By now you’ve heard reports about the reprehensible and racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. This is a news story that now transcends sports, with repeated calls for boycotts of Clipper games, demands for punishment for Sterling, and even admonishment from President Obama.
If you are an NBA fan like me, you’ll know that Donald Sterling is a known curmudgeon, a highly ineffective owner, and a generally un-liked fellow. So we might be tempted to consider what he said to be merely the rantings of an out of touch, stuck-in-the-1950′s old man. We might ask why should Christians care what the owner of an LA sports team says?
But I think we should care, for several reasons:
First, Sterling’s words hurt and demean people created in the image of God. Just the way Sterling talks about African American people reflects a Satanic, soul-crushing view of humanity. “These people” is a way of setting a certain ethnic group aside as less than human.
Christians should be offended by Sterling’s words because racism is a direct attack upon the Creator, who lovingly formed each human in His image and likeness. It’s to tell the Creator that what He created good isn’t good. To treat someone as subhuman doesn’t simply humiliate the recipient, it dethrones God as Lord.
In one sense it’s shocking that we still hear these words in 21st century America. After all, we’ve made great racial progress in this country. And yet, in another sense, we shouldn’t be shocked, because racism is the fruit of a sinful, fallen world, where man will always consider himself better than his fellow man. Every generation has its racists, who set themselves up as gods. And every generation needs godly men and women to both be outraged by racism and committed to the gospel work that eradicates it.
Secondly, Sterling’s words and actions reflect a low view of marriage. Buried in the furor over the racist comments were a stunningly low view of marriage and sexuality. Marriage is not simply a Christian idea, but a Creational ordinance ordained by God to both illustrate Christ’s love for His Church and to ensure human flourishing. It’s no surprise that in Sterling’s life adultery and racism flow together. Each sin is a selfish act against a holy God.
Third, we should be warned that no conversation is secret.How many seemingly private conversations have been “leaked” to the media? The wrong lesson to learn from Donald Sterling (and other such conversations) would be this: be careful what you say, it might go public. Instead, we should strive not to have those nasty private conversations. Not simply for fear of them being leaked, but because even in private, God hears. We should strive to be in private what we hope people think we are when they see us in public. Besides, God will make known all the secret things one day. In a sense, there is no hiding, nothing “off the record” that won’t be replayed at the Judgement Seat.
So where do Christians go from here? What should we do?
We should continue to work for racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is not just a political program or a neat idea cooked up in the academy. It’s at the heart of God. In Revelation 5 and 7, we are given a view of the future Kingdom where “every language, tribe, and tongue” will gather to worship Christ. Christians should both be outraged by the injustice of racism wherever we see it and we should actively promote racial reconciliation in our churches, our communities, and in our homes.
We must preach the gospel as the only cure for racism.Racism is the fruit of sin embedded in the heart of every man. Only Christ, who crushed the serpent and defeated death can move into the racist’s heart and recreate it to be a heart of love. The cross is where racism goes to die, for every man, red and yellow, black and white, is in need of God’s saving grace. There is hope for the repentant racist, but it will only happen as Christ renews his mind and redeems his view of his fellow man. Let’s pray for Donald Sterling to repent and turn to Christ in faith. God delights in welcoming sinners home, including repentant racists.
We must model in our churches what racial reconciliation looks like. In the gospel, Christ has created for Himself one new humanity, called out from every race, tribe, and tongue. Therefore as we work toward intentional, real diversity in our Christian communities, we model in miniature what the Kingdom will look like in full. Let’s turn our outrage at Donald Sterling into the gospel-fueled work of reconciliation.
We should humbly consider our own sinful tendencies toward prejudice. Racism begins in a corrupted, sinful heart. If we were honest, we’d admit there is a little Donald Sterling in all of us. Only God’s sanctifying grace can remove the cancer of racism and replace it with a heart that reflects God’s heart.
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At the outset of the American Revolution, many of the early colonials didn’t struggle to connect their faith with their moral obligation—as they understood it—to secede from England through war. With a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, the American militia fought and won independence.
Many today do not understand how some of the most committed followers of Jesus can be, at the same time, some of the most ardent second amendment advocates. Indeed, the news media routinely portrays the caricature of back-woods, out-of-touch, gun-clinging, Bible-thumping, Red State hillbillies and Christians aren’t sure how to respond.
