30.7.10

Christianity vs. Jesus: Some thoughts on Anne Rice

So, this news is making big waves right now.  I have seen numerous blog posts and comments, facebook 'likes', and even received personal email linking this story because it "makes one think." 

In a nutshell, Anne Rice is leaving "Christianity" because she refuses to be anti: gay, feminist, science, and democrat.  She also cannot be a part of this "quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group."

But, her faith in Christ is still central  to her life. You can follow the link in the article to Anne Rice's facebook page, where you can scan her status updates and read her words for yourself, complete with over 2000 comments that I have no interest in scanning. 

So, here's what I think.  

1. People get frustrated with the church every day.  Some stay, some go.  But, when someone famous does it, we all sit up and take notice.  If the known fact that the church in the west has been, on average, declining for decades now did not stop to make you think... well, pay more attention.  There is no real news here. 

2. Most protestants lack any and all ecclesiology (that is, theology of the church) and therefore we feel like we can say things like: My faith in Christ is important, but I can't handle the church, so I'm outta here.  And so on.  My question here is this: Can you follow HIM while rejecting HIS body? Jesus' point may not have been to start a 'religion' in all senses of that word, but her certainly began a following and a movement. 

3. From the very beginning, Jesus followers have been a quarrelsome, disputatious, hostile, and infamous group.  This was true while Jesus was still alive. They argued over who would be greatest and sit at his right or left hand, they did stupid things and argued with him, they doubted and despaired and fought and disappointed Jesus left right and center.  However, His response was not to abandon them, nor to counsel that they abandon each other.  Instead, he urged them to unity, prayer, and love (which always perseveres).   I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he brought all these diverse people together.  If we can't learn to love those with whom we share the center of our lives, what hope do we have to love our enemies?

4. The church is the bride of Christ, and Christianity is simply the group of people who are (ostensibly) attempting to follow Him.  We ought to be very careful about how we treat such a lady (the church), not because there is no place for criticism or growth, not because she is a sacred cow we dare not touch, but, at the very least, because of what she will be.  As for Christ being more important than Christianity, perhaps the real problem here is the clear misunderstanding of what these terms mean.  There is no Christianity apart from Christ.  Obviously, Rice is critiquing the institution as it exists in modern day U.S.A. however, there are no nuances there to account for the fact that we are a fallen group of people living in a fallen world... 

5. Following Christ may not mean following his followers (in Rice's words) but it certainly means being part of the body of his followers.  The impulse to throw up our hands in frustration and go it alone is a modern individualistic misunderstanding of what it means to actually follow Christ.  

6.  I am not Anti-gay, anti-science, anti-feminist, or anti-democrat.  Nor am I (if one reads the rest of her posts) anti-life (?!?) or anti-artificial birth control.  I am anti-secular humanist in general, but only because I have found that movement to be generally anti-Christ.  It sounds very much to me like Rice is giving up not so much on Christianity as on fundamentalism (and to that I say: BRAVO!).  What is sad, however, is that she may not know the difference.  And that is not sad in the sense that "she should know better."  I sympathize with her feelings.  It is sad in that the 'church' she has been exposed to has left her no options.  

Anyway, some food for thought.

29.7.10

"September 1", "Inception", and Movies

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
...
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
- September 1, 1939. W.H. Auden

I think I see this trend in movies.  I just watched Inception last night and, I have to say, I was disappointed.  This movie 'successfully' replaces plot with confusion, character with fast paced action, and story development/pacing with a droning, explosion punctuated, base line that almost never stops.  

Don't get me wrong though, it was entertaining.  It just wasn't meaningful.  All the while, I am watching blogs, especially Christian ones, try to make this movie profound.  It is not. 

What questions does it really ask?  What part of reality does it confront the viewer with in a way that forces one to at least avert one's eyes, if not deal with it? Oh yes, it looks deep: 4 levels of dreaming, with an infinite limbo at the bottom.  Oh yes, it looks like it faces reality: the grief of a man over causing his wife's death and being unable to return to his children, the bursting subconscious suppressed guilt which attends such things.  However, these themes are nowhere actually developed or explored.  Instead, they form the backdrop of a movie which succeeds in every respect except the most important: there is no challenge, no stand, no taking a position, no affirmation, no grasp at truth.  

What does this movie say about grief? family? suicide? separation?  Nothing.  And what does it say about dreaming, ideas, and confusing the lines between reality and unreality? Nothing.  These are poignant themes, to be sure, and it seems that the viewer is led just shallow enough to feel thoughtful and intelligent without actually being challenged.  

Visually stunning, audibly droning (at one point the chairs in our theater actually shook from the bass... come now, startle me with story, plot twists, characters, not just with loud noises and sudden scene changes), and completely pointless.  I know that this is going contrary to what many people are saying, but don't waste your time with this movie. 

