Whether it is struggling with low self-esteem or with some other issue many Christians today struggle to live the Christian life from their identity in Christ. In his helpful little book The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness: The Path to True Joy Dr. Tim Keller writes to address this issue in order to help Christians to understand the change that occurred at salvation.. a change “at root, by the grace of God, and what that changes looks life in real life” (5). The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness originally began as a series of sermons delivered by Dr. Keller to his church Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The book examines 1 Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7. The three things he will seek to demonstrate in this short book from 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7 are: 1) The natural condition of the human ego, 2) the transformed sense of self (which Paul had discovered and which can be brought about through the gospel), and finally how to get that transformed sense of self (12).
Dr. Keller gets to the heart of the matter about pursuing our own plans and desires when he notes, “By comparing ourselves to other people and trying to make ourselves look better than others, we are boasting. Trying to recommend ourselves, trying to create a self-esteem résumé because we are desperate to fill our sense of inadequacy and emptiness. The ego is so busy. So busy all the time” (20). Paul taught the Corinthians to not to compare themselves but rather to find their sense of self-worth and identity in Christ.
Trying to boost our self-esteem or live up to our own standards won’t work and in fact is only a “trap” (28). Truly gospel humble people understand that it’s not about them it’s about “thinking less of myself and stopping connecting every experience, every conversation with myself” (33). Being gospel-humble doesn’t mean attracting attention to oneself but rather attention to Christ and who they are in Him.
The test of gospel humility is not being hurt badly by criticism. Dr. Keller notes that criticism doesn’t “devastate them or keep them up late, because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions. Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us” (33-34).
The truly Gospel-humble person understands and appropriates the truth of the Gospel into their daily lives. The following advice by Dr. Keller helpfully addresses how to do this, “You do not feel you are living like Paul says. You are getting sucked back in. All I can tell you is that we have to re-live the gospel every time we pray. We have to re-live it every time we go to church. We have to relive the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned” (41).
The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness: The Path to True Joy Dr. Tim Keller will help those struggling with self-esteem and self-worth issues by as we have seen bringing them back to the Gospel they have believed on and are being sanctified by. The truth of the Christian’s identity frees them to be who they are in Christ by the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10-11). I recommend every Christian read this book, but especially those who struggle with self-esteem and self-worth to learn their God-given identity and worth in the sight of God as an adopted son and daughter of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Author: Tim Keller
Publisher: 10Publishing (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the 10 Publishing book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
In this video Dave examines forty powerful reasons to avoid pornography.
First, I want to first thank Crossway, for allowing me the opportunity to do this book giveaway. Second, I want thank all of you who shared and commented on the book giveaway. Third, the winners of the book giveaway are Austin Ross, and Josh.
Fourth, I want to welcome the new visitors to Servants of Grace. Running this giveaway encourages some of you who have been long-time readers or new readers to leave your first comments on a blog post here. I sincerely want to thank you whether you are new or old to Servants of Grace for taking the time to leave a comment, and hope and pray you will join in on future discussions on content on Servants of Grace.
Whether you are new or old to Servants of Grace, I wanted to take a moment to tell you what you can expect from Servants of Grace on a typical week. A typical week will see between 6-10 posts. Monday, we usually post a book review, or an article. On Tuesday’s we have a blog post geared towards men. On Wed, we typically have a post geared towards ministry. On Thursday, we typically post a book review or article. On Friday, we have a book review or article. On Saturday, we post a book review or article. On Sunday’s we post a book review, or quote. On some weeks we will have more blog posts as we now have a variety of contributors. This schedule gives you an idea of a typical week here at Servants of Grace.
Finally we have many contributors to Servants of Grace, all of whom love the Gospel and want to strengthen believers and local Churches with the Gospel. These are exciting times for Servants of Grace, and I am truly thankful that so many of you have participated in the book giveaway. I look forward to future discussions with many of you in the coming weeks and months on a variety of biblical, theological and practical issues. May the Lord richly bless you.
“and this is why so many people reject the church . . .”
