Affirmations for Evangelism and Apologetics

positive-affirmation-quotes-for-lifeSometimes in the midst of an encounter with an unbeliever our confidence in the gospel that we felt even one hour before dissipates quickly. We suddenly doubt that our conversation partner really needs the gospel, or that the gospel makes sense, or that unbelief is contradictory and irrational, or a thousand other things.

To avoid the loss of clarity and courage I have found that prayerfully meditating on a few apologetic truths on a regular basis keeps the fear and doubt at bay. Here are twelve affirmations I keep posted on my office bulletin board to review as often as I can. They help me boldly commend and defend the truth, so I am ready for any encounter with someone who needs Christ. This list originated from a reading of Cornelius Van Til’s My Credo, written many years ago as a summary of his apologetic method.

  1. Every person I encounter has a knowledge of God implanted in his heart that he is suppressing. This knowledge is clear and obvious to him because God has made it plain.
  1. God pursues sinners every day by every means. Everything in nature and in life is revelatory of God and man’s need to be reconciled to him.
  1. The key to effective evangelism and apologetics is to ask questions to reveal the unbeliever’s belief system and his ways of suppressing the truth.
  1. God has called me to be an ambassador of reconciliation between God and sinners. I have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and my training to do this.
  1. I will find supreme delight in glorifying God through sharing Christ. The joy that I will experience by speaking up for the gospel will eclipse any fear or discomfort I feel in the apologetic encounter.
  1. The good news of Jesus Christ is the answer for and the greatest need of the unbeliever. If the unbeliever comes to salvation, they will be forever grateful I addressed their greatest need.
  1. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of regeneration and transformation as I share Christ and defend the Christian faith. In the apologetic encounter, I am joining the conversation already going on as the Holy Spirit is drawing the unbeliever to Christ.
  1. The Word of God is living and powerful to expose and dismantle false systems of belief and stubborn opposition to the truth. I will incorporate as much biblical truth as is strategic in any conversation.
  1. Because unbelievers worship false and counterfeit gods, they experience guilt, lack of peace and joy, hopelessness, fear of death, and meaninglessness, among other results of the Fall. I will contrast these experiences with what is found in Christ.

10. Because unbelievers cannot consistently find meaning and truth in their unbelief, they borrow ideas and concepts from Christianity. I need to identify and challenge that borrowed capital.

  1. I will not wander into vain discussions and speculation about unimportant matters. I will stay focused on proclaiming the wisdom and glory of Jesus Christ. I will seek to get them to consider the person and work of Christ, and to read the Bible.
  1. As much as the Holy Spirit is moving, and the unbeliever is willing, I will seek to lead the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ. No matter how far I get, however, I will consider any progress to be successful planting and watering of gospel seeds.

Understanding Atheism

Atheism has been at the forefront of American consciousness since 9/11, because of its supposed ability to lead us to a religion-less utopia. The decade of attention on the “new atheism” has passed, yet atheistic literature shows no signs of slowing down. For Christians to effectively give an answer to the attacks of atheism, we must read what atheists are writing. Here are a few of the latest offerings from the world of unbelief.

What If I am an AtheistWhat If I’m a(n) Atheist?: A Teen’s Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion by David Seidman (Simon & Schuster Ebook, 2015).

Here is an interesting ebook for adolescents that compares telling others about their atheism to coming out of the closet as gay. It even prepares the “awakened” teen to be thrown out of the house, and gives guidance on finding a shelter for runaway teens. It begins with instructions on how to tell your parents calmly, while allaying the fears of teen atheists that their father will kill them. Of course, the worst stereotypes of family, Christians, and friends are portrayed and extreme and hateful reactions are to be expected, says the author. The one sanctuary for an emerging atheist is university, where the teen can expect to find more accepting attitudes. Evaluation: If an atheist wanted to reasonably explore unbelief, this book would not be the place to go. The utter lack of objectivity in dealing with unbelief is more propaganda than instruction manual.

The Freemind ExperienceThe Freemind Experience: The Three Pillars of Absolute Happiness by Tom Fortes Mayer (Watkins Publishing, 2015).

Many atheists proudly advocate the non-necessity of God for finding fulfillment and human flourishing. In The Freemind Experience Tom Mayer wants readers to nourish themselves so they can bring themselves into alignment with their greatest values and unleash their ultimate potential. This is important for Christians to understand. Atheism is not simply about opposing religion and belief in God; it is an attempt to live life to the fullest without God. Mayer seems to borrow material right out of Jim Carrey’s move Yes Man when he writes about overcoming negativity and bringing a deep and strongly held sense of “YES” to everything. This is the path to total unconditional love and the foundation of absolute happiness. Mayer’s suggestions sound like self-help affirmations: YES #1: You are fully at peace with everything that has ever happened to you. [But what if you are not?]. YES #2: You are therefore fully at peace with who you are. YES #3: You meet the present with a full and happy heart that the universe and everything in it is happening in the perfect way at the perfect time. A Christian can see this is a parasitic counterfeit of the gospel of Christ. It is parasitic because it has to borrow themes of peace, identity, and sovereignty from Christianity. It is counterfeit, because wishful thinking can provide none of these things. Evaluation: This book is a good read if you want to understand the mindset of the atheist when it comes to his awareness of the brokenness of the Fall, and the fruitless search for restoration apart from Christ.

