Thursday, July 31, 2014
One does not have to be a gifted critical thinker to recognize that the field of Christian apologetics has become a crowded field full of all sorts of people doing all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, all in the name of supposedly defending the Christian worldview these days. Unfortunately, what most Christians are doing when they do apologetics in modern culture amounts to little more than inflating their own ego. From what I read, most Christians are simply interested in winning the argument even at the expense of Christian values.
I am not suggesting that we be less than direct, less than honest or heaven forbid, politically correct when we practice apologetics. So please do not misunderstand me. However, it is clearly outside the pale of Christian virtue to engage in the sort of rude, condescending, snobbery so common these days among so-called Christian apologists. There is no reason for us to assign derogatory adjectives to those with whom we disagree even if they do not return the favor. In addition, Christian apologetics is not about proving that Christianity is the superior philosophy. Such an endeavor is terribly misguided. Apologetics is the opportunity afforded a Christian to provide others with an explanation for why they have the eternal hope in the eternal Christ dwelling within them. It is not a matter of intellectual pugilism. The apologetic encounter is not about winning a debate. What the apologetic encounter is actually about is representing the truth of Christ and the ethic of Christ simultaneously. Christian apologetics endeavors to reflect truth and virtue without sacrificing either to emphasize the other. Unfortunately, far too many young men and far too many Christians are engaging in Christian apologetics without realizing just how baptized in the culture they actually are.
What are we doing when we do apologetics?
The text that deals most directly with the idea of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:14b-16. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 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; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
Our attitude, according to Peter is first and foremost to make Christ LORD of all especially our defense of the Christian faith. This attitude of complete submission is far from the typical show-boating that I see in what passes as “Christian” apologetics in our culture. What we need is not to communicate a air of superior intellect or argumentation, but rather one of humility. After all, what we know, we know by gift not by our own intellectual dexterity. On the other hand, Christians are not to be timid or afraid of the threats from the world, be they intellectual, emotion, or even physical. This includes the fear that we may be asked a question that we simply cannot answer in the moment. The Christian is to be in a constant state of readiness to put up a defense or give an answer to everyone who asks, but that does not mean we have all the answers or that there even are answers to some of the questions we might be asked.
Needless to say, the inference in Peter’s words clearly implies serious preparation on the part of the believer. That preparation is both spiritual and mental. Christians ought to be ready at all times to engage the unbelieving culture. Even the most cursory read of the NT informs us that the early followers of Jesus Christ were in constant contact with the hostile opposition of the world. Their faith was forever being challenged by threats without and within. If it was not the threat of Judaism and its legalism from within, it was the threat of Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism from without. The early Christians had to be prepared to deal with numerous threats to the Christian message.
As sad as it may sound, some Christians think all they need to be prepared to do is vacuum our plush carpet, paint our extravagant buildings, mow our manicured lawns, and build our elaborate sets for our Christmas and Easter performances and somehow Jesus is satisfied with that sort of service. I am convinced that the kind of preparation and service the NT writers had in mind was radically different from the typical modern Christian, especially those in the west.
We are not only commanded to always be ready to provide a defense for the faith, we are told that this defense must be done with gentleness and respect. The idea is that courtesy and profound respect must be extended to those making these demands. The whole idea is to protect the integrity and image of the Church and of her Lord, Jesus Christ. Far too many so-called Christian apologists display far too little Christian virtue in their defense of Christian truth. It is the epitome of irony to ignore virtue in defense of truth. It is much easier to listen to a humble fool than it is a rude genius.
Setting reasonable expectations
It is best, first and foremost, for the apologist to set expectations for himself before he attempts to do so with certain antagonists in certain settings. We read of the great Paul himself before the Greek philosophers at Athens and how his presentation of Christian truth ended in widespread scorn because in included the non-negotiable claim of the resurrection. The apologist must remind himself that he is an instrument through which Christian truth should flow. His target is truth. His aim is to please God by accurate representing the state of affairs as it has obtained. His hope is that God might grant repentance through the power of the gospel contained in his apologetic. His expectation is that unless God should open the eyes of the opponent of Christian truth, there will be no happy agreement in the end. Either there will be a gentlemen’s disagreement or, as is the case in most instances, there will be a passionate and oft times rude and derogatory response and an abrupt end to the exchange. Nevertheless, the apologist must seek out these engagements in an effort to spread the gospel.
