What is Pre-Evangelism?

What is pre-evangelism?  Pre-evangelism is the tough work of tearing down objections and obstacles to a sincere hearing of the Christian message of the gospel.  Some persons have walls in their minds and hearts that simply will not allow them to give an open ear to the claims of the Christian faith.  When we do pre-evangelism, we may not be “sharing the gospel” with someone, but we are doing the necessary work of helping them clear hurdles that stand in the way of really hearing the gospel.

A few weeks ago I was reading an excellent book entitled Prelude to Philosophy by Mark W. Foreman.  In the forward, J. P. Moreland, a well-known Christian philosopher and theologian, writes these very true and powerful words which mention the important work of pre-evangelism. It’s a long quote, but it’s worth the 3 minutes it will take you to read and digest it:

“[O]ur culture is in deep trouble.  And while the causes of our malaise are varied, a core problem is the general inability of the American people to think carefully about things that really matter.  And the church of Jesus Christ, which is called to be the pillar and support of the truth, is just as anti-intellectual as the broader culture.  There is a straightforward application of the church’s anti-intellectualism for the body of Christ’s ability to affect the world for Jesus.  To see this, consider the fact that a person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true.  For example, no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea is not part of our plausibility structure.  We cannot even entertain the idea.  Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is a function of the beliefs he or she already has.  Applied to outreach, J. Gresham Machen got it right when he said:

‘God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel.  False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.  We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.’

If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able to entertain the possibility that they might be true… This is why a vibrant intellectual life is so crucial to evangelism.  It empowers the church to be able to create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind, ‘favourable conditions’ as Machen puts it, so the gospel can be entertained by that person.  To plant a seed in someone’s mind in pre-evangelism is to present a person with an idea that will work on his or her plausibility structure to create a space in which Christianity can be entertained seriously.  If this is important to evangelism, it is strategically crucial that local churches think about how they can address those aspects of the modern worldview that place Christianity outside the plausibility structures of so many.1

Churches should labor to teach and train their people to do pre-evangelism.  This is not purely an intellectual exercise, but it is no less either.  Every church can play a role in this great task, even if it’s doing something as simple as supporting ministries like Ratio Christi who focus exclusively on the important work of pre-evangelism, or attending and supporting events like next year’s Why Jesus? in Bangor, ME.

  1. Mark W. Foreman, “Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians” (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 9-10. The bolded text is my emphasis.

Why Explore Christianity First?

So you’re a non-religious skeptic and you’ve just received a flyer in the mail from a local church about coming to one of their Easter services.  You’re tempted to just throw it in the garbage.

Your mind says that you should explore this religion first before just rejecting it out of hand.  To reject it without having properly investigated its claims or at least going to a few church services, would be intolerant.  

But if you’re going to explore this whole religion thing, why start with Christianity?  Why not start with Islam?  Why not start with something like Confucionism?

Before looking at the other religions, it makes perfect sense to check out Christianity first. In fact there are five reasons why you should consider checking Christianity out first.

It Makes Good Sense to Start with Christianity 

The first reason you should start exploring Christianity before any other religion is it is falsifiable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, we have a verse that is abnormal in comparison to other religious texts.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

-The Apostle Paul

This is the toughest way to start a false religion. If I were going to start my own religion, I would set it up to where the divine knowledge is found in you. After all that would be subjective and there’s no real way to falsify that way of thinking. Many of the world religions have followed a similar line of thinking. Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Mormonism rely on experience. Islam is slightly different because its truth claims actually rely on objective fact, however, Muhammad never gave his followers a way to verify his own claims. The closest thing we have to evidence in the Qur’an is that Muhammad said the Qur’an is so beautiful when read aloud that its beauty is self-authenticating. But even that claim relies on a subjective way of thinking and therefore doesn’t work.

