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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Another Sign It's the End of the World as We Know It, Christian

You've just heard the news. That announcement about the thing that you would never imagine would have happened but did. That decision from the judge or the store or the selection of that candidate. The nation is seemingly crumbling before your eyes. How should the church respond?

It is now cliché to note the world is changing. That's a testament to just how quickly and how radically the world is changing. No matter with which group you may identify, the shifts that have taken place in the last decade are staggering, and for the most part they haven't been for the better.

Yesterday, we dismissed procreation as the nucleus for the institution of marriage. Today, we claim anyone can simply speak his/her/zer sexual identity (or non-identity) into existence. With religious liberty in the sights of activists, who knows how long it will be before people are not simply fined for holding to their religious convictions, but jailed for them. That very well may be our tomorrow.

Christians that I speak with are confused and bewildered. The culture has mutated around them so quickly that they really don't know what to make of things or how to react anymore. I don't pretend to have all the answers. However, I do want to take a moment and point out two observations I see that may serve as guidelines for Christians to take new steps forward.

1. Christian beliefs fall increasingly outside the mainstream

I tread carefully on this first point, but it is one that is important. It is very easy to claim victimhood today in the West. We live in the freest, most prosperous time of human existence where lifespans are longer, waistbands are wider, and gadgets are smarter than ever before. It may even be because things have become so easy for people, they interpret any resistance to their wants as victimization or persecution. That simply isn't true.

That being said, Christian beliefs are not being accepted as they once were. The Barna Group recently reported the number of people who are skeptical about the Bible is equal to the number of those who engage with it regularly.1 As the huge resistance to RFRA laws demonstrate, matters of conscience and faithfulness to one's God have been dismissed as of secondary importance. The grounding on the equality of all men no longer rests in our bearing the image of God, but rather in human beings being able to make choices.2 Further, Barna reports that “nearly half of non-religious adults perceive Christianity to be extremist,”3 and that category is growing.

All this means Christians should not expect any of their moral values or understanding of the human condition to be shared by the larger public. Nor should anyone think that just because people attend the same church as you they therefore share all your values. Most folks don't think about the messaging they receive from pop culture. They don't take the time to think through key issues. People base truth on their feelings today4, which explains the moral vacuum that exists in the most popular 2016 presidential candidates.

2. Churches need to engage minds as well as feelings

In its first few centuries, one of the things that set Christianity apart from the pagan world was its ideas. Christians thought very differently about quite a lot of things. They held women in much higher esteem, they saw the Roman practice of infanticide as deplorable,5 and they shunned loose sexual mores of their day6. That means pagan converts were converted in their moral understanding as much as their belief in God and salvation. Once they held to new convictions, they would then live by them.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today don't hold to Christian convictions. The Barna group reported in 2002 that only 32% of born again adults and 9% of born again teens believed in moral absolutes, a number that has surely dwindled in the last decade and a half.7 This is a failure of discipleship. The Church isn't transforming minds as Romans 12 commands. We've been so steeped in the vernacular of asking Jesus into one's heart that we've forgotten to ask him into our minds as well.8 That's why so many professed Christians can support a candidate who stated he would kill even the family members of those who commit terrorist acts.9  The church needs to return to making fully-formed disciples and that means teaching Christians how to think properly.

Ideas have consequences. The consequences of an overly-individualistic, morally relative, and senate and materialistic culture are showing in the complete collapse of Christian values in our culture. The church doesn't look that different from the secular culture in this regard. But the early church changed their world because they changed people's minds as much as they offered compassion and the love of Jesus. In fact, it was their renewed minds that allowed them to put their beliefs into practice. If the Church doesn't do a better job in discipling minds, I cannot see how it will be able to withstand the resistance it will soon face. 


1. "Year-in-Review: Barna's Top 10 Findings from 2014." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016.
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.
3. "Five Ways Christianity Is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist." Barna Group. Barna Group Inc., 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 May 2016.
4. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 11 Feb. 2002. Web. 04 May 2016.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "How Will Children Be Valued If Christianity Is Lost?" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 12 June 2014. Web. 04 May 2016.
6. Esposito, Lenny. "Http://" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 2 July 2015. Web. 4 May 2016.
7. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." 2002.
8. Esposito, Lenny. "Why Our Culture's Value of Feelings Will Be Its Downfall." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016.
9. LoBianco, Tom. "Donald Trump on Terrorists: 'Take out Their Families'" CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

"Where Two or Three are Gathered" Doesn't Mean What You Think" (video)

It's almost commonplace for church leaders and Christians in general to refer to Matthew 18:20, which says "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." They try to use this verse to prove that Jesus can be found in the fellowship of believers. However, in doing so, they are twisting the scriptures just as much as a Mormon or one of Jehovah's Witnesses do.

