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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 www.comereason.org 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 evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evangelism. Show all posts

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Displaying a God of Beauty Draws Youth to Christianity



In my latest series of articles, I've been looking at leveraging beauty in our evangelism and our defense of the faith. We've already established that beauty is one of the primary virtues, and how we can know that beauty is not simply "in the eye of the beholder" as we've been led to believe. There is in fact an objective nature to beauty.

In an interesting post, Travis Dickenson pointed to an article in the U.K.'s The Telegraph entitled "One in six young people are Christian as visits to church buildings inspire them to convert." The article goes on to offer statistics of how more than one in five young people between 11 and 18 describe themselves as "active followers of Jesus" while 13% categorize themselves as practicing Christians. In 2006, a study showed that number as only 6%, which means the number of young people in the UK coming to faith may have more than doubled in just over a decade.1

What has driven this trend? The architecture of the church may have something to do with it, according to the article:
Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.

The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.



The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups and courses such as Youth Alpha, are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building in attracting children to the church.

One in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 per cent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 per cent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity.2

Leaving Out Beauty Leaves out the Full Picture of God

Dickenson notes all this and offers that there is something more powerful about experiencing God in a beautiful building than in a functional box:
We build church buildings today almost exclusively for function. Function is of course not unimportant. If there's no door to get into the building, then this is a problem. But we seem almost completely unconcerned about the kind of experience a building will give. There are some incredibly beautiful doors out there!

Does it sound strange to talk about beauty affecting our experience?

Consider what it would be like to read a book (even a really good book) sitting in a single chair with bright fluorescent lights in a high school gymnasium. Then consider what it would be like to read the same book [in an exquisitely crafted and detailed library.]

Or in a great coffee shop or out in nature.

The point is that the experiences depend in part on our environment. Being surrounded by beauty importantly changes and greatly enhances the experience. When we are surrounded by beauty, it more fully engages our souls. We are not just rationally engaged, but we are engaged in deep parts of our souls.

If this is right, then why wouldn't we include beautiful aspects in our worship environments? When the experience is only rote and rational, then we have not presented the full picture of who God is. 3
I think Dickenson's right in this. We are inspired by beauty in music, in architecture, and in form. We serve a God who values beauty, and we should properly represent Him this way as much as we do a God who values truth and reason. How do we know God values beauty? I'll offer that argument next time.

References

1. Olivia Rudgard. "One in Six Young People Are Christian as Visits to Church Buildings Inspire Them to Convert." The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 17 June 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/17/one-six-young-people-christian-visits-church-buildings-inspire/. Accessed 5 July 2018.
2. Ibid.
3. Travis Dickenson. "Want to Reach Youth? Build a Beautiful Building!" The Benefit of the Doubt, 23 June 2017, www.travisdickinson.com/want-reach-youth-build-beautiful-building/. Accessed 5 July 2018.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Christianity, Judaism, and Sharing the Messiah (podcast)



How should Christians witness to Jewish friend and neighbors? We share so much, yet the Judaism of today is not the same as what was practiced in the times of the Old Testament. Grab these lessons to learn ways we can share Jesus with the Jews.
To hear more podcasts from Come Reason, subscribe via iTunes or through our RSS feed. You can also visit our podcast page here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evangelism Needs to Become More Intellectual


There exists a fairly popular instruction for pastors that when they prepare their sermons, they should strive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf." In other words, the sermon needs to be simple with points easy to grasp by all.

I agree that it is important to communicate clearly. Part of that is to help parishioners by approaching take complex ideas and breaking them up in such a way that they can be apprehended by most of the congregation. However, I fear that the drive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf" has been over emphasized. I've seen many Bible teachers who are afraid of being "too intellectual" or presenting difficult concepts because their congregants may not "get it." As a result, much of the preaching on Sunday mornings have been dumbed-down from what the average church goer would have experienced a century or two ago.

Of course, not all ideas given in the Scriptures are able to be easily digested. God's orchestration of the conquest of Canaan is one example. The role that women play in New Testament churches is another. Concepts such as believers being predestined yet having the freedom to choose to follow Jesus is a third. All of these are directly taken from the scriptures and if one is to take in the whole counsel of God, these ideas must be addressed.

The Intellectual Needs Jesus

My concern is not simply liturgical; it is also evangelical. There is real danger in not demonstrating an intellectually robust faith for the intellectuals who are influential in shaping the ideas of a culture. James Davison Hunter makes a salient point:
Imagine, in this regard, a genuine "third great awakening" occurring in America, where half of the population is converted to a deep Christian faith. Unless this awakening extended to envelop the cultural gatekeepers, it would have little effect on the character of the symbols that are produced and prevail in public and private culture. And, without a fundamental restructuring of the institutions of culture formation and transmission in our society-the market, government-sponsored cultural institutions, education at all levels, advertising, entertainment, publishing, and the news media, not to mention church-revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture. Imagine further several social reform movements surrounding, say, educational reform and family policy, becoming very well organized and funded, and on top of this, serious Christians being voted into every major office and appointed to a majority of judgeships. Legislation may be passed and judicial rulings may be properly handed down, but legal and political victories will be short-lived or pyrrhic without the broad-based legitimacy that makes the alternatives seem unthinkable.1
To support his claim, Hunter points to one of the biggest victories of Evangelicals in the last century – the temperance movement. Christians had both political representation and a significant portion of the voting public behind them to pass a constitutional amendment. However, it proved a miserable failure.

The church must reach out to the intellectual in the academy as well as the builder on the job site. Both need saving. But if we only present Christianity in the most basic idioms, what will be their assumption about the faith? Instead of seeing the robust, historic Christian tradition that birthed the writings of the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Pascal, and many others, they see a feeble and childish view of the world.

I don't believe every sermon must feel like a college lecture. But offering one sermon a month that stretches the congregation and tackles some of the more complex ideas within Christendom wouldn't be a bad idea.

In the book of Hebrews, the church is rebuked by the writer for not being able to handle more difficult matters of theology. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb. 5:13-14). Paul also rebukes the Corinthian church similarly: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh" ( Cor. 3:1-3).

