A key point we miss in defending the faith

be-weird

One of the classic texts for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, where we read that we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. Certainly this is true, but we’re missing something kind of important. I was reminded of this afresh as we studied this text together at church on Sunday, and our local missions pastor made an important point:

The primary action in this text is not to make a defense, but to honor Christ in our hearts. Remember, the verse in full reads, “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” (emphasis added).

The heart, as many Christians have been told time and again, does not refer to the physical organ, but the seat of the will, or the central being of the person. It’s what makes you, you. When Peter commanded us to honor Christ in our hearts as holy, he was saying this is something we do with the entirety of our being. Our words, our lives, our all is to be committed to honoring Christ are the foundation of apologetics (and arguably our greatest apologetic).[1. This is also a point I address in my book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World.]

This is where I see so many “discernment ministries” go awry. They seek to defend the faith, but with their words tear it down. They often lack gentleness and respect,[1. As seen in the dust-up between Pulpit & Pen and Karen Swall0w Prior] and so fail to honor Christ as holy. And in some cases, their “defense” puts them to shame as in their apparent zeal for the truth, they misrepresent those they are supposedly defending against.

But this is not a problem for “those guys.” It’s a problem for all of us. It is a struggle for every one of us to honor Christ as holy in the every day. When we’re at work, we want to be liked by our co-workers, and not seen as the weird Christian guy or gal. We don’t particularly want to ruffle feathers. We just want to live at peace with everyone in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Sometimes, though, we’re called to step out and be weird. For example, when Abigail was still in public school, we had to have conversations about yoga with two of her three teachers. The first was her junior kindergarten one, to whom I simply explained that because of religious convictions as Christians, we didn’t believe it was appropriate for Abigail to participate. The teacher (who was great) was totally cool and respectful and agreed. Problem solved. A couple years later in grade one, we had the same conversation with a different teacher. This one was less agreeable, instead saying, “Well, I’ll just call it stretching then.” (Never mind the chanting at the beginning of class about being loved and at peace with everyone.) She wasn’t belligerent; she just didn’t get where we were coming from. And so we seemed a bit weird to her, which is par for the course when it comes to the Christian life.

But no one said the Christian life was easy. The Christian life is one where we’re going to constantly be seen as out of step, on the wrong side of history, backwards, archaic or simply weird. But this is what will happen when we choose to honor Christ above all, even as we choose to be gentle and respectful. Defending the faith starts with living holy lives, pleasing and acceptable to God. It means using our words, correctly. It means living in step with the commands of God. And sometimes it means seeming kind of weird. So onward Christian soldier—go forth and be weird to the glory of God.

6 books I’m reading on apologetics and outreach

And so, the day has come: my reading has been assigned.

In just a few weeks, I’ll be starting my first course at Covenant Seminary, Apologetics and Outreach with Jerram Barrs. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this course—but I’m also pretty keen on starting digging into my textbooks.

Here’s a look at what I’ll be reading over the next few weeks:

Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus by Nicholas Perrin:

lost-transmission

Bart Ehrman, in his New York Times bestseller, Misquoting Jesus, claims that the New Testament cannot wholly be trusted. Cutting and probing with the tools of text criticism, Ehrman suggests that many of its episodes are nothing but legend, fabricated by those who copied or collated its pages in the intervening centuries. The result is confusion and doubt. Can we truly trust what the New Testament says?

Now, Wheaton College scholar Nicholas Perrin takes on Ehrman and others who claim that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted beyond recognition. Perrin, in an approachable, compelling style, gives us a layman’s guide to textual criticism so that readers can understand the subtleties of Ehrman’s critiques, and provides firm evidence to suggest that the New Testament can, indeed, be trusted.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs:

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This biblical study of evangelism gracefully reminds us that the New Testament model of witnessing is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. With compassion for the lost filling every page, Jerram Barrs shows the variety of approaches used in the New Testament—where the same uncompromised Gospel was packaged as differently as the audience—and calls you to follow its example.… And as you watch God work in the lives of others and see the great blessings He brings, you’ll discover what a privilege it is to live out the heart of evangelism: truly loving others to Christ.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs

learning-evangelism

Studying Jesus’ conversations with diverse people in his day, Jerram Barrs draws lessons and principles for attractively communicating the gospel to unbelievers in our day.

Living in a culture that is opposed to Christianity tempts God’s people to conform, to retreat, to be silent. But Jesus showed the way to live faithfully before an unbelieving world.