Atheism All that MattersAtheism: All That Matters by Dylan Evans (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014)

Of the three books reviewed here, this one is the most reasonable summary of atheism. It systematically works through topics such as the history of unbelief, the psychology of belief, and atheism and ethics. In describing the psychology of belief, Evans gives the common evolutionary explanation that belief is a useful cognitive behavior that may aid in survival. Evans notes that cognitive biases tend to predispose people to believe in gods, while no cognitive bias favors atheism. Interestingly, he argues that only a Calvinistic view of sovereignty can explain man’s predisposition to belief in God. He states that children are “cognitively prepared” for belief, even before they are exposed to religion. “This poses a serious challenge to the Christian notion that the creator has left his creatures free to disbelieve. A Christian who accepts the evidence from psychology would have to conceded that, on the contrary, the creator has endowed the human mind with a strong innate tendency to believe in him. It would appear that the creator has heavily loaded the dice in his favor.” Bingo! Evaluation: This book is the best of the three to gain an understanding of atheism from an objective viewpoint of an atheist himself.

Dealing with Accusations of Intolerance

tacticsThis is an enlightening part of Greg Koukl’s book, Tactics:

There is no neutral ground when it comes to the tolerance question. Everybody has a point of view she thinks is right, and everybody passes judgment at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeonholed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too, even people who consider themselves relativists. I call this the passive-aggressive tolerance trick.

The key to understanding this trick is knowing that everyone thinks his own beliefs are correct. If people didn’t think their beliefs were true, they wouldn’t believe them. They’d believe something else and think that was true.

If you have already been labeled intolerant by someone, ask, “What do you mean by that?” Though I already have a pretty good idea of what the person means when she says I’m intolerant, asking this question flushes out her definition of “intolerant” and sets the stage — in my favor — for the next two questions. Here’s how it looks:

“You’re intolerant.”

“Can you tell me what you mean by that? Why would you consider me an intolerant person?”

“Well, it’s clear you think you’re right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong.”

“I guess I do think my views are correct. It’s always possible I could be mistaken, but in this case I don’t think I am. But what about you? You seem to be disagreeing with me. Do you think your own views are right?”

“Yes, I think I’m right, too. But I’m not intolerant. You are.”

“That’s the part that confuses me. Why is it when I think I’m right, I’m intolerant, but when you think you’re right, you’re just right? What am I missing?”

Of course, you are not missing anything; she is. Her move is simple name-calling.

Labeling you as intolerant is no different than calling you ugly. One is an attack on your looks. The other is an attack on your character. Neither is useful in helping you understand the merits of any idea you may be discussing.

Resources for Learning Philosophy and Logic

logic copyOne of the unfortunate results of the incredible resurgence of apologetics in Christianity in the last two decades is the impression many apologists give that an extensive study of philosophy is necessary to effectively defend the faith. On the contrary, what most Christians lack when it comes to apologetics is a robust grasp of Christian theology. Many believers try to defend Christianity with only a minimal understanding of their own faith.

On the other hand, a little knowledge of philosophy, logic (and worldviews, for that matter) can certainly help a believer catch contradictions in the thinking of an unbeliever, and in his own thinking, too. There are many excellent resources to help someone get started. Many online resources also have the advantage of being graphically oriented to speed comprehension and increase memorability.

Here are some of the best resources:

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

Philographics

What’s Your Worldview?

Your Logical Fallacy Is

Visualistan Philosophy Infographic

Do you know of any others? Comment to add other graphic resources on Philosophy, logic and worldviews.

No Relationship with God without Theology

Theology simply means “the study of God,” and doctrine means “teaching.” Since the main message of Scripture is the unfolding mystery of Christ, who reveals his Father and reconciles us to him, theology is a central concern of every believer. It would be odd if we told our spouse or other loved ones that we wanted to spend time with them and experience their fellowship regularly but did not want to know anything about them… Yet when it comes to God, people often imagine that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God apart from theology. In fact, some Christians assume that knowing doctrine and practical living are competing interests. The modern dichotomy between doctrine and life, theology and discipleship, knowing and doing, theory and practice has had disastrous consequences in the life of the church and its witness in the world. I hope to change some readers’ minds about systematic theology and its relevance by first changing our working assumptions about its nature, goals, and methods.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan,  2011), 13-14.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 2

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/5-things-i-wish-christians-would-admit-about-bible) calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible. I return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

Part 1 can be found here.

Puppet3. Liberals don’t believe what the Bible says about itself.

Pavlovitz’s third point is the worst case of false dilemma I have ever encountered. Is there no third option between the writers of Scripture as “God-manipulated puppets” and regular humans beings in a rarified state of mind recording their experiences of the divine? Notice he doesn’t interact at all with any semblance of an evangelical view of inspiration. It’s either zombie secretaries or muses.

The apostle Peter testifies that the writers of Scripture did NOT take the initiative to write Scripture, but were rather moved by the Holy Spirit as wind moves the sails of a boat (2 Peter 1:21). Pavlovitz does speak of the primary Author of Scripture as the initiator but it seems to make no difference in his view of Scripture. He offers no solution for how the Bible can be God-breathed, yet also the work of human authors. His doctrine of inspiration is so thin a mouse couldn’t skate on it.

The overall impression I get from this point is that we need to dial down our belief in the authority of God’s Word—if he didn’t dictate it, we can’t take it all too seriously.

4.  Liberals don’t believe that the Bible has any objective meaning.

Pavlovitz makes a common mistake in this point. He confuses objectivity with neutrality. He is right that we can never shake off entirely our personal biases to be neutral, but that says nothing about whether I can objectively understand the Bible or interpret it objectively. Just as Pavlovitz had an objective meaning when he wrote this article, so God has an objective meaning to his words, and in his omnipotence knows how to communicate clearly.

Pavlovitz’s statement, “But until then, [when we reach maturity in the faith] most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image” smacks of relativism. He makes it sound as if widespread confusion on the meaning of the Bible is automatic and hard to escape. In saying this, he is denying the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. He never tells us what the process of maturing is that sets us free from our own biases.