A second reason a sincere seeker after truth should start with Christianity before any other religious tradition is grace. Why not check to see if Christianity is true if the easiest way to heaven is just by grace through faith? In the other religious traditions, you have to work and work and you may not even get into heaven after that. You could spend a lifetime working your way to God and never succeed. While on the Christian view, you receive forgiveness for the sins you have committed against God by turning from those sins and placing your trust in Jesus.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey relates a story about C.S. Lewis that I think is relevant. He writes:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What’s the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.'[1]

-Philip Yancey

A third reason you should consider the truth claims of Christianity first is that Jesus is the very focus of it. So many of the world’s religious groups have an opinion on Jesus Christ and Jesus even appears in the sacred writings of many faiths. When you look at the early traditions of some of the great world religions, they almost always have an opinion on Jesus (this is true of their modern adherents too). We’ll put aside the theological cults of Christianity that have Jesus in there in some form or another. Ancient Jewish believers described Jesus in the following way: He was the son of Mary;[2] had many disciples;[3] was a miracle worker;[4] claimed to be the Messiah;[5] was crucified on the cross;[6] and his followers reported he rose from the dead.[7] Jesus is even mentioned in the Qur’an more times than Muhammad and Muhammad is supposed to be more important than Jesus according to Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Jesus: was born of a virgin;[8] was to be revered;[9] was a prophet;[10] was a wise teacher;[11] was a miracle worker;[12] ascended to Heaven;[13] and in addition to that, Muslims generally believe Jesus will return in judgment.

But what about the varying views of Jesus within Hinduism? The variations within Hinduism are a product of the complex and divergent set of views within Hinduism itself and so for this reason, there is no one set of beliefs that all Hindus adhere to when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Hindus may see Jesus in one or more ways: a holy man, a wise teacher and/or a “god”.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism provides no singular unified view of Jesus although a number of Buddhists will describe Jesus in one or more ways: an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and/or a holy man. There are even some Buddhists who will talk about Jesus as if he and Buddha would have been close spiritual brothers had they lived in the same time period. While others will openly claim that the Buddha reincarnated as Jesus. These portraits given by the different world religions are merely shadows of the very center of the Christian faith. Why not just start with Jesus in the search for truth?

 A fourth reason to consider exploring Christianity first is because it has the best worldview fit. Let’s take evil and suffering in the world as an example. While Christianity readily admits that there is evil and suffering in the world, most if not all eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism deny evil exists. Evil is just seen as an illusion in these worldviews. Western New Age adherents have a similar view on evil. Their worldview, provided by their religious beliefs, does not fit with what is actually true in the real world.

A fifth reason to consider Christianity before any other religion flows from the fourth reason. In the Christian worldview, you live a non-compartmentalized life. You’re not a Christian on Sunday and an atheist the rest of the week. It’s because the Christian worldview actually corresponds to reality that you can be a Christian every day and you don’t have to change your worldview when interacting with the real world. Buddhists and Hindus have this problem. While denying evil, Hindus and Buddhists have to live a compartmentalized life; denying evil religiously while interacting and even acknowledging it in everyday life.

Methodologically speaking, this is not a way to determine that Christianity is true but merely a few reasons why a reasonable and sincere truth seeker should consider looking into Christianity first.

End Notes

  1. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 45.
  2. The Toledot Yeshu
  3. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a
  4. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b; The Toledot Yeshu
  5. The Toledot Yeshu
  6. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; The Toledot Yeshu
  7. The Toledot Yeshu
  8. Qur’an 19:18-22
  9. Qur’an 4:171
  10. Qur’an 6:85; 3:49-51; 5:75
  11. Qur’an 57:27; 61:14
  12. Qur’an 2:87; 3:49; 3:46
  13. Qur’an 3:55; 4:159

Who Made God?

The question “Who made God?” is often moaned about by theologians as a nonsensical question because it is a question that has been answered time and time again and could only be asked by children and confused teenagers. Nonetheless, this question continues to pop up in the minds of adults who have never received that answer and that is why I’m talking about it today.