How are we reaching the intellectual with the Gospel? How are we growing our church members into mature believers who can digest solid food? Keeping the cookies on the lower shelf may be fun for the congregation, but it might simply mean we're short-changing their intellectual nutrition.

References

1. Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.46.
Image courtesy Jelllserrine - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30609111

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Apologetics is Foundational to the Christian Faith


Apologetics is the discipline of thoughtfully and carefully defending the Christian faith. It is not only a calling in the Bible, but a command to which all Christians are obligated. I understand that most Christians won't have the background or the knowledge to become faith defenders in the manner of a C.S. Lewis. Neither will most Christians ascend to the ranks of Billy Graham in terms of sharing their faith. Yet, just as we are all called to evangelize (Matt.28: 19-20), we are all called to defend our beliefs (1 Pet, 3:15.)

Today, as more and more people are skeptical of Christianity and who Jesus was, apologetics has become integral to evangelism efforts. Yet, while Bible-believing Christians may not all share their faith, they usually don't doubt the fact they are called to do so. The same isn't true for defending their faith. They simply don't see such tasks as important. They claim such a task is "just head knowledge" or "a side project, not a necessary part pf Christianity." Nothing could be further from the truth.

In an article entitled "Defending a Defense of the Faith," Dr. Craig Hazen offers several key reasons why such claims fail. The first is that defending the faith is simply part of the original fabric of Christianity, beginning with Jesus and his disciples. Hazen writes:
Perhaps there is no stronger argument that Jesus himself was an extraordinary source for the apologetic impulse in Christianity than the fact that his closest followers, those who so deeply desired to emulate their Master, were such ardent proponents of Jesus' ethos of demonstration. Indeed, Paul, John and Peter seemed almost obsessed with offering evidence, testimony and argument at every turn in order to establish the truth of the gospel message. The case for the apostolic support for the full range of apologetic activity is very well known and has been affirmed by scores of preeminent Christian scholars in the last fifty years. Anyone wishing to downplay the significance of the defense of the faith to the apostles and the early church is truly swimming upstream against an overwhelming current.1
Hazen goes on to list several passages showing how the New Testament writers reinforced the call to apologetics. (You can find a similar list here.) He then writes:
Even if Christ's closest followers had not given direct commands to engage in apologetic activities, they modeled those activities so frequently and unmistakably in Scripture that their actions amount to a clear exhortation for all Christians to go and do likewise. The Gospel writers themselves were carefully attuned to this. Luke, for instance, has an explicitly apologetic purpose in the construction of his Gospel—a special focus he lauys out in the prologue of his book. Here, he highlights eyewitness testimony, careful investigation and accurate reporting all with an eye toward his reader, Theophilus, to know "the certainty" of the things he had been taught (Lk 1:1-4).2
Hazen is absolutely correct. One of the clearest apologetic encounters in the Bible is Paul's engaging the Athenians at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31. I've previously demonstrated how scripture records apologetic engagements even by Jesus himself (see here, here, and here).

All of this simply shows that apologetics is foundational to Christianity.  Jesus used apologetics to preach the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The apostles used apologetics to evangelize the lost. We Christians today should follow that example and prepare to know how to give an answer for our hope to anyone who asks.

References

1. Hazen, Craig. "Defending the Defense of the Faith." To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview: Essays in Honor of Norman L. Geisler." Francis Beckwith, William Lane. Craig, and J..P. Moreland, Eds. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print.39-40.
2. Hazen, 1999. 41.

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

References

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.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

You Can No Longer Separate Apologetics and Evangelism



Yesterday I was interviewed by Mike Spaulding for an upcoming episode of Soaring Eagle radio. During our talk, he asked me about the growing need to incorporate apologetics into our evangelism efforts. Of course, Christians are commanded to study and be prepared to defend the Christian faith. There are many verses in the Bible commanding us to defend our faith. Therefore, we should be ready to do so.

The idea of apologetics as a necessary part of one's faithful walk is new to most Christians. They understand the need to worship God, to live a set apart life, and even the command to evangelize given by Jesus in the Great Commission. However, learning apologetics isn't something preached from most pulpits today. Yet, in the first few centuries, apologetics and evangelism were inter-reliant. In fact, when you look at the writings of the early church fathers, you see how big a role apologetics played in their interaction with the outside world. Here are just a few examples:

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr lived in the second century AD, just after the apostles. Seeking to be a philosopher by training, he began to look for a satisfying understanding of the world. After seeing Christians bravely stand up to martyrdom, Justin converted and "he acted as an evangelist, taking every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel as the only safe and certain philosophy."1] In his Dialogue with Trypho he explains how Christianity makes sense as a worldview, drawing upon Platonic ideas popular in his day. His First Apology and Second Apology he takes on many false charges circulating about Christians at the time, such as they were offering child sacrifices or cannibals. Part of Justin's goal was to allow Christians to live peacefully instead of being persecuted around the Empire. However, he also knew that evangelism was made more difficult by those lies.

Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus lived in the second century and turned his attention towards the Gnostics, a group that claimed to have secret knowledge about Jesus and the world. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argues for God's unity and the reality of his creation, which the Gnostics denied. He reaches out to his reader, telling them "If then, you shall deliver up to Him what is yours, that is, faith towards Him and subjection, you shall receive His handiwork, and shall be a perfect work of God. If, however, you will not believe in Him, and will flee from His hands, the cause of imperfection shall be in you who did not obey, but not in Him who called [you]."2]

Tertullian

Tertullian wrote his Apology to address the injustices and death sentences Christians were facing in Carthage and other areas of the Roman Empire. This famous defense of Christians ends with a bang, as he tells the unjust magistrates that Christians are suffering martyrdom because they are morally upright and that continuing to kill them will only make evangelism efforts grow:
In condemning a Christian woman to the leno rather than to the leo You made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed .3]

Apologetics in Today's Post-Christian Culture

Just as the Christians in the second century faces a culture hostile to the teachings of Christ, so Christians today find themselves in a post-Christian (and post-pagan) culture. Apologetics is therefore necessary to fulfill our faithfulness to The Great Commission. We see it in the examples of the Church Fathers. We would do well to follow them.