Meanwhile, I can't help but see a trend in movies.  More and more, we are being carried along by effects; spectacle wins the day (3D = perfect example). Gone is substance and art, because we have come to think that the art of a movie lies in its visual rendering rather than its exploration of truth and beauty, and that substance is best portrayed by a mass profusion of unexplored, confusing, themes instead of focusing in on one, or maybe two, serious points/questions/issues.  

28.7.10

Who really goes to hell? by David Rudel


David I Rudel, Who Really Goes To Hell? The Gospel You've Never Heard: What a Protestant Bible Written by Jews say about God's work through Christ (a book for those in church and those offended by it).  Biblical Heresy Press, 2009. 188 pgs. 

First of all, I think this book gets the award for longest title... seriously.  Sadly, in terms of style, the title is a precursor of things to come; I guess that's what you get when a mathematician does theology.  In terms of content, however, there is much more positive to say.  But first, a summary. 

In this book Rudel takes on the "modern gospel message" in all its minimalistic glory, claiming that this is not the message of Jesus, nor his apostles, nor Paul, nor anyone else in Scripture.  If your curious, the modern gospel message is basically this: Believe in Jesus and you will get in to heaven.  In the face of this slogan, Rudel begins by spending 4 chapters asking difficult questions (like, if this is the answer, then what was Jesus doing to that poor man in Luke 10? And how in the world does the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 fit in? And so on).  He then spends 3 chapters, in his second section, exploring what the bible says about judgment, heaven, and hell. Finally, in his last 4 chapters, he redefines salvation.

So, what do I think?  First of all, Rudel asks some VERY good questions, questions which evangelicals desperately need to be able to answer.  Secondly, Rudel does his best to stay true to scripture and, at most points, he does this well.  I think he is right on when it comes to clarifying the call for Christ-followers today, how the gospel is so much more than a message about how to avoid hell, how Paul and Jesus ought to be read so that they do not directly contradict each other, and how our modern gospel message has completely missed the point. 

Sadly, I think Rudel is a perfect demonstration of the pendelum swing.  Thus, he trades in the modern minimalist gospel message, with its total uselessness in terms of life today, for a full on Jewish gospel, with a new total uselessness in terms of life after resurrection and judgment.  Considering how thorough his research was into the items such as Jesus fulfilling Jewish prophecies, Paul's distinctions between terms such as salvation/judgement/justification, I was sadly surprised to find that Rudel lacks any and all sophistication or proper research when it comes to such literature as Revelation (which he takes to speak of literal physical wrath approaching in the future, and this in spite of having read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright?). 

Overall: 3.5 of 5 stars.  Conditionally Recommended.  This book demands careful reading, both because of the positive points which we NEED to consider, and because of the negative considerations which ought to make the reader pause.  

Disclosure: this book was provided for me to review by viralbloggers.com

"Insights on John" by Charles Swindoll


Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on John. Zondervan, 2010. 363 pgs.

Swindoll begins his book by explaining his own love for the bible, and for the study of the bible. As such, he is 'forever searching' for books resources which "make the complicated simple and easy to understand, that offer insightful comments and word pictures that enable me to see the relevance of sacred truth in light of my twenty-first century world, and that drive those truths home to my heart in ways I do not easily forget." Finding these kinds of books is rare, says Swindoll, and therefore he has decided to be part of the solution.  Thus stands the reason for this series.  Swindoll has, with commendable alacrity, accomplished precisely that which he set out to do, no more and no less.  In other words, this book is a collection of sermons which take the reader through the book of John.

For myself, we have just finished 6 months of preaching from the gospel of John at BAC.  Therefore, I have recently read several other commentaries on John, the 3 most notable/helpful were: Newbigin, Carson, and Brown. Therefore, I could not help compare.

What I found was this.  Swindoll is successful in doing what he set out to do.  This book is engaging, connecting, and motivating.  It is engaging in that it is an interesting and easy read.  It is connecting in that he does draw the scriptures into the twenty-first century, 'making them relevant.' It is motivating in that Swindoll hardly misses an opportunity to exhort the reader to change.  However, these come with a price.  In making the complicated simple, Swindoll misses much. In connecting so quickly between the scripture and our day, I often felt as if the scripture was not allowed to speak for itself.  And, in placing so much stress on 'driving the truths home' Swindoll often ends up with applications and exhortations that have little to do with the central message of the text.

Overall: This was a good book.  Conditionally recommended; the reader needs to be cautious, lest she think that Swindoll is doing something he is not. 3.5 of 5 Stars.

Disclosure: This book was given to me for free in order to review by Zondervan, through engagingchurchblog.com

26.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #7: Conclusion

Well this is late, and its over.  So, after a week of thinking about, writing about, and reviewing apologetics, what do I have to say?

