Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Running on Empty?

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
- Romans 10:17

How easy is to fade slowly into spiritual inertia? You wake up one day and realize that you are almost totally without passion for God or the gospel of Christ. Your everyday routine is characterized by indifference to spiritual things and preoccupation with rote performance of mundane tasks, chores and duties and you're focused on the trivialities of life. Where is your zeal for the Lord? Where is your love for God? Again you've fallen into the trap of being consumed with the everyday diversions and distractions to the neglect of your spirit.

Now what?

Well, chances are you got there by allowing matters of lesser importance take precedence over time spent in solitude listening to the word of Christ. And where is the word of Christ contained? Come on, it's not rocket science! The bible, of course. Once again you thought you could get by without hearing is voice daily. Instead of reading his word you watched the news, read the latest New York Times best-selling spiritual self-help book, or mowed the lawn - anything really besides spending time listening to his voice.

How you got there should give you a clue as to how to get back to where you should be. Yes, the news is oh so urgent, you really want to finish that book so you'll finally know how to get your best life now, and the lawn is looking pretty shabby. But you know what? The world won't crumble if you if miss out on the latest developments in politics. In fact, the talking heads will be blabbing about the same things for at least the next week, so catch up on that later. And that self help book your reading may be all fine and good, but chances are if it contains anything of value then the author borrowed it from the book you really should be reading instead. I'll even go out on a limb and say that if you put off mowing the lawn for another hour the homeowners association won't come beat your door down.

Keep Listening

Did you really think hearing the word of Christ once was enough? Yes, when you heard the gospel for the first time you felt faith well up inside of you and you felt on fire for the Lord. But now you have to continue hearing the message of Christ to keep that fire going. It's not a "once and done" deal. Faith comes by hearing. So if you want to continue to have a faith that's ablaze and characterized by a deep passion for God, then make sure you keep hearing the message of Christ. Spend time in his word. Study it. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Cherish it. And while you're at it don't forget to do what it says! You do that and you just might wake up and realize that all those pressing concerns really weren't so pressing after all. And who would seriously want to trade them for a relationship with the living God, who is our most pressing concern, anyway?


Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Hills Are Worth Dying For?

A Common Idiom Applied to Christian Theology

In military campaigns hills are often strategic locations from which to wage war. When the enemy has set up shop on a hill to gain an advantage the commander must decide whether attempting to force the enemy to abandon their fortress will be worth the lives it will cost to accomplish the task. In other words, is it a hill worth dying for? This idiom has been used in various ways, but I think it could also be applied to Christian theology.

Two Hills Worth Dying For

There are some doctrines that are indispensable to the Christian faith. Perhaps the most foundational of these is the belief that God exists. You don't get a divine savior of the world if there isn't anything divine in the first place. It's safe to say that the existence of God is a hill worth dying for in regards to the Christian faith. But theism is a good ways away from Christian theism. In order to get that you have to have Christ, and more specifically the resurrected Christ. So another essential component of the Christian faith is not so much a doctrine as it is an event: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there was a man who claimed that God would raise him from the dead and actually made good on that claim, then Christianity is looking pretty superior to other world religions, and Jesus' claim to be the divine savior of the world is looking very credible. The death and resurrection of Jesus is definitely a hill worth dying for. The belief in the existence of God and the event of the resurrection are like the engine of a car - you're not getting anywhere without them. They may not be the only hills a Christian should be willing to die for, but they are probably the most important.

Unnecessary Causalities of War

Unfortunately, some Christians can't seem to distinguish between the essential and second-order doctrines of the Christian faith. Though their intentions may be good the result of raising second-order doctrines on par with essential ones can be very costly. This can be observed when a teenager is taught her whole life that the belief in a literal 6-day creation is a hill worth dying for, and ends up pursuing a degree in science at a secular university. In her science classes she is convinced that the earth is billions of years old, which conflicts with her former belief that the earth was created in 6 days and has only been around for a few thousand years. Now if she still believes that young earth creationism is an essential tenant of Christianity, then at best she'll deny the doctrine of inerrancy. But it's also probable that she'll end up abandoning her faith all together, as many teenagers do once they leave their home church and go off to college.