References

1. "Justin Martyr." Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, A. Cleveland Coxe, and Allan Menzies. Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994. Print. 160.
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.39.2-3. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103439.htm.
3. Tertullian. Apology 50. Translated by S. Thelwall. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0301.htm

Friday, July 31, 2015

How Should Christians Engage Others Online?


I went to a wedding recently, where the DJ had all the married couples come to the dance floor. He then would ask couples to leave based on how long they had been married. Ultimately, he got down to the very last couple, a man and a woman who had been married 60 years!

After a round of applause, the DJ walked up to the man with his microphone and asked him "what is your secret to staying married for 60 years."

The man then clearly revealed his secret: He didn't say a word and signaled that his wife should answer.

A smart man knows how to avoid an argument. But you will never be able to avoid arguments in this life. I'm not talking about the shouting matches that end up in people hurting each other's feelings. Those can and should be avoided. I mean arguments like those where both sides provide reasons in a discussion to support their specific positions.

You will be faced with those who will challenge you.

Arguments are a part of life. I had posted a short video explaining the imago Dei – that all human beings are made in the image of God and share certain attributes that God holds. This distinguishes them from animals. An atheist then made this comment: "I think it is more reasonable to conclude that the gods were made in the image of man. (Gods are man-made.) Thousands, or millions, of gods have come and gone before Christianity came on the scene. Hinduism claims there are 330 million gods."

The atheist has made an argument, stating that because the history of humanity is replete with different theories on who or what God is, it is more reasonable to hold that all gods are man-made and therefore to be an atheist. Notice that the original video wasn't trying to prove that God exists, but to explain a particular point of Christian theology. Yet, here was a commenter who challenged the very notion of God's existence.

These kinds of situations come up often for Christians, especially online. You may be perfectly happy with your day so you post a Bible verse or a meme that thanks God for your blessings. All of a sudden, someone is commenting that no one should believe such fairy tales as God or that the Bible is an ancient book full of superstition. What should be our response?

Approaching Conversations Biblically

Luckily, Paul provides us with some guidance. First, he says that we shouldn't avoid all interactions with those who would oppose us. In 2 Timothy, he states that we should be ready for those opportunities, studying diligently to capitalize on them when they come because they can lead to changed hearts. Yet, he also says that one must weigh the attitude and openness of the challenger. Paul writes:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene…

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:15-17, 24-26, ESV).
Gentle correction of those who are in opposition is the appropriate plan. It doesn't mean we must answer every charge; we are not to cast our pearls before swine. But we shouldn't ignore people simply because they have beliefs different from our own. How else will unbelievers be forced to examine their own beliefs and see them as baseless or contradictory? That's why we need to be prepared to argue convincingly and intelligently. Apologetics is part of evangelism and its goal is for everyone to come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. How are you preparing?

Image licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What Isn't Being Talked about in the Pew Study



The recent Pew Study showing the decline of Christians within the population of the U.S. has generated headlines across the country. Entitled "America's Changing Religious Landscape," the report reaffirms what had been known for years, young people are losing their faith at a faster rate than ever before.1 The reports cites a nearly 8% decrease in people who identify as Christians. It also notes "The percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular'—has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.)" 2 That's a significant increase, and the movement away from all faiths, including Christianity is most prevalent in young people, aged 18-35. The fact is alarming, and I have both written about it and interviewed experts on the trend, including offering suggestions on how to stem the tide.

Jehovah's Witnesses Rely on Christians to Survive

Yet, other facts emerge from the study to which we should also pay attention. One is the attraction and retention rates of other faiths. For example, the study shows that 65% of those who identify now as Jehovah's Witnesses were raised outside that tradition. That means two out of three Jehovah's Witnesses are converted to that faith. And a full 50% of those who are now JW came from either Protestantism or Catholicism.3

Because Jehovah's Witnesses hold to a strong belief in God's existence and the Bible being God's word, this sift is important to note. It isn't simply secularism or atheism that is drawing away people who were raised Christian, it is the search for definitive truth that is attractive, too. Imagine if Christians were so educated in theology that the heresies of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society would be completely unattractive to them. The organization would be crippled.




The Watchtower relies on converting Christians to survive; if that well were to dry up, the organization could not continue. Because the JWs have not increased in adherents, its new converts—those that make up two thirds of the sect—are replacing those who have walked away from the Watchtower. They can't retain their followers, yet they are still attracting new adherents. Churches need to do a better job here.

The LGBT in Your Pew

Important insights on the religious beliefs of those who identify as homosexual or bisexual also should be noted. While the Pew survey shows that 4 out of 10 people who identify as unaffiliated, 48% identify as Christians. Even more importantly, a full 13% of those who stated they were either gay or bisexual identified themselves as not merely Christian but Evangelical Christian!4 So, how many churches have any type of ministry to these people? How many self-described LGBT have anyone they know that they can talk with about their struggles? How is the church lovingly evangelizing the person in the pew who is wrestling with their feelings?

These are just two of the interesting insights that paint a bigger picture of how crucial a new kind of evangelism and apologetics will become for the church. As kingdom-builders, we need to make sure we are not ignoring them. Apologetics and theology classes can keep Christians from believing the Watchtower's errors or the atheist's assertions. Offering ministry to those struggling with all kinds of sexual purity issues will play a more important role as the church faces an increasingly salacious society. Both can have the added benefit of stemming the loss of Millennials, who increasingly see the church as out of touch or irrelevant to today's problems. Let's not dwell on the one issue to the exclusion of others.

References

1. "America's Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow." Rep. Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., 15 May 2015. Web. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
2. Pew Research Center, 3.
3. Pew Research Center, 43-44.
4. Pew Research Center, 87.
Image courtesy Achim Hering (Own work) CC BY 3.0

Friday, May 15, 2015

Christianity and the Disappearing Millennials: Exclusive Interview with Barna's David Kinnaman


Just this week, The Pew Research Group released the latest statistics on the state of faith in America from its massive study. Many interesting trends emerged. While fewer Americans identified as Christian than did so seven years ago, those who consider themselves evangelical held steady. Yet even here, the make-up of this segment is older, and the largest exodus from faith came from Millennials - young people born after 1980.