Most enjoyable of the books I reviewed: Atheist Delusions
Most Informative book: Beyond Opinion


Blog Insights:
- I like having a theme like this, it makes me write more by focusing my subject. 
- Writing two posts a day is hard (at least, it is given that this blog is my free time), and if I ever attempt that much again I will have some of them ready in advance.  Otherwise I will do 1 a day. 
- I am never sure how much to write.  I could go on for a long time, but I doubt anyone reads some of my long posts as it is, let alone any 5000 word essays I might care to share. 


Apologetics Insights:
Not to much to say here that I haven't said in some other post during this week. I would only add that questioning Christianity is worth doing.  

So, any recommendations for future theme weeks? 



This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  The introduction can be found here, with links to all the posts. 

Christian Apologetics Week(s) Book Review #7: The God I Don't Understand by Christopher Wright

Original post

This is an excellent book. In it, Wright takes on some of the tough questions about Christianity. However, unlike so many apologetics books, Wright does not limit himself to those questions which detractors of Christianity would ask.  He also explores issues such as the Cross, salvation, and the end times. 

Again, I wouldn't change my original review.  Wright is insightful, honest, and provocative in just the right mix. 

Read and Enjoy.  


This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction here, with links to all the posts. 

22.7.10

Color Changes

Question for you: Would it be easier to read this blog if the posts were black writing on a white background? Would you suggest that or any other color scheme or background changes?

Peace, Apathy, Indifference, and Trust: Attitudes in Life and Apologetics (Christian Apologetics Week Post #6)

Do Not Worry

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..."

Thus begins one of Jesus hardest teachings; or at least, one of His teachings that I have found the hardest.  How can I not worry? I know that, theologically speaking, the more I trust God the less I should worry, and that anxiety in the face of life is in itself a sign of lack of trust.  Knowing that and living it out are two very different things. So much so, that I think I often get confused.  


The Narrow and Wide Gates

As a Christian I am called to rest in the peace of Christ and trust in God.  I am encouraged to care about righteousness and justice, to hunger and thirst for them, to desire and seek God, and cry out to Him "How long, Oh Lord?" in the face of injustice.  This is Jesus' remedy for anxiety.  

As a member of western consumer society, I am told to rest in the peace of material things and trust in myself.  I am encouraged to ignore injustice and unrighteousness, especially insofar as I can't affect them anyway or they are far away and do not really affect me, to desire and seek my own advancement, and to drug away my feelings of restlessness by consuming more things. This is the culture's remedy for anxiety.    

The first, Jesus' way, involves peace and trust, but also love, compassion, pain, and sacrifice.  The second, our culture's way, involves self-seeking self-satisfaction, but also apathy and indifference to the pain and suffering of those around me in order to minimize my own pain or need for sacrifice.  These paths are diametrically opposed; I cannot live in both of them at once. 


Confusion

And yet, somehow, I find myself getting apathy confused with peace, indifference with trust.  Am I at peace over things in my life, and in the world, because they do not hurt my heart? Or have I merely wound myself into an apathetic stupor so that my heart is numb?  Am I trust in God to take care of others and myself when I can't bring myself to pay enough attention to care, or am I wallowing in the sludge of indifference and lack of motivation? I must confess, that far too often I have to answer with the second of these options.  


The Antidote: Love in the Presence of God

What does this have to do with apologetics? I have to ask myself why I care about apologetics.  Is it because I like looking smart, but could care less about other people's relationships with God? Or is it because I earnestly desire to answer the call of God and to bring His reconciliation and healing into the lives of others?  Obviously, I am a mix of these, but I want the second to be true.  I do not want to gain the knowledge of apologetics, but become apathetic about sharing it and indifferent to those who do not know God.  And so, in apologetics, as in all of life, I must remember that the focus is on one thing: God. 

The antidote to apathy and indifference is love, agape.  This kind of will and action pushes me to look to the other, to care for the other, to give to the other, even when it inevitably hurts.  And this love can only be built up and practiced in the presence of God.  I am simply not capable of doing it on my own.  

Therefore, in this post, I commend to myself and to you, my reader, the best apologetics practice I know: Be with God.  Be with God with all your person.  Find a way to rest in Him always.  Abide, dwell, rest, and be.  Without this, nothing else matters. 




This post is part of Chrisitan Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here

Christian Apologetics Week Book Review #6: The Monstrosity of Christ by Zizek and Millbank


Slavoj Zizek and John Millbank, ed. Creston Davis. The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? Mit Press: 2009. 416 pgs. 

In The Monstrosity of Christ Millbank attempts to do what Hart does not, as per my last book review.  He attempts to dialogue with a serious atheist of our age: Slavoj Zizek.  The two of them are billed, by the editor, as having an intellectual encounter the equivalent of "ultimate fighting" as they seek to grapple with the very definition of Christianity.  Zizek is a renowned philosopher, militant marxist, dialectic materialist, and atheist.  Millbank is a neo-orthodox and leading anglo-catholic theologian.  

In part 1, Zizek presents his reading of Christianity, which seemed to be incredibly weak.  He apparently has used very limited sources to draw some unique, but in my opinion erroneous, conclusions about Christianity, Jesus, and Paul.  

In Part 2, Millbank takes on this interpretation and counters with one of his own.  He criticizes lutheranism, explores Meister Eckhart and Hegel, and seeks to defend a 'theological materialism' based on the incarnation.  This chapter is all too brief to contain all that Millbank tries to stuff into it. 

In Part 3, Zizek basically says to Millbank "I'm an atheist, don't believe in God the Father, and therefore all that you said is pointless."  Apparently this was some kind of revelation on Zizek's part, as he has been rather ambiguous about such things in the past.  

Overall, the two participants in this debate did not seem to actually meet.  The terms of the debate are not well defined, the aims are completely foggy, and in the end all that may have been accomplished was some minor clarifications of each persons viewpoints.  On top of that, neither Zizek nor Millbank are easy reads, writing at a level much more suited to PhD students and Professors than anyone else.  Personally, I would have liked to have had a 2nd chapter from Millbank; either that, or for him to fill out this idea of 'theological materialism' 

Conclusion: 2 of 5 stars.  Not Recommended (I had to include one of these in CAW :).  In the end, there is no good reason to read this book.  It does not accomplish much, and you can much more from and about each of these authors by reading their other books.  



This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here

21.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #5: More Book Recommendations

There will be 2 more book reviews, obviously, so this list does not include those, or any other books featured in this week's set of reviews.


General areas of knowledge which, while not apologetics directly, will help a great deal:

History, especially Christian history and modern history (Charles Taylor Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity is quite good, though a long read.  The Story of Christianity parts 1 and 2 by Justo Gonzalez are readable textbooks on Christian history, which is the most thorough place to look for such things). 

Philosophy (Philosophy and the Christian Faith by Colin Brown is an excellent place to start; then hit the original source material). 



General Apologetics: 

Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli

Anything by C.S. Lewis, most notably: Miracles and The Problem of Pain

Orthodoxy and What's Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton

Richard Swinburne's work is quite good; start with The Existence of God

Lee Strobel's work is well written and interesting, if somewhat basic.  


Science and Religion:

Dennis Danielson Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?

John H. Walton The Lost World of Genesis 1

Francis Collins The Language of God



I was hoping to create a much longer list; I will add to this I think, but this is what I've got for now. More suggestions? 




This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here

Christian Apologetics Week Book review #5: Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart



David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies. Yale University Press, 2009. 272 pgs. 

Recent years have seen a flurry of books slamming Christianity coming from the pens of such eminent court jesters as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, and others.  Such books as "The God Delusion" can be seen prominently displayed at Chapters and Barns & Noble.  In the face of such "Tireless Tractarians" Hart offers this book as a polemical riposte, and he does so with a style and grace stunning in both content and quality. 

First and foremost, Hart is a pleasure to read.  He writes long, nearly poetic, sentences, using precise vocabulary and hard hitting polemics.  He pulls no punches, saying of the new atheist tribe: "atheism which consists of vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism." 

In his introductory section, Hart lays out the problem, criticizing today's atheists for having significantly declined in quality compared to such great minds as David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche.  He also examines some of the cultural sources of new atheism. 

In his second section, Hart explores "the mythology of the secular age" in depth, refuting some key assumptions of said mythology. My personal favorite was his chapter on the rise of science, in which he convincingly demonstrates how it was the Christian revolution which allowed for science to be developed.  

Hart is not content to merely slam his opponents, however, and goes on in his third section to paint a Christian picture of reality.  This section, more than any other in the book, was beautiful.   Personally, it called forth a strong desire in my heart, renewing my commitment to Jesus and His vision of the kingdom. 

Overall, an amazing book.  One criticism comes to mind, however, is that having lambasted modern atheists for intellectual laziness, he does not go on to deal with any of the more intelligent atheists who are present, and writing, today. 

Conclusions: 5 of 5 stars, recommended.  I don't care if you are involved in this argument or not, this book is worth reading for both Hart's critique of modern world-view and the picture of Christian calling and reality Hart offers.  




This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction with links to all the posts here.

20.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #4: Hypocrisy in the Church

The Problem: Hypocriscy

You cannot read a book on evangelism or apologetics, listen to a sermon about speaking to our culture, or here yet one more teacher elucidate the 'problems' of post-modernity without hearing an opinion on the number one obstacle to the gospel in our culture.  Consensus seems to be that a huge problem is the generally low opinion our culture has of Christians.  This encompasses a broad spectrum of criticisms: Christians are hate mongers, they are judgmental, they are stupid, bigoted, and so on.  I think, though, that the biggest complain is that Christians are hypocrites.

* Side-note: Scott McKnight has done an interesting series going through the book Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You've Been Told.  You can find his first post here, and then click on the "filed under link" at the bottom of the post to find the rest. They are filled with interesting statistics providing a more accurate picture of the current state of the church in the U.S.A. 


Why Hypocrisy?

Why, of all of our failings, does hypocrisy draw such criticism?

The answer to this question has to do with our societies lack of moral norms and guidelines.  We live in a world which, officially anyway, declares that each person has the right, within certain limits, to define their own standards of right and wrong.  We also live in a society which views judging others as wrong (Note the deep contradiction between this sentence and the last.  They are both still true of our culture).  Taken together, this makes it very difficult to accuse people of moral failures while still having any solid ground from which to make such accusations.  However, of all sins and failures, there is one which can always be leveled in judgment: Hypocrisy.  

It does not matter if you and I agree on moral standards, we can still accuse each other of this sin and neither one of us can attack the others grounds for doing so.  To accuse an other of hypocrisy is not to accuse them of breaking your moral code; rather, it is to accuse them of breaking their own moral code. And, regardless of how loudly, or quietly, we announce our standards, we all have them, and we all break them.  So, not only can anyone make this accusation regardless of common ground, this accusation can be accurately leveled at anyone who claims a consistent moral standard.  Thus, it is inevitable in a sinless society that hypocrisy becomes the 'worst' sin.


Two Kinds of Hypocrisy


Please understand, I am not saying hypocrisy is not a problem.  After all, Jesus frequently accused the pharisees of being hypocrites, along with some of his harshest imagery (see Matthew 23:13-39). But, perhaps, we can distinguish between two types of hypocrisy.

In the first case, there is the hypocrisy which is, from a Christian perspective, unavoidable.  This is the simple failure to consistently practice the high ideals we preach and believe.  No Christ-follower would deny this level of hypocrisy.  First of all, we are all sinful, and thus inevitably fall short of the goal of following Jesus.  Secondly, we do not believe we will be made perfect until after we are raised at the final judgment. Our goal is to live now, with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the same way we will live in the future.  However, we know this is never fully accomplished.

To be honest, however, I am not sure how much of this type of hypocrisy has contributed to the church's current reputation, and how much it has just become a convenient target of a public, and especially a media, which is content to be anti-Christian because being anti-anything else is considered prejudiced.

The second kind of hypocrisy is that Jesus was so angry about: the practice of regularly living in flagrant contradiction to one's stated beliefs and goals.  Thus the examples, from the sermon on the mount, of those who fast, pray, and give in order to receive recognition from men rather than as acts of worship to God.  They are doing the 'right' things, but for all the wrong reasons.  Even here, however, we are all full of mixed motives and unavoidably cross this line at times because the only real difference between this type of hypocrisy and the first is the regularity of its practice.


A Deeper Problem?


Perhaps a much deeper problem facing the church as it tries to reach (post)modern western cultures with the gospel message is not our hypocrisy, our reputation, or our sin, but rather our attitude of superiority and attendant lack of repentance.  We all know we sin, we all know that hypocrisy of varying levels is unavoidably present in all our lives, and we all give lip service (at least) to the knowledge that we ought to confess and ask forgiveness.  But, the church is rightly not known for its quickness to repent, its eagerness to admit mistakes, nor its constant requests for forgiveness.  We have failed, perhaps, not so much in following the larger vision of Jesus call to the Kingdom of God (though heaven knows we have failed here as well) as we have in the more preliminary and 'smaller' call to simply be humble.  


This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction with links to all the posts here.

More Excellent Wiersbe Quotes

Warren Wiersbe, On Being A Servant of God. Baker Books, 1993. 

"God's goal for our lives is not money but maturity, not happiness but holiness, not getting but giving.  God is at work making people more like His Son, and that's what Christian service is all about." (pg. 45)

4 points of advice for young workers:
"1. Never take down a fence until you know why it was put up.
2. If you get too far ahead of the army, your soldiers may mistake you for the enemy.
3. Don't complain about the bottom rungs of the ladder; they helped to get you higher.
4. If you want to enjoy the rainbow, be prepared to endure the storm."
(pg. 84-85)

"Your heart grows by giving out, but your mind grows by taking in; and both are necessary to a happy and balanced life of service.... reading is only the key that opens the door to the vault.  Assimilating what you read, relating it to what you already know, and practicing it where you serve put the treasure to work paying dividends." (pg. 86, 88)

6 Myths about reading and readers which Wiersbe 'slays':
- You have to be the 'student type' to be an effective reader.
- Reading books will of itself guarantee growth and success.
- you have to read many books, especially the best-sellers, to qualify as a good reader.
- big libraries make you smarter.
- there is a 'best book' (Wiersbe points out that there are best books for you but not in general)
- we should only read 'approved' authors.
(Chapter 19)

5 Joys of Christian Ministry:
- The joy of pleasing the Lord.
- The Joy of growing more like the Master.
- The Joy of helpings others come to know Jesus Christ and live for Him.
- The Joy of knowing that as you serve the Lord God is in control.
- The Joy of wonderful fellowship with fellow servants of God.
(Chapter 21)

Here is a 'duh' quote which we all need to be reminded of, and reminded frequently:
"No matter what ministry the Lord has assigned to you, you can't succeed apart from the Word of God." (pg. 105)

"If we can't handle the minor complaints of life heroically, how will we respond if something really serious comes our way?" (Pg. 133)

Speaking of change: "Since everything else is changing, I don't doubt that change is also changing; but it doesn't disturb me too much.  Not that I'm sanguine about the future, but I've read enough about the past to know that people expect the future to be ominous; and yet somehow, we have survived.  One thing about change hasn't changed: it sill fascinates some people, frightens others, and provides a good living for a prophetic minority... What I'm saying is that things change, old problems fade, and new problems take their place, but life goes on; and you and I have but on life to live and a job to do for God before it ends.  i can't do much about changing the world, but that doesn't keep me awake at night.  Even the people in authority can't do much about changing the world.  But I can do something about bringing God's presence into the world in which He has put me, and that's what ministry is all about." (pg. 144-145)

"The future is our friend when Jesus is our Lord." (pg. 146)


Some good words; I highly recommend this book.

Christian Apologetics Week Book Review #4: Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias


Ravi Zacharias (General Editor), Beyond Opinion. Zondervan: 2007. 360 pgs. 

In this book Ravi Zacharias, along with various other contributors, share from the breadth and riches of their apologetics experiences.  The book is divided up into four sections: addressing the difficult questions, addressing the questions behind the questions, internalizing the questions and answers, and living out the answers.  In each section, different authors offer high level essays on broad topics under the larger subheading. In doing so they show how intellectually sophisticated apologetics has become in a globalized culture, as well as just how many angles there are to take in one's apologetics journey.  

This book was very interesting and very challenging.  While not all of the essays were difficult, the simple breadth of topics discussed necessitated more time spent reading and digesting the book.  For example, the first section moves through postmodernity to Buddhism and then on to science.  This book exemplifies the combination of all aspects of apologetics, including methodology and specific questions as well as answers to real life applications.  This book also demonstrates the truth that apologetics is no mere intellectual exercise, but a necessary part of our faith and an important player in the development of our minds (which is Ravi Zacharias' last chapter). I recommend this book, but know before you pick it up that you are indeed opening a tome of knowledge that will both require effort and richly reward it. 

Disclosure: This book was given to me free by Thomas Nelson to review. 


This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  You can find the introduction with links to all the posts here.

19.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Book Review #3: The Reason for God

Another repeated, dictated by lack of time :) I promise, a new one tomorrow and the day after. 


The original review is here.

This book is a blend of classic apologetics material, in terms of answering some of the hard questions, with a different methodology of apologetics.  Keller asks us to always begin in doubt, both the skeptic and the Christian.  He makes the point that all doubts must also be doubted, as they are inevitably based on faith.  From there, he goes on to show how some of the most common questions people ask of Christianity are based on their own unsustainable faith claims. 

This book is a kind of halfway point, offering some interesting suggestions and answers, while focusing on the questions as well.  It does not, however, actually get you very far towards defending the faith.  Instead, it focuses on knowing the source and basis of our questions, doubts, and faith. 

Overall, this book provides a necessary step in the path of apologetics, but it needs to be read along side other, more substantial, defenses of Christianity. 

My recommendations, as per original post, stand.  


This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  The introduction, with links to other posts, can be found here.

Christian Apologetics Week Post #3: Buses, Blogs, Cafeteria's and other 'interesting' places to talk about God: Personal Experiences

The Beginning

My own interest in apologetics began at the same time as my interest in Christianity, and my faith in Christ.  I had my own questions and it was hearing them answered intelligently, and respectfully, that kick-started my faith journey.  Thus, the bedrock of my own experience with apologetics is that it can bring about life change, especially when exercised patiently and in conjunction with loving relationships. 

My journey thence has been anything but smooth.  The truth is that I struggle with pride and, while apologetics do not necessarily make one prideful, it did bolster my ego to think I had all the answers.  Two things helped this process: I have a good memory and I read very quickly.  So, while I started with C.S. Lewis (and have since gone back to him many times) I also started by practically memorizing Evidence which Demands a Verdict (Josh McDowell's original, before it became a multi-volume work) and The Handbook of Christian Apologeticby Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli.  Neither of those books are bad on their own (though I don't find McDowell's approach to be the best), my problem was that they were encyclopedic and, after reading them, I thought I was to.  

