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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 life of the church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label life of the church. Show all posts

Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Value of the Human Body

What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.

First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.

Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.

How Does One Ascribe Value?

What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.

Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

Human Beings as Body and Soul

As human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings.  God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2
Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.

The Value of the Human Body

Given these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.

All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them.  Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.


1. I realize some Christians hold to a form of physicalism, whereby they see the soul as an attribute of the body instead of in distinction from it. However, even this belief doesn't damage my central argument.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don't Abuse 'What Would Jesus Do'

All Christians should strive to be more like Christ. Paul tells us that we are to be "conformed into the image of his son" (Rom. 8:29). Christians, seeking to model their lives after their Lord several years ago began popularizing the "What would Jesus do?" slogan. This caught on, but was also used by those critical of certain church positions to claim Jesus "would never do" thus and so. Others balk at their claims, saying Jesus would indeed hod to whatever position they are advocating.

How can a Christian in good faith model his choices after Jesus when there seems to be no clear answer? Given the circumstances and viewpoints of the modern culture differs so drastically from first century Palestine, is it even possible to do what Jesus would do today? In this excerpt from his article What Would Jesus Think or Do? J.P. Moreland offers three ideas on how modern Christians can order their lives on the teachings and example of Jesus.  Dr. Moreland writes:
First, we should do our best to interpret the Gospels in their historical setting. I believe the Gospels are historically reliable but cannot take the time to defend that belief here. If you don’t believe the Gospels are historically reliable, it doesn’t matter for our purposes. Why? Because it is the Jesus of the New Testament who figures in the culture wars and who is the object of the question “What would Jesus think or do?” So the biblical Jesus should be our object of focus.

Second, we should accept the teachings of the Old Testament (properly interpreted) as expressing what Jesus would think or do. In his most important inaugural address when he was launching his ministry and distinguishing himself from other leaders of his day, and on an occasion where Jesus was clearly presenting Himself as the New Moses who was forming a new covenant community centered around His teaching about, demonstration of, and embodiment of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ very first teaching was his complete commitment to the entire authority of the Old Testament as the very word of God (Matthew 5:17-19). He repeatedly affirmed this belief and accepted as true the entire Old Testament. While he did critique false interpretations of the Old Testament, he never rejected the Old Testament itself, which becomes an important source of information about Jesus’ views for the following reason. If a teacher has not explicitly commented on a topic but, instead, has affirmed his acceptance of a body of literature as speaking for him, then it is fair game to employ that literature for developing an accurate picture of the teacher’s views on topics he did not expressly address. For example, Jesus never addressed the abortion question, but a clear view of the status of the fetus is taught in the Old Testament, and it would be intellectually irresponsible not to hold that Jesus accepted this view. Of particular interest will be Messianic prophecy because it quite explicitly teaches what the Messiah would think and do and Jesus repeatedly taught that he was the fulfillment of those prophecies and, in fact, was the Messiah.

Finally, for supplemental information we should turn to the teachings of those who knew Jesus best—the authoritative guardians and disseminators of Jesus’ thoughts and deeds and the designated authorities over Jesus’ community. In keeping with Jewish tradition in his day, Jesus explicitly appointed apostles to serve as authoritative preservers of information about Him and as the appropriate interpreters of his teachings to new and different situations. The apostles were appointed by Jesus to represent him accurately after his death, and they knew him well enough to carry this out. Thus, Paul—whose ideas were in complete agreement with the community authorities (e.g., Peter, James and John) in Jerusalem—is a better guide for what Jesus would say and do than is the Huffington Post or Rush Limbaugh.

It is important to keep in mind that the canonical Gospels are not the only sources of we have for what Jesus would think and do. The Old Testament and the teaching of His apostles fill in gaps that are left out of those Gospels.1
1. Moreland, J. P. "What Would Jesus Think or Do." J.P. Moreland, 11 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Image courtesy CrazyLegsKC. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Necessity of a Biblical Worldview (audio)

Recently, I was interviewed by Pastor Mike Spaulding of Soaring Eagle Radio on apologetics and how we are losing the Christian worldview, both in the church as well as in the greater culture. In this discussion, we discuss the need for apologetics in the church, how apologetics ministers to both believers and non-believers, how to answer questions nonbelievers offer, and ways you can grow in your own apologetics efforts. Listen to the recording below or click here to download the mp3 recording.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Sex, Sin, and Christian Hypocrites

"But what about all the hypocrites in the church? Look at those preachers who are only in it for the money! What about Josh Duggar? Did you know that Kentucky clerk who won't issue same-sex marriage licenses has been married four times herself!"

