Dear Dr. Craig,
I'm originally from China and have lived in the U.S. for 17 years. Through a Christian friend, I've been introduced to your books and debates online. I've been going to church for two years now, getting very close to becoming a Christian. Your work has been instrumental in helping my "engineeringly" wired brain making sense of god, slowly but steadily building up my faith. For that, I'm very grateful and want to give my immense gratitude and appreciation.
I find myself uncontrollably talking about god with my Chinese friends, urging them to spend more time in pursuing their spirituality in Christ. Some were interested and some weren't. Pretty consistently, most of them challenge me with the same type of question, "China has thousands years of history, rise and fall of many great dynasties. Where was god? Why didn't Chinese people document the same god? How did Chinese culture enjoy so much brilliant inventions, literatures, and prosperity, without even knowing anything about god? Why didn't god even bothered to love or making himself known to Chinese people for thousands of years?" I tried to research and come up with answers myself, unfortunately, none of which were very convincing to my Chinese friends. I would use your five arguments (origin, fine-tuning, objective moral values, death and resurrection of Jesus, and personal experience) to challenge them, but find it very hard to get past that initial resistance and make the personal connection ...
Joe thought he’d be a better preacher. Did you?
I don’t mean he had pretensions to glory, necessarily. Just that of the range of things he knew he’d have to do once he started ministry, he figured preaching would come easiest. It’s what drew him to ministry in the first place, after all. He loves study, organization, communication. He listens to Keller and Piper when he jogs. He’s got bios of Spurgeon and Whitefield on his night stand.
Coming out of seminary, he knew counseling would be a challenge, that administration would take on-the-job training, that he knew little about effective marketing, that managing staff or volunteers wouldn’t be natural at first. But he figured if there’s one thing he can do well, it’s understanding and explaining the Bible in an engaging way.
And good thing too, he thought, because biblical preaching is the lifeblood of the church. He believes that if everything else has to fail so preaching can go well it’s a worthy cost. It’s a cost Joe’s paying. Balls are dropping all around him so he can spend his 20 hours prepping.
All of this amounts to a huge existential burden that each sermon has to carry. Joe feels like he’s got to hit a home run to justify mediocrity in every other area of his job. But his sermons rarely feel like home runs.
And there’s more. Joe knows from his pastoral care that his context is far removed from the class full of seminarians where he delivered his first sermons. He’s not working with theory anymore. He’s speaking into the lives of real people—people he knows and loves and desperately wants to help. He knows they need more perspective on the hard things in their lives. More confidence in their faith that Jesus is true. More urgency while facing the problems in their marriage. He knows what they need is so great and so specific to the circumstances of each one of their lives he can’t imagine how a single sermon could get the job done. But Joe’s trying his hardest. He carries that weight in his study all week; it’s on his shoulders every time he steps into the pulpit.
To whatever extent this description reflects your experience, your experience reflects mine. In more ways than I’d like to admit, I’ve been Joe. Weekly preaching is a tremendous emotional, intellectual, and psychological burden we carry with us all the time. Some of that is in the nature of the beast. Some of it stems from the idol factories we nurture inside. It’s a complicated burden and it can deal a deadly blow to ministry longevity.
Where can we find the perspective we need to keep pressing on? How do we learn to live with the fact that no sermon will ever measure up to the depths of our text, to the needs of our people, or to our ideal images of ourselves? What does success look like when you know your preaching will never be good enough?
John the Baptist
A while ago I was pressing through a season of discouragement in my preaching at the same time I was preparing for a new series on John’s Gospel. The way the Evangelist describes the ministry of John the Baptist was incredibly helpful for me then—and it’s a perspective I’ve been seeking to grow into ever since. There are three places the ministry of the Baptist shows up, and in each case there’s a message we need if we want to preach with confidence, freedom, and joy.
- “I am not the Christ” (John 1:19-28).
We first hear John speak when the priests and Levites come down from Jerusalem for an up-close look at his ministry. The Evangelist doesn’t fill in many details of John’s style or his popularity, but given the way other writers describe him it’s not difficult to imagine what these Jewish leaders expected to find.
They come asking, in essence, who do you think you are? They’d surely heard about his bohemian dress, his eccentric diet, his outlandish statements. They probably expected a guy who was full of himself. But John’s answers only speak to who he’s not: “I am not the Christ” (1:20).
John isn’t trying to protect himself and deflect attention. This isn’t an Obi Wan, these-aren’t-the-droids-you’re-looking-for evasive move. He’ll give up his life soon enough. Here, though, he doesn’t want to talk about himself because he knows and loves the fact that he’s not the point. He’s not the solution. He’s not the hero. He can’t save anybody. He’s not the one you’re looking for. And he not only accepts this reality—he embraces it.
There’s great freedom for us when we as preachers embrace that, too. There’s no denying our sermons will never be able give our people what they really need. Thank God I am not the Christ.
