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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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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two More Ways Learning to Defend Your Faith Benefits You

I've recently been writing to encourage people to learn how to better defend their faith against objections of others. I've already talked about how it isn't as scary as many believe, the Bible commands it in many places, and how engaging your mind is part of loving God more fully. But learning to defend your faith is more than an act of obedience; it actually benefits you directly! Yesterday, I described two ways the Christian benefits from the study of apologetics and today I wanted to give you two more.


Engaging God Intellectually Strengthens Us During Trials

A third reason to engage our minds and be prepared to defend the faith is a very practical one: it makes us stronger in times of trials. The questions one must deal with in defending the faith are truly the biggest questions of life, questions like the existence of God, why am I placed on this earth, and how I should treat my fellow man. These are tough issues that require a clear mind and considerable attention. No one wants to wrestle with such ideas during a time of emotional upheaval. They require each of us to ask ourselves penetrating questions like, "Do I really have the good evidence that God exists, or am I just kind of feeding off of a lot of the information that I've been told? Am I just believing that because it feels good or because it helps me?" Once you've explored the arguments for these issues and reached a satisfactory conclusion, you can rest assured of the fact of God's existence or the resurrection.

Then, when a crisis hits and you're praying and you're praying, and God doesn't seem to answer, you can be tempted to wonder, "Is this all a joke? Was I really fooling myself? Maybe there's no God after all." But when I've reached such a point, I've looked back and said, "Well, I know I can't doubt that God exists, because I've already worked through that problem. I know I can't doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. There must be a God. Christ must be real. Now, God may not be answering me. Don't understand it and I may not like it, but at least I know that my faith is on more sure footing." Our faith is made stronger, even in times of trials, as we become Christians who value the life of the mind. (To read my personal story of how this benefited me, see this post.)

 Engaging God Equips Us for Ministry, No Matter What It Is

Before we close this series, I want you to look at verse 21 of Proverbs 22. It reads that we are to "correctly answer him who sends you." Who is this that sends us? In Matthew chapter 28, Jesus commands his followers to Go out and make disciples of the whole world. Disciples, not converts. So who's requiring an answer from us? Ultimately it's God. Ultimately we learn and we seek to grow our minds in order to please Him.

But God does not leave us to ourselves even here! He also provides for us. Paul tells us that, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." Do you see that? God gives us a sound mind by his Spirit. The Holy Spirit will be with us as we continue to seek Him. James confirms that "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." God will honor our efforts at loving Him with our minds and our desire to defend the faith. We may not do a perfect job at first, but that's OK. As we continue to seek out His truths, He will develop in us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind.

One final thought here. It's important to realize that you don't have to know everything to be a defender of the faith. You must realize that knowing enough to believe something doesn't mean you have 100% certainty. I can say "I believe tomorrow is going to be sunny" and I can have good reasons for that belief. I live in California where it never seems to rain, it's September, and the weatherman said that today should be sunny. But we could all be wrong. That doesn't mean I shouldn't believe it will be sunny today because I can't be 100% sure. It means I have good reasons for my belief, but they may in fact be insufficient when I find out more information. That's OK. Reasonable people draw conclusions from the evidence they have. It's just up to us to try and gather all the good evidence we can so we can draw good conclusions.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Four Ways Learning to Defend Your Faith Benefits You!

Last week, I wrote a blog post saying that if you want to love God in the way Jesus commanded, you need to get serious about loving Him with your mind as well as your heart, soul, and strength. Part of that means we as Christians need to better understand what it is we believe and we need to be able to defend our beliefs. But many people think that studying apologetics is akin to being on the school debate team; it just prepares you for face-off against opponents and helps you win debates. That's really a shallow way of understanding why learning to defend your faith is important. I can see at least four different ways learning apologetics can benefit you personally in your walk with God. I will tackle the first two today, and address the second two tomorrow.


Engaging God Intellectually Transforms Us into Better Christians

I want to draw a big line under one item here. Loving God intellectually doesn't mean you're simply equipping yourself to win an argument — it means you've studied His word carefully and thoughtfully. God isn't holding us accountable as to whether we convince others of our point, but if they are "ready on our lips" and if we can "accurately handle the word of truth" (1 Pet.3:15, II Tim 2:15). Studying God's word changes us! Paul furthers this point in Romans 12:2 when he writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed… by the renewing of your mind." We are transformed when we begin to understand and believe correct things about God. But just as we said to the critic, we can only be sure ourselves if we're holding right beliefs if we study them and make sure they are true to His word and His creation.

Engaging God Intellectually Guards Against Falling into Errors

Another important function of using our minds to love God is it protects us from falling into heresies or theological error. In fact, many of the cults that we face today actually have their origin in the early 19th century in Western New York in what was then the rugged frontier of America. There were many revival movements that would come and go and the itinerant preachers would really get people worked up; they would call the masses to repentance and many would respond to be "saved." But the movement was rooted only in an emotional appeal, and not intellectual rigor.1 Emotional response without understanding doesn't lead to true salvation, but a fa├žade of true belief. It's no wonder, then, that the cults sprang up in the same area. The roots of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Spiritism, Utopianisim, and other cultic beliefs can all be traced to this drive to find religion divorced from careful study.