How often have you read this in the last year? In the last month? In the last week? It’s a premise for a wide variety of ideas about the Church, a repeated refrain that has almost become a cliche. It goes something like this. The church has a bad public image because it is too narrow-minded, too political, too legalistic, too patriarcal, and too a lot of bad things. And there seems to be research to bolster these arguments. Seems every day, some organization is releasing a poll that shows the Church is out of touch and must change. It can be dizzying, actually because if you actually followed every new conflicting prescription, you’d be spinning in circles. Sometimes I imagine how the apostles managed without all that research to help them out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We need to be wary of our standing before people (Colossians 4:5), we must adorn the gospel well (Titus 2:10; 1Peter 3:3-4), we must strive, as Paul to be “all things to all men.(1 Corinthians 9:19-23)” (Though, let’s be honest, this has been stretched to defend some pretty crazy church ideas.). It’s important that we conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates the attractiveness of our faith.
However, I think the Church is a little obsessed with its image. I think it’s convenient for us to beat up on ourselves. It’s fashionable to put out a passive-aggressive tweet or Facebook post that hates on some hypocrisy in the larger Church.
The truth is that while the church is often clumsy, sinful, and sometimes irrelevant, we are God’s call-out body. We are His bride. Furthermore, we have to reconcile ourselves to the idea that the radical discipleship Jesus calls us to is against the ethos of the world. In fact, we are told many, many times in the New Testament that if we follow Jesus, we will not be liked by the world.
Consider these words spoken by Jesus himself:
and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22 (ESV)
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Matthew 10:24-25 (ESV)
How’s that for branding? Jesus said that if we truly lived out calling as disciples, it wouldn’t result in the world liking us more, but in them hating us more. In fact, the Scriptures tell us if the world likes us too much, it should call into question our Christian commitment:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4 (ESV)
This is why I question our obsession over our reputation or opinion in the larger culture. The Bible says that the more try to be liked, the farther we move from friendship with God. Now to be sure, sometimes Christians are disliked, not for their Christian witness, but because they are jerks. They don’t radiate with the love of Christ. But quite often, Christians are disliked . . . because they are Christians. So we can change our church styles, we can do more works in the community, we can even call ourselves “Christ followers” (all good things to do), and yet, still, the world will hate us. Why? Because as Romans 8:7 says, the unredeemed mind is “hostile to God.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the carnal or fleshly mind “cannot discern” the things of God.
This explains media bias against Christians. This explains why your neighbor thinks you are plum crazy for going to church. This explains why our belief that Jesus is the only way really hacks people off.
So how should this inform our faith? First, we shouldn’t begin our ministry with the premise of “how can I get them to like me more?” Yes, we should build bridges and relationships for gospel advance. Yes, we should love our enemies. Yes, we should get our hands and feet dirty in service of the needy.
But not so people like us. Let’s do this because our Lord calls us to. Otherwise, beginning with the premise of “I have to repair the Christian brand,” leads us down a slippery slope of doctrinal impurity. We are tempted to jettison hard truths about God, especially those that are unpalatable in this age. In a sense, we have made the unredeemed person, at enmity with God, head of our theology department, chair of our worship team, and architect of our ministry model.
Secondly, we should disabuse ourselves of the mythical “early church” model. I think the book of Acts gives important and powerful lessons for today’s church. I believe we’d do well to “go back” to some of the fervent prayer and radical discipleship these people practiced. However, let’s remember that these folks were not well-loved by the larger culture. They were not liked by the world. We have this notion that in the early church, there was no infighting, no agendas, no power plays and that these people were so selfless and broadminded that the world just loved them. After all, we say, they met in houses and just loved on each other. Right?
Well, no. First of all, if you read the epistles, you’ll find that the early church suffered with the same issues our churches endure today. And secondly, let’s remember that most of the early church were rounded up, arrested, and killed for their faith.
How’s that for branding? Their brand was terrible. But their discipleship was radical.
Christians should be concerned somewhat about their perception in the world. No doubt. We are the representatives of Christ in the world. But let’s not be so obsessed with how the world views us. Because persecution is not a sign of unfaithfulness, but of faithfulness.
I have a feeling that American Christians are going to have to come to terms with this idea or else risk losing their faith all together.