Of course, it’s essential that we bear the burdens of our people alongside them. It’s unavoidable that we carry those burdens into our pulpits, but it is not left to us and our sermons to deliver our people from those burdens. Only the Christ can do that, and it’s precisely what he came to do.
Consider this prayer as you rise to address your people this week:
Thank you God that you have given them—given me—a far greater Savior than I could be. Thank you for Jesus, whose work is finished, and for your Spirit, who knows how to apply it.
- “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:22-30).
The next time we hear from John the setting is somewhere out in the Judean countryside, a place where there was plenty of water. Jesus and his disciples are in the area performing baptisms, and John was nearby doing the same thing. The dialogue opens with John’s followers who come to him with an all-too-human concern. They’re worried that John’s ministry has been eclipsed by Jesus’. Jesus was a nobody before John talked him up, they imply, but now look what’s happened. Their exaggeration makes their frustration clear: “Everyone’s going to him” (3:26).
John’s response offers remarkable clarification for our goal in preaching. It follows directly from the fact that we’re nobody’s Christ. Our job is to set people up with the one who saves and then to get out of the way.
The metaphor John uses with his friends still speaks powerfully today. He refers to the bridegroom—that’s Jesus; the bride—that’s his people; and the friend of the bridegroom—that’s John. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom,” John says. But the friend of the bridegroom isn’t jealous. He was looking to make the introduction, not looking for a bride of his own. He was looking to set his buddy up, and he “rejoices greatly” that the job is done (3:29).
From one perspective, John’s ministry—his life’s work—is fizzling out. In a matter of months he’ll have his head served up on a platter. Surely he can read the signs. But, far from despairing, he claims “this joy of mine is now complete” (3:29). He faces obscurity and death with joy because the aim of his life and ministry was focused and fulfilled: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30).
That’s a liberating manifesto for preaching ministry, isn’t it? For a while I kept the phrase on a sticky-note attached to my office computer where I write my sermons. Where I struggle with disappointment over sermons that aren’t what I wish they were. Where I’m tempted to write in content that will make me look good. It’s good to be creative, insightful, vivid, and winsome. But in the end, there’s one main question we must ask of our sermons, one metric for judging their effectiveness: is the beauty of Jesus accessible?
Lord, help me believe that the most important thing about me is the Jesus I proclaim. My only glory is his, shared with me as a gift because I’m one with him.
- “Everything that John said about this man was true” (John 10:40-42).
The final reference to the Baptist in John’s Gospel comes in chapter 10. He’s been executed by this point, and Jesus has come to an area where John had done much of his ministry. Many of those who had heard John’s preaching now encountered Jesus for themselves. Here’s their conclusion: “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true” (10:41).
How’s that for an epitaph? Would that work for you?
Let’s imagine this is said of Joe, our melancholy preacher:
“You know, I heard plenty preachers more engaging. Others were funnier, more thought provoking and memorable. Joe did no sign. But everything he said about Jesus was true. We’ve seen it for ourselves.”
There’s the epitaph we want, brothers. And by God’s grace, so long as we’re faithful to his Word, it’s in reach for all of us. So let’s cast off our fears, our insecurities, our disappointments—and go for it.
Father, as I preach, guide me in truth. Protect me from error. Show them he’s true. Let them taste of his beauty.
This article was originally published at 9Marks.
The problem I notice is that many times Christians have ongoing difficulty in forgiving those who have wronged them. The strain may go on for many years even as they keep trying to forgive. They frequently assume that there is something wrong with them as being hardhearted and otherwise unloving. They fault themselves for not being able to forgive others. Perhaps these unforgiving Christians are trying to do something that God has not called them to do. Perhaps one-sided forgiveness is actually impossible in the absence of a necessary condition for forgiveness ...
In a post on his blog, "Jesus Creed," eminent New Testament scholar Scot McKnight seems to agree with some of the findings of Claude Mariottini's book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding which argues that Gen. 3:15 is not in fact messianic. McKnight further points out that such a conclusion agrees with Old Testament luminaries Gordon Wenham and Gerhard von Rad as well as some translations. These, says McKnight, conclude that the “seed” mentioned in Gen. 3:15 refers to not an individual, but rather the sum total of the descendants of both the woman and the serpent ...
I was on the patio of a Starbucks when I decided I was going to seminary. My wife and I were there with a local pastor to pick his brain on the pros and cons of theological education and before the conversation was over, I knew we were going. By this time, I had been considering seminary for a while. I was serving as a youth minister and felt called to spend my life pastoring, but I also felt ill-prepared for the task. Now, six years later, I’m sitting at a Starbucks again. I’ve just graduated from SBTS and am preparing to begin serving as a pastor in a church in North Carolina.
Perhaps you are considering seminary. You want to be used by God and you want to serve the church, but you are sensing that you, too, might need more training. You might also be wondering if it’s really worth it. After all, seminary requires lots of time and money. Should you go? Which degree program should you choose? Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay put and read a little more? Allow me to offer you a few pieces of advice. Just as God used that pastor to clarify my calling, I pray this would help do the same for you.The call to ministry is a call to prepare
So, should you go to seminary? That depends on if you want to be prepared for ministry or not. Over and over in the Bible, when God calls a man to ministry he first sends him into a season of preparation. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, even Jesus—they all spent time being equipped for the task they were called to. You are not an exception. If God has called you to pastor, then he has by extension called you to prepare.