In this short clip, Lenny explains what Matthew 18:20 really means and why it's important to use the scriptures properly, especially in church settings.

Photo courtesy Grayson Akerly and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

B.B. Warfield on Why Churches Need Apologetics

B.B. Warfield was one of the great theologians of the early 20th century. His writings are influential with many pastors even to this day. When Warfield was asked to write an introduction to a book of apologetics by Francis R. Beattie, he didn't take the standard route of providing a mini-book review. Instead, Warfield chose to answer a viewpoint within the church that had been growing in popularity, which is the idea that apologetics is an eccentric field of study, which is of little use to most Christians. Such a view was held by Warfield's peer Abraham Kuyper, as reflected in his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology.

I offer this snippet from Warfield's introduction because it reflects the mindset of many churches even today. Though Christians are bearing the burden of greater and greater assaults against their beliefs and their worldview, a majority of church leaders are reticent to provide their congregation with any type of apologetics training. Warfield's words are a good reminder as to just how important apologetics is to the task of evangelism.
The fact is, despite the richness of our apologetical literature, Apologetics has been treated very much like a stepchild in the theological household. The encyclopaedists have seemed scarcely to know what to do with it. They have with difficulty been persuaded to allow it a place among the theological disciplines at all. And, when forced to recognize it, they have been very prone to thrust it away into some odd corner, where it could hide its diminished head behind the skirts of some of its more esteemed sisters.

This widespread misprision of Apologetics has been greatly fostered by the influence of two opposite (if they be indeed opposite) tendencies of thought, which have very deeply affected the thinking even of theologians who are in principle antagonistic to them. I mean Rationalism and Mysticism. To Rationalism, of course, Apologetics is an inanity; to Mysticism, an impertinence. Wherever, therefore, rationalistic presuppositions have intruded, there proportionately the validity of Apologetics has been questioned. Wherever mystical sentiment has seeped in, there the utility of Apologetics has been more or less distrusted.

It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. But surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. It is equally easy to say that Christianity is attained, not by demonstrations, but by a new birth. Nothing could be more true. But neither could anything be more unjustified than the inferences that are drawn from this truth for the discrediting of Apologetics. It certainly is not in the power of all the demonstrations in the world to make a Christian. Paul may plant and Apollos water; it is God alone who gives the increase. But it does not seem to follow that Paul would as well, therefore, not plant, and Apollos as well not water. Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons"; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light, because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. Accordingly, our Reformed fathers always posited in the production of faith the presence of the "argumentum propter quod credo," as well as the "principium seu causa efficiens a quo ad credendum adducor." That is to say, for the birth of faith in the soul, it is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart.1


1. Edgar, William; K. Scott Oliphint. Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2011. Kindle Edition.395, 398-99.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Reaching the Young by Connecting the Past

The continuing exodus of young people from the church has grabbed a lot of church headlines. A lot of churches have tried to stem the tide by seeking more "hip" youth programs, or trying to be more relatable. That may be exactly backwards.

In his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith, David Kinnaman points out that the disconnect isn't because the church isn't being hip enough, but that it isn't teaching its history to the next generation. He explains:
Intergenerational relationships matter on earth because they are a snapshot of Zion, a small but true picture of the majesty and diversity of God's people throughout the ages, who are citizens of the new reality God inaugurated in Jesus Christ. How can we recapture that sense of historical continuity, of a living, breathing body of Christ—of a divine assembly of the saints alive today and throughout the ages? ...

If younger generations are to avoid the mistakes of the past, young leaders desperately need a sense of what has gone before—and you can only get that sense from soul-shaping friendships with older Christians. Often I am surprised at how teenagers and young adults believe they are the first to think of an idea, a cause, or a way of doing something. (I know because I have thought this very thing.) Eventually most find that their idea was not so revolutionary after all; it just seemed hip and new. Meaningful relationships with older adults who are following Christ will help to ensure that your fresh ideas build on the incredible work of previous generations and that your passion to follow Jesus in this cultural moment is supported and upheld by this whole, living generation of believers.