As the greatest evangelist, Jesus exemplified how to attract people to the gospel. He modeled how to initiate spiritual conversations full of grace and truth. Christian evangelism, then, both in theory and practice, must be shaped by his pattern. … This highly practical book will guide Christians in how to live before unbelievers and how to love them into the kingdom, just as Jesus did.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green:

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Evangelism in the Early Church provides a comprehensive look at the ways the first Christians — from the New Testament period up until the middle of the third century — worked to spread the good news to the rest of the world.

In describing life in the early church, Green explores crucial aspects of the evangelistic task that have direct relevance for similar work today, including methods, motives, and strategies. He assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the evangelistic approaches used by the earliest Christians, and he also considers the obstacles to evangelism, using outreach to Gentiles and to Jews as examples of differing contexts for proclamation. Carefully researched and frequently quoting primary sources from the early church, this book will both show contemporary readers what can be learned from the past and help renew their own evangelistic vision.

Buy it at: Amazon


Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness

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Throughout history, the Christian faith has transformed entire cultures and civilizations, building cathedrals and universities, proclaiming God’s goodness, beauty and truth through art and literature, science and medicine. The Christian faith may similarly change the world again today. The church can be revived to become a renewing power in our society—if we answer the call to a new Christian renaissance that challenges darkness with the hope of Christian faith.

In this hopeful appeal for cultural transformation, Guinness shares opportunities for Christians, on both local and global levels, to win back the West and to contribute constructively to the human future. Hearkening back to similar pivotal points in history, Guinness encourages Christians in the quest for societal change. Each chapter closes with thought-provoking discussion questions and a brief, heart-felt prayer that challenges and motivates us to take action in our lives today.

Buy it at: Amazon


Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar

schaeffer-christian-life-spirituality

Francis Schaeffer was one of the most influential apologists of the 20th century. Through his speaking, writing, and filmmaking, Schaeffer successfully transformed the way people thought of the Christian faith, from a rather private kind of piety to a worldview that addressed every sphere of life. This volume—written by a man converted from agnosticism within days of meeting Schaeffer—is the first book devoted to exploring the heart and soul of Schaeffer’s approach to the Christian life, and will help readers strive after the same kind of marriage of thought and life, of orthodoxy and love.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Now I just have to figure out where to put them…

What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson

whats-your-worldview-anderson

When I was a boy, I loved “choose-your-own-adventure” novels. There was one I especially loved in my school library, a Star Trek one if I recall correctly. Depending on how you answered a question, Captain Kirk could be romancing a lady with green-skin and low standards, or a Klingon warship could de-cloak and blow up the Enterprise.

In hindsight, the book was pretty cheesy, but there was something really exciting about discovering the outcome of a particular choice. What I chose drastically impacted the story.

Who’d have thought this would make a great template for a book on worldviews? Inspired by “choose-your-own-adventure” novels, James Anderson set out to write a book allowing readers to see how their answers reveal what they believe about life, the universe, and everything. And this is exactly what you’ll find in What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions.

By up to 21 questions—dealing with freedom, truth and knowledge, unity, matter and mind, and pretty much everything in between—Anderson takes readers on a journey to discover their worldview. Depending on how you answer, you may discover you’re a Deist, Christian, Relativist, Skeptic or any one of a number of alternatives.

This is extremely helpful for readers to see, as I’ve no doubt there are many who don’t give any thought to the idea of worldview at all. After all, “worldviews are like belly buttons,” he writes. “Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often. Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one” (12).

He continues:

A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted: you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. Much the same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.

If our worldview is this important, then we ought to be more aware of it. We should wrestle with the beliefs undergirding all our other thoughts and beliefs because it truly changes everything. Take the issue of abortion, for example. What we believe about its validity  as a practice is necessarily tied up in what we believe about the nature of humanity, when life begins, its value… The same can be said of same-sex marriage, poverty alleviation or any number of hot-button issues.

What we believe drastically affects our response, so we should seek to be more aware of the framework undergirding our thinking.

But readers should also be quick to understand this is not an in-depth analysis of any particular worldview. What Anderson offers readers is a basic sketch covering the major points of each of worldview mentioned (21 in all). Although there’s part of me that would love to have seen more, Anderson’s approach is a welcome one since it’s clearly meant as a launch pad for further study, rather than a one-and-done experience.

When I read through What’s Your Worldview?, I immediately began thinking of the different applications for it. I believe there are two distinct uses for it. First, the book would be an excellent tool to use with newer believers or those who are looking for a basic primer on what a worldview is, and what some of the major ones out there look like.

Second, and most importantly, this seems to be an ideal book with which to engage non-believers to open the door to the gospel. The style of the book itself is extremely non-threatening, eschewing editorializing and the temptation to persuade to a specific way of thinking (at least as much as any of us are capable).