Could you imagine running the Boston Marathon with no training at all? Of course not. A marathon is a grueling test of physical and mental fitness that takes quite a while to work up to. A lifetime of ministry is similarly grueling. You could jump right in and start running, but your chances of finishing improve considerably if you take the time to train before you begin.What if I’m not academically inclined?
One of my big reservations was that I’m not really a “school” guy. I don’t love studying, reading, writing, etc. Seminary seemed daunting to me. Many of the guys I knew that pursued theological education study as a hobby. Me, I just wanted to work with people. Is that you? Then you definitely should go.
Because study doesn’t come naturally to me, the structure of a degree program forced me to learn what I would have otherwise avoided. I might have read a preaching book on my own, but without seminary I just wouldn’t have studied church history or systematic theology. It turns out, however, that pastoral ministry requires a working knowledge of both. If you’re not the kind who will study theology on your own, then by all means please go to seminary!OK, but which degree?
Imagine you’re sitting on the operating table. The doctor hovering above you with a scalpel is about to perform open heart surgery. He seems nice, caring, and zealous for the task at hand. Reassuring, right? Now imagine that doctor only has a high school diploma. All of a sudden, you’re a lot less concerned with how genuine he is. Why? Because the job he’s doing is serious and he needs more than good intentions to do it well.
Pastors also have a very serious job to do. Just as patients need a skillful doctor, so too do our church members need skillful pastors. We hold doctors to the highest educational standards. How much more important is the work of a pastor? I know how tempting it is to rush seminary. At one point, I considered bailing on the M.Div.(designed to be a minimum of training for pastors) and getting an M.A. instead. But God had call me to pastor, and I was never comfortable cutting my training short. Put in the work and leave seminary trained for the task at hand. Don’t shortchange yourself or your ministry.More than academics
I am convinced seminary is one of the primary ways God builds character into his ministers. While everyone’s path through seminary is different, none of them are easy. For me, seminary meant working full-time and fitting classes into the margin. It meant working hard to prioritize my family. It meant working harder than I thought I was capable of. In other words, seminary didn’t just build my mind, it helped build my character.
Now, I know no one chooses seminary because they want to suffer. But you should know that the challenges involved are not something you should avoid. They are tools in the hand God used to shape you into the pastor he’s calling you to be. Do you desire to be a man of character? Of discipline? Of perseverance? Seminary will help.What are you waiting for?
So should you go to seminary? If God is calling you to pastor, then yes. You should enroll in a master of divinity program right away. You should know that it will challenge you and it will stretch you. It will teach you to think and argue and study so that you are prepared for the ministry ahead of you. It will be hard and it will be long. But it will be worth it.
Until the late eighteenth-century A.D., the overwhelming majority of Jewish and Christian interpreters believed that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who ministered in Jerusalem during the eighth century B.C., authored the entire book that bears his name. However, German historical-critical scholars Julius Döderlein (1789), Johann Eichhorn (1783), and Wilhelm Gesenius (1819) began to conjecture that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 were two separate works written by two different authors about 150 years apart. These scholars did not believe in the supernatural claims of the Bible because they had been influenced by the Enlightenment. Due to their anti-supernatural presuppositions, they rejected the biblical teaching that Scripture was inspired by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). As a result, many proponents of this view claimed that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 had to be from two separate authors because 1) the internal evidence appeared to show that chapters 40-66 was written in the Babylonian exile, 2) the style between both sections appear to be different (i.e., the writing in chapters 1-39 is terse and solemn while chapters 40-66 are more developed and its ethos warm and passionate), and 3) the theological viewpoints appear to be different in both sections.
Each of the reasons for propagating that an alleged “Deutero-Isaiah” anonymously wrote chapters 40-66 during the exile, however, is unconvincing. The internal evidence actually supports the view that Isaiah received the entire contents of the book as a direct revelation from God and had prophesied of the coming Babylonian exile in Isaiah 1-39 such as in 1:7-9; 5:13; 14:1-4; and 35:1-4, just as it is in chapters 40-55. Moreover, the argument alleging different writing styles falsely assumes that a writer may not change his writing style when he addresses a different subject or that a writer’s style may not change over time, especially since Isaiah prophesied for over 40 years. And finally, the theological argument is completely subjective because the purpose of chapters 1-39 deal mostly with God’s judgment against Judah and the nations, whereas chapters 40-66 emphasized God’s consolation. Therefore, the differences between the two sections with respect to their theological themes are plainly related to the book’s overall argument and not to a hypothetical second author.