When I was being interviewed to pastor a church, I was asked if I supported the second amendment. Without hesitation (and to their relief) I said, “Absolutely.” I even have a license to carry. But there seems to be a great disconnect and confusion over why a Christian—especially a pastor—would support the right to bear arms.
Why do guns and Bibles go together? And I’m not talking about obeying the command to “Rise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) through modern weaponry, though I love fresh game! The answer to why guns and Bibles go together is simple: to make peace, protect the weak, end suffering, and promote the freedom of religion. Now before you’re up in arms over this, let me explain.
Obviously, guns aren’t the real issue; people are. This is the absurdity of promoting stricter gun laws, as if criminals will naturally obey them. However, some people are so corrupt not only in their thinking, they have also been given considerable power and authority to exercise their corruption in the form of tyranny and oppression over a populace.
If a school bully is beating a young girl on the playground and you, as a teacher, walked up on the act, would you sit on the bench and watch? Of course not. You might ask the bully to stop his blows, but what if he doesn’t listen? Some bullies don’t. I hope, for her sake, you would become a peacemaker, protect the weak, end the suffering, and provide the girl’s freedom. For a bully on a playground, you don’t need a gun. But there are some circumstances that might necessitate such action.
Obviously, you and I don’t have the means and resources to stop all oppression and tyranny worldwide, nor is that our responsibility. But we are to make peace, protect the weak, end suffering, and promote freedom among those in close proximity to us relationally (i.e., family and friends) and spatially (i.e., neighbors and community). If we can make “world peace” along with beauty contestants, let’s do it. But it’s not this Tennessean’s moral obligation to make peace in New Delhi, though I might volunteer!
The right to bear arms is a right of protection against corruption, a right to end suffering, and a right to preserve freedom, especially when tyrannical corruption translates into intentional oppression for the establishment and preservation of the tyrant. And we don’t look to the poor example of the Crusades, which actions certainly didn’t find legitimate justification in the Bible.
The church militant—which fights against the (spiritual) world, the flesh, and the devil—has the right to bear arms. Individual Christians are members of both church and state and when a government repeatedly oppresses a people to establish and maintain its own depraved power, at the repeated expense and affliction its people, we have the right—as Bible-believing Christians—to bear arms for the purpose of making peace, protecting the weak, ending suffering, and promoting freedom.
Supporting the second amendment is not an expression of fear of man or government; it’s an expression of care, preservation, and freedom against corrupt dictators and shooting rampages alike. And if you say, “That’ll never happen,” read your history.
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One of the greatest challenge for the 21st century Christian is that of relativism. To illustrate this point consider the following scenario: You are at Bible study. You hear someone “share” their thoughts on a passage. They don’t focus on what the author of the text says, but rather on “I feel this passage says” with the end result of an appeal to emotions rather than biblical truth or fact. Now don’t get me wrong as there is a place for sharing feelings. Yet there is a difference between sharing feelings and interpreting the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word. When we come to the Bible only to share our thoughts about what it says, we run the risk of committing one of the most egregious errors of our age, namely to base what we believe on our feelings rather than in the timeless objective truth of God’s holy Word.
I spent a number of years when I lived in Seattle walking the streets ministering to homeless people in downtown Seattle. Now that I don’t live in Seattle, I often engage in conversations in coffee shops for the purpose of sharing Christ with people. What I have seen over the course of my time trying to reach non-Christians is they often lead with “I feel” this or that. They may not say, “I feel” or they may begin with “I think this” and then state what they believe. The problems with this are many and while everyone in a sense leads with “I feel” statements, the issue with this is Christians are not to ground their faith in feelings nor communicate that their faith is based on feelings.
Christians have an objective Word that confronts a subjective world. The Word of God provides the authoritative foundation for the Christians faith and practice. This means that their entire world is confronted by the reality of God’s presence and work in and through His Word and His Son Jesus. This is precisely why relativism is a challenge because you may hear someone state, “I feel that this means this” and nobody wants to come close to being perceived as mean-spirited by stating, “I don’t care how you feel”. This begs the question as to how Christians should respond to this challenge.