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21) This text is clear that we do not win men to the faith because they were able to see the truth of Christ within their own intellectual or philosophical acumen. We must evangelize the world until Christ returns. And it is when we evangelize that we will surely find ourselves engaging in the discipline of apologetics.
A view toward Christian knowledge and understanding
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples who people were saying that He was. As one might imagine, the disciples had a variety of answers. But Jesus then placed the disciples on the spot and asked them who they thought He was. Peter responded with the profound claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. In His response to Peter, Jesus informs us how Christians come to the knowledge of His identity. Jesus informed Peter that flesh and blood had not revealed this to Peter, but His Father who is in heaven. Essentially, Jesus was telling Peter that a true knowledge of who Jesus is comes only by divine, supernatural revelation. Peter did not look at the prophets and other bits of information, put the puzzle together using his unaided human reason, and get the answer right. Jesus did look at Peter and say, “You are the brightest of them all Peter, good job.” Instead, Jesus sealed off true knowledge of His identity from natural means. True knowledge of Christ and subsequently of the Christian message only comes by way of supernatural revelation. Without such a revelation, men will never arrive at a true understanding of Christianity and will never be convinced of its truth.
Jesus was no empiricist
There is a remarkable incident recorded in John’s gospel that many apologists neglect, and in my view, to their own detriment. One of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas to be specific, refused to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he actually saw Jesus with his own eyes. To make a long story short, Jesus appeared to Thomas and Thomas believed that he had been raised from the dead. But Jesus rebuked Thomas for his unbelief and made this profound statement: blessed are they who do not see but still believe. Quite literally, “blessed are the not-seeing believing ones.” The empiricist demands empirical proof. For him, the standard of truth is what can be empirically demonstrated. For many apologists, this is exactly the kind of opponent they will encounter in the world. No amount of evidence offered from history, be it Scripture or secular, will satisfy their objections to the Christian message. But this incident points us up to the fact that Jesus did not hold empiricism in high regard. In fact, he thought very little about that epistemological method and his rebuke of Thomas if proof that Jesus was not an empiricist.
If you are engaging in apologetics because you want to honor God and be obedient to Scripture, then that is the right motivation. You do not require philosophical training to do that. What you do require is an adequate understanding of the Christian gospel. That is enough to get you started. If this is an area of passion for you, then training in apologetics and philosophy can prove indispensable for your ministry. We each have our calling and we should apply ourselves to that calling with all our being.
Apologetics is not about winning debates or arguments or showing that Christianity is superior to the non-Christian worldview. It is not about making others feel or look intellectually deficient. It is about the humble and yet bold articulation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in confronting the unbeliever with their unbelief. Enter the dialogue in love with humility and expect to be insulted and expect to be asked questions, the answers to which, you do not know. Be polite, be respectful, and be honest. When you are forced to say I don’t know, say it with confidence. No one has all the answers. Acknowledge good questions. Be hospitable. Be firm in your message, without wavering. Do not feel as though you have to present Christianity in such a way that unbelievers accept your method or your answers. Stay true to the truth!
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
First, Christianity teaches that man is created by God, in God’s image.
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Second, Christianity teaches that man is cursed by God because of his decision to rebel against God and to violate the sacred command.
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, aenvy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Third, Christianity teaches that men are wicked from the inside out. They do not learn how to be evil, they are evil by nature.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
Fourth, men love evil more than they love good.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
Fifth, Christianity teaches that the world hates Jesus Christ and the Father who sent Him as well as those who follow Him.
“There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Sixth, Christianity teaches that all men everywhere are ignorant, that none of them seek God, that they have universally turned away from the truth of God to pursue their evil inclinations.
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Seventh, Christianity teaches that the human mind is a natural enemy of God with no desire or ability to seek God or to respond to Him positively.
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Eighth, Christianity teaches that the world has a futile mindset, without true understanding, excluded from the life of God and are blinded by their own ignorance. They are given over to all sorts of sensuality.