One of the main reasons that critical scholars denied that Isaiah wrote chapters 40-66 is because Cyrus is mentioned about 150 years before he came on the scene. Again, they made this claim because they disallowed supernatural miracles and divine intervention, as well as alleging that prophecy did not function that way because prophets always addressed their contemporaries. Instead, they drew upon the principle of vaticinium ex eventu (Latin: “prophecy from the event”) because it explains how Cyrus’ name could be recorded in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 without resorting to divine inspiration. The principle conveniently circumvents any talk of divine intervention and, ultimately, makes biblical prophecy fraudulent since it was written after the prophesied event had already taken place which would make it a deceitful, blatant lie.
This wrong-headed assertion, however, does not satisfy all of the prophetic data contained in the book. It does not account for the fact that the Suffering Servant is none other than Jesus Christ, who fulfilled Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to the letter—not to mention many other messianic prophecies that He fulfilled from the book of Isaiah, such as in 7:14; 9:6; 11:1-2; 49:6; and 61:1-3. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesied of the millennial reign of Christ as well as the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth in passages such as 2:1-5; 4:2-6; 9:7; 60:10-22; and 65:17-25. These passages have their counterparts in other prophetic texts such as the book of Revelation. For example, compare Isaiah 60:10-22 with Revelation 21:22-27. The Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle John saw the same vision regarding the New Jerusalem. Therefore, the fact that Cyrus is mentioned by name is not the only prophecy in Isaiah that the critics have to deal with. They must also explain why the prophecies related to Christ as the Suffering Servant (as confirmed in Acts 8:26-36) and the New Jerusalem are also in the book. What is patently clear is that their explanations are reductionistic and woefully insufficient because they do not fully account for the entire prophetic data nor their future fulfillment.
A better way to understand the data is to see the argument contained in chapters 40-66. Passages such as Isaiah 40:18-28; 41:21-25; 42:8-9; 43:10; 44:6-45:7; and 46:18-22, all address the LORD, as the sovereign God over the nations and their idols. In these key texts, God challenges the false gods/idols to a contest. For example, in Isaiah 41:21-29, the LORD demands that the idols tell the future. They cannot because they are less than nothing, but He alone can tell the future and of the coming of Cyrus:
“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.
“Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable. So I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes [i.e., Cyrus of Persia]—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news [i.e., Isaiah]. I look but there is no one—no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.”
After Isaiah prophesied of the Persian king, Cyrus, by name in 44:28 and 45:1, 13 regarding what His “anointed” will do in rebuilding Jerusalem (44:26, 28; 45:13), the temple (44:28), and restoring His people to Judah (45:13), the LORD once again challenged the false gods/idols:
“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”
Thus, it is evident that within the argument of the book that chapters 40-66 address the future exiles in Babylon in order to declare to them hope and comfort because the LORD had forecasted for them a coming “anointed one,” named Cyrus, who will release them from their captivity and assist them in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. God also declares that only He can prophesy of future events and people—naming them by name (!)—because there are no other gods, but Him alone. The sovereign LORD, however, does not stop there. He goes on to foretell of the coming “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 who will be a substitutionary atonement for us as well as describing the forthcoming New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth in Isaiah 60:10-22 and 65:17-25. The context of the book, thus, matches the superscription of Isaiah 1:1 and the single call narrative in the entire book which appears in Isaiah 6. There was only one prophet that God called in the book of Isaiah, and he alone saw the vision recorded in the book that the LORD had given him during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 367.
 Ibid., 368.
 Ibid., 369-70. The arguments for this section are from Mark Rooker in the pages noted.
The Latin phrase is translated “prophecy from the event,” meaning that the prophecy was written after the event had already occurred.
Note that the man of God in 1 Kings 13 also prophesied of King Josiah by name and gave specific details regarding what he would do centuries before he came on the scene (cf. 2 Kings 23:16-18).
One difficult lesson I have learned in apologetics and evangelism is to identify the question beneath the question. To be honest, I have spent considerable time answering questions I thought people were asking, but because I was operating under false assumptions, I missed the heart of their query. Have you ever made this same mistake?
Here are three examples from my own life and ministry, and the brief lesson I learned from each of them ...
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you for your work in theology. I am grateful for your broad contributions to discussions about theology and religion in public life. Your philosophical and theological ventures are welcoming, thoughtful and substantive.
My question concerns a remark you made in a recent podcast. You mentioned that God commands us to believe in Him. God commanding us believe in Him seems problematic. It is notably articulated by Hasdai Crescas ...