Christians should respond to the challenge of relativism by undegirding their efforts in the Word of God by proclaiming the superiority of the biblical worldview to that of relativism. Christians can engage people where they are even if they don’t have all the answers to people’s objections to biblical Christianity. When Christians minister to the lost and broken, they do so out of the conviction that they are to love God and our neighbor. What better way to show your non-Christian neighbor you love them than by engaging them as to why they have their particular worldview and how they came to that belief. Such an approach efforts to respond to relativism by treating people as created in the image of God and needing the redemption that Christ offers.
People today are interested in spiritual matters but not in the same way as they were in the past. In today’s society, most people want to know you care about them on a personal level, with the understanding that your conversation with them is based on a concern about who they are and where they are at in life rather than simply trying to win them over to a certain position or belief. In my experience, what non-Christians want to see from Christians is that they truly do love God and love their neighbor. This is the very thing Jesus said sums up all of Scripture and thus to truly follow God’s Word means loving our neighbor. Demonstrating care and concern for non-Christians as people in need of God’s love is to show that we believe what Jesus has said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Christians today is Christians themselves. We often think that our position is the only one that matters. Jesus taught that He is the Way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), a statement that provides the framework for why Christians hang their hats on Jesus’ perfectly sufficient and finished work in His death, burial and resurrection. Yet at the same time, many Christians would rather not ask hard questions about what they believe what they do and why what they believe matters. When confronted with difficult questions, some if not most Christians tend to make excuses for why they don’t know the answers rather than be honest and transparent about what they do and do not know. By taking this approach, Christians communicate to non-Christians that they aren’t concern to know what they believe and how that belief should inform the way they live their Christian life. The Gospel is the power of God. Yet, how Christians communicate the Gospel often times undermines the very message we claim to believe. With that said, despite our foibles, God uses the foolishness of His people’s efforts for His glory to expand His Kingdom.
The Bible has much to say about how Christians are communicate their faith. For example, Christians are called to be a people who control their tongue (James 3) and who speak to one another with words seasoned by grace (Colossians 4:6). So how does that relate to the challenge of relativism? Since Christians are called to proclaim a message that confronts the “I feel” attitude, we need to be careful to proclaim what we believe and why it matters to a watching world in a way that honors God and brings Him glory. We do this by communicating the truth of God’s objective truth from His Word by saying, “This is what God has said” rather than “I feel this means this or states this because of…” The Christian is called to proclaim the authoritative Word that confronts the proud and calls sinners to become saints and rebels, servants of His grace. The sad truth is at the end of the day, many people will not be persuaded by the Gospel. Instead of coming to Christ non-Christians would rather continue living under the banner of their feelings than base their thoughts and lives on the authoritative Word of God.
Proclaiming the Gospel and confronting the challenge of relativism requires great care not only in how we handle the Word of God, but also in how the Gospel is proclaimed to the people we are preaching to. Jesus calls His people to love Him and their neighbor. I challenge you to love Jesus by grounding your whole life in the Word of God which contains the Gospel, for the purpose of loving your neighbor with the Word and the message of the Gospel. By taking this approach, you will be able to respond to the challenge of relativism with both your life and the Gospel message which are to increasingly reflect the message of the Gospel. In conclusion, the best way ultimately to deal with and respond to the challenge of relativism in the 21st century is with a life that mirrors the Word of God by the grace of God to the glory of God.