The famous atheist Bertrand Russell wrote about God and the universe in his essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Having read the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s autobiography, Russell was struck by what Mill wrote: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, ‘Who made God?’” Reading this, Russell concluded, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.”1

The Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking said something similar in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time. He begins by asking questions about what started the universe and what makes the universe continue to exist. What theory exists to unify everything? “Or does it need a creator, and if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?”2

While we’re used to children and young adults asking “Who made God?” it is surprising to hear sophisticated philosophers and scientists ask the same questions! So how do we respond when the average person on the street asks us, “Who made God?”  Here are a few things you could say:

First, the theist does not claim that whatever exists must have a cause, but whatever begins to exist must have a cause. This confusion comes in part because of the various cosmological arguments that are used by Christians and other theists to prove God exists.3 A more defensible variant of the cosmological argument is known as the Kalam Cosmological argument:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: Therefore the universe has a cause.

As the above syllogism states, the theist is not asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause but that whatever begins to exist has a cause. This is a very important distinction.  If the skeptic is asserting the proposition that everything that exists has a cause, he’s making a questionable assumption that has no legitimate argument behind it. Not to mention its question begging or assuming what one wants to prove. It’s kind of like saying: All reality is physical; therefore God can’t exist. That statement is obviously wrong because logic and moral truths are not physical but are obviously real. Similarly, it is not self-evident that everything must have a cause.

Second, we must begin with a non-question-begging starting point, and “everything that begins to exist has a cause” does just that. Thinkers in the past like Plato and Aristotle assumed the universe was eternal and needed no caused explanation for its origin. Just 200 years ago, atheists assumed the universe’s eternality and that it needed no cause or explanation. So if the universe can hypothetically be self-explanatory, then why can’t the same be true for God? Let’s have a call for intellectual consistency on this matter.

Third, we are acquainted with immaterial realities that don’t have a beginning like mathematics and the laws of logic which do not have a beginning. Why should God be different? If the world did not exist, would the statement 1+1=2 still be true? Of course! Would the law of non-contradiction (A cannot be equal to non-A) still be true? Yes! Such truths are real but there’s no reason to think they have been caused into existence. The same could be said about God.

Fourth and finally, the question “Who made God?” commits the “category fallacy.” It is another form of begging the question. In other words, it eliminates from the outset any possibility of God being the explanatory cause of the universe. How so? The question assumes that everything must be a contingent (dependent) entity and that there can be no such thing as a self-existent and uncaused entity like God. But God is in a different category than caused entities; to put them in the same category is unfair. It’s like asking, “Can blue sleep faster than Wednesday?” or “Can a married bachelor find a squared circle?” If we reframe the question “Who made God?” to clarify our categories, we will find that the question answers itself. Let’s rephrase the question in this way: “What caused the self-existent, uncaused Cause, who is by definition unmakeable, to exist?” Any questions?4

End Notes

  1.  Quoted by Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” in his Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Topics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 6.
  2.  Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief of History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 174.
  3. For an explanation of the cosmological argument see https://carm.org/cosmological-argument.
  4.  I got most of this information from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding To Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan.  I highly recommend reading this book for a more in-depth response to this subject.

The Road Runner and Self-defeating Statements

drawing of man sitting on side of tree branch that he's cutting off

I remember when I was a kid I would watch the Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon show. I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to the show.  Maybe it was the random devices the coyote strapped to himself to catch the Road Runner or the fact they always backfire on him. I just know the show itself was very entertaining. What is the Coyote’s only mission in life? To catch the Road Runner, right? And the Road Runner is just a little bit too fast and smart for the Coyote. As the Coyote is chasing the Road Runner, the Road Runner stops just short of the cliff and the Coyote blows right past him. Then there’s that moment when he’s hanging in mid-air with that question mark over his head until he realizes he has no ground to stand on and then he plummets to the ground in a heap. By using this conversation tactic that I’m about to talk discuss, you can do the same thing to a skeptic or an interlocutor who utters self-defeating statements. You can show them their argument has no ground and they plummet to the ground in a heap and the entire argument collapses on itself.