In my family church where I grew up, we often sang the hymn, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go. In my mind, I think I actually meant the words when I sang them. I can clearly remember the mood of the congregation as we sang and the sound of the music from the organ as my mother played. Interestingly, I have no memory of ever thinking that He’d lead me anywhere other than where I was at the time. Although I had gone through the motions of walking the aisle and getting baptized, I was in my mid-twenties before the Lord drew me to Himself and saved me. My life changed completely—radically, 180 degrees, inside out, pick one and it fits. After coming to Christ and being born again, I began to sing that song and meant it with all my heart. It was only then that I realized I had never really meant it before. With the change that salvation brought, I remember my morning prayers being something like, “What is it that is not being done, that ought to be done, and if it were done, it would result in greater glory to God and extension of His kingdom?”A calling
I began to think God was leading me to missions. With my life firmly established, making good money, and a young family to provide for, I still felt that God was calling us to leave it all and go. I just didn’t know where. Mary and I began to explore His call on our lives, first through reading missionary biographies, then going on short-term mission trips with our church. God began to make it plain that missions was his plan for our lives. On a mission trip to Ecuador, he confirmed the call and showed us the place.Abandon it all
Like anyone making such a massive life change, we were nervous and continued seeking confirmation that we had heard him clearly about the when, where, and what he had for our lives. In our nightly family worship time, we prayed through a book that listed and described the work in all the countries where our denomination’s missionaries were serving. If God wanted to point us somewhere else, we wanted to know and not rush into a decision without Him. I even went on a vision mission trip to another country to discern whether we felt strongly about Ecuador just because we had been there before. It was disconcerting to sell our home and get rid of most of our belongings to go to seminary for preparation while still praying for confirmation of where we would go next. Yet downward mobility and walking by faith was a rich and faith-growing time of entrusting every moment to God.We all have a role
“Ready to go, but willing to stay,” has been my heartbeat ever since the Lord led us back to the USA, but I confess that I do not always say that with a joyful heart. My prayer is that this is just a season of preparing and sending others, but that it will be followed by another season of being one of the sent ones. I cannot get my head and heart wrapped around the thinking of some who say, “No, not me. I would never go to the mission field.” God has called us all to go or give, to send or be spent, and He will have His way – ask Jonah when you get Home.Who is Lord?
You can say, “No,” and you can say, “Lord.” But you cannot say, “No, Lord.” The moment you do, he’s not; you are. What’s the attitude of your heart? What will you be thinking the next time you hear, “Let’s stand and sing, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go?”
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,” I heard my Master say;
“I gave My life to ransom thee, Surrender your all today.”
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know,
And in that will I now abide, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
My heart, my life, my all I bring to Christ who loves me so;
He is my Master, Lord, and King,
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever he leads I’ll go. Will you?
Most humans seem to perceive fatherhood as having exhausted itself at the end of a moment of intimacy with a member of the opposite gender. The male member of the species bows out since the conception inside the woman’s womb is thought to be “part of her body” and therefore of no consequence to him. Little difference is made for the man if the conceived baby is terminated in the womb or born into a fatherless existence. In fact “sperm banks” now make even his presence in conception totally unnecessary. How different the picture of fatherhood is in the Scriptures! And this loss of the concept of fatherhood introduces pandemonium into the entire human system, including an accurate comprehension of God as Father. For purposes of this blog, the idea of fatherhood encompasses four unique perspectives. Fatherhood includes provision, protection, prudence, and the precepts of God. As anyone can see, this is a long-term assignment more challenging than climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. What do these assignments imply?
• Provision suggests a job, an income to purchase food and clothing with hopefully something small left over to buy a ticket to March Madness or to take a vacation. Medical bills, taxes, and college will require the remainder and the man will have provided. Undoubtedly, that is all a part of provision – but only a part. Provision also includes passing on to children how to subsist in a difficult and expensive world. Each child must be taught a trade or develop a talent needed by others as provision for his own life. The teen must learn to walk with God who alone can provide for him in all circumstances. And he must see all of these attitudes and actions modeled by his father.
• Protection is something about which men like to boast. That is why I keep an arsenal at home in the gun safe. No one is about to hurt my family. This I do not denigrate. The assignment from God to fathers is to protect the physical well-being of the family. But many a father lives his whole life without having to engage a physical threat to the personal lives of his family. Nevertheless, he must protect! On his knees he earnestly intercedes with God for his family. His instruction includes the ways of peace and conflict avoidance. And when peace is not possible and conflict is unavoidable, then he must teach his children how to protect themselves and how to look to God for his intervention.
Protection includes assisting vulnerable young minds in grasping the real enemies who would destroy them: sex outside of God’s boundaries, pharmacological misuse, alcohol, slavery to money, and selfishness. A predilection for entertainment and addiction to electronics must not only be met with “no” but with substitutes that provide better substance for life.
• Prudence is wisdom in all things relating to God and to life. Many attitudes are learned by children from their mothers. But wisdom or prudence is a virtue specifically delegated to fathers and grandfathers. Proverbs 1:1-7 clarifies the responsibilities of fathers. Wisdom or virtue underscores the development of justice, judgment, and equity on the part of the simple who need prudence. And if a child is wise, he will increase learning.
• Finally, the precepts of God are to be modeled and taught. The work of priest and prophet is important as would be the role of pastor in the present age, but the primary responsibility for spiritual instruction outlined in Deuteronomy 6 falls completely to fathers and grandfathers. Ostensibly, they have more time with the children. Therefore, they are assigned the task of teaching the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments. They are told how to pursue this task and the extent of the instruction to be given.