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One of the more controversial verses in the New Testament in recent days is Romans 1:26-27. While Matthew 7:1-2 may be the most used verse even by non-Christians, Romans 1:26-27 is quickly becoming the go-to passage for those seeking to qualify the truth of scripture for their own means. According to one website that promotes a homosexually friendly reading of Romans 1:26-27, “Romans 1 has nothing to do with homosexuality because gays and lesbians are never mentioned in Romans 1.”[i] Noted Bible scholar Dr. Thomas Schreiner, commenting on Romans 1:24-32 rightly rejects that approach asserting, “Idolatry is “unnatural in the sense that it is contrary to God’s intention for human beings. To worship corruptible animals and human beings instead of the incorruptible God is to turn the created order upside down. Human beings were intended to have sexual relations with those of the opposite sex. Just as idolatry is a violation and perversion of what God intended, so too homosexual relations are contrary to what God planned when he created man and woman.”[ii]
Many who support homosexual behavior have a problem with this interpretation. With that said, the idea that the context doesn’t support what Schreiner saliently noted flies in the face of Paul’s larger point in the context of this passage. Romans 1:18-32 makes a clear distinction between the Creator and the creature. Paul focuses on God and His invisible attributes (Romans 1:20). Dr. Schreiner further elaborates that “Modern controversy over homosexuality has led to a reevaluation of this text. Some scholars argue that Paul does not condemn all forms of homosexuality but only homosexual acts practiced by people who are “naturally” heterosexual (e.g. Boswell 1980: 109-12). According to this interpretation, to act contrary to nature involves engaging in sexual activity that is contrary to the personal nature or character of the individual. Thus Paul should not be understood as implying that all homosexuality is contrary to what God intended from creation. He speaks only against homosexual acts that are practiced by those who are heterosexuals by nature.”[iii]
John Boswell, in attempting to reinterpret Paul’s words, attempts to claim that “The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.”[iv] Dr. Schreiner notes, “This interpretation must be rejected since there is no evidence that Paul understood the “nature” of human beings in the individual and psychological sense that is familiar to people in the 21st century.”[v] Biblical scholars Richard Hays and David Malick note that, “Paul rejects homosexuality as contrary to the created order—homosexuality is a violation of what god intended when he created men and women.” (Hays 1986:192-94; Malick 1993:335). The Jewish historian Josephus (Ag. Ap. 2.24), declares that the marriage of a man is according to nature and proceeds to say that the Old Testament law demands the death penalty for intercourse between males. Both Philo (Spec. Laws 3.7; Abr. 26) and Josephus (AG. Ap. 2.35) specifically criticize homosexual relations. Schreiner affirms “there is no evidence that Paul reverses the unanimous Jewish conviction that homosexuality was sinful” (Gen. 19:1-28; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18).[vi]
When one considers the context of Romans 1:18-32 is Romans 1:16-17, verses that focus on the righteousness of God and then Paul’s teaching on the Creator and the creature, it becomes evident that the interpretation of the homosexual community lacks warrant. Paul first gives the Gospel then emphasizes God’s character to sinners, exposing their need for Jesus. John Calvin stated that the natural world is a theater of God’s glory. Romans 1:18-32 deals with the fact that God has made Himself known to humanity but man rejected and replaced Him with other objects of worship. God delivered two judgments in response to this: one of homosexual behavior and another of an immoral mind, each which demonstrate His abandonment and wrath toward humanity’s rebellion.
The argument advanced by homosexuals that Romans 1:26-27 isn’t talking about homosexuality is ultimately found wanting. Paul’s argument begins in verse 19 where he declares that in the same way people naturally know God by instinct with creation itself demonstrating God’s existence through what He’s made, people naturally and instinctively know right sexual practice because of how the human body was made.
Ultimately, when one considers both the context and what Romans 1:26-27 means, it becomes clear Romans 1 does talk about homosexuality. What matters is not what we think the passage means but rather what the passage says. Homosexual behavior in the eyes of God is sin. Whether you believe that or whether you reject it is a matter of utmost importance and urgency. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” All that matters is what God has said. When God who created man in His image and likeness speaks, man must heed what He has said. To not heed what He has declared is to reject Him.
Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Here’s the good news. God as the Creator has the right to insist and demand what He wills of His creation. He can take away our lives or continue to sustain them. That is His right. Yet God in His mercy reaches out to man through the finished work of Christ. Paul, before his discussion on the Creator-creature distinction, provides the message of the Gospel in Romans 1:16-17, namely when he talks about the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God refers to God satisfying His justice by putting the penalty of man’s sin on Christ. It is “revealed” to those who confess faith in Christ so that they might live faithfully. This means that while the homosexual community rejects the clear teaching of Romans 1, God still reaches out to them calling them to turn from their idolatry to Himself through Jesus who promises to credit sinners with His righteousness.