In this exclusive interview, I speak with the President of the Barna Research Group, David Kinnaman. In both this interview and in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith he distills the findings from years of study on the Millennial exodus, and he talks about how we can reach a generation raised in Digital Babylon with the timeless truth of the Gospel message.



To download this audio file, click here.

To access some of the resources and materials mentioned in the interview, follow the links below:;

Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Studying Science is Important for Evangelism

I recently posted a quote from Dr. J.P. Moreland on why an evolutionary account for moral values and duties fails. The quote was a bit technical, but it did a good job of showing flaws in such a theory just by reasoning through the position. In other words, it didn't appeal to the Bible. I received a comment on the post that this quote will be completely ineffective to any unbeliever who reads it because "it is an attempt to utilize the tools and methods of science and reason to persuade those who simply cannot discern the things of the Spirit. Not one person will come to the Lord as a result of this argumentation."



I don't want to pick on this specific comment, but I have heard similar objections from within the church before. Within the comment are two common assumptions that evangelical Christians voice, both of which I believe are mistaken. I will tackle some others in later posts, but the first unwarranted assumption is that science is not effective or it isn't somehow appropriate when trying to lead others to Jesus.

Science Properly Done Leads to God

It has become a common trope that science and reason are tools of the world and Spiritual things cannot be discovered through them. But the church hasn't always held such a view. In fact, the myth that science and reason sit on one side of a divide while faith and belief sit on the other is perpetuated by those who are desperately trying to divorce God from His reality. Historically, modern science was founded and advanced by Christians who were, in the words of Johannes Kepler, "thinking God's thoughts after Him."1

These scientists took passages like Psalm 19:1-4 seriously, in which the Psalmist declares:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (ESV)
They believed that they were pursuing the knowledge that God had woven into the fabric of his creation. This is also why Paul points to the understanding of the created order in Romans 1 as God's testimony of himself that holds them accountable:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, ESV).

God Commanded Us to Explore His World

God wants us to explore the world he created. Even before Adam's fall, the Bible tells us that God placed him in the garden in order to "to work it and keep it" (Gen 2:15). Such a command would require investigation on Adam's part to understand how the world works, how the plants grow, and how to keep them appropriately.

Augustine even encouraged the Christian to not ignore science as it could damage the Christian's witness. In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine writes:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."2
If science is done properly, it doesn't lead people away from God. Rather, it should point people to the clear conclusion that the world has a designer. That's the argument that Paul makes in Romans 1 and it is the reason why atheists such as Antony Flew changed his mind and believed that God existed. Of course, people can hold biases and presuppositions that rule out God, and we should recognize that. Science alone isn't the answer. But it shouldn't be discounted as one tool in God's toolbox for declaring himself to a lost world.

References

1. Morris, Henry M. Men of Science, Men of God: Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible. San Diego, CA: Creation-Life, 1982. Print. 12.
2. Augustine, and John Hammond. Taylor. "Chapter 19." The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Newman, 1982. 19. Print.. Web. http://college.holycross.edu/faculty/alaffey/other_files/Augustine-Genesis1.pdf

Monday, December 22, 2014

To Witness Like Jesus, Use Logic and Reason

Christians will many times hear atheists make the claim that faith is somehow opposed to reason.  Most people of faith that I talk with reject that idea. They don't believe that one must choose either faith or reason. However, there are quite a few Christians who think that faith and reason are separate realms that may coexist, but they don't touch. For some Christians, think this idea is comforting. They have taken certain slogans of "bumper-sticker" Christianity such as "Jesus is all I need" and think that such a position is powerful enough to ward off objections. Worse, they think that the same approach works with evangelism.



This is not only a travesty, it is antithetical to who Jesus is and how he evangelized. Jesus was an intellect. In fact, Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived and reason is at the core of who he was. We can see that clearly when the scriptures identify him as The Logos (John 1:1). The Greek word logos is usually translated "The Word" in our English Bibles, but it has a richer meaning. "The Word" is a concept of knowledge. As Merrill F. Unger puts it, "Words are the vehicle for the revelation of the thoughts and intents of the mind to others."1 In fact, logos is where we get the English word "logic."  The word holds the concept of "consideration or evaluation, reflection, or in philosophy, ground or reason."2

Because Jesus is the Logos, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Jesus used logic in his efforts to evangelize others. Jesus' aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to impart understanding or insight in the minds and hearts of his audience. Dallas Willard writes:
 (Jesus) typically aims at real inward change of view that would enable his hearers to become significantly different as people through the workings of their own intellect. They will have, unless they are strongly resistant to the point of blindness, the famous ‘eureka' experience, not the experience of being outdone or beaten down.3
We read of clear examples of this in scripture, such as Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 and the different exchanges with both the Pharisees and the Sadducees in Mathew 22.

Jesus even rebuked His disciples for not thinking rationally. In Matthew 16, Jesus is warning his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." However, they miss his point, and instead begin worrying that he was going to get mad at them because they didn't bring enough bread for the trip.  Jesus replies:
You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?4

Stronger Minds Mean Stronger Convictions

Reason is part of the model Jesus gave us to learn, to discern, and to share our faith with others. As disciples of His, it makes sense that we should follow his example. However, there are some real benefits to incorporating logic and reason into our witnessing efforts. By allowing others to "discover" these spiritual truths, they would become more convinced of the reality of Christ and Christianity than those looking for a feel-good faith. Rational believers are much stronger in their convictions and their faith. They are also less likely to be swayed from contradictory teaching since they know that their faith is not "blind" or transitory, but anchored in the truth of the Logos. They know that their beliefs have their origin in history and they provide real answers for a world in need. So, let's think a little harder and incorporate rationality into our efforts to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Jesus would have us do nothing less.

References

1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Logos." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 780. Print.
2. Bromeley, Geoffery W. "Logos." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 510. Print
3. Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.
4. "Matthew 16:5-11." New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, for the Lockman Foundation, 1971. N. pag. Print.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Afghanistan Across the Street


Missions work can be exciting and exotic. Visiting foreign lands and experiencing different cultures emphasizes some of the differences people have even though we all have much in common, like the love of family, the desire to prosper, and the need for worship. Different cultures have different worldviews.