A child with a father who meets these criteria grows up with a healthy view of the fatherhood of God, and he also enjoys a relationship with his earthly father that assists him in becoming a natural leader in his world. If you have a father who leads his family in this way, you have every reason to express gratitude to God on this Father’s Day. And work to be sure your son grows up understanding the responsibilities he will have on the day he fathers a child.
For many years I have been curious about a Roman governor known to us from history as Pliny the Younger. My interest initially arose because I resided for four years in one of the principal cities he governed—not to mention that one of my four daughters was born in that city. Moreover, since I have expended significant effort studying the writings of the earliest Christian authors after the period of the apostles (those authors known as the “Apostolic Fathers”), I continue to be intensely interested in learning anything I possibly can about the lives of Christians who lived during the first half of the second century ...
The second chapter of my book on warfare in the ancient Near East (see an overview to the book in a previous post) studies the casus belli of the ancient kings. Although presumably kings often went to war to gain plunder, this was not frequently stated in such bald terms. Instead, the most commonly stated reason for warfare was that the king fought to defeat chaos and preserve order in the world. In this post we will look at the Egyptian and Assyrian claims for preserving order as their goal for war and how these claims help us understand Scripture ...
I literally don’t remember not reading the Bible every day. Here’s how it happened.
I’m told I started reading fairly early, reading Dick and Jane books sometime before my fifth birthday. But while I remember reading the books, I have no recollection of starting to read them.
I do remember learning words and phrases by watching TV commercials that consisted of nothing more than an announcer reading exactly what was on the black-and-white screen. In particular, I recall a long-running commercial for a Memphis-area car dealer. It was just black words on a white background, like broadcasting a 60-second video of a poster, advertising a Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually I realized that the voice-over corresponded exactly to what I was seeing, and I learned to read along. On small-market stations—such as the four channels we could receive from Memphis television in the late 1950s—local advertising was a very low-budget enterprise.
So by sometime early in elementary school—though I don’t remember exactly when—I was able to start reading the narrative passages of Scripture.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the greatest blessings in my life was not just learning to read at an early age, but being trained at that age to read the Bible every day. My dad modeled daily Bible reading, and lovingly encouraged me in the practice. My mother made sure I had adequate lighting above my bed, the place where I did most of my childhood reading.
We attended a church where my Sunday School teachers asked every week if each of us boys had read the Bible every day. In fact, this was a churchwide practice. Each Sunday School class, from the school-age children on up, kept records of how many in each class brought a Bible that morning, had read it every day the previous week, had read the printed Sunday School lesson, were staying for the worship service, and more. Each class reported its results to the church Sunday School superintendent who compiled them as a weekly snapshot of some measurable aspects of the church’s discipleship. In those days, this was done in virtually all of the thousands of churches in the denomination.
For most of my boyhood and teenage years, two men—first one, then later the other—taught my Sunday School class. Both were deacons in the church, and I respected them. I never thought of either of them as particularly holy men, at least not in the sense that I did of a couple of the elderly men in the church. Yet Sunday after Sunday, at the beginning of class my teacher would ask each boy in the class who had read his Bible every day that week to raise his hand. There was no pressure or shame. It’s just what we did. Everyone who came to church was expected as a normal part of life to read his or her Bible every day. It was in the air we breathed.
But this was more than a mere expectation, for the church provided practical, if simple, help for daily Bible reading. Every person who attended Sunday School was given an age-graded publication called a “quarterly.” This was a booklet of about fifty pages which contained the “lesson” for each Sunday in a quarter of a year, thus the term “quarterly.” This was published by the denomination, purchased by the church, and distributed with the hope that each person who attended Sunday School would read the week’s lesson before it was discussed in class on Sunday morning,
But the quarterly also served another purpose. Inside the back cover was a list of the suggested Bible readings for each day in the quarter. I don’t recall the scheme of the schedule used in my childhood. I seem to remember that most of the time the readings were not sequential in terms of reading through complete books of the Bible. But eventually, I think that at least for older readers, the plan was modified to one that took you through the entire Bible in a three-year cycle.
Legalistic? Well, any sort of structure in the Christian life can contribute to legalism if one is inclined that way. And any who thought (and I’m sure some did) that reading the Bible every day (or doing any other good deed) would earn them a ticket to Heaven were gravely mistaken. In my church, Ephesians 2:8-9 (we’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works) was a constant theme.
But I was a child, and we all—but especially children—need some structure when beginning to learn something as big and important as the Bible. Without guidance and a plan, children will flounder when trying to read and understand the Bible on their own.
So I was encouraged at home and at church to read the Bible every day, and I was given a simple plan for doing so. And it worked. It served me well. It helped me begin a practice that became second nature and has continued for a lifetime. Every day, for almost sixty years, I’ve not had to stop and think about whether I’m going to read the Bible, at least not think about it any more than I’ve had to decide whether to put on clothes or to eat that day. And by grace, the Word of God has done it’s work in my soul. My earthly and eternal life are immeasurably different because of the simple practice of reading the Bible every day and what has resulted from it.