I was also part of Campus Crusade for Christ at the time; the combination was deadly.  I felt like I needed to share Christ every day, and so I would talk with random people whenever I could.  Again, there is nothing wrong with this.  I was the problem, not these books, not Crusade, and not talking to people about God; ME.  90% of the conversations which got of the ground ended up in philosophical questions.  And those were usually short conversations.  No doubt many an individual was turned away because of my know-it-all attitude and quick-shot retorts.  


The Humbling(s)

At this time I was starting my second year undergraduate studies and my first year of religious studies.  I will never forget my first RS class.  The prof. did his intro bit, and in the midst of telling us where to find helpful information he remarked that it was highly appropriate that all of the books on the bible could be found in the "BS" section. With regards to all things Christian, his tone never did change much. 

Meanwhile, on my personal time, I wound up in a conversation with someone equally as argumentative as myself, but much more knowledgeable. He was a PhD student in religious studies. I interrupted his lunch.  He tore me apart.  While I had read the arguments in a few books, I knew very little about source criticism or gnostic gospels or Mithraism (all of which was, unsurprisingly, the topic of his thesis). Far from having 'all' the answers, I had none.  Before this, I had often walked away from conversations wondering why people wouldn't hear my answers; this time, I think he was wondering that very same thing.  

I may have been proud, but it didn't take me too long to realize that none of my conversations were bearing any fruit, regardless of who 'won'.  Obviously something was wrong.


Focusing on the Heart

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace...." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

I did feel called to preach, teach, and defend the gospel, and though I know that Paul is not speaking to that calling, I also knew that I had been going about it all the wrong way.  People didn't care if I had the answers until they knew that I cared about them.  And my pride, and impatience, would get in the way every time.  I had to change more than just my method, I needed to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.

Therefore, I shifted my attention away from apologetics and on to spirituality.  I started practicing the spiritual disciplines, reading the mystics, and trying to understand more of my own heart as well as others. I had some interesting blog conversations about talking with God, feeling God, spirituality, and Wicca.  One of my friends, who was heavily into Wicca, and who had completely ignored all of my 'apologetic' outreaches, jumped at the chance to talk about spirituality.  I never could get quite as nebulous as he did; I guess I still have some engineer in me somewhere, but I tried.  Interestingly, it was through those conversations that he ended up moving away from Wicca, which is what I had been trying to get him to do all along.  


Story of the Heart

The biggest change, however, came when I learned to listen below the surface.  Most people, when you start talking about religion (and here in the West that usually means Christianity) have an experience which has left some kind of impression on them.  That experience, and that impression, rarely come to the surface in conversation, but they are there, driving opinions and arguments in unexpected ways.

My favorite such conversation was with a construction worker on a bus.  I was reading a book on the history of the church and he sat down next to me, his cover-alls covered in dried cement and his tool-belt hanging from the edge of the seat. He was much larger than me. 

"What are you reading?" He asked. I showed him the cover of my book.  "Oh, your into that church stuff, eh?"  He asked gruffly, and with obvious enmity.

He went on to accuse the church of lying and cheating and always trying to get your money.  Full on offense from the start with this guy.  It was really hard not to just argue him down, but I resisted, not least because I still felt somewhat intimidated. Instead I asked questions.  "Why do you think the church is like that?" "Does everyone who asks for your money upset you?" and so on.

Long story short, by the end of the conversation I found out that his mother had been cheated out of a significant amount of money by a minister. I would be angry too.  I told him what I thought church should be, and that if his mother were in any church worthy of the name, then they would have been the ones helping her after she got scammed, not the ones scamming her.  Our conversation was much more positive after that; I only wish I had some way to continue the conversation.  He exited the train, and I never saw him again. 


Recently....

More recently, I struggle to keep in conversation with non-Churchgoers.  As a pastor, most of the people I spend my time with know Jesus, and nearly all of them are at the church.  I suppose the easiest others to talk to would be Jehovah's witnesses or Latter Day Saints, but I still haven't figured out how to keep a conversation going with them.  They are friendly at first, but, promises to the contrary notwithstanding, they never come back for a second visit.  Also, transit never has worked well, as everyone is going somewhere and with all the new technology (stupid IPod/IPhone/Ipad) most of them are in their own world while on the way.

Still, as a pastor I do get to talk with seekers/questions quite frequently.  Granted, they have already come to the church, but still :) Most of them are young adults who want to know things like: how can I line up faith with science? How do you have a relationship with God? Can you really know God? and so on.  These are good questions, and they make for some good conversations.