The phrase "mission opportunities" frequently triggers thoughts of faithful souls braving cultures unfamiliar with Christianity. The Joshua Project defined any nation that has less than a 2% Christian as an unreached people group.1 Nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia fit this category.

Christless Counties in Utah

You wouldn't have to go as far as Africa or the 10/40 window to find an unreached people group, though. This week I have taken a group of students to Sanpete County in Utah to witness to Mormons. Sanpete County has a population of almost 28,000 people and according to Tri-Grace ministries less than 1% of the people who live here are Christian, and Sanpete County isn't the only county in Utah where that's true.2 That means in the Unite States of America there are several large geographic areas that contain unreached people groups.

My experience in talking with people this week has proven that out. All the Mormons I talk with not only don't know any Christians, they completely misunderstand Christianity. They are convinced that Jesus taught eternal marriage and that we all existed as spirit children in a pre-mortal state. They believe that Christian ministers, being paid, must be in ministry for the money. They think that the Book of Mormon is comparable with the Bible and they think that Jesus taught one must perform certain works in order to be in the presence of God. Mormons I've talked with don't say "we were married in Salt Lake"or "we were married in Manti."They say "we were sealed in Manti."

This grieves my heart. One high school student who lives here told me today that when they were studying Martin Luther in her class as student exclaimed with amazement, "Martin Luther believed that you can get to heaven by faith alone?"The teacher affirmed her incredulity by answering, "I know, right?"The basic concepts of Christianity were as foreign to them as Arabic.

Making No Assumptions

Of course, it's easier to approach the people of Utah. I didn't have to learn a new language, eat strange foods, or figure out what cultural triggers are insulting. I can talk sports or child-rearing with the folks here just as I do my neighbors. And that is my point. No Christian should assume that just because you share a common bond with a neighbor or acquaintance you should never assume they know even the basics about the Gospel. Even those who use Christian phrases may not know what the gospel truly is.

I am very proud of these kids that took a week out of their summer to come to Utah and begin to reach these unreached people. They are amazing. I hope to lead many more trips out here during the year. If you or your church is interested, please contact me to discuss what's involved. It's the least we can do for those who are as desperately lost as those who live on the other side of the world.

References

1 "Definitions." JoshuaProject.net. The Joshua Project. Web. http://joshuaproject.net/help/definitions Accessed 6/28/2014.
2 "Field Demographics.” www.trigrace.org. Tri-Grace Ministries. Web. http://www.trigrace.org/Demographics.html Accessed 6/28/2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sometimes The Facts Don't Matter

I've made the point many times that we as Christians are called to defend our faith. The Bible commands it of us, and we face an increasingly hostile world. Apologetics is how one learns to defend his or her faith through the use of reason and evidence. I believe apologetics can be tremendously helpful in clarifying people's understanding t the Christian faith. However, sometimes we may rely too heavily on facts when engaging with others.

A fascinating new article appears in The New Yorker this week entitled "I Don't Want to Be Right." 1 In it, author Maria Konnikova highlights the research being done by a number of psychologists and sociologists showing that people's beliefs help shape the core conception of themselves, and thus if one tries to correct the false beliefs of someone, it may not only fail, but have the adverse effect of corrupting the source in their eyes.

As an example, Konnikova cites one 2013 study conducted by Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks who sought to correct misinformation about access to health records. At first, they thought that the facts were making a difference, as some people changed their beliefs. "But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn't work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source."2

Before some of my atheist readers jump too fast, the article was very clear that it mattered not which side of any contention one was on. This applies as much to liberal views as conservative one and it applies to secular and scientific views as much as religious ones. As Stephan Lewandowsky states in the article, "False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one's stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected"(emphasis added).3

Facts are Threatening Things

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when I was working an online chat, answering web viewers' questions for the Harvest Crusades. A man came on the line and said that he really wanted to believe in Jesus in his heart but he felt that he couldn't because of his head. After a bit of conversation, it came out that he was a professor of philosophy, and he had difficulty with the problem of evil. Of course, I immediately went into apologetics mode and began telling how arguments such as Hume's have been shown to be incorrect.

This was all well and fine, but I noticed something strange. The more we talked about philosophy, the more resistant and hardened he became. Gone was the open, vulnerability in admitting that he would like to believe in Jesus. I realized that subconsciously that talking philosophy with this philosopher wasn't helping. Instead of weighing the arguments, he fell back onto his rhetoric. He had spent maybe 20 years studying and building a career in philosophy and for him to admit that he was wrong on such a fundamental point was more than we was willing to sacrifice, at least to someone over an Internet chat. He wasn't defending an abstract idea; his philosophy was how he viewed himself.

We must be open to the Spirit

After seeing his resistance, the Spirit took me in another direction. I retreated from my arguments and readdressed his felt need. I acknowledged his position but then asked him to reaffirm his felt need to believe. "You believe that these problems are real and I can see that. However, you asked to speak with me because you said you really want to believe. Can you tell me more about that?" That jump allowed him to again express his feelings and his vulnerability, and while he wasn't ready to convert just then, it gave us a much more honest conversation.

In Luke 18, Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus pointed him to the commandments laid out in scripture, laws he already knew and kept. At that point Jesus switched from the facts of the matter to the heart of the matter. "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Luk e18:22). But the man's self-identity was wrapped up in his possessions as much as the philosopher's was wrapped up in his education. That's what these studies are saying. Of course, the disciples were stymied by the man's resistance, asking "Then who can be saved?" Jesus reply places the emphasis back where it belongs: "What is impossible with man is possible with God."

As those who would defend the Christian faith, we must be sensitive to both the leading of God's Spirit and the reactions we get when talking with others. Because logic and evidence play such a big part of apologetics, the apologist naturally goes there, but logic and evidence are not enough. You must care for and be sensitive to the person with whom you're speaking. Remember, it is the people who matter. Arguments are only one tool to aid them in seeing the truth.