In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Ninth, Christianity teaches that the world has been blinded by Satan so that they might not see the truth of the gospel. They are wholly blind to the truth of Jesus Christ and the Christian message.
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Finally, Christianity teaches that end of the world, the rebellious men and women across the earth, is certain judgment where they will be appointed their lot in eternal damnation.
This is the Christian understanding of the nature of man. We know that man is what he is because God has revealed that knowledge to us in sacred Scripture. If you had a different understanding of man, rest assured, it is not in accord with the Christian view of man. Moreover, not only is it not justified biblically, it is certainly filled with unresolvable philosophical tensions that will make it untenable once those tensions are discovered. If you want to know anything about the nature of man, the information you seek is contained within the divine self-revelation of God known as the Bible.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 1:26–27.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 3:24.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mk 7:21–23.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 3:19.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 15:18.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 3:10–18.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 8:6–8.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Eph 4:17–19.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 2 Co 4:4.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Re 21:8.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Before I move into a discussion on the doctrine of anthropology, I want to discuss what I am talking about when I talk about the “Christian view” of man. What I mean by that the Christian view of man is the view that Scripture takes of man. And the view that Scripture takes of man is the view that God takes of man. And the view that God takes of man is the only correct view to take of man. There is no alternative opinion of man that is true. Any view of man other than the one set down expressly in Scripture is a false view. In this post I am going to briefly review some philosophical views of man and examine how much what passes as Christianity in modern culture borrows from these false views of man and how that behavior impacts much of what is passed of as modern Christian belief when in fact it is actually the cloaked views of pagan philosophy.
The one common theme that runs through every view of man in pagan philosophy is autonomy. Pagan thought has a very elevated opinion of the independence and capabilities of human nature. Man is viewed as the highest of all forms of living intelligence. There are no beings known to man that are more intelligent than man. In pagan thought, God did not create man in His image and His likeness. For most people, the bizarre theory of evolution is a settled and reasonable explanation for the existence of man. However, as we shall see, a purely naturalistic explanation of the nature of man produces not only unsatisfying explanations for why man behaves as he does, but it also leads to very disturbing conclusions about human experience in the natural world.
The reason I point the reader to the subject of the nature of man is due to the consequences that such a misunderstanding has on Christian thought. Because many evangelical churches bought into the naïve view that doctrine doesn’t matter a few years ago, they subsequently stopped teaching it in their communities. They began focusing on “practical things” like parenting, relationships, getting promoted, the power of positive thinking, and so forth. These subjects eventually crowed out the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to the point that in many cases, we see people that claim to have been saved for 10 and 20 years who cannot even articulate the gospel. That is a frightening state of affairs. One basic doctrine that has been almost entirely neglected is anthropology, or the doctrine of man. As a result, evangelical Christians have given very little thought to the subject of the nature of man. What is man that God is mindful of him? Not only does no one seem to know; no one seems to think it is very important and even fewer seem to care.
Modern evangelicals have adopted an entirely pelagian concept of human nature. The ramifications are profoundly significant for the Christian gospel. Concerning the doctrines of grace and sin, freedom and predestination, Louis Berkhof writes, “Their importance can scarcely be overrated from the point of view of practical Christianity. Their bearing on the work of redemption is even more directly apparent than that of the Christological questions.” [Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, 127] A misunderstanding of the condition of man can result and usually does result in a serious misunderstanding of the work of Christ and the gospel that He proclaimed. And so we see this misunderstanding of the gospel emerging in the writings of men like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Doug Paggit and blogs like Ben Cory, Rebecca Trotter, et al.
From the beginning man was created in God’s image and his likeness. Man was responsible to God, from the start, to reflect or mirror God’s image in his world and back to God. God created man so that man would glorify God in His entire being. As a creature of God, man is unavoidably obliged to God in every way. Man’s entire existence should consist of the multifarious ways in which he honors God with his mind, his actions, and the work of his hands. Whatever man does, he should do so that God would receive all the glory and all honor.
As sad as it is, this is not the way that many evangelical churches represent humanity today. Rather than remind man of his total dependence on God, many modern evangelicals have discarded a biblical anthropology for one that is philosophical, pagan, and out-and-out sensual.
