Category Archives: Apologetics

Moral Understanding as the First Step in Apologetics

Knowledge and understanding are not as neutral as we might suspect. Knowledge and understanding of the Scripture is first a moral attitude. Psalm 19 explains that the knowledge of God impossible to miss, but perpetually denied – as Romans 1 attests. Augustine’s apology is not to merely give evidences to his Manichean counterpart. He assumes that Faustus is able to see the beauty and glory of God in nature – he has, in fact, been born with this innate understanding.

The power of Augustine’s apology for the authority of the Scriptures stems from the fact that the apostles had been with Christ. They had committed their testimony to writing – isn’t this, after all, John’s argument at the beginning of his first epistle? The pseudo-prophet, Mani, had not even been alive at the time of the Incarnate Word. Thus, the Christian has confidence because those who had been with Jesus made permanent their testimony to the life, ministry, and teaching of the Christ.

“If you want to follow the authority of the scriptures, which is to be preferred to all the others, you should follow the authority that has come down to these times from the time of Christ’s presence, that has been preserved, handed on, and glorified in the whole world through the ministries of the apostles and through the certain succession of bishops in the sees” (Answer to Faustus, 33.9).

Before they can believe what is plain to every person, the Manichean must repent and believe God’s testimony. “Since you will not be able to do this – for, as long as you are such people, you will in no way be able to – at least believe that idea, which is naturally implanted in every human mind, at least if it is not disturbed by the wickedness of a perverse opinion, namely, that the nature and substance of God is utterly immutable, utterly incorruptible, and you will immediately no longer be Manicheans, so that sometime you might also be able to be Catholics. Amen” (Answer to Faustus, 33.9).

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The Lure of Opposition

One of the traps I have seen set for me while studying – not that it has not been set before and not that I have not tripped it – is the desire to be a contrarian. You read all these books and you want really bad to make a name for yourself or show that you know the intricacies of an argument so you’ll say something like this: “I liked the book, I think I would have explained things a little differently.” Or, “I can’t stand so-and-so, he doesn’t articulate x as well as he should.” 

This betrays two things (as I see it): 1) my lack of charity; and 2) my laziness.

1) Lack of Charity: If my first inclination is to pick apart someone’s writing and view, then I have not truly listened. Therefore, I am in no position to respond. This is an issue in epistemology where our presuppositions can keep us from gaining knowledge. The wider culture calls it being close-minded. And while most people ruffle at the idea, it is, more often than not, true. Although I may believe what I know to be true, I should bite my tongue and repeat the cpnversant’s argument in my head to make sure I have really listened. My first response should be a question rather than a statement. “Did I hear you right?” “Do you mean this?”

2) Laziness: The times I have quickly responded to someone I have read or listened to with a rebuttal as noted above, I have drifted off into imprecision and laziness myself. That is, I hear so many people say, “Yeah, I heard the speaker but he was a little soft on this.” I have been challenged several times in my short tenure as a theologian by someone when they ask the question: “How would you have said it differently?” So my question to you is: What precisely do you disagree with?

I think many times I have heard someone I respect give such a response to an opponent, but I forget that they backed up the assertion with a list of reasons. My ears keyed in on the “I disagree,” but not on the “why.” So many of us, I fear, want to appear like we know what we are talking about – that we are privy to knowledge unbeknownst to our hearers, when, in fact, we are blowing fluff. May God help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christian Living, Counseling, Evangelism, Family | Parenting, Interpretation, Pastoral, Post-Modernity, Sanctification, Theology

Is It Okay to Abort If the Woman Was Raped?

This is a question that has been brought up recently in the presidential campaign as Sarah Palin has said that it is not okay for the, woman to have an abortion. I read the comic “Get Your War On” by David Rees in Rolling Stones magazine yesterday that said this:

“I wonder why McCain didn’t just pick Rachael Ray as his running mate? She’s even feistier?”

“Does Rachael Ray oppose abortion even in cases of rape, like Palin does? Remember, Palin’s on the ticket to please fundamentalist Christians. (And rapists.)”

“I wonder if Palin is in favor of pressuring rape victims to marry their rapists? It must break her heart to see unwed mothers.”

Other than the mere emotional arguments in this comic (hey, it’s a comic, but humor often betrays underlying presuppositions), it is telling that those who think such a view as Palin’s is archaic have not thought about the implications of their view of justice. Doug Wilson has written a good post on this issue. Here’s the gist of such a view of justice:

So here is the answer to the “rape and incest” objection. When a woman conceives as the result of a rape, there are three parties involved. There is the rapist, there is the woman, and there is the child. Two of these parties are innocent, and one of them is guilty. What kind of sense does it make to execute one of the innocent parties for the crime of his father?

[Read whole article]

This is not an easy issue to talk about. For we are not just speaking about some mere impregnation, we are talking about a violation of what it means to be human and made in the image of God. May we pray earnestly for all three people involved in this travesty. And may we remember that in no law court would it be permissible to punish an innocent person for the guilt of another. And may we remember that he who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God.

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Filed under Abortion, Apologetics, Culture, Current Events, Family | Parenting, Pastoral, Politics, Social Justice

The Deception of Perception

I came across this today as I was doing research on the life of Amphilochius. Basil of Caesarea wrote to his beloved son in the faith many times. As I read this, it sounded like a father speaking to a son. I wanted to share it:

So the primary function of our mind is to know one God, but to know Him so far as the infinitely great can be known by the very small.  When our eyes are first brought to the perception of visible objects, all visible objects are not at once brought into sight.  The hemisphere of heaven is not beheld with one glance, but we are surrounded by a certain appearance, though in reality many things, not to say all things, in it are unperceived;—the nature of the stars, their greatness, their distances, their movements, their conjunctions, their intervals, their other conditions, the actual essence of the firmament, the distance of depth from the concave circumference to the convex surface.  Nevertheless, no one would allege the heaven to be invisible because of what is unknown; it would be said to be visible on account of our limited perception of it.  It is just the same in the case of God.  If the mind has been injured by devils it will be guilty of idolatry, or will be perverted to some other form of impiety.  But if it has yielded to the aid of the Spirit, it will have understanding of the truth, and will know God.  But it will know Him, as the Apostle says, in part; and in the life to come more perfectly.  For “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”  The judgment of the mind is, therefore, good and given us for a good end—the perception of God; but it operates only so far as it can.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christian Living, Culture, Quotations, Science, Theology

Persuasion

Tim Keller

“Persuasion” – Tim Keller (full .pdf download of Keller’s talk)

I have also included abbreviated notes and the Q&A for Keller and Driscoll that followed this talk:

You have got to convince people through the mind before you can expect to affect the heart.

 

(1)  Paul on persuasion and the cross

     a.    Verbal bullying *using force of personality, witty, and cutting disdain, super-confident and demagoguery to beat the listeners into wanting to be on the speaker’s side)

     b.    (the opposite)

(2)  A basic model for persuasion

     a.    Listeners (‘receptors’) automatically interpret communication from the perspective of their own context

     b.    There are two basic approaches to communication: sender-oriented and receptor-oriented

                i.     We need to put words in the listener’s frame of reference

               ii.     This is analogous to “The Dummy’s Guide to…” The expert is entering into the receptor’s frame of reference and language to explain the truths of x.

              iii.     It is far easier to write a technical journal because we can use our jargon and do not have to do the hard work of interpreting truths so that our listeners can understand.

     c.     Practice

             i.     Listening

                    1.    You have to read what they read, watch what they watch, listen to what they listen to

            ii.     Enter the framework

               1.    What are the strongest held beliefs of your audience

                    a.    Teenagers will think the church is prudish, while Muslims think we’re too loose.                                      Contextualize to your audience.

               2.    Use emotion in a way that fits their context

           iii.     Challenging the framework

               1.    Find things that they believe in 4-6 and show them that something they believe strongly is inconsistent.

                   a.    For example, for college students who hold that justice is primary (that it is wrong for the strong to eat the weak)

                   b.    Then you show them that their belief in natural selection contradicts this because they came to be through the strong eating the weak

           iv.     Completing the framework

 

Table Talk

 

Questions

What are some specific listening strategies you would recommend for us?

[Tim] I regularly read periodicals and newspapers (Village Voice, Nation, New Republic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Review, read the book reviews) Have dialogue with the writer. Imagine what they will say to your sermon. Chronicles of Higher Education. Ken Myers’ Mars Hill audio.

[Mark] Watch some TV and catch the shows your culture watches. Magazines and go to the magazine rack (every picture on the cover is someone’s heaven). Walk the mall and go into stores that you normally wouldn’t go to in order to see what people buy. Talk to clerks and people that are working – Who comes in here? What kind of attitude do they have?

What are some basic and common qualities of wolves?

[Mark] How do you decipher a wolf? They do not have the well-being of the flock in mind. The best way to confront a sin is in private. For those whose default is to go public, this is a red light. Typically wolves will have doctrinal issues. Also, he will typically go after the inner circle of power. He will sugar-up the pastor and wife. We need to be aware of these folks.

[Tim] Every book on conflict usually says there is a difference between someone solving a problem and another who is trying to destroy you. Haugk has a book on conflict in the church speaks of five stages. If you are too fast or too slow to call someone a wolf, you can destroy your church. You need to have people around you to help you discern in a timely way.

What are some challenges to urban church planting and children?

[Tim]The wife will have issues of carting the children around. It can be physically more tiring for the wife than in the suburbs. Raising a child before the age of eight is very difficult.