Walter Marshall, from The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:
The sure hope of the glory of heaven is made use of ordinarily by God, since the fall of Adam, as an encouragement to the practice of holiness, as the Scripture abundantly shows. Christ, the great pattern of holiness, ‘for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame’ (Heb. 12:2). And, though I cannot say that the first Adam had such a sure hope, to preserve him in innocency, yet he had, instead of it, the present possession of an earthly paradise and a happy estate in it, which he knew would last, if he continued in holiness, or be changed into a better happiness.
The apostles did not faint under affliction, because they knew that it brought for them ‘a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ (2Cor. 4:16, 17). The believing Hebrews ‘took joyfully the plundering of your goods – knowing in yourselves that you have better and more enduring riches in Heaven’ (Heb. 10:34). The apostle Paul accounts all his sufferings unprofitable, were it not for a glorious resurrection, and that Christians would be of all men most miserable, and that the doctrine of the Epicures were rather to be chosen: ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ And he exhorts the Corinthians to be ‘abundant in the work of the Lord, knowing that their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord’ (1Cor. 15:58).
As worldly hope keeps the world at work in their various employments, so God gives His people the hope of His glory to keep them close to His service (Heb. 6:11, 12; 1John 3:3). And it is such a sure hope as shall never make them ashamed (Rom. 5:5). Those that think it below the excellency of their love to work from a hope of the heavenly reward do in this way advance their love beyond the love of the apostles and primitive saints, and even of Christ Himself.
In this series on ministry burnout (Part 1) (Part 2) we’ve been learning that to be in ministry is a privilege. Rather than focus on what we should do, I want to focus on what we should be, which is to say, as ministers of the Gospel we should be men who submit our whole lives and live in submission to the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. To be a man of God means being drenched by the Gospel, empowered by the Spirit, and driven by the Word of God while hungering and thirsting after God’s grace in Christ. As many statistics reveal many Pastors are leaving the ministry every year which brings me to the point of wondering if they were focused too much on what they were doing for God and not enough on growing themselves in godliness.
In the past few decades there has been an emphasis in Bible College’s and seminaries on teaching Pastors and ministry leaders the “how” of ministry. I am not reacting against the “how” of this kind of training as I believe it is helpful, but it is even better when this training is not just theoretical but also practical. What I’m getting at is this that rather than Bible College and seminary students learning only the theories and model of ministries, students should learn why they need to continually grow in godliness in order to prepare for vocational or bi-vocational ministry.
The Puritans rightly understood spiritual leadership. These were men after all who sought to implement all they believed about the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus into their daily lives and ministries. Sadly instead of this kind of minister and ministry, many Bible College and seminarians are focusing more on the “how” of ministry in their curriculum and not enough on the Bible and theology. This disjoined approach to Christian education is breeding Pastors and ministry leaders who are burning out at an alarming rate because they haven’t grappled with and been freshly affected by the depth and breadth of God’s Word and the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Please hear me when I state that I don’t believe that its’ just the seminarians fault for emphasizing the “how” of ministry. As I already indicated future ministry leaders do need to know the theories and models for ministry, but they primarily must know how to grow in godliness if they ever want the people they will lead and influence in the present and in the future to grow in the grace of God.
Ministry leaders in my opinion are leaving the ministry at a rapid pace not only because they aren’t instructed in how they are to grow in ministry but because they have failed to take responsibility for their own growth in godliness. The Christian who understands what Jesus has done on their behalf will not only die to self but delight in the glory and beauty of Jesus. The Christian who is satisfied with just enough godliness has failed to grapple with of all that God has promised to the Beloved in Christ.
The Jews emphasized orthopraxy (right living before God) over and against orthodoxy (sound doctrine). In the same way that the Jews emphasized orthopraxy, many Christian leaders today are pitting orthopraxy over and against being fueled and empowered by Gospel.