Man was created good, according to the revelation of Genesis. Man was perfect, as God had created him, both Adam and Eve. But as the account goes, man was presented with an alternative to complete submission to God in his ethic, his epistemology, and his metaphysic. Satan offered man independence. There was another path that man had not explored. Man could continue to think as God thought, honoring God in his thought life, live according to the divine commandment, acknowledge his own finitude and seek to honor God in all that he does or he could replace God with his own self. Satan offered man a philosophy that was antithetical to God’s command and purpose for man. The promise was that man could know thing about reality apart from God. Man would not have to rely on God for everything. Man could determine for himself his own destiny. Man could, in essence, live autonomously. Man chose the autonomous lie and brought upon himself the wrath and curse of God.
Man became a natural enemy of God, having become spiritually dead. Jesus said that the world hated Him. Paul said that unregenerate men are sworn, passionate enemies of God. Men are dead in their trespasses and sins. There is no one who seeks after God on his own. There are none who are good, not even one. Man did not just make a bad rational choice when he believed the serpent. He made a devastating and irreversible spiritual decision that only God could redeem. So far as man was concerned, the fateful decision in the garden destroyed his ability to do anything that would commend him to God from that point on, absent God’s intervention. John informs us that light shined into the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not because the deeds of men are evil. Men prefer darkness rather than light. Scripture tells us that the minds of men are blind, ignorant, and held captive by Satan. Indeed, man is in a very miserable and hopeless condition. He cannot rescue himself and not only that; there is nothing in him that would make him worthy of rescuing. There is nothing to which fallen man can point that would make him worth redeeming. This is a very hard pill for modern men to swallow in light of the pagan philosophy and idolatrous psychology that has been ingrained in our minds. Nevertheless, it remains that such is the teaching of Scripture concerning the condition of man. Of course, this points us to the fact that no view of man is complete without a correct view of hamartiology, or the doctrine of sin.
The modern trend is to ignore any supernatural or spiritual components bound up in man’s decision to sin. Many of these evangelical leaders give the entire notion of sin a wink and a nod at best. But as far as serious ramifications, well, there are none, not really. A brief survey of where we are today should help us understand that 1) modern evangelicals do not understand the nature of man and 2) they do not understand the metaphysical impacts of sin.
The modern evangelical gospel is not the gospel that produces life from death. Rather, it is a gospel that simply helps you make sense out life, helps you think more positively, makes you a good parent and better spouse. It is all about your happiness and sense of purpose and meaning in life. To be a Christian is simply to make a rational move toward Christ. There is no message of repentance, no threat of eternal torment, no emphasis on the holiness of God or the sanctification of the believer. The phrase “born again” has been completely abandoned because most of the young modern evangelicals don’t even understand it and that is because they have never experienced it. Pagan notions around the nature of man and reality have been mixed with Christian theology to the utter destruction of biblical competence.
Because Christians do not understand the nature of man, they do not understand the nature of the gospel. This is why we have people “in the church” trying to convince us that “gay Christian” is a possibility. It is why people like Rebecca Trotter, Ben Corey, and Rob Bell are trying to convince us that the church was wrong about hell for the last 2,000 years. Because they do not see the wickedness of sin and of the nature of man, they debase the holiness of God. These people actually believe that Christians can have gay sex, commit fornication, and deny the status of Scripture as God’s word and still enjoy a relationship with the God that their actions reveal they hate. You see, if you read the writings of these modern folks enough, the truth comes out. They don’t like God. Just read anything they write about the Old Testament, about divine judgment, about the rebuke of sin and you will quickly realize that these people actually do not like the God that is revealed in Scripture. To them, that God is nothing more than the projection of men living in an ancient, unsophisticated, bloody culture. God is nothing more than a projection of their own culture. The real God is more like these modern evangelicals. More like, well, their culture. Essentially, modern evangelical writers are actually guilty of the projections of God they accuse the biblical authors of.
My next post will provide a very direct and simple survey of the New Testament descriptions of human nature so that you will be able to see for yourself exactly what biblical Christianity teaches about the nature of man and has for nearly 2,000 years.
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