This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  The introduction, with links to other posts, can be found here.



16.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #2: 1 Peter 3:8-22

Recently I prepared and led a training session with the youth at my church on evangelism and apologetics. I don't think I did a very good job, unfortunately.

As I started I, of course, pulled out the ever trust and oh so common 1 Peter 3:15-16. Always be ready; a go to passage for preachers everywhere. At this point, my seminary training kicked in, and I couldn't quite bring myself to proof text from hear on into some lesson. So, I looked at the broader context: 1 Peter 3:8-22. What I quickly realized was that this whole section can be taken as instruction in terms of evangelism and apologetics.

Peter begins, in verse 8-12, by exhorting the reader to live a certain way:
"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

This, then, is who we are to be to the world. A people marked by love and unity, humility and compassion. Even more telling, we are to return evil with blessing (echoing, of course, the sermon on the mount). If we live this way, then what will be the result? Surely no one will harm us, says Peter (v. 13-14):

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,"

So, people ought to respond well. But, even if they don't, we will be blessed. The issue Peter was facing was persecution. But, I think you can apply this to questioning as well. If we are zealous for what is good, who will question us? But even if we should be questioned, and we will, we will be blessed. In fact, if we are zealous for doing good, for repaying evil with good, for love and truth, then I think people will ask us questions. However, they may not be the questions we are used to. At the very least, we will attract attention.

Something else we did recently with ICON (the youth at my church) was to put on a free car wash. Its part of a thing we are doing this summer, trying to show God's grace in our community and so on. Anyway, the reactions we got were quite varied. Some people couldn't accept that it was free and, therefore, literally threw money at us as they drove away. Others gently and generously expressed their desire to support us, with varying levels of persistence. Most people were varied from appreciative to amazed, but everyone asked the same question: Why are you doing this? We live in a self-centred consumeristic society which constantly flirts with nihilism. We are surrounded by greed and exploitation and raised to look out for number one. In the face of that common cultural context, giving something away for free, and returning evil with good, will always be shocking. If there is any place to start outreach, and apologetics, in an overchurched burnt out society that we are lucky to get within shouting distance of our buildings, then this is it.

Peter goes on (v. 15-17):
"But in your hearts revere Christ as LORD. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil"

Instead of responding in fear, to persecutions or questions, have Christ set in your hearts as Lord. Be firm and steadfast in your belief. Be prepared to give an answer for your hope.

We can only offer grace and love, as well as good for evil, as long as we are firm in Christ and have our hope set in Him. Returning evil with good is difficult. I guarantee it will cost you a lot if you actually practice it. People will try to take advantage of you and there will be times when it seems that evil is wining, or at least getting ahead. Psalm 73 is my personal favorite when it comes to lamenting exactly this problem, and is worth studying if this is your struggle. Nonetheless, be prepared. Know your reasons, know your hope, know your Lord and revere Him.

Not only that, but do so in a certain manner: Gentleness and respect.

I'm not sure exactly how it happens, but this advice seems to be oft forgotten. It is entirely possible to have all the right answers and still be very, very wrong because of how those answers are given. Going back to the free car wash, I noticed very quickly that when I refused people's generous offers of money, I needed to do so with great gentleness and respect. I also noticed that when I did, it only increased the person's desire to know why we were doing what were doing. I have had the same experiences in apologetics conversations. When the other party knows that I respect them, when I take the time to listen to them and seriously consider their position, then they return that same attitude. However, when I come across as arrogant, dismissive, and superior I rarely get more than one question.

Still, even gentleness and respect are not always enough. Some people are just angry, or gravely wounded (or both). So, when that is the case, Peter tells us to remember we have done the right thing and to know that suffering for doing good is the better way. This is never, ever, to be an excuse for suffering we deserve. If your a jerk and someone calls you out for it, well, you kind of got what you deserved. It is, however, encouragement when you do what is good and suffer.

Peter doesn't stop here however. He goes on to tell us, once again for his original audience anyway, why we have this hope and what our good news is (18-22):

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits -- to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him."

He is our salvation, our hope, our future, and our source of power. He is the Lord, who became man for us, died for our sins, was raised for our new life, and is Lord over ALL!

What I want to say about that is that we ought to incorporate this, in its entirety, into both our evangelism and our apologetics. I realize that, of course, we have to start wherever the other party is, and that many conversations will not get past the idea of God, let alone all the way to the Lordship of Christ. However, we are not arguing for an abstract God, nor a philosophical ideal, but for Jesus Christ. Sometimes our apologetics ought to be discussion (philosophy and theology) but we also ought to be able to say "Come and See!" and focus on introducing people to Jesus (in the normal sense of the word introduction, not the 'conversion' sense, though that is good too :).



This post is a part of Christian Apologetics Week. You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here.