At the end of the day, homosexuals aren’t the worse of all sinners. Paul makes clear that all have sinned (Romans 3:23; 6:23) which means everyone is in need of the righteousness of God. Only Jesus can save and He does through His finished and sufficient work. Look to Jesus, abandon your life of idolatry, and fall in love with a Savior who is superior in every way to the idol of sexual perversion. Jesus can and does redeem people from sexual sin and makes them whole through His finished and sufficient work.
[ii] Thomas Schreiner, Romans BECT (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1998), 54.
[iv] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Pg. 335.
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[v] Thomas Schreiner, Romans BECT (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1998), 96.
Mention the word “tolerance” and you are likely to get some interesting responses. Most of those responses will focus on how people have the “rights” to think, believe or act however they choose. In this view, tolerance is all about my rights and thinking on a given topic. At first, that may sound pleasant or even socially acceptable but in fact it is rotten to the core. When people who view tolerance this way apply what they think, the result is to exclude those who believe in absolute truth and absolute morals.
I was at a coffee shop I frequent often and the manager and I began to talk about Christianity. She knew I was a Christian and a ministry leader. When I go to a coffee shop I come with a backpack full of books along with my laptop. On this particular day, this manager and I were chatting when all of the sudden it became clear that she didn’t want to talk about Christianity any further. It became evident that she wanted to think how she wanted and wasn’t going to consider a thing I said, yet expected that I was supposed to consider everything she said. One time I was chatting with my neighbor who is a Mormon and I got the same sense that I was supposed to take everything he said as truth but when I made arguments for the exclusivity of Christ or highlighted to my atheist friend about the character of God, I was immediately discounted. These situations and many others like them lead me to think that people think it’s okay to think however you want, but if you make exclusive, absolute claims about matters of truth and faith then you will be viewed increasingly as a non-intellectual.
The argument goes, “Faith is private so keep it to yourself”. That sounds good at first glance. Let’s all keep quiet about what we believe as after all, isn’t faith a personal issue? The truth though is no one is quiet about what they believe. Is Oprah quiet about what she believes? Is Ellen DeGeneres quiet about what she believes? Is Piers Morgan quiet about what he believes when he interrogates Christian leaders on his television show? It seems like our liberal media can use its bully pulpit to proclaim that everyone has a right to think how they want, but when Christians make exclusive claims about God, the Bible, or Jesus according to the foundation of biblical Christianity, they are immediately discounted and treated as second class citizens. Yet the “enlightened” ones want us to believe everything they say without question and just soak in their magnificentness. The truth of the matter is not only does the liberal media not believe that faith is “private”, they are among the loudest in our culture in regards to proclaiming what they believe.
Look at Hollywood, look at the talking heads on TV, on talk show programs or any other media outlet. Are they not spewing what they believe all over the place and don’t people soak it up like its gospel? Yet, when a Christian who believes the Bible and stands firmly for the Gospel speaks out about matters about gay marriage from the Bible or other such issues, what happens? They are told to be quiet or else they will have their arguments drowned out by the talking heads, cultural philosophers, or other members of the cultural elite. Our secular culture says, “How can they believe such a thing as the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is a only Savior who saves people?” Here’s the thing — everyone believes something and no one is silent about what they believe either so the idea that “faith is private” and you are to be quiet is really a rather silly, not to mention a childish and untenable argument. Yet, Christians are treated this way in the public square all the time.
This is why the language of tolerance isn’t really tolerant, or as D.A. Carson said, “the intolerance of tolerance” in his book by the same title. Tolerance is intolerant because those who advocate for tolerance suggest they are the gatekeepers of truth. Whenever anyone says anything intolerant or if a Christian such as myself speaks or writes about gay marriage or other issues, they are shouted down, told they are wrong and immediately labeled a “bigot”, “misguided” or any number of unsavory labels. Should this surprise Christians? Imagine for a second your eyes are closed and you are taking a stroll somewhere. You try to walk but you keep bumping into things over and over again. This is exactly what the lost are like. They are fumbling around in the dark looking for anything and everything their heart desires. The Bible speaks to this idea in Ecclesiastes 3 when Solomon calls seeking after the world and its pleasure “vanity and grasping for the wind”. Is tolerance really tolerant? If you believe tolerance is tolerant then you are living in a world where truth must be abandoned because your truth is inconsistent. If we apply the standards of truth to the worldview of tolerance, it crumbles like shifting sand. The truth is that tolerance is another word for the spirit of this age which longs for teachers who will tickle people’s ears but never give them the truth from the Word of God.