What this tactic does is it helps you become a lie detector. We have a built-in lie detector called the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction is a law of logic that states something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context. So using this tactic allows you to not expend needless energy addressing views that self-destruct on their own.

The first step in using this tactic is pay attention to the basic idea, premise, conviction, or claim. Try to identify what is being said. After identifying the claim, apply it to itself. Is there a conflict when you do this? Does the statement live up to its own standard? If there is conflict then it is not true.

The second step is to simply point out the contradiction in a gracious way. You can do this with a question. Using questions opens up the person to their own presuppositions and it causes them to think through what they’re saying to you. When asking questions, you always want to watch your tone as well.

Let’s look at some examples of self-defeating statements that unbelievers often use and some potential responses you could use to help reveal their underlying problems:

Statement #1: “There is no truth!”

Response: Is that true?

Statement #2: “You can’t know truth!”

Response: Then how do you know that’s truth?

Statement #3: “All truth is relative!”

Response: Is that a relative truth?

Statement #4: “No one has the truth!”

Response: If we can’t know the truth, then how can you have the truth that nobody has the truth? Because if you have the truth that nobody has the truth, then I guess somebody does have the truth, namely you which means that the statement–no one has the truth–isn’t true.

Statement #5: “You should only believe what can be scientifically proven!”

Response: Can that statement be scientifically proven? No, you can’t go in a laboratory and prove that statement. That’s a philosophical claim right there and thus refutes itself.

Statement #6: “Everything is meaningless!”

Response: Hey…what do you mean? I mean if everything is meaningless then what do you mean by that?

Statement #7: “You should doubt everything!”

Response: Should I doubt that?

Why are skeptics skeptical about everything except skepticism? Why don’t they start doubting their doubts? See if you start doubting your doubts then you go back to knowing something for sure, right? Maybe skeptics should start doubting their doubts.

Statement #8: “You ought not judge!”

Response: Isn’t that a judgment? If judging is wrong, then why are you judging me for judging?

These responses are not meant to make the unbeliever feel bad or intimidate them, but to show them that their claim doesn’t make sense and so they should abandon them as intellectually honest people. When I first learned about this tactic, I was shocked, much to my dismay, that some of the most intelligent unbelieving friends of mine started using these self-defeating statements left and right when I defended the Gospel. When I pointed these self-defeating statement out, they would often ignore my question. Sometimes they would shout louder at me or type to me in all caps (as if I couldn’t hear them or I couldn’t see the statement on my computer screen). I’m sorry but violating a law of logic does not become okay when you speak louder or type in all caps. That’s just not how reality works.

I say that with a warning that some people don’t care if they are illogical. Unfortunately there are some people out there who are ideologues. They are so attached to their ideologies that they are willing to ignore logic in order to adhere to them. Once you made your point with the self-defeating statements and they are not willing to admit they’re wrong; it’s best to bow out of the conversation as graciously as possible. As I often come across people who think like this, I can’t help but think back to Romans 1:21-22:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…”

At this point, once we’ve exposed the problems with a persons claims, we commit ourselves to humble prayer.  We ask that God would open their eyes to see the truth and to draw them to Himself.  One person plants, another waters, but only God gives the growth.

The Three Questions

I have been a Christian long enough to know that none of my own ideas are very good. That is to say, if I know something really important, or if I say something that’s deep, I didn’t come up with it. My growth as a follower of Jesus Christ has been dependent on two things: listening very carefully to what the Holy Spirit says in Scripture, and listening very carefully to what he tells me through other people. In short, everything I have, I’ve received (1 Corinthians 4:7).

One thing I thank God for receiving more than most is a particular set of questions. It’s more of an idea, really. And this is the idea: we expose ourselves to a lot more goodness when we read the Bible with other people. Whatever we lack in understanding (and it’s always a lot) can be shored up by the people around us, especially those who, through their faith in Christ, have the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts to help us. Instead of trusting ourselves to know it all, believe it all, and obey it all on our own, why don’t we humble ourselves enough to let other people help us?