What about a church planting situation?

[Mark] The line between family and work gets too blurred if you are not vigilant. When you open your house to many people, there will be many devious people who are coming. You need to be very discerning and set parameters around your family.

What does it look like to get rid of wolves in your church?

[Mark] You need to have an extremely small door for the position of elder. The mistake I made at Mars Hill was that I was the only one to carry around the gun so that I was the only one to pull the trigger on getting rid of someone. The time to fire an elder is about two weeks before you have thought about it. “Hire slowly, fire quickly.”

[Tim]  Having a group of people who mitigate the decision are like shock-absorbers. We need to let the offender that you stand behind their decision and hand it over to them (especially in the context of a larger church).

Do you think you are dumbing down the sermon when you speak of being listener-focused?

[Tim] Yes. It is not a bad term. The Gospel is offensive and you want people to understand that it offends them. You want to simplify and interpret the message for people.

How can I accurately discern if I am called to plant churches?

[Mark] Fiorst, you need to have a sense of God’s calling. Second, that call needs to be confirmed by the church (per 1Tim 3; Titus 2). Third, you need to be assessed by a group that knows the ins-and-outs of church planting (not merely a congregation). Invariably, we either over or under-assess our ability.

[Tim] “Counsels do err” (WCF). Even though a counsel may say you are not ready, they may err.

How do you move from a small Bible study to a missional church?

[Mark] Launch the equivalent of a church service. You are going to have several launches. You should do this incrementally. Launch multiple care structures.

Give us an instance where you tried this method of persuasion and it did not take? How did you react?

[Tim] Most people are not persuaded. I am shocked when someone is convinced because people are typically skeptical and suspicious. I don’t have high expectations.

How do you help/encourage your wife so she feels like a partner in ministry?

[Tim] Be attentive to your wife and see how her gifts can be used. Find a spot where she can plug holes in the church and get someone to ask her to help. Your wife should be as active (but not much less) as a mature woman in the church. She should be an example, not an exemplar.

[Mark] Define the role of what the pastor’s wife is and is not. You need to be explicit about this because many people will come in with their expectations of your wife. Your wife should be a mature member of the church. There is no job description for the wife. Take into account the season of life you are in the church and family.

How essential is racial reconciliation in urban church planting?

[Tim] We ought to be as racially diverse as we can (b/c Eph 2 presents this view), but we also need to reflect our community. There are places where the diversity would be superficial – so that we could try to be like Noah’s Ark (two of each kind). You’re never where you ought to be in this area…you have to go after and invite those who are different than yourself. If you make a general call for leaders you will get people who look like you to gather around them. You are leveling the playing field.

[Mark] Going to multiple campuses is our way of trying to reach these various cultures. You can intentionally work towards making your elders diverse (without compromise). 

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First Things Interviews Tim Keller

Within the 1st Things post are links that will keep you up to date on the latest hub-bub with regards to the original interview, Keller’s reply, and 1st Things reply… The Timothy Keller Interview

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Comfortation III

As I have been trying to implement this vision for how to evangelize, I have noticed something very helpful when talking with folks. It does not always lead into an exposition of the Gospel. However, it develops report with people in a round-about way. So many people have misconceptions as to what it means to be a Christian. They fall into two ditches: 1) being a Christian merely means that I ascent to a truth about a man named Jesus, but this has no repercussions for my daily living; 2) you have to be some fundamentalist who forsakes the world (which means you don’t drink, dance, or date).
As I love on unbelievers, I have found that confronting these misconceptions head on has opened up doors of vulnerability. What does this confrontation look like? I go about it two ways, depending on the conversation. One way is to jokingly say something off base. So I may tell the unbeliever, “I had a wondeful time at church this morning. We slayed two goats and burned a keg of beer. It was so wonderful!” What is unfortunate is that some folks have thought I was serious, and I had to tell them I was joking!
The second way is to tell them outright, “Did you have a good time this weekend? What did you do?” “I went to a club and got toasted.” “Yeah, I went to a bar with some friends this weekend and we had some pizzas and played cards. And then I went home and danced with my wife… You do know that I play cards and dance, right?” The conversation inevitably leads to issues of alcohol. I like to let them know that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and joy in the Holy Spirit. Of course I don’t blow them away with this, I gently tell them that Christianity is more than tee-totaling.
We need to confront people’s misconceptions head-on. They have oftentimes come back to me and talked with me about crises of faith they have. I believe that much of this has to do with the fact that I am human and can talk sensbily without coming across that I will have to wash seven times after touching them. I have deduced this since some of these folks relay to me an aunt or youth pastor that continually preached on the horrors of alcohol, but they were destitute of grace and love.
May we wake up from our dogmatic slumbers and preach the righteousness that leads to life and not the appearance of religion that leads to death.

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