In fact, if there’s anything he’s attempting to persuade readers of at all, it’s this: worldviews really, really matter. “Your basic view of the world shapes how you feel about the world and how you engage with the world” (102).  What you believe drastically impacts what you do. What’s Your Worldview? is a wonderful tool to help us understand this truth, and I trust it will be a blessing to all who engage with it.


Title: What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions
Author: James N. Anderson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at Westminster Book | Amazon

Book Review: “O” God by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett

Although it’s been several weeks now since Oprah’s long-running talk show went off the air, her influence is as present as ever. Hundreds of thousands of women continue to read her magazine, watch her network, and check her recommended reading list (and if you’re on it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a bestseller). Although she is adored by many, there are a number of others who are concerned about the form of spirituality that she promotes: a pantheistic worldview that unites God and creation in the same sphere of being, encourages a subjective view of truth and is opposed to the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to salvation.

Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett are two of the individuals who are concerned about the influence of Oprah’s spirituality. Their book, “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, examines a number of the claims made by Oprah herself and the spiritual teachers she endorses, their relationship with truth, religious pluralism and their view’s compatibility with the Christian worldview. Recently, Emily and I sat down to talk about the book—what we appreciated about it, Oprah’s impact on us and who should (and maybe shouldn’t) read “O” God:

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One of the greatest difficulties Christianity faces in the western world today is it’s relationship with religious pluralism—in that the two are completely antithetical. In one chapter of the book, the characters engage in a dialogue on this issue, resolving in this outstanding excerpt:

Religious pluralism claims to be open-minded, but is it really? When we stop and think about the claims of religious or spiritual pluralism, we discover that actually, they don’t accept any faith expression that is not pluralistic. Even though pluralism is touted at many universities as “open-mindedness,” it’s actually just another form of religious exclusivity. . . . It excludes anybody who doesn’t believe it. Therefore, pluralism excludes the beliefs of hundreds of millions of Christians who claim that Jesus Christ is the only way for salvation. (p. 41)

Christianity and any other worldview will always be opposed to one another. We must learn to disagree in a winsome, humble way, but it’s helpful for us to understand that there can be no compromise on this issue. Truth cannot be reconciled to a lie.

Both of us would encourage you to take a look at “O” God by McDowell and Sterrett. Get a copy for yourself and maybe one for a friend. Go through the discussion questions together, and see how God might use your dialogue as an opportunity to open the eyes of those who cannot see the truth.


Title: “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality
Authors: Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
Publisher: WND Books (2009)

The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

People have a lot of hard questions for the Christian faith. But why is it that, while there are some that we certainly give it our all to answer, there are others that Christians don’t seem to want to answer?

Why is that?

It’s (hopefully) not that we don’t want to give the answers, but it’s most likely that we don’t have the answers themselves.

That’s where The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask comes in. Author Mark Mittelberg, along with his publisher and the Barna Research group polled one thousand Christians asking them what questions they hoped no one would ask. The results came down to ten questions:

  1. What makes you so sure that God exists at all—especially when you can’t see, hear, or touch him?
  2. Didn’t evolution put God out of a job? Why rely on religion in an age of science and knowledge?
  3. Why trust the Bible, a book based on myths and full of contradictions and mistakes?
  4. Everyone knows that Jesus was a good man and a wise teacher—but why try to make him into the Son of God, too?
  5. How could a good God allow so much evil, pain, and suffering—or does he simply not care?
  6. Why is abortion such a line in the sand for Christians—why can’t I be left alone to make my own choices for my body?
  7. Why do you condemn homosexuality when it’s clear that God made gays and that he loves all people the same?
  8. How can I trust in Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites?
  9. Why are Christians so judgmental toward everyone who doesn’t agree with them? [note: questions 8 & 9 are combined in one chapter]
  10. Why should I think that heaven really exists—and that God sends people to hell?

These are not questions with easy answers, and Mittelberg offers thoughtful responses to each, along with very helpful discussion aids and small group questions.

One of the things I appreciated about the book was the author’s ability to be speak plainly on some very complex subject matter. Particularly when speaking about subjects such as evolution, it can be very easy to get bogged down in language that is foreign to the average person. He also tries to be careful about letting his position on each answer be the only position. Again, using the example of evolution, he doesn’t simply provide one option, but several generally accepted Christian views. While I don’t know if I would agree his inclusion theistic evolution, Mittelberg keeps his eye on accessibility and that’s something that should be commended. Read More about The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

Did the Resurrection Happen… Really? By McDowell and Sterrett

In the first two books of their Coffee House Chronicles series, authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett introduced us to a group of students (and a couple of instructors) who, together,  go on a journey through the evidence surrounding the reliability of the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ’s identity.