Anyone who has engaged in discussion over religious beliefs has likely heard comments such as these. I've spoken to many people myself who when they've run out of other objections retreat to the charge of hypocrisy. They seem to relish in finding any inconsistency between a Christian's public stance and his or her private failings. Is hypocrisy the trump card Christianity's critics and those on the left think it is?

First, one must be cautious about the charge of hypocrisy itself, as it is bandied about loosely but not well defined. For example, is a person a hypocrite because they previously behaved in a way that runs contrary to their current beliefs or is that growth? That's Kim Davis' story. Yes, she was married multiple times, but that was prior to her conversion. Should we call an ex-convict a hypocrite when he says he now respects the law? That isn't hypocrisy. That's growth and we should encourage it and celebrate it when it happens.

Failing to Uphold Your Own Standard

What about those who declare a moral standard, yet fail to uphold that standard themselves? Are they hypocrites? They may be, but they may also simply be, you know, human beings. Humans are flawed creatures who fail upholding their own standards all the time. If you doubt me, simply examine your morning commute. Have you ever criticized someone for driving too fast, cutting you off, or changing lanes too quickly only to find that you have done the same thing many times yourself?

To decry as a hypocrite anyone who ever fails at living against their ideal is wrong. It may even be wicked, demonstrating a callous disregard for those the charge seeks to condemn. CNN just reported that pastor and Seminary professor John Gibson took his own life six days after hackers exposes his name as one of those who had accessed the Ashley Madison website. His wife said his suicide note mentioned the site. "He talked about having his name on there, and he said he was just very, very sorry," she said.1

When examining Christians, it shouldn't be surprising that we fail to meet the standard we are called to live by. Christianity is a faith founded on grace and its central message is forgiveness. Christianity recognizes its adherents will fail; that's why Jesus taught we are to forgive seventy-times-seven. That doesn't mean we don't try, but it does mean that we will fail, sometimes in very big, very visible ways. Failure is not hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is Leveraging a Lie

What is true hypocrisy, then? Hypocrisy is simply lying by leveraging a moral standard. Basically, it means you wish other to uphold when it suits you, but you won't necessarily uphold it yourself or uphold it in all situations. It's being morally dishonest, and that makes it repugnant.

Do real hypocrites exist? Absolutely. For example, if you cheered Eric Holder's advice to the states' Attorneys General to ignore their own laws banning same sex marriage last year but you decry Davis' ignoring her governor's directive (without any passage of law) this year, you might be a hypocrite. If you only charge those with positions you don't like as hypocrites while failing to examine anyone who aligns with your beliefs might be a sign of hypocrisy.

While we are all guilty of acting in ways that could warrant the charge of hypocrisy, there is one more thing that must be said. For you who hold up hypocrisy as the litmus test of a belief's merit, then I suggest you too become a Christian. In all of history, there has only been one individual who never failed to live up to his teachings and who offers forgiveness for those who do: Jesus Christ. He's the solution to hypocrisy, and he died on a cross to prove it.


1. Seagull, Laurie. "Pastor Outed on Ashley Madison Commits Suicide." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

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:;

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Talking Faith Without Fighting (video)

Sharing your faith can be difficult - passionate discussions can sometimes lead to angry words or hurt feelings.  But is this the way we should share the Gospel?

Watch this recent message where Lenny offers some specific tactics for sharing your faith to help you present the truth in a loving, winsome way.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Romancing the Mind: Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (video)

Women are crucial in service to the body of Christ. Women tend to pray more than men, tend to volunteer more, and attend service more, too.Most churches offer different ministries aimed at women, from Bible studies to cooking and craft workshops. Yet, there are very few  women's classes aimed at teaching them how to develop their minds and thoughtfully engage the culture with the reasons for their faith. This is a glaring omission for both Christian women and the churches that serve them,

In this full length video, Lenny had the chance to present to a women's home bible study group and explain why women need to develop a not only a strong spiritual relationship with God, but also a strong intellectual one as well.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Another Hidden Benefit of Apologetics: Relevance