If you can admit that much at least is a good idea, you’ll wonder exactly what that looks like. It certainly happens when faithful and wise Christians teach the Bible to us, whether as part of our worship together on Sundays or otherwise. But knowing that the Holy Spirit is present and working in all who know Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14), and knowing that everyone who believes the gospel has knowledge of the truth (1 John 2:20), doesn’t it make sense that you don’t have to be a capital-T Teacher in order to be a good teacher? Don’t you have some insight, some wisdom, some example in your life that could really help me?

But where do you start? Enter: the Three Questions.

Technically, the Three Questions have a collective name: the Swedish Method. If you’d like to read much more about the Three Questions (including how they acquired such a weird name), this article will tell you all you need to know. (I really do recommend reading it—it’s fascinating.) But suffice it to say that, for a number of reasons, I prefer my own (highly boring and non-creative) phrase of “the Three Questions.”

What are the Three Questions? They’re three simple things to ask yourself and others whenever you read the Bible:

  1. What’s interesting about this?
  2. What’s confusing about this?
  3. What should I do with this?

Of course, you can use the Three Questions to guide your personal Bible reading to make sure that you’re doing more than running your eyes over the page. But I get much more mileage out of them when someone else asks me the questions as part of a normal conversation.

There’s no need to come up with anything impressive-sounding as a response to the question. In fact, I actively discourage people from trying to do so! Be honest. Be simple. Just answer the questions!

Here’s one example of how the Three Questions can spur good conversations that go beyond the words on the page. Today I read Ecclesiastes 1-2 with a friend at a coffee shop. In no particular order, here are some of the ways the two of us answered the first question (“What’s interesting about this?”):

  • The book doesn’t have a named author—just someone named “the Teacher.” That strikes me as interesting, even strange.
  • The first chapter has a lot of poetic, philosophical language. That’s different from the stories of Jesus’ life or the teachings of Paul. I bet it would appeal to people who aren’t naturally into those parts of the Bible.
  • In fact, the first couple chapters really seem to directly challenge what the rest of the Old Testament (especially Genesis) teaches. The Preacher really slams some biblical ideas—that life has a purpose, that God is working out a plan in the world, that wisdom has eternal value, etc.
  • In Ecclesiastes 2:8, the Teacher says that he availed himself to “a harem”—and calls the women “the delights of the heart of man”! That’s interesting, to say the least!

As you can see, the interesting things lead to lots of questions. In this passage, some of the more confusing things we saw led to questions like these:

  • How did this book even make it into the Bible?! Can a biblical book also be un-biblical?
  • Is the rest of the book going to answer that question?
  • Who is the Teacher? Is it Solomon? Could someone else fit the self-description in Ecclesiastes 1:1?
  • What does the Teacher mean by “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3 and elsewhere)?

Finally, we asked each other the final question: what should we do with these chapters?

  • We definitely need to read the rest of the book to see where the Teacher is going!
  • We need to examine our lives—are they really “meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)? We need to compare these chapters with the rest of the Bible to figure out what’s going on here.
  • The Teacher writes that chasing after wine, women, and song is a waste of time and totally pointless (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11). Am I chasing after pleasure like he did? Am I setting myself up for the same disappointment?

What answers would you add?

The questions are short and simple—there’s no rocket science that makes them so powerful. But ask yourself: how could you use them?

  1. What if you and your spouse picked a book of the Bible to read through together? You could meet up once a week—even nightly—to share your answers (and spur each other on to even better, more personal answers).
  2. What if you used the Three Questions to discuss a passage of Scripture with your kids or grandkids? That’s what I’ve been doing this year—using the questions to talk through the Gospel of Mark with my six- and five-year-old sons. Their answers are always surprising, frequently hilarious, and sometimes shocking. It is never boring or a waste of time.
  3. What if you used the Three Questions to invite a curious non-Christian to study the life and teachings of Jesus for herself? This is my favorite form of evangelism—instead of memorizing a script, get out of the way and let Jesus speak for himself!