Christians have a superior Word and message than that of the so-called tolerance of this age. Paul spoke about this in 2 Timothy 4. He told us to preach the Word (vs.2). Paul told us to stand in the grace of God (1 Cor. 15) because we are in a war (Ephesians 6:10-18). Yet, beyond the position of tolerance are people who need Jesus. By the standards of the new tolerance, the biblical Jesus was the epitimey of a bigot as He called people “brood of vipers” and “the blind leading the blind”. Jesus also spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible combined. Was Jesus tolerant? Would Jesus be considered tolerant according to the spirit of this age? The answer is a resounding no and yet people in our culture think of Jesus as some prophet or teacher but refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord in and over all.
This is telling to me and it shouldn’t be surprising to Christians either. Non-Christians are stumbling about in the darkness with their eyes closed, feeling their way around, and being led by their hearts desires. The world along with its value system and moral code is under the power of darkness. Yet even here Christians have a superior Word and message in the Gospel that pierces the hearts of men and women committed to the world system and its false gospel. The Gospel pierces the heart of man and when it does, it replaces the false gospel of tolerance and inclusivism with a message that is exclusive and restricted only to those who believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and only by believing in Him can one be saved. Jesus, just as He did in the first century, is still lighting a fire under people because He is more than just a revolutionary, He is more than just some teacher and prophet. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus is coming back to rule and reign over the throne of David but before that day, He will smite all His enemies from one end of the battlefield to the other with the sword which is His Word. Is that Jesus tolerant enough for the spirit of the age? Or does that Jesus offend you, prick your conscience, unsettle you, and even scare you? If so, are you ready to meet that Jesus or will you walk away from Him just as the religious people of Jesus’ day did? Jesus calls people to Himself and those who hear His voice will come but those who are not His will reject Him. The Good Shepherd knows those who are His and He saves them, but He also knows those who aren’t His and weeps for them and in love speaks the truth that hell is a place of unending and unrelenting conscious punishment.
You may think that Christianity is intolerant but the truth is that those who hold to the view that tolerance is a virtue are the ones who are intolerant. Tolerance is not a virtue, conversely, it is a lie designed to keep people enslaved to their sin. Jesus comes with a powerful Word that cuts through the fog that opens the eyes of those who are stumbling about living how they please. Jesus opens such people’s eyes as He did with the Apostle Paul by showing them the horror of their sin and the glory of Christ in the Cross.
Dear Christian, make no mistake. We are living in days that are challenging, but rest assured that we also live in a day of great harvest. Stand firm on the authority of the Word of God and declare the message of the Gospel. Jesus is alive, the tomb is empty, and Jesus is ruling and reigning as His people’s High Priest. The Holy Spirit is still in the business of opening people’s eyes to the truth about Jesus, of convicting His people of their sin, and pointing them towards the truth of Jesus. The Gospel is still the power of God! Preach the Gospel all the more in a culture that says tolerance is a virtue and yet rejects its own conviction through its own inconsistency. Shout all the more from the rooftops and declare the sufficiency of Jesus to a culture that would rather celebrate its own pride and self-sufficiency.
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Apologetics has in recent years become very popular. With that popularity comes a certain level of responsibility. For my own part I’ve joined that community out of necessity because I live in an area of the world in the Pacific Northwest that is very religious. In the Boise, Idaho area the predominant religious preference is Mormonism, Catholic and Jehovah Witness. Apologetics within this context has become an important means God is using to open the eyes of many people. Right across from my house I have neighbors who are Mormons and atheists. Yet the role of Apologetics is not limited to my efforts to reach my neighbors. Apologetics has a role in the Church at large because she is called to proclaim the Gospel. Since apologetics is concerned with answering the questions, “What does Christianity believe?” and “Why does it matter?”, engaging in apologetics is a function for the entire body of Christ.
The goal of Apologetics is to give a reason “for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and to do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics has a long and storied history in the Church. From Polycarp, to Irenaeus, to Augustine, to Calvin, to Luther, as well as modern apologists such as Dr. James White among many others, apologetics has been a means the Lord has used in the life of His people to bring clarity to what we believe and why it matters to a watching world. Additionally, God has used controversy in the life of the Church to bring clarity to what we believe. This is how the various creeds and confessions of faith came into being. As you can see, through the pursuit of apologetics, God has used very ordinary men and women in extraordinary ways as a testament to the truthfulness of His Word for His glory.
So what is the role of Apologetics in the Church? Is it just for individuals to write creeds, confessions, papers, and books? Or is it to engage in debates, lectures and heated conversation? I think it is all of the above grounded in the authorative and sufficient Word of God. Without grounding our thinking in the Word, we will not be able to help anyone. Biblical apologetics is first and foremost concerned with being Word-centered with a concerted focus on what the Bible teaches. A secret service agent doesn’t spend their time studying fraudulent dollars but rather they spend their time studying the authentic dollar bill in order to spot the fake. I know for myself, I need to spend more time in the Word of God reading, mediating, and studying what it says rather than spending as much time reading other books. This is not to say that reading other books and understanding where people are coming from is unimportant. I absolutely believe that reading as widely and broadly as one can is essential. However, every book pales in comparison to the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God.
Since Apologetics is interested in defending and elaborating the biblical worldview, it’s important to understand that our worldview begins with the Bible which testifies of the Gospel. Biblical apologetics is first and foremost to be Word and Gospel-centered. The Bible testifies from Genesis to Revelation that God has set forth on a rescue mission started from eternity past to save man from his sin through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the new or renewed covenant, Jesus takes sinners and makes them new creations providing them with new affections, new desires, new life, a new identity, and a new purpose to know and serve the Lord. Biblical apologetics is then interested in being Word-centered, Gospel-centered, and Spirit-empowered.
The Holy Spirit gives sight to the blind by opening their eyes to see the beauty and glory of Jesus, while also convicting His people of their sin, pointing them to the truth and sufficiency of the work of Jesus. Thus, Biblical apologetics is empowered by the Holy Spirit who longs to advance the Gospel of Jesus to the nations. Our apologetics must then be biblical and it must testify of the Gospel if we want the stamp of the Holy Spirit upon our ministry. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God and the power of the Gospel to convert men and women to the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done in His death, burial and resurrection. Apologetics then within the Church is to be Word-centered, Gospel-centered, and Spirit-empowered as it seeks to be faithful to the Word of God and the Gospel of God.
Pastors can preach on apologetical issues such as the problem of evil, or moral and ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Bloggers, writers, and authors should address the same issues to their audiences. Every single Christian is to “give a reason for the hope they have” (1 Peter 3:15) for the purpose of strengthening the church. While some may be formally trained to do apologetics, since every Christian is a theologian, every Christian is also an apologist. Every Christian is to know what they believe and why it matters and give a defense of it. Every Christian is a theologian-apologist, meaning they are to engage in the study of God (theology), and to give a defense of what they believe and why it matters (apologetics).
While it is often thought that apologetics and theology are to be separated, in reality both should lead to giving reasons for why our study of the Word matters as well as our reasons for what we believe and why it matters to a watching world. When we just give reasons for what we believe without ever studying the Word, we do a disservice to people who hear our arguments. The people of God need to come with a humble attitude to the Word of God to learn what it says, to mediate on what it teaches, and to submit to what it teaches. When we do that, we will cultivate an attitude of humility and in turn will be Word-centered, Gospel-centered, and Spirit-empowered.
The role of apologetics in the Church should be derived from its message, specifically the Gospel which is all about Jesus and His death, burial, and resurrection. As the Church engages in testifying of its Savior, it will encounter the need to clarify, defend, and contend for what it believes and why those beliefs matter. In a world that is increasingly hostile to God, the Church is going to see an increased need for apologist-theologians who are grounded in the Word, who are Gospel-centered, and who are Spirit-empowered to arise and give clarity to what biblical Christianity affirms and the reason why people should embrace that message. Since the Gospel is the power of God, let’s pray the God of all grace will raise up an army of professionally trained apologist-theologians as well as lay theologian-apologists who will take up the task of apologetics in order to defend and contend for the Gospel once and for all delivered to the saints.
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