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.
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.
Apologetics has a long and esteemed position in the history of the Church. Fundamentally, apologetics is concerned with the question, “What do we believe and why does it matters?” It does this through contending, defending, and explaining what biblical Christianity is and why it matters. Put another way, apologetics is the defense and application of a biblical worldview to the questions of life. However, apologetics isn’t important solely because of those facts I just stated. It is important because it focuses on seeing issues not through the lens of personal opinion, but rather through a biblical worldview centered on explaining what the Bible teaches about the matter at hand. Understanding apologetics and its purpose will reveal that the Apostle Paul engaged in apologetics in his epistles in an effort to help his readers have a fully orbed understanding of the Gospel.
The use of apologetics is important both to the Church and for the Church’s witness. When reading various articles and books, I get the sense that authors think apologetics is important only in so far as the defense of the Gospel. One can rightly assert that is part of apologetics, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Additionally, many argue for apologetics only to engage certain issues of the faith. While we need specialists in certain areas, we also need to have a holistic understanding of how apologetics relates not to engaging those who oppose biblical truth outside the walls of the church, but also how apologetics is needed in response to those in the Church who oppose biblical Christianity. Peter writes about such people in 2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” Notice what he says here, specifically that “false prophets also arose among the people”. Note that the people he is talking about in this passage are not outsiders, conversely, they were insiders. They were already in the church causing division and teaching “destructive heresies”. Paul wrote Galatians to deal with Judaizers in the church who were being destructive to the early church. 1 John was written to deal with Gnostics. I could go on and on with additional examples, but the point is simply that our apologetical efforts need to be both inward and outward in focus and scope. It must be inward to address heresy and defend the faith and outward to explain the biblical worldview and defend against attacks. All of this is because of the Gospel.
The Gospel explains the reason why apologetics is important. Many think they need to defend the message of the Gospel. I want to caution that is not the ultimate purpose of apologetics. The Gospel can defend itself for it is the power of God. We defend the Gospel not because we can, but because we’re called to do so and understanding that distinction is vital. God does not need a defender as He is after all the God of the universe. We are allowed to join God’s mission in proclaiming the greatness of His grace. Comprehending that important distinction helps us understand not only Who we are proclaiming, but why it matters. It also identifies the incorrect approach of the apologist believing they know all the right answers. Such a prideful approach should never underpin our apologetic efforts. Conversely, humility ought to characterize our apologetics efforts and declaration of biblical truth. When humility forms the locus of our apologetics, glory is given to God instead of us. Ultimately, the goal of all ministry, including apologetics is to glorify God through words and deeds as we minister to those who are really hurting and need Jesus.
The pursuit of apologetics is important. It is encouraging to see articles and books written in the defense of the Gospel. Yet undergirding all those articles and efforts I pray is the Gospel. As one engaged in the apologetics community, my prayer is that we would marvel at the wonder of His grace. I pray we would pause to think long and hard about Who we are talking about, namely the God who created the world, who saved us through the Son Jesus, and who empowers us as His servants to testify of the great love of our heavenly Father.
While apologetics is important, more important than any one ministry is understanding the relationship between knowing and making known Jesus. We need to minister out of the outgrowth of our relationship with Jesus. The natural outgrowth of our time with Jesus is ministry towards others. When we minister only to others but never spend time in the Word or in the Gospel, we quickly become self-reliant. Yet when we spend time drinking from the well of living water being saturated by His grace and His love, the natural outgrowth of that time well spent will be the outpouring of His grace through us into the lives of others. This is what ministry is all about, being poured into by the Holy Spirit and then pouring out what the Holy Spirit has poured out into our own lives. This is important to understand for those engaged in apologetics because as we engage those who oppose biblical Christianity, our goal is not to score points but rather to address people who have real problems with doctrinal and theological truth rooted in Scripture. In order to accomplish that, we must be constantly growing in the grace of God in order to speak truth in love, to confront error, and to point people to the grace of God.
Ultimately, apologetics is important, but the Gospel is ultimate because it is the Gospel that the Church is called to declare and for which we are to give a defense. We have been given a message that transcends time. In fact, the Gospel creates its own time and culture and does so for its own glory. The declaration of the Gospel calls an estranged people to be part of the family of God so they may gather together to testify of the grace that saved them. The Gospel calls a people who were once enemies of the Cross to be friends of Jesus. The Gospel takes rebels and turns them into servants and sinners into saints who marvel at the grace of God in Jesus.
Whether you are engaged apologetics or not; celebrate the grace that has saved you, is sanctifying you, and will one day glorify you. In doing so, the Holy Spirit will pour forth into your life so that the outpouring of His grace through you is ministry to others empowered by His love, His grace and all for His glory. Apologetics is important but so is growing in the grace of God. As you defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, make sure you are taking time to smell the fresh aroma and mercy of God in the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Being washed and refreshed in the Word will help you understand the importance of apologetics providing the means by which you will be able to grab hold of the Who (Jesus) you are contending, defending, and proclaiming to a watching world.
One of if not the biggest objections to Christianity today is hypocrisy. Unbelievers state that if believers would take our faith seriously we would “practice what we preach”. They have a point that we need to consider and by the end of this article I hope to persuade you to evaluate your life in light of Christ to identify hypocrisy in your own life, repent, and turn to Christ all the more.
Hypocrisy is a word pregnant with meaning. To be a hypocrite is to put up a mask or an appearance that you are something you are not. At first that may seem innocent enough. You may say, “I don’t put up masks in my life so I’m not a hypocrite”. To say that may sound good but when one really thinks about it, such a response is rotten to the core. Each one of us has at one point been a hypocrite. In high school, I was a leader in the youth group, in a group called Young Life, as well as the leader of the Bible club at my high school. During this time I was also struggling with an addiction to pornography. While I was struggling against the addiction to pornography I was relying on myself to overcome this addiction and not resting in and relying on God’s grace to help me overcome this addiction. My repentance was more a sham repentance than a genuine heartfelt turning away from pornography. To say I was double-minded and a hypocrite is to nail the issue.
You may be like me, thinking “I have it all together.” As I was thinking about writing this article over the past few days, I was thinking about high school. People thought I had it all together. I was well respected and well-thought of at church and at school. Not much has changed in that regard in my time outside of school. The Lord has been kind to me, far kinder than I deserve and yet have I been faithful or faithless? That is the real question that must be addressed as we begin to analyze whether we are a hypocrite or not. You may think, “I’m not a hypocrite, I don’t live a double-life” but are you justifying yourself in defense of sin or are you actually convinced you aren’t a hypocrite? Would your family and close friends say that you consistently demonstrate a life that is worthy of imitation? Here’s the litmus test: If someone were to follow you around with a video camera everyday for a year, what would people learn about you? Who would they see at the forefront of your life? Yourself or Christ?
Now realize even the most godly man or woman of God stumbles and falls. I am not setting you up for failure here. I know very well that I am not perfect. I stumble in many ways and yet what I am asking is would people see Jesus in your life? Would they see the Holy Spirit at work in your life? Does your life increasingly reflect the fruits of the Spirit? Don’t skip over what I said but let the weight of those questions sink in. The Gospel has changed you. Jesus has transferred you from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has taken you who were once a rebel and turned you into His servant and friend. You who were once a sinner and estranged from God are now a saint wrapped in the arms and love of your Beloved.
Hypocrisy is a serious charge the world brings against us with but it should not scare us if we admit that yes at various points in our lives we were hypocrites, but now we are repenters. We who have been in the church for a long time are especially in need of this word. We who have become comfortable in our lives to the point we mistreat the grace of God, need to realize that it is not about us. We need to be shown the logic of the Gospel, namely that pride is antithetical to the Gospel for it calls us not to pride, but to humility. When we understand this, we will understand that hypocrisy is a direct affront to the Gospel of grace. Moreover, only by growing deep and wide in the Gospel can we combat hypocrisy and testify to the work of God in changing us from being hypocrites to humble slaves and servants of Christ. This requires ongoing repentance; namely daily turning from sin and to the Lord Jesus Christ.
While hypocrisy is a serious charge from our world, there is a cure, that of the Gospel. The Gospel confronts our hypocrisy and our natural inclination to compartmentalize our Christian lives into certain segments by calling us out into the light of God’s presence. The Apostle John in 1 John 1 tells us that if we say we don’t have sin we deceive ourselves. We often deceive ourselves into believing we are better than we really are. The Gospel meets us right where we are by calling us to be real by turning from our sin and to Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus meets us where we are at as He did with the woman at the well and many others in the Gospels. He takes our brokenness, afflictions, and suffering, turning what is bad and using those situations in our lives to draw us to repentance and growth in the grace of God so advance His gospel may advance both in our hearts and lives and to others in our sphere of influence for His glory.
So the next time someone says, “You are a hypocrite” admit to the charge and respond with, “I have formerly been a hypocrite but now I am a repenter, one who takes my sin as seriously as Christ does” and then state, “My Savior nailed my sins to His Cross and He says, “It is finished” and I believe it. Therefore that settles it because I trust His sufficient work.” That statement will challenge the person making the charge of hypocrisy to see themselves as a desperate sinner in need of God’s grace. I can think of nothing more beautiful than for others to observe you turning from your sin to Jesus or to see you take your own sin as seriously as you do calling others to repentance. So repent of your hypocrisy, knowing God will use that as a testimony for His grace and as a means to cure others of their hypocrisy. Additionally, He will apply the cure of the Gospel to others lives through your testimony of His grace at work in and through you for His glory.
As theologians, apologists, cultural analysts or what have you, we quickly identify the frailty of charges of intolerance when they occur. The outcry to abstain from any semblance of judgmentalism has turned into a collective whine. Discrediting their arguments has become routine and even kind of irritating as sometimes we are left to wonder how many times it needs to be said, your cry for tolerance rests in your intolerance. (more…)