At the end of the day, only the Spirit himself can help us grow and learn and experience more of the grace of Jesus. The Three Questions assume that, in prayer, you’re entrusting him to do the real work. But he uses tools to do that work, most especially the word of God—and other people.

Why not use a simple tool like the Three Questions to see what he would do for (and through) you?

What Are You Apologizing For?

What are you apologizing for? This is often the question I get when I talk to Christians and non-Christians about Christian apologetics. To be fair, it does sound like I’m apologizing in a professional manner but in reality that is not the case. Apologetics comes from the greek word, apologia, which means to give a defense. The word shows up a few times in the New Testament (Acts 22, 25; 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 7; Philippians 1; and 2 Timothy 4:16) but it’s most prominent use is in 1 Peter 3:15. If you want a definition of Christian apologetics, this is the verse to read. 1 Peter 3:15 says:

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

More often than not, when I talk about how important Christian apologetics is for the Christian in evangelizing, I get a lot of push back from my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I want to first list my reasons for why everyone who claims to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior should, in some capacity, be equipped to defend their faith in front of non-Christians:

  • Persuading non-Christians to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior
  • Strengthening Christians’ beliefs in times of doubt
  • Shaping culture to where the Gospel is seen as plausible to non-Christians (Pastor Josh Moore has written a brief post on a related topic here.)

However I’m going to wait for a future post to delve more deeply into these three important reasons for using apologetics. In this current post, I want to briefly look at some objections that I have often been confronted with from Christians about using apologetics.

Objection 1: I’m not smart enough to defend my Christian beliefs!

My first response is reminiscent of the words of the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig who responded to this kind of objection. To paraphrase Dr. Craig, how dare you insult your Creator who endowed you with reason and intelligence and not use it to glorify Him in defending His truth. The different (and numerous) defenses of the Christian faith does not require Ph.D.-type knowledge nor dozens of complicated text books to understand. There are books out there written on a high school (some even middle school) level that a person of average intelligence could easily grasp.

Objection 2: The apostles were unlearned and they did okay!

In Acts 4, we read that the Jewish leaders noted that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned. Some have taken this cue that it’s okay to not use their reason and intelligence when reaching out to unbelievers. I have a couple of responses to this:

1) When the Jewish leaders said that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned, they probably meant that Peter and John had not undergone formal rabbinic training headed by the Pharisees and Sadducees.

2) Even if we grant Peter was uneducated and unlearned, it doesn’t appear he stayed that way. Keep in mind at the beginning, he was just a fisherman but he must have taken his own advice (1 Peter 3:15) and got himself educated. This is evident in his letters. 1 and 2 Peter are considered to be written in highly educated, intellectual Greek style which is unlikely from someone with just a fisherman background. If Peter did write those letters, he must have devoted himself to intellectual cultivation in his travels. All of this could be said of John as well with his letters and gospel written in Greek.

Objection 3: In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues against the wisdom of the world and reminded his readers that he did not give them persuasive words of wisdom!

Some conclude from this that reasoning and argumentation doesn’t do us any good when it comes to evangelism. I have a few responses to this:

1) If this is an indictment against argumentation and reasoning with unbelievers then Paul contradicts himself a lot as shown throughout the book of Acts.

2) Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 should be seen as a condemnation on the exclusive use of Greek rhetoric. Greek orators at that time did not have substance to their rhetoric but used empty rhetoric to persuade others to a position.

3) Paul is likely making the claim that the content of the gospel cannot be deduced by pure reason from a set of first principles. I have no problem agreeing with that. I don’t see how it’s possible to start with some abstract concept of an unmoved mover and conclude that a crucifixion must take place sometime in human history.

Objection 4: Our response to God’s ways should be that of ignorance, otherwise we dishonor God by using reason!

Christians will often use Isaiah 55:9 (God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours) and 1 Corinthians 8:1 (knowledge puffs people up and makes them arrogant) to justify this position. The fact that God’s thoughts are higher than ours means that we will never be able to fully grasp God’s purposes, motives, or guidance in the world. But who would ever think we could attain to the full knowledge of such things?  To admit this says nothing about loving God with our minds by defending his truth with reason and arguments.