The more we understand this the more we can rightly see the issues before us and understand that burning out and abandoning our ministry posts is not God’s design for those who have accepted His summons to come and count the cost of following Him. Part of counting the cost is doing just that counting the cost of what it means to follow Jesus in the way of the Cross. Sadly, and I say this with tears welling up in my eyes many men have not counted the cost of what it means to follow Jesus and this is revealed when such men disobey Jesus by abandoning their ministry posts thus leaving the people God sent for them to shepherd. This tragedy can and must be averted but it will only change when ministry leaders are first Christians growing in ongoing repentance and sanctification, and second get their priorities in line with the truth of the Gospel. One example of the fruit of putting the Gospel first in one’s life results in men loving their wives and children by caring for and investing in them emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Ministry is hard work, but it is Gospel work and requires that we be Gospel-drenched, Spirit-empowered and Word-driven. Ministry burnout can be avoided but it requires a course correction and an honest assessment of where we are. The Puritans called the summons to discipleship “dividing the audience”. By dividing the audience they meant that one would either accept the call of Jesus to abandon all, and follow Him in the way of death to self and take up His Cross or abandon Him entirely. In the same way ministry leaders today have to make that choice will we take up the call of discipleship for ourselves and grow in godliness and discipleship towards Jesus, or will we walk away from Jesus?
The summons of Jesus to discipleship is not to a life of comfort and ease, but rather toward a life of suffering and persecution. Being a ministry leader is hard because we have a front row seat to the depths of man’s sinfulness. As ministry leaders we have access through the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God to the throne of God which means we have an invitation to commune with Jesus who invites us to come and bring our burdens because His burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).
Ministry leaders I urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to take seriously this charge of our Savior! In order to grow in godliness look to Jesus, mediate upon Jesus, and run to Jesus. Find godly men who model growth in godliness and can mentor you in being Gospel-drenched, Spirit-empowered and Word-driven man of God. Finally, I exhort you as Paul did in 1st Corinthians 15:58 to always abound in the work of the Lord Jesus. May the grace and love of Jesus be with you and draw you closer to Himself.
Today rather briefly, I wanted to give a few reasons why I do book reviews, and why they are important. The first reason I do book reviews is that I love to read and regularly read well over one hundred books a year. Ever since I learned to read, I loved reading books of all genres. At the age of thirteen I became interested in theology and started reading everything I could from studying the Bible to church history. People in church at this time often commented that if I continued to read the way I was doing the Lord might call me to be a Pastor; the ironic thing about that statement is they had no idea at this point I was called to be a Pastor. Most of my reading today is either reading from my Bible or in the areas of biblical or systematic theology, or church history; although I occasionally read Christian fiction. One thing that my readers do not know about me but my closet friends know is that I am happiest when I am surrounded by a stack of books; reading, reflecting and evaluating what they teach from the Word of God. In other words, I have a deep love for research and am passionate about it.
The second reason I review books is tied to why book reviews are important. While reading many books can be a good thing I’ve learned over the years of reading as much as I have that not thinking through what the author is saying is a bad practice and even harmful to my walk with God. J.C. Ryle once said, “Whatever you read, read the Bible first. Beware of bad books: there are plenty in this day. Take heed what you read.” We should read our Bible’s first and then other good books second. Reading others books and not reading your Bible is dangerous because it elevates the place of books over the Book- the Bible. This is a real danger for anyone who does much reading and one I guard against by first opening my Bible and spending time in the Word of God in the mornings before I get to other books I have to read for seminary or publishers.
The reason why reviewing books is important to me is because I’ve been called by the Lord to serve God as a teacher of His Word. To this end, I’ve spent the last four and a half years in Bible and seminary studying the Word, and theology. Book reviews are important because a good review will go beyond just explaining what the book is about to provide a model of discernment for believers.
Many people may disagree with me that book reviews can provide a model for discernment for believers. When I write a book review for publishers I am trying to not summarize the book so much as I am trying to give reasons why I read the book in the first place, and why others should also. As I do this I highlight some parts of the book that are helpful. If I disagree with the author on a point I will state my concern in a nice way that promotes discussion rather than division, and emphasize the strengths of the book rather than the weakness of the book depending on how serious I feel the concern is biblically or theologically.
