Dr. Craig, thank you for all that you do to help us understand the God of the Bible in face of the difficult issues we all face. As a follower of Christ, I am troubled by some passages in Scripture which seem to indicate that God not only allows evil (the treatment of which you have addressed many times) but even more troubling, that God actually CAUSES evil. I am referring to the accounts both in the OT and NT: from the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in Genesis, to John 13:27b when Jesus tells Judas "What you do, do quickly" (seems to be no choice in the matter for poor Judas), to the account in Revelation 17:15 - 17 - in particular, the first part of vs 16-17: "And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. FOR GOD HAS PUT IT IN THEIR HEARTS (my emphasis) to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled." Does "it" in that verse refer to all the horrific things they do - hating, making desolate, eating flesh, burning with fire? ...
“The heart is not changed by argument, the heart is changed by divine intervention.” –Ravi Zacharias
How long after becoming a Christian should one wait before engaging in apologetics? Three years? Four? The disciple Philip waited only two verses! In John 1:43 Philip becomes a follower of Christ. In verse 45, he’s found sharing the gospel with Nathanael!Listening for the question behind the question
Then as now, sharing the gospel was met with skepticism. Nathanael’s doubt revolved around Jesus’ hometown, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” While Nathanael’s question may seem straightforward, it’s more complex than it first appears. This is typically the case in evangelistic encounters.
All skeptics enter into theological discussions with myriad interests, backgrounds, and wounds. To truly address their question, one must truly hear their question. That is, one must listen with the goal of understanding, not just the goal of responding. This requires as much love as learning, as much empathy as answers. In Nathanael’s case, his question regarding Jesus’ hometown has at least two aspects: cultural and theological.A cultural objection: Nazareth isn’t Jerusalem
Culturally, Nazareth was an out of the way, nowhere town. How could the long awaited Messiah be found in such a seemingly insignificant place? The good news is always proclaimed in seeming weakness (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
While the gospel is vast and cosmic—Christ redeeming all of creation—the means of fulfilling the promise are quite humble: preaching, sacraments, small acts of mercy and grace, and similarly obscure acts.
Resurrection is brought about through the cross. In Nathanael’s question, we’re pricked with the sting of scorn. We stand vulnerable with Philip, proclaiming a message we know to be so large, yet seems so small and culturally insignificant in the moment.A theological objection: Nazareth isn’t Bethlehem
As a Jewish believer, Nathanael would no doubt have been interested in Philip’s claim that he had found “the one of whom Moses and the Prophets spoke.” Yet while Moses and the Prophets say much about the coming savior, they say nothing about Nazareth. While those of us familiar with the Christmas story can understand how Jesus was both “from Bethlehem” and “of Nazareth,” the question of the Messiah’s origin had likely not crossed Phillip’s mind in his two-verse-tenure as a Christian. And so it will be with our apologetic encounters.
Questions will be posed to us that we’ll never have preciously considered. Questions of Christ’s deity and humanity, questions of the Bible’s origin, questions of church history to do with the Crusades, Christian involvement in the slave trade, etc. It should never take us off guard that non-believers have such daunting questions. The Christian faith is one of paradox and nuance, and it’s lived out by imperfect, often contradictory people.Come and See!
With such a question on the table—one evoking matters of class, culture, and theology—one might expect the young Christian to ask for a few days to research and investigate before offering the exact right response. But in lieu of an answer, Phillip gives Nathanael something better; he gives him an invitation, “come and see!” Nathanael wanted to stand in judgment over Jesus—evaluating this or that fact. But even if Philip had been able to answer this and all of Nathanael’s questions point for point, Nathanael needed more than points, he needed a person, whether he knew it or not.
As Nathanael approaches, Jesus doesn’t immediately offer answers, though no doubt he saw the questions in his face. Instead, Jesus proclaims “I saw you under the fig tree.” Perhaps Nathanael prayed under a fig tree as a child, or maybe he was under a fig tree that morning. In any case, Nathanael’s doubts turned to awe. He thought he would believe only if he could know, but he began to believe once he had been known. He came to see, he left having been seen.
Eventually, as he grew to know Jesus more, Philip would be able to answer the question posed by Nathanael. However, I’m sure his response to non-believers never changed, “come and see!” Because the goal of apologetics is more than the dissemination of facts, it’s the invitation into a relationship. It’s the possibility of knowing and being known. It’s an encounter with the living Christ. Come and see!
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This is the second part of a five-part series of blogs that chronicle the journey of a cohort of business leaders who together pursued deeper relationships with God and the integration of the resulting spiritual transformation in their personal lives into their roles as leaders in their businesses, and ultimately into the culture of their businesses as a whole ...
Let me begin by making a claim that many will find rather contentious: Apologetic ministry—the ministry of commending and defending the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3)—is a vital and essential part of Gospel-centered, New Testament ministry. To many evangelical laity and non-laity alike, this claim not only lacks the clear ring of truth, but it is much too strong, as it needlessly saddles “ordinary” followers of Christ with the responsibility of being seriously intellectually engaged with ideas. Here, I briefly underscore the Scriptural grounding of apologetic ministry, and why the consistent New Testament witness is that such ministry is an essential component of impactful, Gospel-centered ministry.
In both its noun (apologia) and verb (apologeomai) form, the word “apologia,” from which we get the English word “apologetics,” is used a total of 13 times in the New Testament. To give an apologia for the truth of Christianity both as a set of beliefs and as a way of life is to speak (lego) away (apo) charges brought against it. The word “apologia” is most frequently translated as “defense” in the New Testament and is often used in a legal context as a defendant’s reasoned reply to various accusations (see Paul in Acts 22:1; 25:16; 26:1-2).
I am convinced that the consistent New Testament witness is that pastoral ministry minimally involves both the engagement with and the refutation of ideas and patterns of thinking that are contrary to the Gospel. While a fully-orbed, New Testament portrait of pastoral ministry involves much more than apologetic ministry, it most certainly involves nothing less.
Throughout the pastoral epistles, Paul admonishes those in pastoral leadership to be good stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1) and guardians of a particular set of ideas (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14), namely the “pattern of sound words” that marks out the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul considers the doctrinal content of this deposit of sound teaching to be very precious indeed, so much so that he deems it “good” and worthy of protection, even entrusting it to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14) and charging him to “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Paul tells us why pastors are responsible for exercising such great care in protecting this good deposit: because it consists of “doctrine conforming to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3) and enables the saints of God to be “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). There is, for Paul, an intrinsic and organic connection between sound doctrine (literally: “healthy doctrine”) and godly and sound living. And it is precisely this deep conviction that underlies Paul’s urgent plea to those in pastoral ministry to be equipped and ready to “correct,” “rebuke,” and destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). Paul describes his own Gospel ministry as aimed at the strategic dismantling of distinctively ideological strongholds that are contrary to the Kingdom of God, that is, as targeting arguments and lofty opinions (“strongholds”) and aiming to take “every thought captive to the obedience Christ.”
Even more, Paul tells Timothy that the church of the living God is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). “Support” in this context refers to a source of defense or reinforcement. Thus, it is part of the very nature and function of the church of God to reinforce and defend the truth of the Gospel of Christ. And it is, first and foremost, the responsibility of pastors to cast a vision for the local church that is oriented toward an abiding and public concern for the truth of the Gospel, which minimally includes equipping those in their care to gracefully defend it at all costs.
Without question, Paul himself practiced what he preached regarding the vital importance of the engagement of ideas in Gospel ministry. Throughout the book of Acts, we find Paul regularly devoting himself to ministry oriented around the engagement with and refutation of ideas. In Acts 17, we find Paul engaging the intellectual elite in Athens by quoting pagan sources from memory (17:28), as well as ministering to the Jews in Thessalonica even as he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (17:2-3). Luke even points out that some were persuaded and decided to follow Paul and Silas as a result of his rigorous and public apologetic endeavors in Thessalonica (17:4). In fact, Luke sees fit to emphasize that a ministry of intellectual engagement and persuasion was a regular and customary part of the apostle’s ministry (17:2). For Paul, the principal basis of Gospel proclamation was objective and not subjective, an appeal first and foremost to the truth of Christianity and not an appeal to felt needs.
In fact, in Acts 19:8-10, Luke tells us that in Ephesus, Paul “entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them [the Jews] about the kingdom of God.” After his efforts were met with fierce opposition and resistance, Paul “withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” Luke goes on to say that Paul’s daily reasoning ministry in the hall of Tyrannus at Ephesus lasted two full years.
What was the impact of Paul’s fervent commitment to a two-year apologetic ministry in Ephesus? We do not have to speculate, as Luke tells us in the very next verse that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Strategic apologetic engagement yields impactful Gospel ministry.
Likewise, the Apostle Peter offers what is perhaps the most straightforward injunction to engage in the task of apologetic ministry in the New Testament: “… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” (1 Peter 3:15). Similarly, in the face of false teaching that threatened to undermine the very lordship of Christ, Jude “felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (3). The word Jude employs for “contend” is epagōnizomai and denotes a deep and earnest struggle, which in the immediate context refers to an urgent struggle against false ideas that are contrary to the truth of the Gospel.