Relevance. It's the buzzword of the day, especially for churches looking to capture and retain young people today. Many church leaders have a justified concern that they are losing the next generation, especially given studies like the one conducted by Lifeway, showing 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.1 Christianity Today, in commenting on how to keep youth committed to church, offers the advice of "Disciple, disciple, disciple. If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don't expect young adults to stick around. If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay."2

I agree that movie nights and pizza parties won't hold our kids; these provide no distinguishable difference from the social lives of most college dorms. But what does it mean to be "relevant?" Here are a few things relevance is not:
  • Relevance is not being hip. Some think that relevance is wrapped up in the style of worship that's played on Sunday morning or how fashionable the youth pastor appears. But that isn't relevance, it's faddishness. If a church is trying to be relevant by importing Ray Bans, beards, and baristas, it won't work. College campuses will always be more cutting-edge than the church, and will change more quickly.
  • Relevance is not using the newest media. While a great web site, sermon video integration, and similar technologies can help the church communicate its message more effectively, it doesn't make that message relevant to its audience. These are methods of communication, but what's being said is more important that the medium used to say it. Advertising has tried to use every conceivable method of communication invented, but in a house of all boys, the sale of pink dresses has no relevance to me whatsoever.
  • Relevance is not offering "how-to" clinics on crafts, workshops on budgets, or cooking classes. I have no problem with churches reaching out to their congregations in offering such instruction. This can many times be a good service to provide to a community that could not otherwise afford to enroll in a community college course or something along those lines. But relying on such activities on their own does not offer relevance in the lives of others.

Relevance Means Making a Difference Where it Counts

So, what is it to be relevant, especially to young people today? The concept of relevance is much deeper than clinics, communications, or pop-culture. Relevance means making a real difference where it counts. The early church was relevant because they dealt with the difficulties that real people faced. While the Greek writer Celsus criticized Christianity as being the religion of "only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children, of whom the teachers of the divine word wish to make converts,"3 it is precisely these individuals, the disenfranchised, that Christianity helped the most through its teaching that all persons bear the image of God and are therefore equal. In a letter written just over one hundred years after the founding of Christianity, the anonymous writer addresses Diognetus who was seeking to understand the attraction to the new Christian faith. He reported:
They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed… They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.4
Relevance comes when we meet the needs, the questions, and the struggles of others. Someone who can help you through the real questions and challenges of your life becomes very relevant to you. Community projects reaching to help the poorest in your own community are a relevant thing to do.

Apologetics Offers Relevance

Another way of meeting people is to meet then where they are struggling intellectually, too. Apologetics ministries can greatly help in this area. As apologetics wrestles with the conflicts people face in defending their faith against the social and cultural disintegration we see happening around us, it becomes incredibly relevant. A lot of people have doubts or very difficult questions that they are afraid to share with others, thinking they would be perceived as weak in their faith. Yet, the church should be the first place they come to find answers. Young people are especially searching to find the answers to a host of issues. Their friends and teachers will many times contradict what they've been taught at home or at church and they simply don't know how sift through the milieu to find out what is true. Apologetics can help them get the right answers and help them to share those with others, vindicating them when they are defamed.

Just as guarding against heresy is one hidden benefit apologetics offers the church, another is providing more relevance to the congregation and to the youth. The truth is always important, we should be helping our kids find it and share it well.


1. McConnell, Scott. "LifeWay Research Finds Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church." LifeWay. LifeWay Christian Resources, 7 Aug. 2007. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.
2. Stetzer, Ed. "Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?" Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 14 May 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
3. Schlabach, Gerald. "Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity." Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity. Gerald W. Schlabach., 8 Aug. 1997. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.
4. . "An Anonymous Brief for Christianity Presented To Diognetus." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed 4/6/2014.

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]

Sunday, February 22, 2015

J.P. Moreland: Why the Church Must Overcome Its Aversion to Intellectual Development

One job of the church is to be salty to the world in which it finds itself, so if that world grows saltless, we should look first to the church herself to glean what we can about her contribution to the situation. ... A major cause of our current cultural crisis consists of a worldview shift from a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality to a post-Christian one. Moreover, this shift itself expresses a growing anti-intellectualism in the church, resulting in the marginalization of Christianity in society—its lack of saltiness, if you will—and the emergence of the most secular culture the world has ever seen. That secular culture is now simply playing out the implications of ideas that have come to be widely accepted in a social context in which the church is no longer a major participant in the war of ideas.1 In the rest of this book, then, I’ll try to demonstrate how the church must overcome the neglect of this critical area of the development of the Christian mind, perhaps the most integral component of the believers’ sanctification. The role of intellectual development is primary in evangelical Christianity, but you might not know that from a cursory look at the church today. In spite of this, if we are to have Christ formed in us (Galatians 4:19), we must realize the work of God in our minds and pay attention to what a Christlike mind might look like. As our Savior has said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). To do this, we cannot neglect the soulful development of a Christian mind.
 J. P.Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. 2nd Ed. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012. Print.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Postmodernism is Infecting the Church

When the Church abandons truth, it is one of the most offensive acts you can imagine.

The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. It's a huge problem and a big danger to the health of Christianity. As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. Watch this short video as I comment on the recent trend by believers of accepting a relativistic view of truth and morality and offer a few points on how to counteract this dangerous precedent.

Photo courtesy: Jason Borneman Licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Friday, January 03, 2014

Christians Cannot be Intellectual Slackers

C. S. Lewis had a great quote when talking about the followers of Christ. He said, "God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all."

I completely agree. Christians today have accepted the secular world's idea that somehow faith and reason inhabit separate spheres. The two are sitting on opposite ends of a spectrum and the more one applies tools such as logic and philosophy to his or her beliefs, the less and less they will be considered faithful or pleasing to God. A bumper sticker that used to be fairly popular summed up this kind of attitude: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

But nowhere in scripture are we commanded to approach our beliefs blindly. In fact, we are commanded to do just the opposite. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was he replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Tellingly, although Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He added the phrase "and with all your mind." Jesus said that loving God must include developing the life of the mind.

This makes a lot of sense, given how Jesus identified Himself. In John 14:6 He said, "I am the Way the truth and the Life." Well, if we think about Jesus as truth, then we should be applying reason and logic to our beliefs. Logic is simply a tool that we use to find truth.

Part of our difficulty in seeing logic and critical thinking as ways we can better love God may be because we think that such tasks are only human enterprises, while Jesus is divine. Logic means works, while He is grace. But if Jesus is truth and we can use logic to discern truth, then we can use logic to see the reality of Jesus.

You may be surprised to find that out that the implementation of logic is actually found throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament. Jesus used logic and argumentation many times. For example, just before He gave the command to love God with your mind, the Sadducees tried to test Him with a question about a woman who was married and widowed seven times. They used a technique in logic known as reductio ad absurdum to show that their views on the afterlife were correct. However, Jesus capably destroyed their argument and chided them, saying "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" He then give the command that we must love God with all our minds.

The Sadducees were unprepared. They hadn't done their homework and as a result had a mistaken view of God. As faithful followers of Christ, let us not shy away from some of the harder work of learning and developing our minds so we can more completely love our God with all that we are.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Christian Megathemes: The Most Offensive Act--When the Church Abandons Truth

As the new year starts, we continue to check ourselves by examining the Barna Group’s six Christian Megathemes, major shifts that have recently changed the way Christians think about and practice their faith within the last decade. Highlighting the problems we face is important, but I want to go beyond that and provide some possible solutions as well. Click here to read previous entries.

Theme #5: The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.

The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. As an apologist, I often hear the claim that I’m being “intolerant” by someone who simply doesn’t want to follow a Christian standard of morality.  That’s not too much of a surprise, really.  But Barna shows a much more worrisome trend.  He writes:
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the scriptures. 

Note Barna finds that “The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.”  This is a very real poverty in our day.  There are things worth fighting for and things worth dying for. Sometimes an idea is so valuable that people should be willing to lay down their lives to defend it.  The early Christian martyrs certainly held this view.  Stephen, who confronted the Jewish leadership in Acts 7 was stoned because his theology offended them.  The Bible says they were furious at him, they covered their ears because he spoke things that were offensive to them, and they yelled at him before stoning him. I've seen the same reactions when I speak up for biblical values.  But just because he offended them, doesn't mean he was wrong.Quite the contrary, his testimony serves as a model of standing up for righteousness.

One thing that I notice repeatedly in our modern world is how those critical of Christianity tend to hijack Christian foundations and then use them for their own pleasures. Just recently, I read an article on how a group of atheists were demanding to be included at the prayer service for the mayor of Washington D.C. They don’t have clergy, but “human celebrants” instead. This bit of ridiculousness parallels the weekly political lessons offered in the former Soviet Union; they are both a shallow attempt to counterfeit a religious service.

Counterfeits are Satan’s stock in trade and he is very successful at using them to mask real needs. The true concern comes in when the Church adopts these counterfeits and begins to teach them as actual.  Take the idea of tolerance; the very word has lost its basic meaning.  If I have a toothache I may call my dentist. He could respond “We don’t have any appointments open today, can you tolerate the pain until I can see you tomorrow?”  Tolerance means that something is wrong, but I can put up with it for some other reason. We started with the Christian principle that all people are made in the image of God and therefore hold the responsibility of making moral decisions, but our modern day society has changed it into anything that anyone does should be considered legitimate. A degree of tolerance is important in a pluralistic society, but that doesn’t mean we cannot speak out against sin and seek to influence change in our society. That’s the difference.

Barna again writes “The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable.” I think apologetics fits here perfectly. One of the main focuses of giving a reason for the hope that is within you is demonstrating that there are clear moral laws we all need to follow.  The Christian needs to know how to present the biblical case for issues such as abortion, homosexuality, sexuality, service to the poor and other hot-button topics of our day, and he or she needs to be able to counter the opposing arguments that are offered in response. That means we need to study more and be attractive and persuasive in those conversations whenever they come up.

As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. In most Christian churches today, even those who hold to a strong view of Biblical authority, most of our young congregants hold to a view of relativism. If we don’t speak out now, we could lose more than a cultural fight.  We could lose the very concept of right and wrong, and without that Christianity becomes just another way of self-expression.

Tips on Countering the Trend toward Relativism 

For the individual:
  • Begin to see the exclusive nature of Christianity. Make sure you know what the essentials of the Christian faith are.
  • Look for good books dealing with relativism and its claims.  Two I recommend are Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Beckwith & Koukl and Paul Copan’s True For You but Not For Me.
  • Pick a “hot topic” issue, such as abortion, and learn how to defend your views.
  • Know how to argue for your position in a winsome manner.  Check out Greg Koukl’s Tactics for more on this.
For the Church:
  • Pastors need to clearly and repeatedly teach that truth cannot be compromised. We need more sermons on the dangers or relativism and why faithfulness to the Biblical standard is essential.
  • Create a list of often asked questions on controversial issues and clearly define what your Church’s stand is on each.  Make this available on the church website and in the foyer.  Let folks know how they can get one.
  • Develop an apologetics ministry or a current affairs class and teach people how to discuss these tough topics.  Use role-playing techniques to help people understand how real-life scenarios will play out.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christian Megathemes: Reaching Your Community by Intentionally Reaching Out

We're continuing our series exploring the Barna Group's recent outlay of six Christian Megathemes affecting the Christian Church in the last decade, hoping to provide not only insight but possible solutions to some of the problems the Church faces today. Click here to read previous entries.

Theme #4: Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.

In much of the Barna report there haven't been many bright lights.  However theme #4 generates some hope.  Barna writes:
Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past. While we remain more self-indulgent than self-sacrificing, the expanded focus on justice and service has struck a chord with many. However, despite the increased emphasis, churches run the risk of watching congregants' engagement wane unless they embrace a strong spiritual basis for such service. Simply doing good works because it's the socially esteemed choice of the moment will not produce much staying power.
I think theme #4 resonates beyond the Christian culture to a general desire by the youth of the nation to find something more meaningful in their lives.  As we'll discuss next time, moral relativism has been a dominant influence in shaping the values of younger Americans ( as this Barna report shows)—and Christian youth are not exempt from its influence. Given that the boundaries of right and wrong have become so fuzzy as to practically disappear, it's no surprise that young people want to find something to grab onto in providing long-lasting meaning to their lives. Community service fills that need.

However, as the Barna report notes, "Simply doing good works because it's the socially esteemed choice of the moment will not produce much staying power." The church has a unique opportunity to do good things for their community; To do things which have a positive impact on those closest to the church itself. In so doing, the church must anchor these actions in the love of Jesus and the Christian worldview.

In his book How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt notes that it was Christians who fought against infanticide, opposed the gladiatorial games, and began the first hospitals and orphanages. They did this because the Christian worldview held that all human beings were made in the image of God and their value was intrinsic to being human, not to the benefit they could offer the state. They also saw that as Jesus sacrificed Himself for them, they should sacrifice for others, thus reflecting their Lord's love of all people. They sought to be like Jesus.

Given that young people today, especially Christian youth, desire to do something deep and meaningful while helping their community, 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.

Tips on Reflecting Christ by Community Involvement

For the individual:
  • There are many local rescue missions who reach out to the homeless.  Check the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions site for member organizations.
  • Call a local crisis pregnancy center and ask how you can help. You can find one close to you at
  • In whatever outreach you involve yourself, make sure they are a Christian organization with an orthodox statement of faith.  Your church may be able to recommend some. You will be assured that those they minister to are not only getting their physical needs met, but their spiritual needs, too.
  • Invite an unsaved friend to volunteer with you. You'll have time and an opportunity to expose others to the work of the church.
For the Church:
  • Be diligent to check out all the local social service organizations in your area for those that your church can recommend as being sound and faithful to the gospel effort.
  • Don't just keep a list of recommended organizations, but announce it and encourage participation from your congregation from the pulpit.
  • Have your youth groups plan on volunteering at least once yearly in some type of service project.
  • Think about creative ways your church can serve those in need.  How about a Saturday morning with all the single moms can bring their cars in and the church men can change the oil or provide basic services? How about a repair ministry to help the elderly fix portions of their homes? There are many ways your church can effective without having to expend more of the budget.
Photo courtesy Ed Yourdon and licensed by the Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christian Megathemes: Thinking Less About Stuff and More About God

We've recently been looking at the Barna Group's findings of six Christian Megathemes—dramatic shifts in beliefs, attitudes and actions of the Christian church—that have emerged in the last ten years. The trends are not healthy, and in this series I seek to provide some recommendations on how both churches and individuals can be proactive in reversing them. Click here to read previous entries.

Theme #3: Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.

The third megatrend Barna discovered is that American Christians, especially young Christians, tend to minimize the intangible aspects of their lives like developing a deeper and more meaningful faith for the more tangible and material. They report:
When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams. Among adults the areas of growing importance are lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievements. Those dimensions have risen at the expense of investment in both faith and family…. Practical to a fault, Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities. Because we continue to separate our spirituality from other dimensions of life through compartmentalization, a relatively superficial approach to faith has become a central means of optimizing our life experience.
While Americans have always been known for their pragmatism, I feel that this shift is significant and different. The desire to get things done and accomplish goals is not bad in and of itself, and it has helped grow our country. But that desire should always be guided and guarded by understanding that there are bigger ideas to which we are beholden. Growing a strong agricultural economy is good, since it feeds people and raises the standard of living. But if such an economic model relies on slaves, then it should be abandoned. The bigger idea of all human beings having equal value outweighs economic concerns. Therefore, giving up the pragmatic approach to slave-driven agriculture and facing an upheaval in the economic model of the South was necessary.

As Christians, we should always judge our actions and desires in this way. Paul instructed the Thessalonian church that they should "Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" ( 1 Thess. 5-:21). But, the only way one can measure anything is by a standard against which they may compare it. As C.S. Lewis noted, one cannot tell what a crooked line is unless one first has a some idea of a straight line. Barna noted part of the problem when he wrote:
The turbo-charged pace of society leaves people with little time for reflection. The deeper thinking that occurs typically relates to economic concerns or relational pressures. Spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity are rare.  (It is ironic that more than four out of five adults claim to live a simple life.)
This is a huge problem with the practice of Christianity in the modern world. The noise of this present age has trained us to be uncomfortable in quiet reflection. Try this experiment and see how you do – the next time you have to travel for some distance, say 30 minutes or so, turn off the radio or iPod and any other distractions.  See how long you can go without needing any distracting stimulus to counter the silence so you can think. Most people will get very uncomfortable after less than ten minutes in such circumstances.

Paul, when writing to the Colossian church instructed them to start thinking more circumspectly about matters of faith. "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Col. 3:1-2) We need to relearn how to be quiet and train our minds to think about specific thing very deeply; we need to be intentional in concentrating on the things of God. By avoiding wrestling with ethical and theological questions, we are doomed to hold a very superficial view of both Christianity AND life. That is not only sin, it is a travesty of living.

Tips on becoming more spiritually reflective and less superficial

For the individual:
  • Set aside some devotional time each day, with some of that time reserved for reflection. Start with smaller quantities of tine, say 10 minutes, and gradually increase it as you become better at reflection.
  • Don't try to rush through your devotional reading, but think about different ways the verses may apply to you.
  • Start journaling or blogging. Writing down your thoughts forces you to express them in a cogent manner and the act of writing gives you more time to see if what you feel is really what you mean.
  • Pick a book that's a little above you intellectually. Determine to not only read it, but to understand it. This may require additional helps, such as commentaries or reference works. That's OK. The goal is to stretch yourself.
For the Church:
  • Pastors need to stress the concept of thinking through passages of scripture.  This doesn't come naturally, so your congregation will need to be trained on how to do so.
  • Preach the importance and the scriptural commandment of developing the Christian mind.
  • Rather than simply preaching against the superficiality of the world, we need to model how to think through issues. Hold an apologetics class or a Sunday School class and offer up some real ethical dilemmas. Talk through each aspect of the choices people may make.  Here's a good example from a Harvard philosophy class.
Image "American way of life" by AnaïsFernandes - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christian Megathemes: Breaking out of the Holy Huddle

Yesterday, I started a series where I take a look at the Barna Group’s findings of six Christian Megathemes that have emerged in the last decade. These themes are dramatic shifts in beliefs, attitudes and actions of the Christian church—and they need to be addressed since they’re a danger to the health and effectiveness of Christianity. You can read the first article here. Barna’s original list can be found here.

Theme #2: Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.

The second in the six megathemes Barna identified seems a bit counter-intuitive until you give it some thought. He reports:

"Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago. Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago. Examples of this tendency include the fact that less than one-third of born again Christians planned to invite anyone to join them at a church event during the Easter season; teenagers are less inclined to discuss Christianity with their friends than was true in the past; most of the people who become Christians these days do so in response to a personal crisis or the fear of death (particularly among older Americans); and most Americans are unimpressed with the contributions Christians and churches have made to society over the past few years."

Given all the chatter both in the press and online about how Christians are "forcing their views" on others through protests, legislation issues (such as California’s Prop 8), school curriculum, etc., how is it that Christians can be considered more ingrown? The answer is simple, those conflicts are not what defines Christianity. Christianity has always been about sharing our faith with others. We are each to consider ourselves as patients recovering from a terminal illness, and we need to share the antidote with all those who face the same diagnosis. That’s what Matthew 28:19 AND 1 Peter 3:15-16 are all about.

To a large degree, I think the presence of these moral conflicts in the public square has actually exacerbated the problem of insularity. People dislike being thought of as trouble-makers. It doesn't help that many of these stories paint Christians as the narrow-minded, backward bigots. See for example the recent stance that the Southern Poverty Law Center took in adding Christian groups to its hate groups list. Well, who wants to be lumped in with the Klu Klux Klan? So Christians become afraid of what others may think of us as being "Christian". We shy away from talking about our faith and we go along, just wanting to be liked. However, this is sin and a stark contrast from what Christianity has historically faced and still faces in much of the non-Christianized world. Just browse these headlines or read the first couple chapters of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to see what Christians used to face!

The other issue that bothers me is the fact that "most Americans are unimpressed with the contributions Christians and churches have made to society over the past few years." Christianity has always been at the forefront of cultural advancement. Christianity gave the world some of its best thinkers, artists, and humanitarians. We have Christianity to thank for orphanages, universities, and the view that all people are equal. Christianity is even at the center of our scientific advancement over the last several centuries. To hear more about this, you can grab a copy of my class "How Christianity Changed the World."

Many in the church have bought into the lie that faith is a "personal matter" and shouldn’t be shared. The Bible nowhere teaches this and it simply doesn’t make logical sense. What you believe forms the core of your worldview, which shapes all your actions.  Therefore, sharing our faith means sharing what's true, and that's something on one should be afraid to do.