References

1. Konnikova, Marina. "I Don't Want To Be Right: Why Do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren't True" The New Yorker Magazine. May 19, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/mariakonnikova/2014/05/why-do-people-persist-in-believing-things-that-just-arent-true.html Accessed 5/22/2014
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Does God Care More about Saving Souls than Strengthening Minds?

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for our souls. It is this day when Jesus was tortured by the thrashing of the Roman whip and the blows of the soldiers. It was this day when he was forced to carry the method of his execution in public humiliation. It was this day that he was put to death in one of the most excruciating ways possible. And he did it so that people could be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to a loving and just God. This is good news: Jesus' death and resurrection means that we can be saved.

Photo provided by AKM Adam
For evangelicals, the salvation message is at the center of their faith. We take the command of the Great Commission seriously. We talk about sharing our faith and leading people to Christ. Churches have outreach services with altar calls. All of this defines Evangelicalism.

I think sharing the Gospel is crucially important. I really do. But sometimes I think we as evangelicals can be a little too myopic in our understanding of the Great Commission and somehow reduce it to telling lost people about Jesus. We get it in our heads that the greatest thing one can do is to lead a lost soul to Christ and all other ministries are subservient to that goal.

This topic came up when a friend and I were discussing how engaging in faith-based conversations online leads to different responses. Sometimes, you will find that people who are not Christians will ask questions about your beliefs. This obviously leads to opportunities to evangelize. Other times, you find out that the other person already trusts in Jesus, but that person's faith may not be very mature. Which type of conversation should we spend more time on? Is God more concerned with saving a soul than strengthening a Christian who is only grasping the basics of the faith?

I don't think so. I think that God is as glorified by the teacher who is growing the hearts and minds of believers as He is by the evangelist who reaches out to the lost. In fact, the epistles of the New Testament are not instructions on how to evangelize, but they are letters written by the Apostles to those who already follow Jesus, correcting their misunderstandings and growing their faith. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews even rebuked the Jewish believers for not understanding as much as they should. In Hebrews 5:11-14 he writes:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
The analogy of parent and child is a good one here. Newly married couples celebrate with their families and friends when they discover they're expecting a child. It is truly a joyous occasion. However, the important part of being a parent doesn't stop at the birth. The goal of a parent is to train up the child to be a fully-functioning adult, who can be self-sufficient and make thoughtful, mature decisions. Sometimes, this means "wasting" time by allowing the child to learn a task when you could accomplish it yourself so much more quickly. Good parents will invest the extra time into their children so they can learn to be skilled and independent adults.

The same is true in the Christian life. Is it better to simply go out and evangelize everyone, counting the number of converts from service to service or is it better to invest in the lives of believers, training them and weaning them off the milk, so o they can also be effective teachers and evangelists? Certainly this takes more time and isn't as sexy as an altar call, but it is crucial if we want to be faithful to the heart of the Great Commission.

Jesus doesn't just want people to be Christians. He wants disciples. That's what Jesus said when He commanded his followers to go out and share the good news: "make disciples of all nations." We have a glorious message in the gospel. We have a clear command in the Great Commission. Let's make sure we are fulfilling all of it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Should Christians Never Argue?

Photo courtesy Cobalt123
As Christians we seek to spread the truth of the Gospel to a lost and dying world. However, as our culture continues to lose its Christian underpinnings, many people are finding that communicating that Gospel isn't quite as easy as it used to be. Previously, most people on the west would have more or less a shared set of beliefs about how the world works, a common worldview based on Judeo-Christian principles. Today, though, that isn't necessarily true. Moral relativism and materialistic views have replaced much of the previous beliefs that grounds one's understanding of who we are and how we should behave. 

So, Christians need to understand that now part of sharing the gospel entails changing beliefs. As I've written before, there are two basic ways I can think of to change a person's beliefs: either provide new information to that person or show how the beliefs one currently holds are contradictory. It requires input of some kind so that people will begin to think a little bit differently, to reassess or reevaluate what they actually hold to be true.

Engaging Others to Change Beliefs

There are at least four ways all people have engaged one another, but not all of them are effective in helping a person change their beliefs. The first one is pretty easy, it's simply discussion. Discussions by themselves can be about anything, what the weather is like, what you did over the weekend, or even what your favorite food is. Discussions are usually non-confrontational and they allow you to connect with the other person. They are friendly and casual. However, they don't necessarily push towards any kind of conclusion.

Sometimes, simple conversations can reveal conflicts or strong opinions on a belief, and people can find themselves in a disagreement. Sometimes we disagree with one other, but just having a disagreement doesn't necessarily provide knowledge. "He thinks tapioca pudding is the greatest dessert on earth and I think it's fish eggs and glue. We have a disagreement.” Simply disagreeing with someone shows that your beliefs on some matter diverge, but disagreements themselves don't seek to come to a conclusion. No one gains in knowledge simply because they recognize that they disagree with one another.

Many times disagreements devolve into fights. Unfortunately, this is the way many disagreements end up when someone seeks to change another's beliefs. People take offense that their beliefs are challenged and they strike back at the other person. Fights usually generate much more heat than light. People attack one another personally, and emotions rule over reason. Little if any real knowledge is exchanged, and what has is usually tainted by the person's hurt feelings and desire to protect him or herself.

Simply Agree to Disagree?

Because disagreements have devolved into fights, a lot of people in our culture think that whenever a disagreement arises, everyone should just leave it there. Agree to disagree on everything, the thinking goes. But, as I said, no real knowledge is gained simply by recognizing a disagreement. Therefore, Christians need to employ another technique in our interaction with others, and that is argumentation.

I use the word "argument” in a very specific way. I use it in its classical sense not in the common usage as a kind of fight or loud disagreement. An argument is simply supplying reasons or evidence for a view, belief, or contention. A prosecuting attorney will present an argument to the jury in order to make them believe that the defendant is guilty of whatever crime he is accused of. When the Christian builds an argument for something like the existence of God, he or she argues by providing statement that serve as evidence for the proposition "God exists.” There are reasons to believe in the proposition.