Book reviews provide a model for discernment when not only the question, “Why should I read this book?” is answered for others readers, but also when reasons are given that explain how the book personally ministered to the reader. A model book review will not only do these things but also address the most fundamental questions of all for the Christian reader, which is, “Is this book biblical?” and “Will this book bring me (the reader) to Gospel and help me grow deeper into the Gospel?”
To be discerning one needs to open up their Bible; read it, study it, know it, and meditate upon it. To be a discerning reader one needs to think through the author’s arguments and be able to explain whether the arguments are biblical or not, and elaborate on where they fall short. On this point if the reviewer feels that the author is wrong biblically or theologically he/she should charitably state the reasons why they feel the author is wrong rather than make accusations against the author. My point here is that a book review is not just a summary of the book itself, but ought to be written in such a way as to advance the discussion on the topic the book addresses.
Books are written to advance ideas and book reviews are written to further the discussion the author has started. A good book review doesn’t just answer questions related to why the book was written but rather asks questions of the book in order to advance the discussion. A good review written in this way can be of great help to other readers not only to further the topic but also to help the readers of the review learn to model charitable dialogue between brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words a book review written well will serve the Church and strengthen the church in its task to advance the kingdom of God.
In part 1 we learned what it means to engage worldviews. In part 2 we learned about Paul’s use and methods in Apologetics, and today we conclude our series on Apologetics by learning about the use of Apologetics in preaching and teaching the Gospel.
The use of apologetics in preaching and teaching the Gospel
Dr. Mohler President of The Southern Baptist Theology defines apologetics as the task of setting forth the truth claims of Christianity and arguing for the unique truthfulness of the Christian faith- must inform every preacher’s understanding of his task in a postmodern age.[i]
Acts 17:16-34 serves as a model of Great Commission proclamation matched to an apologetic argument-an argument in defense of Christian truth. In that passage Paul is standing at the center of apologetic ministry in the first century- Athens. Athens was the most intellectually sophisticated culture in the ancient world, but its glory was retreating. Even though Rome held political and military preeminence, Athens stood supreme in terms of cultural and intellectual influence. The centerpiece of Paul’s visit to Athens is his message to the court of philosophers at the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill. Several principles as it relates to preaching and apologetics become evident in considering Acts 17:16-34.
First, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture begins in a provoked spirit (Acts 17:16). Paul observed the spiritual confusion of the Athenians and was overcome with concern. The sight of a city full of idols seized him with grief, and that grief turned to gospel proclamation. Paul records that Paul experienced paroxysmos, a paroxysm, at the sight of such spiritual confusion. Athens was intellectually sophisticated- the arena where the ancient world’s most famous philosophers had debated. This was the city of Pericles, Plato, and Socrates, but Paul was not impressed with the faded glory of this city. He saw men and women in need of a Savior.
This text reminds us that the proper view of Christian apologetics begins in spiritual concern, not in intellectual snobbery of scorn. Christians preach Christ not because Christianity is merely a superior philosophy or worldview, nor because we have been smart enough to embrace the gospel, but because we have met the Savior, we have been claimed by the gospel, and we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Christians preaching is not a matter of intellectual pride but of spiritual concern. A dying world languishes in spiritual confusion.
America is a nation filled with idols of self-realization, material comfort, psychological salvation, sexual ecstasy, ambition, power and success. New Age spiritualties in a quest for personal fulfillment and self-transcendence. The ancient paganisms of nature worship have emerged once again, along with esoteric and occult practices. Journalist Walter Truett Anderson observes, Never before has any civilization made available to its populace such a smorgasbord of realities. Never before has a communications system like the contemporary mass media made information about religion-all religions-available to so many people. Never has a society allowed its people to become consumers of belief, and allowed belief-all beliefs- to become merchandise.[ii]
America has become too acculturated, too blind, and too unimpressed with the paganism and idolatries all around us. As Christians, we betray a comfort level that Paul would see as scandalous. Instead of this, Christians should be gripped by the realization that millions of men and women are slaves to the idols of our age, and learn to have the courage to confront the idols all around them.