A Word of Admonition

Of course these kinds of scenarios could be avoided if Christians were taught to keep all doctrines in proper perspective. The young woman described above didn't need to abandon her faith or even deny the inerrancy of scripture merely because she was persuaded that young-earth creationism is false. Had she been taught to take a more reasonable stance in regards to other views, she could have adjusted her beliefs about the age of the earth without the essential tenets of her faith being affected. But unfortunately there are many like her that end up throwing out the baby with the bath water and deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus just because they were convinced that an opinion they held about a second-order doctrine is false. The same can be said of non-believers who reject Christ, because well-meaning Christians have told them that they can't be Christians unless they affirm a particular view concerning a non-essential tenet of the Christian faith. This is tragic. As Christians we need to do a better job of distinguishing between the essentials and non-essentials so that we don't end up endangering people's faith on account of hills that aren't worth dying for.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Twofold Purpose of Apologetics

Apologetics Defined

Perhaps we should start by defining the word "apologetics". As they say,  "that's a pretty big word, like 'mayonnaise'" that not everyone is going to be familiar with. First of all, apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing for anything, especially the Christian faith. So, let's get that out of the way right off the bat. The word "apologetics" is derived from the Greek word "apologia" found in 1 Peter 3:15, which admonishes believers always to be ready to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in them. Christian Apologetics may be loosely defined as a branch of theology that seeks to defend the truth claims of Christianity. For example, a Christian apologist may seek to defend Christianity's claim that Jesus rose from the dead or, on a more foundational level, that God exists.

Objections to Apologetics

Now many have objected that only a doubting Thomas would need to have their faith defended. Don't we just take things the existence of God the resurrection of Jesus by faith? To which I reply, "Of course! And Muslims take it by faith that Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet. But what makes your faith any more legitimate than his?" You might want to reply by offering some good reasons why Christianity should be embraced and Islam rejected. But if you do that, well then you've engaged in Christian apologetics! At this point you may retort that you can't argue anyone into heaven, and you'd be absolutely right. Salvation is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit who enlightens the hearts and minds of sinners. But has it ever crossed your mind that the Spirit of God uses sound reasoning as tool the free those who are dead in their sins from the shackles that have bound their minds? Giving some one good reasons to trust in Christ doesn't usurp the power of the Spirit - it's function of the Spirit itself! 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That's precisely what the Christian apologist seeks to do! Non-Christians often reject Christ, because of anti-Christian arguments and pretensions that have enslaved their minds. We are called to demolish their objections so that they can be free to embrace the knowledge of God.

So What's the Point?

In answering some objections to apologetics we already, in essence, unveiled the twofold purpose of apologetics. Simply put, Christian apologetics can accomplish two things if done well. First, it can strengthen the faith of those who have already placed their faith in Christ. Did you know that the vast majority of the kids in our churches' youth groups will drop out of church indefinitely after they go to college? You know one reason why this happens? They've spent their whole lives in a church that hasn't done jack squat to prepare them to stand firm in their faith in the real world. And once they enter that world the enemy of the souls uses every means possible to squash their vulnerable faith. They go on to attend a liberal arts college and inevitable register for a class taught by some atheist ideologue who's had a lot of practice students' faith to shreds and he takes great pleasure in doing so. Things might turn out very differently if the church would start taking apologetics seriously.

The second purpose apologetics can serve is evangelism. In case you haven't noticed many people nowadays will just as likely believe in fairies and leprechauns as in a resurrected Jesus. In that kind of intellectual climate it's imperative that Christians come prepared to make a well reasoned case for the Christian faith. Doing so can take away the defenses around the unbelievers' heart and mind and bring them closer to a point where they are willing to give Christianity some serious thought. As we already discussed, that in itself isn't enough. The Spirit of God has to be at work in their lives. But if we allow ourselves to become a tool of God by preparing ourselves to demolish objections to the Christian faith, we'll give the Spirit of God a lot more to work with.


Monday, July 18, 2011

On Doctrine and Motivation

In the previous post, "Why Doctrine Matters," we discussed the fact that doctrinal beliefs have real consequences in the life of the Christian. This reality demonstrates the significance of sound doctrine. What we as Christians believe about God, the bible, salvation, judgment, and a number of other topics deeply influence how we live out our faith. As I said, this is one reason why doctrine matters. But there's more to it than that.

On Doctrine and Pragmatism

Christians shouldn't care about doctrine merely because it affects how they live. That is to say, we shouldn't primarily be concerned with pragmatism. Pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth. If you recall the two persons from the previous post you should remember that one was a Universalist and the other an Exclusivist. I argued that the beliefs of the former would likely lead to a life devoid of fervent evangelism and the latter would in many cases lead to a life characterized by an evangelistic disposition. Now it would be easy to say that the Exclusivist must be correct, because her position lead her to preach  the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But that isn't necessarily true. You don't determine which doctrines are sound by examining what the individual outcomes of the doctrines are and by then choosing the one that leads to the outcome you most desire. Notice, I'm not saying that Exclusivism is false. The point is merely this: Just because a certain belief leads to a desirable outcome doesn't make it true. Telling a child that his face will be frozen into a permanent grimace if he doesn't stop making such ugly faces may lead to the desirable outcome that he believes the parent and behaves more civilly, but that doesn't make the belief that making ugly faces will cause your face to petrify true. Again, pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth.

Inadequate Sources of Doctrine

What then makes a doctrine true? It's not the outcome of the belief, we know that much from the discussion above. It would be foolish to say that our personal opinion is the deciding factor, either. You've probably heard the old adage, "Opinions are like...", well you get the idea, everybody has one! But our opinions are just that: opinions, and they may or may not be based on fact. Well, let's consider another popular candidate: Tradition. Ah yes, as Christians we love tradition, don't we? Or at least we did until the 16th century when tradition entailed things like selling indulgences. Give money to the Pope and he'll knock off a few years of purgatory for your late uncle Friedrich. Then guys like Martin Luther decided that maybe tradition shouldn't be the authority on what's true about God after all. Spring forward about 4 centuries and now most protestants look to the traditions that developed during the reformation to tell them what sound doctrine is. Am I the only one seeing the egregious irony in this whole development? I can hear a well meaning minister saying, "You shouldn't look to human tradition to tell you what sound doctrine is. You need to forget all that an read the reformers!" Huh?! You wanna run that one by me again? I digress...

Theotrinsic - Growing in Spirit and in Truth out of a Love for God

Maybe, we should be looking somewhere entirely elsewhere. I don't know, like, the bible for instance. Now there's a concept! If you haven't figured it out already that's where this is going. We need to take off our tradition tainted glasses and lay fresh eyes on Scripture. Don't let your pastor tell you what to believe, he may have it wrong! And if he's worth his weight in gold he'll tell you the same thing! Scripture is God's holy Word to us. Shouldn't that excite us? The most powerful being in the universe, and beyond the universe, has a message for you. Wouldn't you like to find out what it is for yourself? Doctrine matters simply because it comes from God! True doctrine flows from his Word that he gave to us and if we really love him will we not inevitably want to know what doctrine he has communicated to us? Wouldn't we want to study it and defend it simply because we love the God from whom it comes? Why do you think godly Christian scholars, ministers and laymen spend countless hours pouring over commentaries, Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, theology and apologetics books and articles? Because they couldn't find anything else to do with their time? No! Because they love God and they want to know him more! Now you don't have to become a scholar to prove you love God, but every Christian should challenge himself to grow in the knowledge of God more and more until the King of Glory comes! Doctrine matters because it's the message of God and we should apply our minds to understand and defend it, because we love our King!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Doctrine Matters

Concerning Doctrine and Purpose

Doctrine. Why should the average Joe sitting in the church pews Sunday morning care about doctrine? The word itself wreaks of antiquity in minds of many modern Christians - perhaps even bigotry and  intolerance. Christianity should be practical, and doctrine is thought to be anything but that. Some say Christians just need to be about loving people. But what about loving God? And isn't the assertion itself a statement of doctrine? Doctrine is like philosophy in many respects. One can try to ignore it and write it off as irrelevant, but the fact is the less aware you are of your philosophical or doctrinal beliefs the more they control you - for better or worse. Knowing what you believe gives you a sense of direction and purpose. It also empowers you to discern what beliefs and behaviors are compatible with your own. Without doctrine you're left without a clear objective and without the tools to discover what that objective might even look like. How do you know where your beliefs are taking you if you don't know what you believe in the first place?

A Brief Case Study

Let's take two people, for example. Let's say one is a Universalist, which is a fancy way of saying he believes everyone is going to heaven someday. The other is a strict Exclusivist, meaning she believes anyone that does not turn from their sin and place their faith in Christ will be subject to eternal punishment. The Universalist might very well conclude that evangelism is a noble activity, but not necessarily imperative since God is going to save everyone in the end, anyway. Not that all Universalists would reach this conclusion, but it's probably safe to say that some, if not many, would. Consequently, he spends his life practicing a deep personal faith, but nevertheless not a faith that is particularly concerned with evangelism.

The Exclusivist on the other hand believes that apart from explicit knowledge of the Gospel no one can be saved. This conviction coupled with Jesus' command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth cultivates a deep urge in her to engage in world-wide evangelism. She is outspoken about her faith, and anyone who has spent five minutes around her knows she's a Christian. She goes on to participate in international missions and preaches the Gospel to some of the most secluded people on earth.

The Humdinger

Now these two scenarios are admittedly somewhat stereotypical, and the Universalist reading this who is also a fervent evangelist will have to pardon my little indulgence. However, one must admit that at face value the actions of both of these individuals seem to flow effortlessly from their beliefs. And that is precisely the point. Beliefs have consequences. It's common sense! Why then is it so hard for modern Christians to apply this principle to doctrine? Beliefs have consequences, yes. And doctrinal beliefs have consequences as well. Doctrinal beliefs change how we think and act as Christians. And that is one very good reason why doctrine matters.


New Content Coming Soon...

I decided to totally scrap everything and start over. Look for new posts coming soon...