As Christians, we are commanded to provide arguments for our faith in the Bible. The Apostle Peter writes to the church and instructs them, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). So, biblically, we are not to simply stop at disagreement, nor are we to let ourselves lapse into fights. We are to argue and provide reasons. However, most Christians have never been instructed on argumentation; they simply don't know how to argue effectively. We will cover that in an upcoming post. But it is important for anyone who seeks to share the gospel, that is anyone who is seeking to change a belief, to learn to argue appropriately and effectively.

Friday, November 08, 2013

How Hard is It to Change a Belief?

In the blog this week, I've been talking about how one evangelizes and how evangelism means changing a person's beliefs. If you've missed the previous posts, you can find them here and here. Today, I'd like to talk about the practical implications of witnessing, especially to those who hold to different faith backgrounds.


Last night, I had an engaging conversation with two gentlemen who are Jehovah's Witnesses. I had spoken with one previously, and they were now coming to discuss more deeply whether Jesus was God. I had offered them the John 1:3 argument in our previous meeting and now continued to show how Jesus does things only God can do, has attributes and powers that only God has, and claims titles reserved to God alone.  We spoke about how Jesus Himself said that worship was reserved to God alone (Matt. 4:10) and even when John, being overwhelmed at the vision in the book of Revelation fell down at the angel's feet, the angel rebuked him and said that as a created being, he didn't deserve worship. Worship is reserved for God alone. (Rev 19:10). I then took them to Hebrews 1:5-6, which reads:
"For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you'? Or again, 'I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son'? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'"
My guests had never heard about this passage before. They quickly turned to Hebrews in their New World Translation and breathed a momentary sigh of relief because Hebrews 1:6 reads a bit differently there:  "And let all of God's angels do obeisance to him." They began to say how doing obeisance is a simple act of recognition. However, I happened to have a 1961 version of the NWT in my library. In that version, the Greek word proskyneō (προσκυνέω) is translated worship. Even the Jehovah's Witnesses' own scriptures said that God the Father commanded the worship of Jesus by the angels! I further explained that this Greek word is the same word that Jesus used in the Matthew passage and that the Revelation passage.

As the night went on, I offered other evidences, both biblically and logically. While there were many things that they had never considered before, they held fast to the theology of the Watchtower, even resorting to show that their good deeds proved the Watchtower was God's appointed organization.

But why? Why wouldn't these men, who truly were earnest in their time with me, want to change their beliefs when faced with so many arguments and even the proof of change verified by the two different approaches to Hebrews 1:6? The evidence that the Watchtower was changing the words of scripture to suit their purposes was there in black and white!  The reason is this: not all beliefs are the same and people will not give up on those beliefs that are deeply held so easily.

Think about it for a moment. If someone was raised by his family in the faith of the Watchtower, then you are telling him that not only does he believe the wrong thing, but the faith to which he dedicated his entire life is a fraud.  More than that, if he embraces the historic Christian faith, then he is acknowledging that all his family and friends are all going to hell! That's a lot to swallow in one sitting. Think about what you would have to give up if you were to renounce Christianity for, say, Islam. All your memories of childhood Christmases would be an exercise in wrong practice. Your children will not have that same experience. Your parents would be considered "infidels", committing the sin of Shirk by ascribing attributes to Jesus that are Allah's alone. You would have to give up your social time at your church and start again. 

Add to all this the spiritual war that is also raging as the Devil seeks to keep every soul out of heaven and you can soon realize that there is no "magic bullet." There is no phrase or argument that will convert people.  You can only be faithful to deliver the message as effectively as you can so God may use that faithfulness to His glory.

Sometimes I think Christians don't realize momentous an event it is when a lost soul comes to Christ. It takes a lot of work, a lot of prayer, and a true reliance on the Holy Spirit. That's why it's important to keep sharing. Continue to provide new information to that person and continue to show the contradictions that stem from their existing beliefs. Who knows what God would use to open the ears of one who is lost? We do know that God wants to use the exchange of ideas to reach the unsaved. Romans 10:14 tells us "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

I know it's hard work and sometimes it's easy to feel that you're wasting your time. I've felt that way, too. But take comfort in the words that Paul shared with the Christians in Galatia, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How Do You Change a Belief?

As I wrote yesterday, Christians are called to evangelize, and to be faithful in that calling the Christian must engage in the medium of ideas. We must, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:5). These arguments and opinions that non-believers offer are based upon their beliefs of how the world works. In order to destroy their arguments, we must ultimately change their beliefs, but this is much more easily said than done.


Just how does one go about changing a belief, anyway? Realize that a belief is an idea a person takes to be true. In other words, if someone holds to the belief that Jesus was created by the Father, then that person thinks the statement "Jesus is a created being" is true. No person can be said to believe something that he consciously acknowledges is not true. If he knows it isn't true, then he doesn't believe it, even if he may continue to act as though the belief is true. The contradiction is between his belief and his action, not between the truth value he holds and the belief itself.

Two Ways to Change a Belief

There are only two ways that I can think of to change a belief. You can either provide new information that the person hasn't yet considered, or you can show how their current beliefs are contradictory and therefore cannot both be true. Because beliefs reflect the truth value of a proposition, one cannot simply decide to hold different beliefs, to change statements from false to true. Beliefs don't work that way.

I've demonstrated this many times when I've spoken to groups in the past. I've asked "How many of you believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street from this building right now?" Consistently, my audience responds incredulously. I then modify my question. "How many of you would believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street if I offered you a million dollars to believe it?" Of course, a few hands go up, but then I ask, "Do you really believe that's true or are you just assenting to the proposition to get the money, even though you don't believe it?" Everyone agrees that they are just acting out the agreement, but they don't really think there is a pink elephant in their vicinity.

1. Providing New Information

The first way to change a belief is to provide new information to a person, or perhaps highlight information that they may know but have neglected to consider. Going back to my pink elephant example, I usually ask my audience, "Would your beliefs change if I told you that driving in today I saw a fleet of Ringling Bros. trucks also parked across the street?" They will nod in agreement that the new fact helps open them to the possibility of an elephant nearby. I follow with something like "What if I also told you that albino elephants will appear pink when wet; would that increase your ability to believe the statement?" Now, they have two new facts and the ability for them to believe the statement is increased.  I can then continue to build my argument, but I've eliminated some of their resistance to the idea already. You can clearly see that additional information helps people believe things they may not have held before.