Second, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture is focused on gospel proclamation (Acts 17:17). Moved by the city full of idols, Paul went to the synagogue and to the marketplace each day, presenting the claims of Christ and reasoning with both Jews and Gentiles. The goal of apologetic preaching is not to win an argument but to win souls to Christ. Apologetics separated from evangelism is unknown in the New Testament, and is foreign to the model offered by the apostle Paul. The great missionary Paul was about the business of preaching the gospel, presenting the claims of Christ, and calling for men and women to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
For many evangelicals the study of apologetics is reduced to philosophical structures and rational arguments. This is not Paul’s method. Paul is not merely concerned with the justification of truth claims, but for the justification of sinners. Every true theologian is an evangelist, and every true evangelist is a theologian. The Gospel possesses content and presents truth claims that demand the preachers keenest arguments and boldest proclamation. The Gospel is to be received. Paul moved by the sight of idols preached Christ and called for belief.
Third, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture assumes a context of spiritual confusion (Acts 17:18-21). Paul’s gospel proclamation brought confusion to the Athenian intellectuals. The Epicureans, the forerunners of modern secularists, and the Stoics, committed to pantheistic rationalism accused Paul of teaching nonsense.
To the Athenians- and to the modern secular America- the preaching of the authentic gospel sounds strange. The Athenians said, “You are bringing some strange thing to our ears.” The Christian preacher hears the same thing today. In postmodern American, the Christian gospel is strange in its whole and in its parts. Most Americans assume themselves to be good and decent persons, and are amused at the notions that they are sinners against God. Grace is alien concept in American culture. Sin is almost outlawed as a category, substitutionary atonement sounds unfair, and God in human flesh is too much to take. Yet that is what Christians preach.
The Athenians and their tourists loved to spend their time telling or hearing something new- but what Paul preached was too much. Americans today are just like the Athenians. Consumers of meaning just as much as they are of cars and clothing, Americans will test-drive new spiritualties and try on a whole series of lifestyles. To many, the gospel is just too strange, too countercultural, too propositional, and too exclusive. To contend for the gospel and biblical morality in this culture is to run the risk of being cited for “hate speech.” The Christian must assume a context of spiritual confusion, and this is often now a hostile confusion. The Gospel sounds not only strange but threatening to the local deities.
Fourth, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture is directed to a spiritual hunger (Acts 17:22-23). Paul’s observation convinced him that the Athenians were a religious people. A deficit of religiosity was not the problem. Judging from the statue Paul noticed, the Athenians seemed to be fearful lest they miss any new philosophy or neglect any unknown deity.
American culture is increasingly secularist. The past century has seen the agenda of secularism accomplished in the courts, in the schools, in the marketplace, and in the media. Yet Americas are among the most religious people in the world. The emptiness of the secular wasteland haunts most postmodern persons. They long for something more. Many people declare themselves to live by scientific rationality, and yet they read the astrology charts, believe in alien abductions, line up to see bleeding statues, and talk about past lives. In America, even some atheists say they believe in miracles. Sociologist Robert Wunthnow suggests that Americans are particularly fascinated with miraculous manifestations of the sacred because they are uncertain whether the sacred has really gone away.[iii]
Paul had taken account of the plentiful idols and houses of worship found in Athens. He even noted they were hedging their bets, lest they offend some deity who had not made themselves known. Paul seized the opportunity. Brought before the court at the Areopagus, he referred to the altar he had seen that was dedicated to an unknown god.
The example of Paul here ought to establish a pattern for Christian preaching in a postmodern age. Christians must seek constantly to turn spiritual hunger toward the true food of the gospel of Christ. God had placed that hunger within lost persons they might desire Christ. Christians bear the stewardship of proclaiming the gospel, and therefore we must muster the courage to confront confused postmodernists with the reality of their spiritual ignorance. Paul never allowed this ignorance to become an excuse, but there can be no doubt that it is a reality. Americans, too, are feeding on a false diet of superstition and myths. The hunger is a place to start. Our challenge is to preach Christ as the only answer to that hunger.
Fifth, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture begins with the fundamental issue of God’s nature, character, power and authority (Acts 17:24-28). Interestingly, Paul does not begin with Christ and the cross but with the knowledge of God in creation. The do who created the world is not looking for Corinthian columns and the Parthenon, Paul argued. The Lord does not dwell in temples made with human hands. The Lord is the author of life itself, and He needs nothing from us. Furthermore, The Lord had made humanity and is Lord over all nations. The Lord sovereignly determines their times and boundaries. The Athenians were partly right, said Paul, quoting their poets. All human beings are God’s children, but not in the sense the Athenians believed. In proclaiming God as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all things and all peoples, Paul was making a claim that far surpassed the claims of the Hellenistic deities.
Paul established his preaching of Christ upon the larger foundation of the knowledge of the God of the Bible, Maker of heaven and earth. Every preacher of the Gospel must structure their proclamation of the gospel in this postmodern culture just as Paul did. People must first understand God the Creator before they will understand God the Redeemer.
John Calvin organized his systematic theology around what he called the duplex cognito Domini, the twofold knowledge of God. The preacher must start with the knowledge of God as Creator, but this is not sufficient to save. John Calvin notes that it is one thing to feel that God our Maker supports us by his power, governs us by his providence, nourishes us by his goodness, and attends us with all sorts of blessings, and another thing to embrace the reconciliation offered us in Christ. Seeing people come to faith in Christ the Redeemer begins with seeing them come to grips with the fact that God is their Maker.[iv]
Sixth, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture confronts error (Acts 17:29). Preaching, apologetics, and polemics are all related. Error must be confronted, heresy must be opposed, and false teachings must be corrected. Paul was bold to correct the Athenians with a firm injunction: Preachers ought never to not think false thoughts about God. The Athenians made idols out of marble and precious metals. Paul rebuked this practice and proclaimed that the Divine Nature is not like gold or silver or stone. Furthermore, God is not “an image formed by the art and thought of man.”
False theologies abound no less in the postmodern marketplace of ideas. Americans have revived old heresies and invented new ones. Mormons believe that God is a celestial being with a sex partner. The ecological mystics believe that the world is God- the so called Gai Hypothesis. New Age devotees believe that God is infinite empowerment. Our culture is filled with images of gods formed by art and the thought of man. Our confrontation must be bold and biblical. We have no right to make God in our image.
Seventh, Christian proclamation in a postmodern culture affirms the totality of God’s saving purpose (Acts 17:30-31). Paul brought his presentation of the gospel to a climatic conclusion by calling for repentance and warning of the judgment that is to come. He proclaimed Christ as the appointed Savior who will judge the world and whose identity has been clearly revealed by the fact that God has raised him from the dead.
It is not enough to preach Christ without calling for belief and repentance. It is not enough to promise the blessings of heaven without warning of the threat of hell. It is not enough to preach salvation without pointing to judgment.
Authentic Christian preaching both declares and defends the whole gospel. The center of the Christians proclamation is Jesus Christ the Savior, who was crucified for sinners, was raised by the power of God, is coming again in glory and in judgment, and is even now sitting and ruling at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Christians must defend the truths of Christ’s deity, the virgin birth, the historicity of the miracles, the truth of the incarnation, the reality of His substitutionary death, and the assurance of His bodily resurrection. Yet Christians dare not stop at these affirmations, for we must place the person and work of Christ within the context of God’s eternal purpose to save a people for His own glory and to exalt himself among the nations. The task of preaching in this postmodern context is comprehensive, even as it is driven by the desire to see sinners turn to Christ in faith.
The postmodern world has no need of half evangelists preaching a half gospel to the half converted, and leading a halfhearted church. What is needed is a generation of bold and courageous preacher-apologists for the twenty-first century- men who will be witnesses to the whole world of the power of the gospel and who will proclaim the whole counsel of God.
[i] R. Albert Mohler, He is not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 123-124.
[ii] Walter Truett Anderson, Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 188.
[iii] Robert Wuthnow: After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2005), 139.
[iv] John Calvin, Institutes, McNeill and Battles, vol. 1, 40.
This is part two of our series on Apologetics. In part 1 we learned what it means to engage worldviews. Today we will look at Paul’s use and methods in Apologetics, and tomorrow we will look at the use of Apologetics in preaching and teaching the Gospel.
