Blog Archive


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.

Powered by Blogger.

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.
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X