If you are a Boomer or an Elder, I encourage you to come to grips with the revolutionary nature of the Mosaics' cultural moment. Young Christians are living through a period of unprecedented social and technological change, compressed in an astounding manner, and the longer we take to acknowledge and respond to these changes, the more we allow the disconnection between generations to progress. Ask yourself how available you have been to younger Christians. The generation gap is growing, fueled in part by technology, so it takes extra effort to be on the same page. Frankly, deep relationship happens only by spending time, and big chunks of it, in shared experiences. I encourage you to be ready for a fresh move of God, buoyed by young adults. Are you open to "reverse" mentoring, wherein you allow younger leaders to challenge your faith and renew the church? 1


1.Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Book Group, 2011. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 3441-3453).

Friday, March 06, 2015

Overcoming Objections to an Apologetics Ministry

It's no secret that most churches don't offer any kind of apologetics as part of the ministries available to their congregations. There can be many reasons for this, from a perception by either church leadership or the laity that apologetics is too tough, no one is qualified to lead such a ministry, there would be no interest, there isn't enough time, or simply a general lack of knowledge concerning what apologetics really is. Each of these problems can be overcome without a whole lot of difficulty. Let's take each in turn, beginning with the last.

1. No one knows what apologetics is

This is probably the biggest problem in the Christian church. People either don't recognize the word apologetics or misunderstand what the study of apologetics entails. The word apologetics is itself foreign, not used much beyond those interested in it. But this is also the easiest problem to fix.

The word apologetics comes from the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to make a defense (the Greek word apologia) for the hope that is within you." This is a defense like a trial lawyer would put on for his client, using reason and evidence to prove innocence. You can explain apologetics in more detail, but it is perfectly fine to talk about the need today for Christians to be able to defend their faith with reasons and evidence. After all, Christianity has always been a faith based on the evidence of Jesus's resurrection.

It's becoming more and more evidence that being able to defend one's Christian beliefs in a non-threatening and reasonable fashion is important. So, let's speak about being good and thoughtful defenders.

2. Apologetics is too tough

As I said above, apologetics doesn't have to be considered tough. This goes back to misunderstanding just what apologetics is. Apologetics isn't about formal debates or arcane facts that no one would know. It's about giving good reasons for why you believe what you believe. Some of these can be as simple as looking at a movie like Forrest Gump and comparing it to the resurrection accounts. Or, just teaching people the common-sense idea that you can't get a something (like the universe) from a nothing. As I've written before, you're smarter than you think you are, and everyone can easily grasp the basics of apologetics.

3. There would be no interest in apologetics

As I engage with congregations at various churches, I simply don't see this objection to be true. When I speak at conferences or services, people are truly engaged and many are surprised they have never heard some of the arguments that apologists now use to demonstrate why God exists, or why the New Testament is reliable history. Like I mentioned above, people are being challenged more and more about what they believe and they're being questioned as to why they believe it. At the same time, there are many churches straining to become more relevant to help retain young people.

Helping people find the answers to their questions is not merely relevant, it is attractive. People need help in finding such answers and apologetics is just the place to begin. One can perhaps define apologetics as theology practically applied when engaging in conversations about issues of faith or morality. It isn't interest that keeps people away from apologetics topics, but not knowing that apologetics is beneficial to the Christian in many ways. Learning to defend the faith isn't just for witnessing to others.

4. There isn't enough time to teach apologetics.

In our busy world, time is becoming more and more precious. Many of my friends are pastors, and I know how taxed their time is with the responsibilities of preparing messages, managing budgets, visiting the sick, and all the other tasks laid upon them. However, apologetics doesn't need to be "one more thing," it could be simply a part of everything else. Perhaps one sermon a month can have a focus on apologetic-type content. Or, you can plan a movie night to watch one of William Land Craig's debates. Or, you can find someone within the congregation would be interested in leading a small group focused on apologetics. You can even partner with Ratio Christi to find out if there's an apologetics group in your area college that will integrate with your church. There are many other suggestions you can find to implement such a study.