At the end of book two, Who Was Jesus… Really?, Nick’s friend Andrea had placed her trust in Christ has Lord and Savior—as did Dr. Peterson, Nick’s professor who had spent much of his life and career casting doubt upon the reliability of the New Testament accounts and the person and work of Jesus Christ. So powerfully convinced was he that he held a lecture recanting of his former positions against Christ and detailing the evidence for His existence and the truth of His divinity.

The final book of the series starts off with a bang (literally) as, in the wake of Dr. Peterson’s lecture on the deity of Christ, tension on campus is at an all time high. Dr. Peterson and Jamal Washington began receiving death threats, but ultimately believed it to be nothing more than someone blowing smoke—until one day, when Brett (a pre-med student and member of the school’s atheist club) travels to Dr. Peterson’s office to talk more about Jesus.

As he approaches the building, he sees students begin to run out in a panic. A young woman collapses on the lawn, her shirt covered in blood. Someone had opened fire on the Religious Studies building. In the end, nine people were killed, including Jamal Washington, Nick Ridley (two primary characters in the first two books) and the shooter himself.

In the wake of this tragedy, Dr. Peterson, Mina, Andrea and Jessica begin a series of conversations with Brett, Lauren and Scott about one of the most central issues of the Christian faith:

Did the Resurrection Happen . . . Really?

It’s fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the issue upon which the entire Christian faith stands or falls. “[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” wrote the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:17. Because Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, His literal, physical resurrection is a sign of God’s vindication of Him (for the Jews believed that one who was crucified was cursed of God). As the authors put it, “Without the resurrection, Christianity doesn’t work” (p. 27). Read More about Did the Resurrection Happen… Really? By McDowell and Sterrett

Book Review: Who is Jesus…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Title: Who is Jesus . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)

In the first book of the Coffee House Chronicles series, Is the Bible True… Really?, co-authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett introduced readers to Nick, a freshman student at a State school in Texas who’s faith is put to the test when confronted with the hard questions about the reliability of the Bible.

In book two of the series, Who is Jesus . . . Really?, we find Nick has gone on to lead a student Bible Study that meets in a local coffee house and things are great—until the school’s atheist club arrives with a series of hostile questions about the identity of Jesus Christ. Among the group’s members is Nick’s friend Andrea, who had followed him along the journey of discovering the truth about the Bible, but rejected God after the death of a close cousin.

Nick and friends Jamal, Jessica and Mina begin a series of conversations with Andrea and her friends Brett, Scott and Lauren to discover if the claims of Christianity about Jesus are reliable. Along the way, they learn that:

1. If one trusts the historical evidence for the existence of Socrates, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, one must also accept the evidence for the existence of Christ. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that there is more evidence for Christ’s existence than of any of these men. Likewise, His existence is verified through multiple sources, not only Christian, but Greek, Roman and Jewish. Each source confirms the crucifixion of Christ and the subsequent worshipping of Him as God by His followers. Read More about Book Review: Who is Jesus…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Book Review: Is the Bible True…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Title: Is the Bible True . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)

Meet Nick. Nick grew up going to church, believed the Bible, and was generally a pretty good kid.

Then he went to college and met Dr. Peterson, his Religious Studies professor, a critical scholar of the New Testament who rocked his confidence in what he (Nick) had been taught about the Scriptures.

Is the Bible reliable? How can we really know that what we have today is really what was originally written? What do we do with all the variances in the manuscripts that exist?

Is the Bible true… really?

These are the questions that Nick was left facing. And they’re the same ones faced by all Christians today, especially those heading off to college where their faith will be severely tested. Without good answers to these questions—and many others—their faith will not stand.

That’s what inspired Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett to write Is the Bible True . . . Really? In this book, the first in their Coffee House Chronicles series, the authors seek to equip and encourage readers as they follow Nick on his quest for the answers to the questions surrounding the reliability of the Bible.

By late January of his freshman year, Nick was a professing agnostic who put a lot of stock in the ideas popularized by the Zeitgeist movie that’s been making the rounds on YouTube for the last couple years and in books by Dan Brown and Bart Erhman.

So convinced is he that he decides to write a twenty-one page paper entitled The Plagiarism of the Bible: How the Bible Stole from Pagan Mythology. Hoping to get his teacher’s input, he instead meets Jamal Washington, Dr. Peterson’s new teaching assistant, a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary (and former college football star). As he begins a friendship with Jamal, he finds his new-found agnosticism shattered as Jamal details the real facts surrounding the reliability of the Bible.

So what does Nick (and readers along with him) learn? Read More about Book Review: Is the Bible True…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett