the Greek language gives it a good try. This is the first step in renewing your mind. You must think differently than you did in the past. The target of your thinking is above not below. In Colossians 3:2 we read, Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. However, context, as usual, plays an important role. V1. says, If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Both verse 1 and 2 employ a command - Keep seeking and set your mind. Actually, verse 2 says, Think! Think on the things above!
Think on the heavenly things where Jesus has won a place for you for eternity. This is not gazing at the heavens imagining pearly gates and streets of gold, but the work Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection. Think on the provision of his grace, the hope of glory, the power of the resurrection. These much more are the items to think on. Learn to think biblically, and yes, theologically.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:6). Here again Paul using the same word for “mind” tells us that if we set our minds on the flesh we are carnal people. The next two verses betray that the mind set on the flesh is of the flesh and hostile towards God. (Reflect back on Chapter 1 of Romans.)
In Romans 8, Paul states that the mind set on the flesh is death, not subject to the law of God and cannot please God. This jives with Romans 12, also. Remember, Part 1 of Renewing Your Mind.
The mind set on the heavenly things, the things of the Spirit help us to renew our minds. If I may press this further and say that a good habit of reading quality material that lays out the person and work of Christ, good material that properly lays out biblical history and theology will help you renew your mind. If you persist in reading “feel good” books that do nothing to advance your critical thinking skills, nor give you good sound biblical information, you will not be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Books that do nothing but appease our selfish appetites are helping you set your mind on the flesh. Friends, this may sound blunt, but I make no apologies for it. I know how easy it is to take the path of least resistance and give in to the flesh. We sometimes do this by thinking we’re reading something spiritual that will help us when all it does is gratify our selfish desires. There are many books and videos that only help us focus on ourselves. We must learn that the answers do not reside in us but in Christ. Think on these things. You can be transformed by renewing your mind and succeed in proving what the will of God is. You can do this by setting your mind on what Jesus has done for you. Think on these things. Focus your attention on Christ, who is the wisdom of God and fullness of Him.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
These verses in Romans 12 are considered “hinge” verses that are highlighted by the word “therefore.” The old adage in Bible study is whenever you see a therefore, you must look what it is there for. Normally, it refers to what has just proceeded it. However, in this case I believe Paul is referring to something that doesn’t just precede it but actually goes back to the first chapter.
In Chapter One, Paul is laying out his argument that the Gentiles are sinners who have rejected God, even though He has made Himself known to them. The result is that their hearts were darkened and then God gave them over to three conditions: the lusts of their hearts (v.24), degrading passions (v.26), and a depraved mind (v28). My interpretation is that Chapter Twelve refers back to this passage.
Knowing that the path of sinners is destined for the wrath of God, whether Jew or Greek, Paul set out to explain God’s plan for justification, sanctification, and glorification. Paul explained how all mankind is shut up under sin, but God has a plan to restore those who would find salvation in Jesus Christ. That would take us through Chapter Eight of Romans. He then turned to whether or not Israel was still included in God’s plan and the answer was, “yes.” He then gave his, “therefore” in Chapter Twelve.
If believers are not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of their mind they can receive some valuable spiritual benefits. It is very clear that there are enormous benefits when believers renew their mind. It should be noted that this is a command, not a suggestion. “Be transformed,” is an imperative. So what are these benefits?
First and foremost when a believer is transformed by the renewing of their mind they are pleasing to God. Who doesn’t want this? Although most people are trying to please someone, believers in particular want to please their God. Here’s your chance!
The second thing that Paul says is that you will prove what the will of God is. Wow - if I had a dollar for every time people have asked me how to find God’s will, well, I’d have lots of dollars. The point is that every one struggles or at least seeks to know the will of God. Here Paul tells us that we can prove what it is - that it is good, acceptable and perfect. And, we can do it by simply being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Now that’s a winner.
The third thing is the obvious one - perhaps too obvious; the believer is transformed. This transformation is the work of the Spirit who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Christ in you is the hope of glory. The short way to say this is that we become more like Jesus.
These benefits of transformation - pleasing God, proving God’s will, and being changed, are why we should all be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Next time, I’ll post about the “how” to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Stay tuned.
An apologetic that can do little more than continually talk about itself is not worth the effort exerted or ink spilled over it. (1)
When I read this sentence something inside of me resonated. I’d thought too much about the process of apologetics. When I wrote my book, Apologetics for the Rest of Us, one of the driving forces was that too many books I’d read on apologetics were written for other apologists. Theologians and philosophers do this too, and if you don’t speak their lingo you don’t get much of what they’ve written. What’s that about? Few apologetics books, if any, were written for the person in the pew, the person apologists are supposed to help. Something is wrong with this picture.
I read a lot of blogs, maybe too many. A good hour of my morning is spent cruising websites and blogs to see what’s being said. However, too many blogs are about the bloggers, what they’re doing and trying to accomplish. What is worse is when i read different apologetic or theological camps that downgrade the camps they don’t agree with. I find it wearisome.
This happens with seminaries, too. Over the last five to ten years more seminaries have entered the arena providing graduate degrees in apologetics. Fifteen years ago, when I was looking for a place to learn apologetics there were two. Biola in California and Southern Evangelical (SES) in North Carolina. I chose SES more because of proximity as I was living in New Jersey. Since then there’s several more schools that have come on board: Liberty University and Houston Baptist Seminary are two that come to mind. There are others as well. The problem I encounter is that this too becomes a place to denigrate the others.
You’d think that the camps that excel in critical thinking would get this one right. Instead of competing we ought to be completing each other. Each school mentioned above has a strength the others lack. In turn, each has weaknesses the others don’t, too. There ought to be a cross fertilization going on, not rivalry.
It is interesting that the quote I began with comes from an author whose apologetic method is different than mine. In fact, these two camps have been outright hostile toward each other at times. Unfortunately, at one time I bought into it. However, fortunately, God is good and changed my intellectual condition. I began to see the merits of other camps and schools. Allies are a good thing.
The real point in all this is the awareness that if apologetics is not helping the person in the pew build and defend their faith as they evangelize the world around them, it really doesn’t matter that we get all the ducks in a row or eggs in the basket. It’s a flop, a waste of time.
The message is about people, always has been. In Genesis we learn God created an extravagant universe right down to a special garden to fellowship with people. Not animals, not amoeba, not plants, trees, or mountains, but people. When God called Abraham it was to build a family of people. Israel became a nation of people. Jesus was born into a family of people to redeem people. The church is made up of people. Ministry gifts are given for people. One day the Lord is coming back for his people. Can we get it straight? We’re here for God’s people. We serve the Lord to reach people, win people and help to build people. It’s all about the people.
When apologetics gets so introverted that it cannot see the reason for its existence, that’s a problem.
1 Oliphint, K. Scott (2013-07-31). Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (p. 25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Photo credit: "Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral" by Jason Pratt, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from Original
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live. - CS Lewis
I would have loved to had said this first, but somewhere CS Lewis wrote it, I read it, and it stuck. Admittedly, this is one of my favorite quotes and I have lots of them. This is so simple, yet it is so profound.
Many Christians in the west seem to care a lot about morals and good behavior. Even when we look at certain lifestyles we seem to be more interested in the behavior of a person rather than the condition of the person. We judge people’s behavior all the time.
The person isn’t necessarily a “bad” person, but a “dead” person. Isn’t this what the Scripture tells us about ourselves? Didn’t Paul say, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins?” Does God help our behavior? Of course, He does, but maybe not the way you think He does.
Reflecting on the role and work of an apologist I must return to the gospel. If we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter how well we make a defense. The illustration of buttoning your shirt or blouse comes to mind again. If you don’t get the first button right it doesn’t matter how you button the others. You can mess the other up, too, but you have to get that first one right to have a correct starting point.
Knowing the gospel is that first button. What is the gospel? What did Jesus come to do? What happens when we give ourselves to Jesus Christ? Sometimes I hear answers to these questions that make me cringe. Yes, Jesus came to provide forgiveness of sin, but not so I could go on sinning. In fact, the transformation in my life ought to make me go a completely different direction than the one I was traveling on.
The message of the New Testament is that God sent His Son to redeem and restore me. He redeems me to Himself and restores me to Himself. As a result, I am a changed individual. Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20).
For me, conversion was a catastrophic event. Someone said it was like a “train wreck.” Everything in my life changed. Most of my friends left me; I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing before. My worldview radically changed. Explaining what happened to me was another story. At first, I couldn’t explain it at all. I walked away from a lot of conversations because I couldn’t explain my conversion experience. But that changed too. I began to understand what God did in my life.
Now I go even further and explain why my experience can be validated by the evidence found in the New Testament for the message of the Gospel. Jesus isn’t just one of many, nor is he a false or fake person. Jesus embodies the truth of God to redeem us and put us on the path that continually leads us to the all-loving and all-powerful God.
The gospel is the message - apologetics is the seasoning, the adjunct, the ancillary, the handmaiden to evangelism if you will. If we convey the message correctly and people embrace Jesus because He is the answer to their need, they will have new life, not just new behavior. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.