Well, that’s my story. I believe the same simple factors, that is, Godly influences and reading plan, with the specifics adjusted for your own context, can work for you and your family, too.
P.S. I was prompted to write this story as result of being asked to consider writing an endorsement for a forthcoming Crossway book by David Murray called Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids (Crossway, 2017). Writing the endorsement reminded me of the beginnings of my own Bible reading. That expanded the endorsement into a foreword for the book. The foreword expanded into this blog post.
Simple resources like David Murray’s book are so important. I don’t even want to imagine what my Christian life and my ministry would have been without the encouragement and structure for daily Bible reading I received as a child. But if I’d had something like Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. I think my scriptural foundations would have been even stronger. Blessed beyond their knowing is the boy or girl who receives a workbook like Murray’s and the loving help to complete it.
P.P.S — A few years ago, Justin Taylor did the church a great service when he complied a long list of links to various Bible reading plans.
The Southern Baptist Convention begins meeting today (June 13). During the next two days, messengers representing 46,793 churches with 15.3 million members will make important decisions, hear reports about our work, worship together, and fellowship. These two days remind us of the greatness of the task before us and the responsibility that we share to impact the world with the message of the Gospel. In the midst of the complexities of our work, may we also be careful not to forget the value God places on individuals.
The Lord reminded His people, Israel, of this truth in Numbers 3, which tells the story of the redemption of the firstborn. Theologically, this passage teaches three important truths about faith: ownership, redemption, and value. The Bible teaches that while God owns everything, He has specifically designated that the first things are to be dedicated to Him. That includes both resources (animals, income, etc.) and people.
Numbers 3 addresses the redemption of the firstborn of the Israelites. The census determined that the number of the firstborn males was 22,273. Rather than have every family commit their firstborn to the Lord, God stipulated that He would take the tribe of Levi in their place. The math worked out exactly—almost. According to the census, the population of the tribe of Levi was 22,000. Thus, while the Levites were taken in the place of the firstborn of Israel, that left a difference of 273. For these 273, the Lord commanded that five shekels be taken for each individual (1,365 shekels total) and given to Aaron and his sons as a “ransom.”
The number 273 is very specific and stands out from the other seemingly rounded numbers in the chapter. I am not a numerologist, but I am curious about that number. Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few interesting speculations about that number. For example,
- Some have found significance in the fact that 273 is the conversion of Celsius to kelvin (273.15), making -273 the lowest limit of the thermodynamic temperature scale, or absolute zero.
- One of my favorite explanations for the significance of the number 273 is that it represents the sum total of the 153 fish in John 21:11 and the 120 in the upper room in Acts 1:15.
- 273 is the number of people on the boat with Paul in Acts 27:37 (if you subtract Paul, Luke and Aristarchus).
- Finally, one might find significance in the 273rd word of Hebrew Bible (yes, I counted!), which is found in Genesis 1:22. That particular word is actually the (untranslated) sign of the direct object of the sentence. Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure of the theological implications of that.
But perhaps the significance is not necessarily in the number, but in the people the number represents. The 22,000 Levites were taken in the place of all but 273 of the firstborn. But what of those 273? They were the extras; the leftovers. Certainly, there’s something more here than simply precision of numbers. God could have just said, “We’ll call it even”; or, “That’s good enough.” But instead, God demanded redemption even for the 273.
I believe there are several lessons that Southern Baptists can learn from the 273. The lessons center on the same three fundamental truths of the passage: ownership, redemption, and value.
- First, the 273 remind us that God owns all. Indeed, everything we have and all that we are belongs to Him. My prayer for Southern Baptists is that we never forget that our ministry is all about Him, not us. It’s His work; and those whom we are called to serve are His people.
- Second, the 273 remind us that redemption costs. Every time someone from Israel saw the Levites, they were to remember that they were taken “in our place.” The price for our redemption must be paid; and the inclusion of the 273 emphasizes that the full price had been paid. Today, as believers in Christ, we understand that we are not redeemed with silver or gold, but with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). His sacrifice covered our sin. Southern Baptists must remember that our message is about the One who was sacrificed in our place, and the victory we proclaim is that the full price has been paid.
- Third, the 273 remind us that all are important to God. It is His desire for all to be redeemed and that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). This must be our focus. We cannot sit idly by as those for whom Christ died are lost, overlooked, or aborted away. They must be counted because they matter to Him.
So, my prayer for this year’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is that our decisions, business and worship would reflect the God who came in our place; the God who ransoms and redeems; the God who sees the big picture and yet values the individual. May this always drive our methods and our message.
Jonathan Morrow is one of the top communicators for both students and adults on apologetics and cultural issues. He is adjunct professor of Apologetics at Biola University (with me!) and director of cultural engagement at Impact 360 Institute where he teaches high school and college students. Check out his website and Twitter account: jonathanmorrow.org and @Jonathan_Morrow.