In regards to arrogance, I want to make two important points. First, Paul’s statement is not going against knowledge but against a certain attitude toward it. It seems that the proper response is humility, not arrogance. Second, there are as many unknowledgeable persons who are arrogant as there are knowledgeable persons who are arrogant. Arrogance is not solely for people who use their reasoning to defend God’s truth.

Doubtless there are other objections but I tried to answer the most popular ones that I have heard. In my next post, I’ll delve more deeply into my three reasons why a follower of Jesus Christ should engage with apologetics.

 

Our Suffering King

So far, the Letter to the Hebrews has established two things very clearly: there is a supernatural reality to our world that God created, and Jesus rules over it. But for people like us, living in a world where the natural seems all too real and powerful, that might be tough to swallow. To paraphrase a common objection from our atheist neighbors, belief in the supernatural doesn’t always seem possible in a world with high-speed air travel, genetic engineering, and free WiFi. And even if we grant that there’s more to the world than meets the (scientific, naturalistic) eye, who’s to say that Jesus is really in charge? With wars of religion on one hand and natural disasters on the other, can we really be blamed for wondering if someone is asleep at the wheel?

For me, one of the most persuasive arguments for trusting the Bible is the way that it acknowledges our doubts and questions like this. It doesn’t just gloss over the hard questions of skeptics — it deals with them head-on. Listen to this:

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
— Hebrews 2:5-9

At this point in his letter, the writer continues arguing that Jesus is better than any of God’s angels. But he does it in an intriguing way: he admits that this isn’t as obvious as some might like. In fact, one could argue, if Jesus were so great, how could he be a human? And even more important: how could he have suffered like he did?

The writer’s response, quite frankly, blows me away. Like many other great thinkers throughout history, he turns the objection on its head and shows that what appears to be a great weakness in Christianity is actually one of its greatest strengths. “Yes,” you can hear him say, “your objection is valid. But have you considered that, instead of disproving me, it might just make my case stronger?”

Here’s what he’s saying: the full humanity of Jesus is a given. As we’ll see again throughout the next few chapters, Jesus really and truly war a flesh-and-blood human being. But this isn’t a sign of his inferiority, since (by quoting Psalm 8, an Old Testament prediction of this) it proves that he is the long-expected Messiah, who had to be a human being. “The son of man,” in some ways, really was “lower” than angels because of the physical limitations of humanity. But that was a key qualification for the Savior of all mankind, who himself had to be a man.

And the suffering and humiliating death that Jesus went through? That’s no sign that he was inferior or substandard. As the Old Testament passage hinted, he was crowned with glory and honor, not despite his low estate, but precisely because of it! A savior who does not suffer, according to the Bible, is no savior at all. And because God graciously allowed Jesus to taste death for everyone, there is no one who without the hope of experiencing the solid joy and lasting treasures won by Jesus.

So what do you see when you look at the world around you? A chaos of sin and weakness, governed by an absentee ruler (if anybody)? Or do you believe the writer of Hebrews, who says that Jesus, because of his suffering and death for sinners like us, is the King over all? By faith in what he says, do you see that?

The Fruit of Following God, Part 3: Walking With God and A Life of Love

Below, we continue our survey  describing what it means for a believer in Christ to follow Him.  What does a true follower of Christ look like?  We looked at the first major quality a couple of weeks ago, the fear of the Lordnow we take up qualities two and three (all stemming from Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Quality Two: A Walk with God

The Christian life is so often pictured in the Scriptures as a walk. The word “live” (peripateo) in the New Testament is also the word for “walk.” The picture is one of step by step progress. Slow, methodical forward moving progress and that done by faith. This is indeed the portrayal of discipleship, whether as an Old Testament saint (did they ever understand walking!) or a New Testament believer who is trusting in the One who came and revealed the Father. The follower of Christ faces the day-to-day grind of daily life and prepares to face each new sunrise as a forward moving walk, holding the hand of the Savior and more importantly taking those baby steps of faith knowing that ultimately the Savior is holding his or her hand.