2. Showing a Contradiction

The second way one can change a belief is to demonstrate that the person's current belief isn't valid. Let's use "Jesus is a created being" as an example. Whenever I talk with Jehovah's Witnesses about the nature of Jesus, they always tell me they believe that the Bible is true and the Bible teaches that Jesus is a created being. I then ask, "What if I can show you where the Bible explicitly denies this idea? Would you still believe it?" Usually the reply is, "Well, it doesn't." But as I press, they usually relent, mostly because they think I will be quoting from John 1:1 or something like that.

I preface my remarks by asking if they agree that everything we know can be categorized into two compartments, that is placed in one of only two "buckets" if you will: there are things that began to exist and there are things that never began to exist. Everything you can think of falls into one of those two categories. There simply is no third choice. To this I've had no one disagree.

I then take them to the book of John, chapter one verse three. (I skip John 1:1 altogether). In the NWT the verse reads, "All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence." I ask, "Is the 'him' in verse three referring to Jesus?" to which they answer "Yes." I then explain, "Here, in John, it says that every single thing that came into existence, it came into existence through Jesus. Jesus made every single thing that had a beginning. The NWT explicitly says, "apart from Jesus not even one thing came into existence." If that's true, then Jesus must exist before the very first thing that began to exist.  Jesus put everything into the "came into existence" bucket. But that means that Jesus must be in that other bucket. Jesus must have existed eternally. He cannot be a created being because John 1:3 doesn't allow that option."

You can see the problem the Witnesses have here. If they hold to their belief that Jesus is a created being, then their own Bible, the thing that informs them about who Jesus is, is wrong. If they want to hold that the Bible is true, then they have to give up their belief that Jesus is created. They know they cannot believe a contradiction, but they don't know what to do at this point.

Tomorrow I will end my short series on beliefs by talking about how these techniques play out in the real world. In short, there is no magic bullet that is going to make someone believe But realize that these tools are necessary when we are engaging others in the battle of ideas. Let's not go into battle unarmed.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Retiring the Cliche "If You Can Talk Someone into Heaven, Then You Can Talk Them Out"

Yesterday, I read two different articles on the upswing of apologetics in Christian ministry. The fact that apologetics is getting any press at all is both exciting and telling as our culture continues its decline into a more secular worldview. What struck me, however, was that in both someone cautioned the use of apologetics in witnessing by quoting the old trope, "If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it." Like most clichés, at first blush this sounds like a truism we need to take to heart, but I'd like to examine it further because I think there's something fundamentally wrong with the idea.

The basis of a belief

The command to evangelize in Matthew 28:19 is well known. The call to evangelism is essential for those within Christendom that define themselves as evangelicals. But what exactly does evangelism entail? Evangelism at its core is changing a belief. It requires an individual to move from a state of non-belief in Jesus as savior and Lord to a state of belief. That is no small thing, since embracing that belief affects one's understanding of things like the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of sin, and the nature of one's own eternity.

Now, I know of no reasonable person, whether believer or non-believer, who does not have at least some sense of belief on each of those issues. Some feel that people have souls that will live on after their bodies die. Others hold that people are just a physical byproduct of evolutionary processes and once the machine stops, so will they. Some hold to a fuzzy concept of God while others dismiss the idea of God altogether. The point is that beliefs at their core are ideas that one takes to be true, and everyone holds certain ideas as true, whether or not they have good reason for so doing.

Evangelism works in the medium of ideas

So if the evangelist is engaging with a nonbeliever, he or she must take into account their current beliefs. Asking someone if they want to avoid an eternity in hell will not be very effective if that person believes he will cease to exist at death! The sensitive evangelist will look for ways to interact with the nonbeliever in order to remove wrong beliefs he may hold about the world. He or she should strive to show why the ideas the non-believer has about the world are faulty. This means the evangelist is in the idea business. As a building inspector uses his knowledge of weight loads, safety requirements, and material specifications to ensure a new structure is safe to occupy, the evangelist uses evidence, arguments, and reason to correct faulty beliefs. Even one's testimony of how coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus transformed our lives is a type of argument. The evangelist is using a known sample (his or her own life experience) to tell the non-believer that he too can have a similar experience.

All of this shows the problem with the "If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it" retort. Christianity isn't like selling a used car. The evangelist or apologist should be offering reasons that are not merely convincing, but true! Apologetics is not and should never be Christian hucksterism. It isn't some kind of verbal ju-jitsu. The apologist simply sets out to deal with the fuzzy and illegitimate ideas that non-believers have so they can properly receive the Gospel message. We don't offer arguments instead of reasons; we offer arguments based on reasons, hopefully good reasons. If the non-believer changes one or two of the beliefs that he holds, then that's progress.

The ideas that matter in evangelism are either true or they're not. The Christian that rejects apologetics because "if you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it" is really rejecting the concept of objective truth. That person doesn't mark the difference between good reasons for believing something and bad reasons for so doing. But Christianity depends on truth being objective. Paul made this clear when he said that if the belief in the resurrection of Christ is only a belief, if it isn't rooted in an objective fact of history, then it's a worthless one, even if it helps us feel better now. Indeed "we are of all people most to be pitied."(1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Ideas matter. The truth matters. Tomorrow, I will talk about how one may go about trying to change a belief, but know this for now: talking about beliefs is how God intends for us to go out and make disciples.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel



Plato said, "Those who tell stories rule society." Hollywood movies are powerful tools that shape people's viewpoints. People love to watch them and talk about them, especially those that move them in some way. They can also spark conversations about some of the "big questions" of humanity.

 In this latest podcast series, I show you how you can leverage people's love of movies and the ideas they contain to start God-conversations with friends and family. I also discuss how we must be careful with our entertainment selections, as Hollywood easily makes anti-Christian ideals seem appealing to the unwary moviegoer. Here's how to approach your entertainment choices more thoughtfully. Listen or download all four parts below:
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