Paul’s use and method of apologetics
The methodology that Paul used in the sharing his faith with the Athenians was the Presuppositional method that assumed the Triune God of Scripture and developed from the Biblical narrative to the knowledge of the individuals being addressed. Dr. Greg Bahnsen proclaims the following on this subject; “Paul laid the presuppositional groundwork for accepting the authoritative word from God, which was the source and context of the good news about Christ’s resurrection.”[i]
Paul at no time appeals to neutrality in his proclamation of the Christian faith. Almost everything that Paul proclaims in this address is offensive to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of his day.[ii] Paul, using the Scriptures as his source of epistemology, reasons in such a way; 1) Yahweh is the only God (Acts 17:23), 2) Biblical Creation (Acts 17:24, 3) Yahweh is transcendent (Acts 17:25), 4) All mankind comes from one blood (Acts 17:26), 5) Yahweh controls the creation via His perfect sovereignty (Acts 17:26), 6) Yahweh is the source of life (Acts 17:27-28, 7) Yahweh must be worshiped as He has revealed Himself (Acts 17:29), 8) All men are called to repentance (Acts 17:30), 9) Judgment of the world through Christ (Acts 17:31), and 10) The resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:32).
Bahnsen goes on to proclaim the following of Paul’s apologia: “Paul was well aware of the philosophical climate of his day. Accordingly he did not attempt to use premises agreed upon with the philosophers, and then pursue a “neutral” method of argumentation to move them from the circle of their beliefs into the circle of his own convictions. When he disputed with the philosophers they did not find any grounds for agreement with Paul at any level of their conversations. Rather, they utterly disdained him as a “seed-picker,” a slang term (originally applied to gutter-sparrows) for a peddler of second-hand bits of pseudo-philosophy—an intellectual scavenger (v. 18). The word of the cross was to them foolish (1 Cor. 1:18), and in their pseudo-wisdom they knew not God (1 Cor. 1:20-21). Hence Paul would not consent to use their verbal “wisdom” in his apologetic, lest the cross of Christ be made void (1 Cor. 1:17).”
A few things are helpful to note on this subject. First, Paul keeps the level of conversation in the culture in which he is speaking. Although Paul’s argument is based off of revealed Scripture, he does not resort to deep, theological words to make his point. Rather, he speaks to the philosophers in manner that they will understand. Next, Paul does not attempt to compromise with the Athenians and at no time does he appeal to neutral facts or evidences. Rather, Paul “assumes” or “presupposes” the Triune God of Scripture in this address. Thirdly, Paul fully understands that salvation is of the Lord and as a result, refuses to shave off the rough edges of his speech. That is, he fully proclaims the Word of God, even the offensive portions, leaving the convincing to the Lord. On this point, it is helpful to note that Paul is respectful yet bold, a point that Bahnsen makes when he states of Paul’s apologetic: “The boldness of his apologetic did not become arrogance…and he began his address formally, with a polite manner of expression: “You men of Athens.”[iii] Bock agrees with this interpretation when he proclaims; “[P]aul manages to share the Gospel with a generous but honest spirit.”[iv]
In summary, the Apostle Paul, in his address to the Areopagus, presupposed the validity of the Biblical witness and at no point relied on neutral facts. The whole world is the Lord’s and to give honor to God, one must argue and assume the truths that He has revealed because in Jesus Christ is; “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3 ESV).
It is the content of the message that is offensive to the Athenian philosophers; such as the proclamation of one blood or the proclamation of the resurrection. However, the manner in which Paul addressed was respectful and in line with1 Peter 3:15 which states; “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
[i] It is the content of the message that is offensive to the Athenian philosophers; such as the proclamation of one blood or the proclamation of the resurrection. However, the manner in which Paul addressed was respectful and in line with 1 Peter 3:15 which states; “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
[ii] Greg L. Bahnsen. “The Encounter of Jerusalem With Athens.” Ashland Theological Bulletin (Covenant Media Foundation) VIII, no. 1 (Spring 1980).
[iv] Darrel L. Bock, Acts (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007), 573.
In this short video Dave discusses the problem of sexual sin and its effects on marriages and individuals.