Archive for August, 2009

Real Questions and Humble Apologetics

Too often, Christians have given trite, smart-aleck answers to the real questions that people have regarding Christianity or some aspect of it.  1 Peter 3.15 is often quoted as an encouragement to Christians in the task of apologetics.  Peter writes, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”  If you have been around the church for long at all, then you have probably heard this verse quoted.  However, the last clause of the verse, in my experience, is typically left off.  It says, “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  Peter not only is calling folks to participate in the task of apologetics and evangelism, but also Peter is calling folks to participate in this task in a particular way, with gentleness and respect.

Consider the question that has often come from skeptics, “What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?”  The bottom line is we do not know, yet in our pride we come up with all kinds of ridiculous answers to this question.  Some have said (and only some have said this in jest), “He was preparing Hell for people who pry into mysteries.”  What an arrogant, prideful answer.  Saint Augustine addresses this very issue in book XI section 12 of his Confessions.

My answer to those who ask ‘What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?’ is not ‘He was preparing Hell for people who pry into mysteries.’  This frivolous retort has been made before now, so we are told, in order to evade the point of the question.  But it is one thing to make fun of the questioner and another to find the answer.  So I shall refrain from giving this reply.  For in matters of which I am ignorant I would rather admit the fact than gain credit by giving the wrong answer and making a laughing-stock of a man who asks a serious question.

May we continue in such humility.

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Doubts and Questions and What to Do With Them

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeem Presbyterian Church in NYC, writes, “My thesis is that if you recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs – you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared… I commend two processes to my readers.  I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined ‘blind faith’ on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them.  I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith” (Keller, xviii).

Richard Dawkins and other “New Atheists” have often claimed that religion encourages people to be satisfied with not understanding.  Undoubtedly, there are large pockets of religious people, even within Christianity, that have put off the burden of knowing what they believe and why they believe it.  Too often we are content with a blue pill, glossy photo type of religion that is in the end quite unsatisfying because it never actually touches on the harsh realities of life.  Such a faith is incapable of processing physical suffering, death, heartache, fear, or doubt on more than a superficial level.

Incidentally, the Bible is full of doubters and questioners many of whom are commended for their faith.  Abraham, the father of Israel, neglected the promises of God and let his wife be taken by Pharaoh, claiming she was actually his sister.  Moses, the great and fearless leader of Israel began his career by asking God if his brother Aaron could tag along, because he was scared he would not be able to speak very well.  Asaph, one of the psalmists, looked at the discrepancy between the worldly success of evil men and the frequent worldly demise of godly men and nearly turned from the Lord to the world for solace.  Yet all of these men are counted among the faithful.  What’s the deal?

The deal is, neither the Bible nor the gospel call us to check our brains at the door or to check out of the real world where doubts and questions persist.  God created us as rational beings and has written a great deal of mystery into his self-revelation, the Bible.  These two truths result in questions.  We may or may not be able to answer every question, but we must not sit passively by and pretend not to hear the questions being asked – especially when they are coming from within us.

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One Reason Why Significant Discussions are Difficult to Have

When we enter into discussions and debates of substance, particularly in the areas of politics and religion, we often find ourselves frustrated (regardless of what side of the debate we are on) by the apparent obtuseness of the party we disagree with.  How is it that our logic (assuming it is as impeccable as we think it is) cannot immediately penetrate this person’s thought processes so that they can see the proverbial light (by the way, they are wondering the same thing about you)?  Why do so many substantial discussions and debates seem like the two parties are individually banging their head against brick walls?  Perhaps it is because we often start our discussions at the wrong point.

Philosophers, politicians, and theologians often speak about the importance of defining terms in a discussion or debate.  If two people are going to communicate about anything, then the terms that are being used must carry the same meaning with all parties involved for the communication to be fruitful.  Most of the time this is easy enough because we tend to operate in communities with a common language.  However, when we enter into more technical discussions we often need to make a few things clear.  For instance, if we are going to discuss the ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research then there are a whole slew of definitions that must be nailed down due to the number of procedures lumped under the one moniker “stem-cell research.”  So defining our terms is very important.

In certain circles, people will talk not only about the importance of defining terms but also about the importance of admitting and dealing with our own presuppositions, which we all have.  It is often the case that our presuppositions affect even how we define our terms, so we must be willing to lay all of our cards on the table if we are hoping for a fruitful communication.  We must start at the right place.