We are not immune to such corruption of Christian beliefs even today. One extreme example is the word-faith movement. These teachers are spreading all sorts of heresies, from teaching that God has a material body to the supposed existence of a "force of faith" that even God must obey. Duped followers take it in willingly, without understanding how much they have corrupted even the most basic Christian doctrines. But, what other false ideas may have begun to thrive as a result of our unwillingness to engage our minds? In Acts 17, the Bereans were commended for not merely believing Paul and Silas' message, but they were "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." This is why Paul warns us to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21) This is the way we begin to protect ourselves against heresies.

References

1.In her article "A Crusade Among Equals" Janette Bohi notes the approach to the Revivalism spreading across the frontier was a mixture of emotionalism and patriotism in the early nineteenth-century. She writes "These early nineteenth-century revivals put the principle of churches being supported freely by their members (volunteerism) before liturgy, democracy before orthodoxy, and emotion before intellect. By crossing denominational barriers, they enabled the church to reach the masses. They made camp meetings a social institution which supported manifest destiny." Missionaries were trying to bridge denominational boundaries and spread the movement across the frontier, but the result was it stunted the importance of being critical and holding to orthodox beliefs and substituted compromise for truth. For more see Bohi, Janette, "A Crusade Among Equals", Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, Tim Dowley, Ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Pub 1977, p.534.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Talk about Faith on Facebook


Social media offers a great opportunity for Christians to talk about their faith, but many times we are confronted with people who don't think twice about slamming the faith. How can we be both winsome and compelling in representing Jesus online? In this podcast series, Lenny provides real-world examples of how to be both winsome and effective in online conversations.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Heart of Christian Mystery

Andrew Louth on the distinctiveness of Christianity:
For the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words,and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact,or reality.The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words,are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished.To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something. The role of the Church, then, is not simply as the contingent vehicle—in history— of the Christian message,but as the community,through belonging to which we come into touch with the Christian mystery.
Louth, Andrew. Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).74. as quoted in Fred Sanders' The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Ithica, NY: Crossway,2010. Kindle Edition. 53-54.

Friday, September 12, 2014

True Freedom Requires Work

I've been a musician for over thirty years. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to people who have appreciated my playing and mentioned with some envy that they wished they could step up to an instrument and play whatever they wanted. In the course of such conversations I was surprised to find it isn't uncommon that they had taken music lessons as a child but the drudgery of practice soon overcame them. Sometimes they would tell me that they felt tied down or burdened to practice while their friends were outside playing. They wanted to be free from practicing.



This concept of freedom is a childish one. To assume that freedom means one may spend his or her minutes on whatever does not feel like work is confused. The man who spent years practicing at the piano is more free than those who chose to avoid the hours of practice. He has more choices now available to him. He can choose to play a song if he desires while they cannot. By seeking to free themselves from the responsibility the instrument requires, they actually made themselves less free.

The Childishness of Modern Demands for Freedom

That childish concept of freedom seems to dominate our modern culture. Last year, The Guardian ran an article citing three separate studies demonstrating that "the days are over when children wanted to grow up to be astronauts or policemen or firemen. Now they want to be actors, singers or YouTube personalities."1 That reverses previous findings where being accepted as part of a group or community were prized as top goals while fame was listed near the bottom.

Certainly, the always-on perspective of social media plays a part here, but I don't think it's the entire story. Modern technology has given us many benefits and as a result we assume that we can make bad choices and still get everything we want. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, author Sarah Richards brags about how she spent nearly $50,000 to freeze her eggs so that she can some day in the future have the children she so desires.2 I've written previously about how more and more people view children as an accessory to their lives instead of a sacred trust of continuing community and culture. The concept of having it all without consequence is bringing forth some real consequences indeed, not the least of which is for the children of these insta-parents.

Christians Shouldn't be Afraid of Study

Christians are not immune to this kind of thinking. Evangelicals value life and place a high value on family and passing on their beliefs. However, most Christians in the pew are more like the fleeing music pupil than the practicing mater when it comes to matters of theology and apologetics. Sure, they attend Sunday morning and perhaps even mid-week services. Some even have a daily devotion time where they will read their Bibles and seek God's leading. All of this is great, but how many Christians are putting in the time to study the details of their faith? How many can defend their beliefs against the challenges offered by the secular world? How many can even demonstrate a fundamental belief like the Trinity using only their Bibles as support?

I understand that the idea of doing "school work" in one's devotion time may seem like drudgery. In fact, my experience has been the opposite. In working through a systematic theology book or an intellectually rigorous question, I have found that my studies draw out character traits of God I would have never otherwise uncovered. I learn new things about him, his greatness, and just how boundless his love for us is. I am actually more free in my worship of God as I discover new things about him. So, don't be afraid to go deep, dear Christian. You may find the work of study much more freeing than you believe.

References

1.Smith, Michael. "Studies Show That Children Just Want to Be Famous." Guardian Liberty Voice. Guardian Liberty Voice, 3 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://guardianlv.com/2013/08/studies-show-that-children-just-want-to-be-famous/>.

2. Richards, Sarah E. "Why I Froze My Eggs (And You Should, Too)." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 13 May 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323628004578458882165244260> .
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