Quality Three: A Life of Love

The Christian life and indeed the life of the disciple of Christ is a life that resonates with love. First and foremost this love must be a deep love for the Lord and not simply being in love with an ill-defined concept of love. We love because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul recognized that the love he had for the Lord, particularly for the saints and extending even unto the many lost and needy souls in the world, was a love derived from God through Christ, “For the love of Christ controls us….” (2 Corinthians 5:12, ESV). Until we comprehend God’s love for us, a love that exists in spite of the fact that we were his enemies, ungodly and sinners and a love demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we cannot exude the love of God from our hearts.

May each of us engage in a daily (even a moment by moment) walk with Christ, a walk of faith that is exhibited by a life of deep love, both for Him and for others!

What Acts 2 Teaches Us About Sharing Christ with Others

Acts 2 tells us the story of what we have come to call Pentecost; when the Spirit of God descended upon the disciples in tongues of fire, allowing them to speak in languages that were not their own.  The text says that a diverse crowd of people observed what was going on and had responses that varied.  One group responded this way:

“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (verses 7-11)

Another group responded this way:

But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” (verse 13)

Following these remarks Peter stands up and delivers a powerful sermon that God uses to bring many of his hearers to faith in Jesus for the first time.

This whole account has many lessons for us about sharing our faith in Jesus with others.  Here are a few big takeaways that I noticed this morning:

(1) Evidence only goes so far.  The same evidence produced two different responses.  One group said “Wow, this is amazing!”  Another group, said, “Just a bunch of drunks, no big deal.”  This shows us that in many cases the determining factor in how people respond to “evidence” for God is their heart, not the evidence.  If a person’s heart is skeptical, it may remain skeptical even when presented with lots of solid evidence.  This leads us to another conclusion:

(2)  Peter addressed their objections.  The skeptics were witnessing first-hand a miracle of God but were still objecting.  Peter didn’t snarl at them or just say “You have to have faith.”  Neither did Peter assume that the evidence would simply speak for itself.  Instead, he responded directly to the objection presented and countered with a rationale that would have made sense to his audience:

“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

He then quotes from the prophet Joel about how God’s Spirit will be poured out on all mankind.  Once Peter had cleared out of the way the objection, he then presents Christ.  This is what might be called pre-evangelism.  This is where we must deal with intellectual (or sometimes emotional or spiritual) problems that keep others from entertaining a gospel presentation.  Dialogue is an important part of this aspect of sharing Jesus with others.  This is where you gather information from people and get a feel for the things that keep them from embracing Jesus.  Maybe it’s a bad experience with the church, maybe it’s ignorance, or maybe it’s science.  Having this information in hand will help you share your faith in a way that makes sense and address their doubts instead of giving the impression that a relationship with Jesus is one that must exist at the expense of rationality.

(3) Another principle to take away in this is: the Holy Spirit will lead you to speak of Jesus.  It’s no coincidence that just moments after being filled with the Holy Spirit, the same Peter who denied Jesus three times just recently, is now suddenly emboldened and moved to share about Jesus with others.  Now not everyone will have the same boldness as Peter, obviously, but the takeaway is this: if you have the Spirit, you will be compelled to share about Jesus to others, even when it might be uncomfortable and cost you something. (Notice in the very next chapter, Peter and John are arrested, but they still continue sharing Jesus, verse 19.)  Allow God’s Spirit to lead you.  If you sense a nudge when you are with someone, don’t be afraid to ask a question, even it might be a bit awkward.  Trust the Spirit of God.  The response may be positive, but you never know what good seed you may have planted in someone’s mind and heart.

(4) The results are up to God.  Our job is to be faithful to tell people about Jesus Christ, not to convert others.  Notice at the end of chapter 2 it says “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (verse 47).  It was the Lord who was adding to their number.  The disciples were simply sharing Jesus with others in word and deed.