Moreover, Peter offers a clarion call to pastors in particular to “… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Peter 5:2). Pastors as shepherds are called to stay out ahead of the flock of God, protecting it and looking out for its spiritual welfare. Yet the flock of God is threatened today not by wild animals but by false ideas that are hostile to the Gospel and corrosive of an abundant life in the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
Consequently, the New Testament teaching and practice regarding pastoral ministry minimally involves (1) being a good steward and guardian of the truth of the gospel (Acts 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:3, 4:6; Titus 1:9), and (2) staying out ahead of the flock of God, protecting it from all that might threaten to subvert Christian commitment (1 Peter 5:2). As a result, pastors should themselves aim to be competent in and strive to equip leaders for training in apologetic ministry.
Yet, in my experience, it is often the case that apologetics has a severe public relations problem among evangelical Christian laity and non-laity alike. The very word “apologetics” tends to invoke a host of thoughts and emotions, chief among them being that apologetics is strictly for those who tend to be more cerebral, heady, and at home in the world of science, history, philosophy and cultural studies. Apologetics, it is often thought, is more like optional leather trim than a standard operating feature of Gospel-centered ministry.
Yet, at its root, apologetic ministry is a ministry of service; it serves both to help pave the way of Christ for non-Christians as well as to answer what theologian Avery Dulles calls “the secret infidel in every believer’s heart—that is, a kind of dialogue that takes place between a believer and an unbeliever in a Christian’s mind.” And as a Christ-centered Gospel ministry, speaking or reasoning away charges to the Christian faith ought to take place in the manner of Jesus, the master.
As ambassadors for Christ, the task of reasoning and persuading others to embrace the Way of Christ must be—just like any form of ministry done in the name of Christ—“full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15), and “with wisdom toward outsiders” in a manner that is always gracious, “as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Pastors, may we not neglect this essential intellectual dimension of such a noble task.
Not every pastor has the option to stay in the same church for a long time. God might call him somewhere else, a church filled with unregenerate or unresponsive members might force him to leave, or health needs of family members might dictate a move.
I do not mean to lay false guilt on those who have legitimate reasons to leave a church or go elsewhere. I do, however, mean to encourage pastors to default to staying rather than leaving, even in the face of problems.
1. The longer you live in community with people, the more credibility you will have—unless you simply don’t earn and have credibility. Either way, they will know it. There are no shortcuts to credibility, but every day presents plenty of shortcuts to its loss. The pressure to maintain credibility with people is a sanctifying grace that one forfeits with a pattern of short pastorates.
2. Only when you stay for a significant portion of time can you know for certain what the church has been taught and intentionally plan your preaching. You will need know how best to alternate between testaments, genres, law and gospel, and set a homiletical lens so they learn a strategic grasp of the Scriptures and it’s redemptive-historical framework.
3. Nearly every pastor will face a crisis of leadership in the church at a one-year, three-year, five-year, and nine-year mark (give or take a year at each point). If a pastor survives his one-year crisis but decides at the three-year crisis that he’s not going to stay (usually saying something like “I can’t put my family through that again,”), then he has to start all over again somewhere else. And he’ll have a one-year and a three-year crisis there, too. He may be in danger of one day claiming to have 30 years experience in ministry, when in fact he has 3 years experience ten times.
4. The temptation to preach old sermons at a new church setting is too great for some to resist, but rehashing old, familiar stuff will lead to spiritual dryness. Preaching old sermons leaves more discretionary time, but it’s time that a pastor doesn’t usually want anyone to know he has (Who wants your congregation to know you spent less than thirty minutes looking over an old sermon?). Consequently, he’ll fall into a pattern of looking busy when he’s not, at best wasting time on silly things, at worst spending time on illicit things. Sin usually flows in the direction of discretionary time. The necessity to be fresh and preach books, sections, and texts that your congregation has never heard before is a tremendous grace and discipline in a pastor’s life, but that necessity is only there when he stays someplace for a longer period than he has sermons for.
5. Moving is tough on families. I certainly applaud those men who do it out of the necessity of a calling, but I pity the families of men who do it out of personal ambition, laziness, or greed. A pastor’s wife, for instance, has enough challenges facing her in developing meaningful friendships and having ministry impact without also having to start over every three years.
It’s best for both the health of a church and its pastor for him to dig in and plan on staying for the long haul.
This is the first part of a five-part series of blogs that chronicle the journey of a cohort of business leaders who together pursued deeper relationships with God and the integration of the resulting spiritual transformation in their personal lives into their roles as leaders in their businesses, and ultimately into the culture of their businesses as a whole ...
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