Tips on becoming more outward in sharing your faith

For the individual:
  • Learn more about what a worldview is, and how beliefs have consequences. A good way to start is by listing to talks such as the one Dr. Robert Stewart gave at the recent EPS conference.
  • Start talking about beliefs with friends whom you have already developed already have a close relationship. Perhaps schedule a lunch date once a week. Then, invite a third person to join you so you can share your faith in a secure setting.
  • Study up on some of these "hot-button" issues so you can defuse claims of bigotry or hate when they arise.
  • Get involved with a Christian humanitarian organization, such as a rescue mission or an international relief agency so see some of the good Christianity offers the world.
  • Pray that God will give you opportunities to share – and when you see them, say something!
For the Church:
  • Churches need to begin training congregants on ways to share their faith in a winsome and attractive manner. It’s important to know the text, but it’s also important to know how to communicate it!
  • Offer real-world opportunities to take students and others out in faith-sharing exercises. We recently did this in our Apologetics Missions Trip to liberal U.C. Berkeley.
  • Invite an apologist to address your congregation and offer ways people may share their faith.
  • Go through a book or perhaps the DVD series The Truth Project in your small groups. Then have people talk about their experiences in sharing their faith. Everyone will be strengthened knowing that they are not the only ones who feel afraid or worried about not being liked.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christian Megathemes: Believers who don't know about Easter

The Barna Research Group recently released one of the most important studies I've seen in a while.  Looking back over the past year of research on Christian behavior and belief, they've compiled what George Barna terms six megathemes—shifts in the way Christians believe and act—that have occurred within the last decade. In other words, these shifts are taking place right now, and they pose a significant risk to the health of Christians and the Christian church as a whole.

In reading these, I don't disagree with anything found here.  In fact, many of them are fairly evident. But we need to do more than just spot them.  Therefore, let's look at them carefully and ask ourselves if we are guilty of allowing these attitudes to creep into our lives. Over the next few days, I'll take each point from the study and examine it in a bit more detail.  Then, I'll explore what steps we need to take to reverse the slide—both individually and as a church.

1.  The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.

This first megatheme is not surprising in its statement, but it is shocking in its depth.  Barna writes, "What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans—especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ." He goes on to note that Christians even misinterpret something as fundamental as the person of the Holy Spirit to be "a symbol of God's power" which is a heresy taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses!

The irony, of course, is that we live in an age of the Internet, where Christians have more access to information than ever before.  But this means we need to first of all be interested in finding the answers and secondly be discerning when drawing from our sources.  I think this first issue is key.  People have increasingly taken a "buffet" approach to faith; give me a little of this thing, a dollop of that, but only what I like.  It should come as no surprise, then, that the belief system people build start to reflect the drawbacks of a buffet: they load up on all the sweets and fun foods, but skip the fare that may be a little more difficult but will make you healthier.

The writer to the Hebrews had the same complaint with that church.  He said "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) As Christians, we need to stop loading our plates with only messages of "Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life" and take in more of the green vegetables on the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, what salvation means, and other items. Apologetics is a wonderful way to do this, as it forces you to understand your theology and also be able to answer heresies, such as errors on the Trinity.

Tips on becoming more theologically astute

For the individual
  • Get some good books, like a systematic theology book or an apologetics primer and keep them handy
  • Engage in conversations with others about what they believe and what basis they have for holding to those beliefs (did they just like the belief, are they basing it from scripture, from tradition, etc).
  • Keep a daily devotion time, reading directly from the Bible. I recommend a chapter a day. Use an accessible commentary to help unpack the chapters that you read.  Wiersbe's series are pretty easy for the novice.
For the Church
  • We need to focus more on expository preaching, and not as many topically-driven messages.  Go through a book of the Bible from beginning to end with your congregation.
  •  Make sure theology is taught in Sunday school classes.  This doesn't have to be dry and lecture-like. Place the tough theological questions in real-world scenarios and act them out. Even children's plays and support groups should weave theology into its curriculum.
  • Seek to start an apologetics ministry in your church.  For some ideas, you can listen to a this mp3 that was recently presented at the EPS Conference in Atlanta.
Image courtesy ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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