Has Pavlovitz reached this mystical plain? If not, why is his view of Scripture any better than mine. If he has reached maturity, maybe he can shine a light on the path so the rest of us can shake off our old fashioned ideas. This point smacks of cultural arrogance and triumphalism. Thank goodness someone like Pavlovitz has ascended the ladder of neutrality to tell us that that no one can ascend the ladder of neutrality. This is the relativist’s dilemma. If he is right that we are all blinded by our individual perspectives, then his own view is the result of a blinded perspective and it should carry no more weight than that of a farmer in Tibet.

This point reveals most clearly the influence of postmodernism in his thinking. At the root of it is a denial that God has spoken and that he has done so clearly. If God has not revealed, then this denial of neutrality leaves us all trapped in our own biases, with no chance of finding shared meaning. If however, God has revealed himself clearly, this postmodern gobbledygook is exposed for what it truly is.

 5.  Liberals don’t believe the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us.

The final point is the coup-de-grace. The Bible is not God we are told. It is words about God. Well, first of all, no one of which I am aware has ever mistaken the Bible for God. Second, as mentioned earlier, the Bible is not words about God, it is the revelation of God to man. There is a huge difference here.

Pavlovitz diminishes the Bible by saying it is a testimony about God. This is the neo-orthodox wedge. Karl Barth and all his neo-orthodox followers can be easily identified by the wedge they drive between God and the Scriptures. The Bible testifies about Jesus who is the true Word, they tell us. The Bible is the record about God, they claim. All this amounts to a Bible that does not need to be inerrant, because as long as it testifies to God, it fulfills its purpose, and the purpose is the only thing without error.

When Pavlovitz says that “the words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail,” he reveals his rejection of the Bible’s own testimony about itself. Excuse me, Mr. Pavlovitz, God created language. He tells us that his revelation is clear. Of course God is greater than his revelation to us in the Bible, but it is not therefore inadequate or ambiguous. The Reformation doctrines of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture hold that the Bible is both sufficient to communicate to us everything necessary to know about God, and that these things are clear.

To claim that God is too big for words is to deny God’s ability to communicate. Pavlovitz’s strawmen are too numerous to detail here. For example, who has ever claimed that words can contain God? No one; that’s who. Yet, the effect of this statement is to encourage the idea that the Bible can’t accurately tell us about God.

To sum it up, Pavlovitz’s view of the Bible is nothing short of liberalism rehashed with a dash of neo-orthodoxy and a pinch of postmodernism thrown in for good measure. And make no mistake, it is a view of the Bible that is deadly to faith. It undermines the Reformation doctrines of Scripture—its sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity. Nothing will kill a church faster than this view of Scripture, because it undermines every other doctrine along with it. Look at the last 100 years in the mainline liberal denominations. One hundred years of steady decline. Look at the last 50 years in neo-orthodox churches. Fifty years of steady decline.

Why? Because a diminishing of the doctrine of Scripture results in the destruction of every other doctrine. Pavlovitz’s article probably reveals the growing consensus of the evangelical church in light of the modern pressures of evolution, homosexuality, multiculturalism, world religions, and other forces. If evangelical Christians are not careful they will find themselves without conviction about any of their beliefs and defenseless in the face of attack.

Genuine believers cannot admit what Pavlovitz wants us to admit because his strawmen don’t represent what most Christians believe. Rather, he ought to admit that what he is proposing reflects quite accurately a 21st century liberalism that is death to the church.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 1

buck-teethNineteenth-century theological liberalism is all the rage in evangelical Christianity these days, although it is never identified as such by those who peddle it. It appears, rather, as “enlightened,” modern, thinking—Christianity for the 21st century—respectable, so the world will not think we are odd anymore. Liberal theology is a real thing, not some imaginary boogey man used by Fundamentalists to scare their followers away from new Bible translations and contemporary music (although it is that too).

The essence of theological liberalism, according to Gary Dorrien, a world-renown liberal theologian at Union Theological Seminary, is the belief that Christianity needs no external authority. Therefore, as Friedrich Schleiermacher argued in the early 19th century, the essence of Christianity is an experience of God, a feeling of absolute dependence on the divine. Liberal theology opens the door for higher criticism of the Bible since the reliability of Scripture and the historicity of the events recorded in its pages are inconsequential. The Bible’s importance is to help us have an experience of God. The details are irrelevant.

One of the consequences of liberal theology, surprisingly, is a kind of anti-intellectualism that fights against any attempts to prove the Bible correct. While conservative scholars seek to find answers for the challenges raised by higher critics, liberals pooh-pooh these attempts and typically side with the critics. Liberals believe wholeheartedly in Immanuel Kant’s division between the noumenal and phenomenal. Kant (1724-1804) declared that the phenomenal world (the observable world) could be known, but the noumenal world (God, the self and the “thing-in-itself”) could only be believed. He was trying to make room for faith in a world that was increasingly skeptical of anything that could not be subject to the scientific method. As a result, you can believe whatever you want about religious matters, but they cannot be counted as knowledge.

The net effect of all this in liberal theology is that declarations by those in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) are taken as gospel truth without question. And for most liberals, the soft sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) are just as revered. Therefore, for the liberal, the Bible and Christianity must always make way for whatever the “sciences” declare. This leaves little room for anything of historical Christianity. The liberal must focus on religious experience, because that is all he has left. This is anti-intellectualism at its worst, because if the essence of Christianity is religious experience, no experience or belief can be shown to be wrong, because neither is based on the Bible being reliable or authoritative. This leads to rather fuzzy thinking, because critique and discernment are no longer allowed, since the standard on which they are based has been undermined.

Taken to its logical end, this ultimately leads to the kind of pluralism that admits any sincere religious experience, regardless of the subject’s stated religion. Not every liberal goes this far, but neither does he have any grounds to object when someone does choose pluralism. Christianity becomes just one religion among many, useful only to the extent that it leads to an ineffable encounter with the divine. Cue Rob Bell.

This is exactly why J. Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism almost 100 years ago, and why it still stands as an unanswered challenge to liberals. Machen argues persuasively that liberal theology is not even Christianity, because it denies every major belief that makes Christianity unique. In short, liberal theology is a parasite that attaches itself to a church, denomination, seminary, or otherwise and eventually kills the host by sucking the life-blood out of it.

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/5-things-i-wish-christians-would-admit-about-bible) is a perfect example of the kind of fuzzy thinking and anti-intellectualism that was characteristic of the 19th century version of liberalism. Pavlovitz wants to enlighten us about the Bible so we won’t be so gosh-darned old-fashioned. His five wishes parrot the theses of many of the most popular left-wing Christian writers in the last decade, including Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Stanley Grenz, and Greg Boyd.

Since Pavlovitz calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible, I will return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

  1. Liberals believe the Bible is a merely human book that contradicts itself.

Pavlovitz’s first error appears almost immediately when he claims that the Bible is not a book, but a collection of books. This is a false dichotomy. The Bible is both a library and one unified book. The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments are considered in one category as early as the writing of 2 Peter 3:15-16, and throughout the history of the church (as evidenced in WCF 1.2). He is correct that the various genres of Scripture require genre-sensitive interpretation.

However, when he writes, “we don’t approach each book the same way,” he introduces ambiguity into the discussion. What does he mean by this? Do we approach some books authoritatively, and others merely as histories not intended to be taken as historical? Because his writing is so vague it’s hard to know what he is implying. It would help if along with recognizing genre differences he would emphasize that all of Scripture is authoritative.

His final paragraph of his first point seems odd to me. While it is true that sometimes those who believe in “literal” interpretation don’t account for literary differences in genre, to say that Christians need to be freed from the confusion of literal interpretation seems to be a way of saying that we don’t always need to accept Scripture at face value, even when it speaks plainly.

His last sentence is problematic, too. I’m not sure what he means when he says that the Bible is a record of God. The Bible is only secondarily that. It is first and foremost a revelation of God. One of the net effects of liberalism is that the Bible, like the sacred books of all other religions, is reduced to a mere record of the religious experiences of its adherents. Whether Pavlovitz means this or not is unclear. Believers should be cautious, however, to guard against the reimagining of the Bible as simply a record.

  1. Liberals believe that because some passages are difficult to understand, we probably shouldn’t claim to know the true meaning of any passage.

I sympathize with Pavlovitz’s second point. Many Christians do, in fact, use verses out of context, and interpret the Bible the way they want. But these practices are clearly in violation of the way Scripture itself says it is to be interpreted.

Ironically, while Pavlovitz calls for a better reading of Scripture, his article reflects either a rejection or ignorance of hermeneutics and progressive revelation. Of course there are ambiguities in Scripture, but he doesn’t remind his readers at all that there are ways to arrive at the true meaning of a passage. God has not left us to doubt the correct meaning of most of Scripture. It is, as Pavlovitz says, a complex book, but it is not without definite meaning.

This essay will continue in Part 2.

How To Keep Collegians from Losing Their Faith, Part 3

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

What They Need to Hear about the Relation between Faith and Knowledge

Losing_faithIf secular college teachers mention faith at all, they treat it as the opposite of knowledge; they think it means believing things without having any reasons. From this point of view it seems that faith hinders the search for truth; it gets in the way of reasoning. Too many of our college students assume this to be true.

People who say they rely not on faith but on reasoning alone haven’t carefully considered what reasoning is. Reasoning itself depends on faith. How could this be? Easy. Suppose you tried to prove, not by faith but by reason alone, that reason works. You couldn’t do it. The only way to show that reasoning works would be to reason about it. But in that case you’d be assuming ahead of time what you set out to prove– the reliability of reason. Circular arguments prove nothing. How then do we know that reasoning works? We take it on trust. On faith.

This argument is not the same as saying that no good reasons can be given for reasoning. Many good reasons can be given for reasoning and for other important things as well. We should heed them. The point is that having good reasons does not remove the necessity of trust. Augustine understood this point well; he said, “I believe in order to know.” If you don’t believe something, you will never understand anything.

An example most students understand comes from relational knowledge. I know many things about my wife that I never could have learned unless I trusted her enough to make an irrevocable commitment to her-to enter into the relationship of matrimony. Matrimony, then, is a high-rolling faith commitment. To be sure, before I leaped I had good reasons to think there was solid ground on the other side. But I couldn’t see it; not even a hundred good reasons could have made it other than a leap. Only by trusting her could I know that my trust had been justified.

Why leap at all? Why trust in anything? The option of not trusting is not available. To refuse to leap is to take on trust that you will be all right if you just remain where you are-and that, too, is a leap. The difference is not between leaping and not leaping, but between a leap that knows itself to be a leap and a leap that pretends it is not a leap.

What They Need to Hear about Moral Judgment

“How dare you judge my opinion?” “By expressing that belief you’re judging me.” “What hypocrites you Christians are. Jesus told you not to be judgmental, but you judge more than anyone does.”

It is ridiculously easy to explode these fallacies. When Jesus said, “Do not judge,” he didn’t mean we were not to judge opinions as true or false (for he did that all the time), that we were not to judge behavior (he did that, too), or even that we were not to make judgments of character (remember what he said about the Pharisees).What he meant was that we are not to preempt God’s final judgment at the end of history, when the saved will be separated from the damned; we are not to treat anyone as outside the circle of God’s love. Paul puts the point in these words: “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5 RSV). Jesus models it. His final words to the woman caught in adultery were “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). He did not condemn her, yet he obviously “judged” that she had sinned.

If these fallacies are so easy to explode, then what gives them their grip on our young people? Have they never heard the distinction expressed in the slogan “Hate the sin but love the sinner”? They have. Then what is the problem? The problem is the false ideology of “identity politics;’ which refuses to allow the distinction between sin and sinner in the first place. Consider, for example, gay activists. They make their sexual feelings and behavior the very basis of who they are. If a young Christian says to an activist, “I’m not condemning you but loving you–I am trying to say that what you do is killing you,” they reply, “Your love is meaningless. I am what I do. By judging what I do, you are condemning me.”

To enable student believers to keep their heads in such confrontations, you must add two elements to their preparation. First, for the guarding of their understanding, they need to know that no human being has the liberty to make up his or her own identity. God has defined our identity already-and not just by words (though his words are power). He has given to every human being an identity by creation (see Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6), and he has given to each believer yet a deeper identity by redemption.’ Second, for the guarding of their hearts, they need to distinguish their love for their neighbor from their understandable desire to have this love welcomed by the neighbor. There is never a guarantee that true love will be recognized as true love by the beloved (see Matthew 5:11-12).We must please God, not people (see Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).

What They Need to Hear about Offense and Defense

It’s true that college Christians are outnumbered by their non-believing classmates, but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). When Christians have no need to fear violent persecution, as in this part of the world, some begin to expect the world to be a friend. Then they slip into seeking the world’s approval instead of God’s. When a classmate or coworker rolls his or her eyes, they go hollow.

The resistance strategy here is not to exhort young people to resist peer pressure; it can’t be done, and it doesn’t need to be done. It can’t be, because all people care what their “reference group” thinks of them. It doesn’t need to be, because peer pressure is good–if it’s the right kind of pressure from the right kind of peers! Our reference group must be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s also true that college Christians are intellectually outgunned by their non- believing professors. If they already knew everything their professors knew and had developed all the skills their professors had developed, they wouldn’t be in school. But they have two great advantages, the importance of which they hardly recognize. One is that the pre-suppositions that underlie the anti-Christian worldviews of their professors aren’t true; they do not correspond to reality. The other is that their adversaries are self- deceived. The defense of deep untruth is so difficult that defenders are driven time and time again to say things so preposterous that even they cannot really believe them. The key is to call their bluff.

Just how young Davids can take on such Goliaths will be explored in the next two sections. Above all, however, they need to be reminded that the best defense of faith– make that the only defense of faith-is a good (though humble) offense. One way for pastors and church leaders to get this point across is to have their collegians list the items that Paul includes in the “armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18):

  • the belt of truth
  • the breastplate of righteousness
  • the footguards of readiness to spread the gospel
  • the shield of faith
  • the helmet of salvation
  • the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
  • and prayer (which seems to lace the rest together)Now ask them this question: What part of the body is left unprotected? Answer: No armor is mentioned for the back. All of it is for the front. The meaning is obvious. God does not intend his people ever to turn their backs to the adversary. He intends us to advance when we can and stand when we must but to never retreat.The same point is made in John Bunyan’s classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian, the hero of the story, meets a foe far stronger than himself. But now in this Valley of Humiliation poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts.

Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground; for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.”

What They Need to Hear about the Faith Commitments of Their Adversaries

No one has the option of not having faith; the only real issue is whether to have faith in this or in that. Therefore, when young Christians hear from their teachers or classmates that faith has no place in the life of the mind, pastors should remind them of the faith commitments of those who say these things.

In the humanities, for example, many of their teachers will be post-modernists. Postmodernists pride themselves on their “suspicion of meta-narratives,” their conviction that no one gets the Big Story right (the story about who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and so forth). Of course, postmodernists always make a tacit exception for their own Big Story, the story that no one gets the Big Story right. What they really mean, then, is that no one else gets the Big Story right. How can they justify the exception? If no one else gets the Big Story right, how can they get it right? The answer is that they don’t justify the exception; rarely do they even admit to it. The tacit exception rests on a tacit faith that all people are boobs but themselves. In fact, this is just the kind of faith they mock, because they cannot give a reason for it. That’s why the exception is tacit.

The faith commitment of postmodernists is not particularly difficult for students to spot. Many students do spot it. But they think, “This can’t be right. It’s just too silly. There must be more to postmodernism than this. I must have misunderstood the teacher.” No, they understood the teacher perfectly. It is too silly.

In the sciences we more often find a different faith commitment, namely, the conviction that nature-material nature-is all there is. Christians would call this a belief in creation without a creator. Philosophers call it naturalism, or materialism. Confronted with the mounting scientific evidence of intelligent design,” naturalists do not reply with counterevidence; they simply rule the evidence out of order. It cannot count as evidence, they say, because science considers only naturalistic explanations. Did you think that science was following the evidence wherever it might lead? How silly of you, they think. As Richard Lewontin of Harvard has written:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

This is quite an impressive list of “in spite of’s.” The naturalistic faith commitment is just as easy to spot as the postmodernist faith commitment and just as unreasonable: You cannot give a reason for something if its only foundation is refusing to consider all the evidence. Not all faith is blind, but naturalistic faith is blind-blind hostility to the possibility of God.

What They Need to Hear about Calling Bluffs

Every successful calling of an intellectual bluff has two parts-an unmasking and a follow-through. Here’s an example. The bluffer says, “Morality is all relative anyway. How do we even know that murder is wrong?” You ask, “Are you at this moment in any actual doubt about murder being wrong?” He replies, “Well, no.” Now that you’ve unmasked him, you say, “Good. Then let’s talk about something you really are in doubt about.” That’s the follow-through.