5. No one at the church (either on staff or laity) would be qualified to lead such a ministry.

The idea that an apologetics ministry must be led by someone who has studied it for years is a common misnomer. A small group that goes through C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, J.P. Moreland's Love Your God with All Your Mind, or Lee Strobel's The Case For… books will be well on their way to learning and growing in their defense of the faith. There are also a ton of video resources (I even offer full lectures on my YouTube channel) church groups can share as aids so that the class can be taught by first tier apologists. I've even presented to small groups via Skype or Google Hangouts, giving them all the benefit of a guest speaker without all the costs associated with booking an in person appearance.

What to do next:
If you would like some help getting an apologetics event or ministry started in your church, please contact me here. Come Reason would love to help you take the next step in equipping the saints to defend their faith in an intelligent, loving, and gracious way.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hidden Benefits of a Church-Based Apologetics Ministry

"Apologetics? What are you apologizing for?", "Is that a class that husbands are supposed to take?", "What is that?" These are questions I hear frequently whenever I mention the study of apologetics. It probably comes as no surprise the word "apologetics" is foreign to most people, not only the general public but also those who are a part of the Christian church. Even evangelicals, who define themselves by their passion to follow Jesus' command to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations"(Matt. 28:17) usually look quizzically at me whenever I begin discussing the need for apologetics, even though apologetics is an essential part of making disciples. Why would this be?

One of the problems is simply that the church doesn't talk a lot about it. Apologetics is generally understood to be a specialty discipline—specifically engaging in defending the faith against skeptics, alternate religions and cults, and contrary worldviews. As such, many pastors eel that it can only play a very limited role in ministering to the needs of their congregation. How does apologetics help the man trying to feed his family after losing his job or the newly widowed woman?

I've said before that in many churches, a person telling his or her pastor of their desire to start an apologetics ministry results in an experience similar to a young man telling his Jewish mother he wants to be a proctologist. "Well, I glad you're going to be a doctor," she would say, "But why did you have to choose that!" Pastors are happy to have people desiring to get into ministry opportunities, but they simply aren't sure where apologetics fits in their church. However, many times both church leadership and laity fail to understand the more holistic aspects of providing a strong apologetics ministry to the local congregation. In this article, I'd like to highlight some benefits of an apologetics ministry that applies directly to every member of the church congregation, benefits that you may not have considered before.

Apologetics guards believers against heresies

The word apologetics literally means providing reasons and evidence for the Christian faith. Part of this means defending the Christian faith from imposters or detractors, but it also means protecting those in the church from the wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. I've often made the claim that one could define apologetics as theology properly applied and there is no greater need to apply theology properly than with new believers. The Burned-Over district of western New York in the early 1820s is a good example. Just as church congregations continued to grow and revivals spread, these were accompanied by the establishment of such unorthodox beliefs systems as the Mormons, the Spiritists, and the Millerites who spawned both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists .1

 If we are to defend our beliefs with reason and evidence, then it follows we need to know just what we believe and the reasons why we hold to those beliefs. Since apologetics encompasses the study of theology, especially as it relates to orthodoxy, it is one way Christians learn to discern orthodoxy from heresy. Thus one of the hidden benefits of a church beginning an apologetics teaching ministry is it helps guard Christians from falling into heretical beliefs. Apologetics is defensive as well as evangelical.


1. John H. Martin writes of the District: "The Burned-Over District of New York spawned one religious revival after another in the decades between 1820 and 1850. Revivalism, Millennialism, Spiritualism followed each other, often overlapping and partaking of similar elements. There was a credulity at the time (and at other times as well, no doubt) which led individuals from one religious impulse to another. There was a spiritual yearning for answers to the questions and problems of this world and a concern about any future existence which might be faced after this life. There also existed a willingness to follow any one who seemed to have answers, be it Charles Grandison Finney, William Miller, the Fox sisters, or a new, self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, who appeared on the scene in Palmyra, New York. The very early followers of Joseph Smith came from among the religious restless, the dissatisfied, who succumbed easily to the religious emotionalism of the times. They had been exposed to the popular religious awakenings of the day with the expectations for the life beyond this worldly realm. The traditional theology of Christianity was not of great interest to these seeker for answer, and they were susceptible to explanations which moved beyond the traditional Biblical basis of the various Christian faiths. Thus the beliefs of Joseph Smith were to find a small following in New York before the new faith of Mormonism moved beyond the borders of New York and its future growth." From "Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited" The Crooked Lake Review Issue No. 137. 2005. Web. 3/17/2012
Image courtesy [CC BY-SA 3.0 us]

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reaching Your Community by Intentionally Reaching Out (video)

There's a lot of worry in our churches today. Everyone is asking "How can we stop the tide of young people leaving the church?" Even Bible-believing churches have seen a decrease in the number of young people engaging.  But all is not dire.