We co-authored the book Is God Just A Human Invention? together in 2010. Last week he released an update of his classic book Welcome to College. This has been one of the top books I recommend for future college students to read so they can experience relational, emotional, academic, and spiritual success. Check out this interview and if you are an aspiring college student, or you know one, consider getting a copy of his excellent book ...
Fact 4, Point 2 in your opening statement of the debate with Bart Ehrman: you state that Jewish views of the afterlife precluded having a glorified existence prior to the general resurrection. Yet, the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, three disciples saw Moses and Elijah. Elijah, according to the account in Kings, never died, but Moses is recorded as having died at the end of Deuteronomy. Whether or not he was actually raised and glorified in the same sense they came to believe Jesus was, could they not have believed that to be the case? Apparitions of the dead (Samuel to Saul and the medium at En-dor) were not unknown in the OT ...
Diagnosis is never as simple as treatment. Not surprisingly, the Christian blogosphere swells every passing day with critical analysis or cutting satire of the church. Biblically illiterate, check. Self-centered, check. Hypocritical rather than holy, check. Stagnant in growth, double check. Quite frankly, a flawed church makes an easy target. But the real challenge is finding a solution.
Recently I’ve begun to wonder if personal evangelism isn’t the prescription for what ails us. No, I’m not talking about a cure-all. But what if evangelism was not simply the remedy for church growth but also for many other systemic problems in our congregations? Beyond making new converts, I believe that increasing our evangelism is crucial to supplement the health of our churches.Biblical literacy
Many of us have witnessed it. For all the resources available to us, Western Christians know embarrassingly little about the religion they espouse and the Bible they believe. Discipleship rarely develops beyond the elementary. Rigorous study is only for those in ministry. Ignorance, especially among men, has become accepted and expected. Apathy toward Scripture, common.
But regular evangelism has a way of promoting biblical literacy. When Christians engage in dialogue with non-believers it naturally propels them to search the scriptures for ways to engage with the gospel. Not only that, but a questioning world forces believers to face difficult challenges head-on, perhaps ones they have never considered. If a believer rarely feels the need to open his Bible, it’s likely because he isn’t evangelizing his neighbor. But a faithfully witnessing Christian will inevitably be faced with questions and thereby incentivized to focused biblical study.Christian unity
The petty squabbles that plague the church in the West are undeniable. Just listen to Christians poke fun at ourselves. We talk about deacons the same way we do lawyers. A committee deciding the shade of the sanctuary carpet has become a worn-out punchline only because it is an all-too-common experience of frustration. Then there are the theological squabbles. Beyond pragmatic and procedural issues, some minor doctrinal issues continue to unnecessarily fragment the church in the West.
But I believe a healthy emphasis on evangelism may help us here as well. Ask any politician, any business guru, even a military strategist. They know practical unity comes through shared vision and purpose. Which is why so many Christians who would never associate in the states end up linking arms on the mission field to reach the lost. The great need and unfinished task has a way of bringing us together. This doesn’t just happen across denominational differences but relational ones as well. People who wouldn’t otherwise work together suddenly can find deep unity when they collaborate to reach others with the gospel.Personal holiness
People say that fear is the main reason Christians don’t evangelize. I tend to believe a close second is a lack of personal holiness. We never want to be accused of talking where we’re not walking. Of being hypocrites. So we keep our mouths shut. And the longer we keep our mouths closed in evangelism, the less we have to worry about the way we live.
But the moment we start approaching others about our beliefs, the moment we would dare claim to know the truth, our personal lives come under scrutiny. Our marriage, our finances, our work ethic, our speech, our entertainment, it’s all on trial. Evangelism, then, is an incredible motivation—though not the primary or fundamental one—to growth in sanctification.
Christian parents know this, because we realize our kids are always watching. But so are the people at work and school. Thus, a commitment to speak openly and regularly about our faith can be a powerful encouragement to sincere piety and personal holiness, something we desperately lack in the church today.Evangelism as multivitamin
Evangelism has a way of nourishing the church in so many ways. Of course, welcoming new converts addresses the obvious need of numeric growth. But seeing hearts transformed brings immeasurable joy to a church otherwise prone to discouragement and languor. Personal evangelism also provides Christians with the unique satisfaction that comes from a kind of occupational purpose. After all, it is for this that we were called, that we would bear much fruit.
Then there is the benefit to our faith. Our confidence in God flourishes when we see him answer prayers, intervene miraculously, and change lives. Evangelism also impacts the faith of the next generation. When children hear their parents witnessing to others, they realize that Christianity is more than a domestic experiment or family requirement. Children are impacted powerfully by parents who are active in reaching out to others with the gospel.
Of course, I’m not saying that proclaiming Christ should be so inward-focused that we do it only for our sakes. I’m also not suggesting it’s a wonder drug. That would be a snake oil scam. But I truly believe that personal evangelism can be a kind of multivitamin for the church, with benefits that are both tangible and corporate. For that reason, I have to think that active gospel proclamation could helpfully address much of what’s lacking in our churches, bringing the body health and growth to the glory of Christ.