Here’s another. The bluffer says, “Nobody knows any truth. “You reply, “If you really believed that, you wouldn’t say it.” He replies, “Why not?’ You answer, “Because then you wouldn’t know if it was true!” Now that you’ve unmasked him, you follow through. “So let me ask you: What do you get out of pretending to think that nobody knows any truth?”

Sometimes the unmasking and the follow-through can be combined. For instance, the bluffer might say, “Okay, so you caught me saying something that has no meaning. So what? I don’t need truth, and I don’t need meaning.’ You reply, “I don’t believe you, because we both know that the longing for truth and meaning is deeply set in every intellect, yours as well as mine. The real question, then, is this: What are you so desperate to have that you’re willing to give up even meaning to get it?”

Young Christians rarely succeed in calling their adversaries’ bluffs. Anyone may miss an opportunity, but the problem lies deeper than this, namely, they don’t know how. The reason they don’t know how to call a bluff is that they don’t know how to spot one in the first place. To spot it, they would have to know that the bluffer was saying something he or she couldn’t really mean. To do that (unless they were mind readers), they would have to know that there are certain things that everyone really knows. With rare exceptions, college-age Christians don’t know that there are certain things that everyone really knows. You need to tell them.

The theological term for “what everyone really knows” is general revelation. General revelation is what God has revealed not directly, through the Bible, but indirectly, apart from it. This is not an antibiblical doctrine; the Bible itself says that God has not left himself without a witness among the nonbelievers. In fact, he has left himself at least six witnesses among them, and young Christians need to learn how to appeal to each one of them.

The witness of conscience is “written on the heart” (Romans 2:15), and although it can be suppressed (see Romans 1: 18), it can never be erased. The witness of Godward longing whispers to every person that his or her idols can never save but that there is an Unknown God who can (see Acts 17:22-32). The witness of God’s handiwork proclaims the glory of the Creator through his creation-not only in the heavens (see Psalm 19:1-6; 104; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20), but in his images, namely, ourselves (see Genesis 1:26- 27; 9:6; Psalm 139:13-14). The witness of the harvest is that every sin is linked with consequences; whatever we sow, we reap (see Proverbs 1:31; Jeremiah 17:10; Hosea 10:12; Galatians 6:7). The witness of practical order emerges from our observations and labors in the natural world God has made. For example, a wise farmer knows that certain ways of doing things cooperate with the natural order, while others “go against the grain” and fail (see Isaiah 28:23-29). Finally, the witness of our design is the witness of practical order applied to ourselves, for some of God’s intentions are reflected in the “blueprint” of our physical, intellectual, and emotional nature-either in the general nature men and women share or in the special nature he has given each. These matters bear long reflection.

General revelation is paradoxical because on the one hand nonbelievers know it, but on the other they try to convince themselves that they don’t know it. They are self- deceived. By understanding what the Bible teaches about general revelation, we achieve a strategic advantage: we know what they know better than they know what they know. That’s why even a college-age Christian can learn to call their bluffs.

Then Can We Keep Them?

They are off to college. Can we keep them? Yes! Loyalty to Jesus Christ is attacked in every time and in every land; it is not for nothing that the early church fathers spoke of the church militant. Yet God has carried his people through every tribulation, and the gates of hell have not prevailed.

Just as the art of physical battle changes from age to age, so does the art of spiritual battle. We are going through another transformation. Infantry are no match for iron chariots, nor iron chariots for jet planes. In the same way, the apologetical weapons and catechetical armor that served young Christians during the Enlightenment must be re- forged to meet the challenges of post-modernity. Their pastors and church leaders must show them how to use these tools.

It is probably true that pastors today must be more self-conscious about these matters than in former days. It was once believed that the culture was Christian. Today the nominal church itself is a mission field. Pastors in their own countries and congregations must often be like ambassadors to strange lands.

Yet was the culture ever really Christian? Perhaps not. Perhaps in former days its assaults and temptations were merely harder to recognize because they sounded Christian. Today, by contrast, they are obvious. That’s not bad; an attack that can be seen can be more easily repelled. We can keep our college-age people. Not by our wit but by the grace of God we can keep them. It was he who gave our young people their minds, and it is he who can transform them and claim them as his own. He kept a people for himself through wars and famines, through invasions and inundations, through exiles and persecutions. He kept their souls beneath the swords of their pagan emperors-and if only we serve him faithfully, he will keep our college students beneath the sneers of their teachers.

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

 

How To Keep Collegians from Losing Their Faith, Part 2

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

What They Need to Hear about the False Ideologies Lurking behind Temptations

Losing_faithThere are two ways to armor young Christians against ideological seduction. The first way is to anticipate and answer the ideologies they are most likely to meet. For example, I commented earlier that the slogan “Sex is just like everything else; in order to make wise choices about it, you have to experience it” expresses a philosophy of knowledge. Once they spot this philosophy, you can put it in the witness box and start cross-examining it. Is it really true that the only way to know anything for sure is personal experience? Are there any cases where personal experience works against knowledge? (How about suicide and drug addiction?) And is it really true that the test of experience is how you feel? Haven’t you ever felt good about something that turned out to be bad?

You will never be able to anticipate and answer every single ideological seduction, so an even better way to armor young Christians is to teach them to spot them on their own. To give them practice, throw them “lines.” After each line ask, “What philosophy lies behind this line?” Let them conduct the cross-examination on their own. Encourage them to develop discernment, that spiritual and intellectual sense of smell that tells them “something is rotten here.”

What They Need to Hear about the Desires and Devices of Their Hearts

Jeremiah remarks, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Unfortunately, this is also true of Christians. Our old fallen nature continues to compete with the Christ-life that is taking shape in us; we may “put to death” our fallen nature, as Paul exhorts (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5), but even then it twitches with galvanic life. Until heaven, when our sanctification is complete, we will be prone to self-deception.

A young woman once asked me for a letter of recommendation to a theological seminary. I asked her why she wanted to enter seminary. She told me she was desperate to hold on to her faith but drowning in unanswered questions; she hoped that in seminary she would find the answers Yet when I glanced at her application form, I found that she had chosen perhaps the most way-out seminary in the country, a den of disbelief. Through conversation I learned that in her last year of university she had avoided taking courses from believing professors (who were rare enough in any case), instead seeking professors notorious for their enmity to faith. Moreover, when I asked her what her unanswered questions were, they turned out to be fairly simple.

“I think you are mistaken about your motives for going to seminary,” I told her. “You’re behaving not like someone who wants answers but like someone who wants to avoid them. Could it be that you’re seeking reasons to lose your faith-that you’re manufacturing a dramatic crisis-so that you can lose your faith and say afterward, ‘I couldn’t help it’?”

My experience is that no college student loses her faith unless at some level she wants to; the slip lies not in the intellect but in the will. This may imply that it’s easy to hold on to faith. Not so: The difficulty lies in recognizing what we really want, because we really do not want to recognize it. College students need to learn that we sinners cannot fully trust our own perceptions; all of us must pray as David did:

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will 1 be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:12-13

What They Need to Hear about the Limits of Good Intentions

I’ve already explained one limit of good intentions-they may not be as good as we think. Even when they really are good, however, they are not enough. By way of example, I mentioned earlier the absurdity of a Christian boy and girl having every intention of remaining chaste but spending every waking moment alone together. The problem here is not just that they have no sense of their own weaknesses (which is pride), but that in a sense, they are setting themselves against God’s design for human sexuality (which is presumption). Being alone with the beloved is supposed to be arousing; that’s how God made us. Aloneness is what one seeks with one’s spouse; it is a precursor to intercourse. To be alone with the beloved but trying not to be aroused is like turning on a powerful rocket motor and saying “Don’t lift off.”

What usually happens next is that the boy and girl try to deal with the resulting temptations by praying together about them. I can’t think of a faster way to wind up in bed, for now they are combining the sexual drive with the spiritual drive, and their rocket has shifted from chemical propulsion to warp drive.” By now, of course, their good intentions have turned bad, because they have committed a particularly attractive sin and may find it difficult to repent. It’s at this time that faith begins to seem “unreal,” and the best apologetics in the world may do no good.

This cautionary tale shows why even knowing the reasons for God’s rules is not enough (see pages 110-11). College students also need a generous dose of godly common sense–what God in the book of Proverbs calls wisdom.

What They Need to Hear to Avoid Sentimental Misunderstandings for Christian Virtue

My generation bears most of the blame for sentimentalizing Christianity. “When I read in Mark how Jesus cursed the fig tree, I feel much closer to him,” said one woman in a Bible study group. “Jesus is a sinner, just like me!” No argument could convince her that she had drastically misinterpreted the passage. “Feelings are neither right nor wrong,” runs the misleading mantra, “they just are.”

Among college students, sentimentalism has run amuck. Consider faith, for instance. Because young Christians confuse faith with warm feelings toward God, when their feelings are running cool, they think they must be having a crisis of faith. Soon it becomes a real crisis of faith; like those who refuse to believe what they cannot see, they refuse to believe what they cannot feel.

Or consider hope. Because young Christians confuse hope with feelings of optimism, when they hear theories that presume that humans can somehow fix their problems and “save themselves,” they think they should go along. Hope then becomes complacency about the course of this present broken world-or a utopian idolatry of the “human spirit.”

Consider finally the greatest spiritual virtue, namely, love. Because young Christians confuse love with trying to enter into their neighbors’ feelings, when people who espouse disordered ways of life express feelings of pain and anger, they “feel” they ought to take their side. It may never occur to them that the pain might be self-inflicted, or that the anger might be a way to avoid the real issue. This helps explain why the gay rights movement can be such a source of anguish for young Christians.

What the younger members of your congregation need to hear is that the spiritual virtues are not feelings but deep-seated dispositions of the mind and will. Faith means continuing to believe and trust the promises of God, even when the feelings of trust have faltered; God uses the cool seasons of our feelings to exercise us, like a muscle. Hope means fixing our eyes on heaven even when the feelings of confidence have waned; now we see as in a mirror, darkly, but then we shall see face to face (see I Corinthians 13:12). Love means acting for the true good of other persons, even when their hearts desire what poisons their souls and they can only hear the words of love as hate.

Sentiment is shifting sand. You can have warm feelings toward God without faith, you can have feelings of optimism without hope, and you can have feelings of sympathy without love. Our God is not sand; he’s a Rock.

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

In the next post J. Budziszewski continues talking about ways the church can help college students keep their faith in the face of opposition.

 

How to Keep Collegians from Losing Their Faith, Part 1

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

In the previous post we examined 12 reasons why college students tend to lose their faith. This begins the first of three posts on ways the church can help prevent this.

What Students in Churches Need to Hear from Church Leadership

Losing_faithLet’s take a closer look at what is missing in the preparation of young Christians for the challenges of college life.

What They Need to Hear about Solitary Christianity

It isn’t enough to urge young Christians to go to church. They’ve heard that already, and they’ve probably had Hebrews 10:25 quoted to them until they’re blue in the face: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” What they really need is the correction of their individualistic ecclesiology.