In our relativistic culture, people generally want to find something that is more meaningful and more solid than the whims of amorphous spirituality that the world preaches. Young people want to take action! In this video I talk about how among Christians, interest in participating in community projects is escalating. That means the Church has a great opportunity to reach out in love, to touch the lives of others, and to show one way Christianity is still incredibly relevant in the world today.

For more on this idea, see my post here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What to Think About the Atheist Church Movement?

The intriguing headline read "Atheist 'Mega-Churches' Take Root across Us, World." Following was an AP story describing how the Sunday Assembly, a weekly congregation of atheists that began in the UK, has just launched new congregations in several major cities across the United States. Their vision, according to their web site is to give the godless person a communal experience, allowing them to "celebrate life" and to "be a force for good" with the mutual support of other atheists. Their motto proclaimed clearly on their web site is to "live better, help often, wonder more."

The story attracted a lot of attention online; social media and the blogosphere were immediately inundated with links to variations of the story from the Huffington Post, CBS News, or other outlets. Of course, some of it was more hype than help. For example using the term 'mega-church' in both the lede and the story copy was terribly misleading. A mega-church is defined by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as a protestant congregation of 2000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship ." The kickoff Sunday Assembly meeting in Los Angeles attracted "several hundred" attendees according to the story. Given that Sunday Assembly founder Sanderson Jones was the special guest, it remains to be seen what the actual average weekly attendance will prove to be, but they were far from mega-church numbers.

Bigger questions than the AP's misleading hyperbole come to mind, though. One is just why those that ascribe to no higher authority could have any objective calling to "be a force for the good." Just what is "the good" when there is nothing to ground your moral understanding? What does it mean to "live better?" Does one live better by honestly acquiring wealth or by living in meager conditions so he can give more of his wealth away? Is one being a force for good if she helps advance the race by promoting the best and the brightest or by trying to give equal time to the unlearned so that all people have an equal chance to be heard? Perhaps being a force for good is following Richard Dawkins' concept that teaching children religious ideas is worse than sexual abuse. They should therefore seek to extract all children from those homes, as anyone would properly do with the children of a pedophile.

The fundamental problem with the Sunday Assembly is the fact that there is no grounding at all for such gatherings, other that the subjective feelings of the participants. Without a transcendent authority, that is without an objective God that provides meaning to life and morality, you are only left with a false shell of what church is all about. Such hollow actions may make the adherents feel good, but I think they're doomed to failure as any counterfeit would be. Los Angeles Sunday Assembly organizer Ian Dodd said it explicitly to Salon Magazine: "What we're trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus."

Yes, and anyone who thinks the bathwater is valuable when you've lost the baby has their priorities upside down.

Jones is not hiding the fact that he is trying to duplicate much of what he likes about the Christian church experience. In the AP article he says, "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"  Nothing, except the glue that holds the church together and allows all those incredibly different people to be one body is Jesus Himself. Christians are called to be conformed into Jesus' image. We have an objective idea of what love and what self-sacrifice is because He modeled it for us. And we, as followers of Christ, have a reason to love our enemies and forgive one another. Without Jesus, it would all be about who likes what, but with no compelling motivation to follow the teachings that you really don't like. It's doing those hard things that provide so much more meaning to life than simply singing catchy songs or hearing an interesting speaker.

When I was a kid, I used to take a piece of spearmint gum from the pack, carefully remove the stick from the aluminum wrapper, then refold the wrapper and slip it back into the paper sleeve and back into the pack. The whole point of this deception was to offer a stick of gum to my friends and watch the hilarity of them grabbing an empty package. It was silly and it was kid stuff that we laughed at because we were childish in our outlook. Atheist churches offer a promise of real satisfaction, but I fear the only thing they can deliver is a package that holds nothing more than an aroma of what living better actually means.
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