Don’t think these young Christians don’t have an ecclesiology just because they’ve never heard the term! Every Christian has an ecclesiology-a view of what the church is and what it is for. Unfortunately, some of the phrases we use to explain the Christian life to young people convey to them a false ecclesiology. We say to them, for example, that to be a Christian is to have “a personal relationship” with Jesus Christ or to make “a personal commitment” to Jesus Christ. The intention of these phrases is good-it is true that Christianity is not just a set of beliefs but a relationship with the living Lord and Savior, and it is true that it requires not just a belief lodged in the head but a commitment of the will. Unfortunately, the term personal in these phrases gives young people the wrong idea. It produces in them the “just you and me, God” view of Christian life I mentioned earlier.

Scripture never describes our relationship with Jesus Christ as “just you and me.” Its emphasis is not on the solitary believer but on the community of faith. We are the “body” of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), the “people” of God, the “nation” he has called to holiness (1 Peter 2:9); we are citizens of the commonwealth of heaven (Philippians 3:20), in which we must “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). God has always acted through a community. It was not good for Adam to be alone, so God made Eve. Not only Noah but his family was saved. Abraham was called so that from him and Sarah might come a people more numerous than the stars of heaven. On the day of Pentecost, God founded the church. God has made us social beings, and his plan of redemption through Jesus Christ is also social.

Explain these things, then, to the younger members of your flock while they are still teens, and tell them that their true peer group is the fellowship of the saints, the household of God. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian, and if they go into the world alone, they will be swallowed.

What They Need to Hear about the “Big Story” of Revelation

There are two things about revelation that very few students understand, yet both are crucial to their ability to defend their faith on the modern college campus. The first is the reasonableness of revelation; the second is its plot.

Revelation’s Reasonableness

Too many people of college age it seems unreasonable that God should have spoken to man-too magical, too weird.Yet, as we read in Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 RSV). John R.W Stott makes this observation about this passage:

It is ludicrous to suppose that we could ever penetrate into the mind of God. There is no ladder by which our little minds can climb up into His infinite mind. There is no bridge that we can throw across the chasm of infinity. There is no way to reach or to fathom God …. It is only reasonable to say … that unless God takes the initiative to disclose what is in His mind, we will never be able to find out.'”

This is “the reasonableness of revelation.”

Revelation’s Plot

Although young Christians know “Bible stories,” they often fail to realize that the Bible as a whole is a single great story-the true story, with extensive commentary, of God’s dealings with humankind. College-age Christians need to hear from you that, like any story, the Bible contains characters, conflict, development, a turning point, a resolution, and an end. In this way they’ll become equipped to see it as a whole.

Who are the characters? God, the people who come to know him, and the people who persist in rejecting him. What is the conflict? That although God designed us for fellowship with him, we have rebelled against him beyond our power of returning and have broken ourselves beyond our power of repair. What is the development? That time after time he reaches out to us, that time after time we rebel again, but that he promises us a Rescuer who will be able to change our hearts. What is the turning point? That he visits us himself as a man of flesh and blood, accepting a criminal’s death on the cross in order to take the burden of our rebellion and brokenness upon himself. What is the resolution? That by trusting this God-man as our sin bearer, we may be forgiven and begin to be transformed. And what is the end? That one day in heaven, the community of his people will be perfectly and permanently united with him, as a bride is united with her husband.

This story is the basis of all stories, the one and only context in which our own lives and struggles can make sense. Through sin we have tried to write ourselves out of God’s story; through Jesus we can be written back in by him. This is what young Christians need to hear.

What They Need to Hear about the Reasons for God’s Rules

A young person who is wondering whether the rules really come from God needs more than Scripture texts. He isn’t asking, “Does the Bible teach this rule?” but “Why is this rule good?” In our age the question doesn’t often arise about robbery (except by government), torture (except by abortion), or forsaking idols (except the self). It does arise about sex. Paradoxically, to understand the prohibitions regarding sex one has to understand why sex is good, and this is something most Christian students have never heard. Christianity takes a higher view of sex than any other religion. It’s why it also has the strictest rules about it. Anything so important has to be handled carefully.

How can you explain this to younger Christians?’ They need to learn that the first good is procreation, which means more than making babies. It also means raising children in the love and fear of God. You can make them without a marital commitment, but you can’t raise them that way. The commitment must also be permanent, because the knowledge that your procreative partnership will continue into the then and there affects its quality in the here and now. Besides, once grown, the kids will have kids, and the kids’ kids will need their parents’ parents too. This is a matter of shattering importance. Every child is an image of God who will one day be older than the stars are today.

College-age Christians need to learn that the second great good is union. In marriage, sexual union takes each spouse out of the self for the sake of the other. Solitary sex can’t achieve this; it keeps you locked in self. Homosexual sex can’t achieve this; it directs you, narcissistically, to a mirror image of your self. Neither can casual sex achieve this; it endlessly joins and severs, joins and severs. Imagine what it would be like to repeatedly tear off and reattach your arm. There would come a day when no earthly surgery would suffice; the unitive power of your body would be lost. It is the same if you repeatedly tear off and reattach your various sexual partners. Eventually they all seem like strangers, and you just don’t feel anything. You have destroyed your capacity for intimacy.

And teach them that the third great good is mystery. This good is realized only when the spouses belong to Christ, for they become a living emblem of his sacrificial love for the church and of the church’s adoring response. Paul is so awed that he calls matrimony one of God’s secrets: “This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The little humilities and the mutual sacrifices of the husband and wife are a training for the heavenly union between Christ and his church; the awe of their wedding night and the ecstasy of their embraces, a parable of it.

[Adapted from J. Budziszewski, “Off to College: Can We Keep Them?,” from Is Your Church Ready: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler (Zondervan, 2003).]

In the next post J. Budziszewski continues talking about ways the church can help college students keep their faith in the face of opposition.