The problem of evil, one of the classic dilemmas in the philosophy of religion serves as a great example of the need to both define terms and deal with presuppositions.  By way of fair warning, the point has been made and the following illustrative disussion gets a little more technical.

To be sure, the problem of evil has been a point of discussion and debate throughout the centuries.  While it is not known with certainty who first proposed this epic question, Epicurus is often credited with formalizing the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is most often stated along the following lines.

  1. God is omniscient (all-knowing).
  2. God is omnipotent (all-powerful).
  3. God is wholly good.
  4. An omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good God would know how to, be able to, and desire to prevent evil.
  5. Evil exists.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

When we first look at this argument it is apparent that several words beg to be defined.  Two words on that list are good and evil.  However, when we begin to define these terms we may run into some problems trying to agree on the definitions.  Our struggle comes from our presuppositions.  Let’s consider Epicurus and Paul, the apostle, as an example of how this works.

Epicurus was an egoistic hedonist (that is not a slam, it is the technical name for his ethical system). He saw individual (egoistic) pleasure (hedonism) as determining good and evil.  Epicurus was particularly interested in intellectual pleasure.

Egoistic hedonism is a teleological system of ethics; in other words, the end justifies the means for the egoistic hedonist.  In such a system, there is no room for an imposition of any value or moral from the outside that may be contrary to the individual’s pleasure or lead to the individual’s displeasure.  Every ethical judgment is made based on the end result, as the individual perceives it.  Good and evil will be defined in terms of the individual regardless of the existence of a sovereign God.

Paul’s system of ethics perhaps fits better into what may be termed evangelical authoritarian agapaism.  Paul’s ethic took both the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (evangelical) and the God given moral law (authoritarian) into consideration when defining how we are to love God and love neighbor (agapaism).  The fact that Paul’s system of ethics takes into consideration the redemptive work of Jesus Christ reveals a related presupposition that sets him apart from Epicurus, the fall and depravity of man.

Paul’s system is primarily a deontological system of ethics.  In apparent contrast to teleological systems, deontological systems define good and evil in terms of what is right regardless of the outcome.  Therefore, Paul may call something good that does not lead to personal pleasure (e.g. Philippians 1.12-18).  Likewise, he may call something evil that lead’s to pleasure (e.g. Romans 1.18-32).  As an aside, it must be noted that to speak of Paul’s ethical system is to speak of the Bible’s system of ethics.  The biblical ethic is nuanced beyond simple labels so as to be primarily a deontological system yet contain some teleological influences.

When we consider Epicurus’ and Paul’s presuppositions, we begin to see how two people could have a great deal of trouble defining words such as good and evil in a way that would allow significant communication in regards to the problem of evil.  Epicurus and Paul would begin their definitions from a completely different point.  Nonetheless, such discussions and debate are important for all parties involved, so we should do the hard work of defining terms and dealing with presuppositions.  By so doing we may be able to talk with each other rather than simply talking at each other.  We must start the discussion at the correct point.

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Gospel and Family – Cary Cox

The Gospel and The Family

What in the world does the gospel of Jesus Christ have to do with the family?  You may be wondering that very thing.  Isn’t the gospel only related to “religious stuff”?  Isn’t the gospel only the means by which an unbeliever becomes a believer; the entry point into Christianity?  This, I perceive, is the thought of many.  And it is dead wrong!

The gospel is for the believer in Christ as well as the unbeliever.  It speaks to every sphere of life and never becomes irrelevant or obsolete.  We not only become Christians by believing the gospel, we are continually transformed into the image of Christ and brought up into maturity in him by obedient belief to the same gospel!  The gospel destroys the old us; through it God brings the new.  Through the power of Christ’s gospel we are liberated to lovingly obey God in joy and love our neighbor. The gospel enables us to have God-honoring relationships, including the realm of the family.

Marriage itself has a higher purpose, revealed in the gospel.  Paul explains:

’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32, ESV).

Paul is saying that marriage is really all about Christ and the church!  It is a picture to the universe of the gospel!  The husband represents Christ in this picture, and is therefore commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).  Just as Jesus loved his people and died for their sins on the cross, so must a man demonstrate to his wife daily this self-denying, sacrificial love.  This is only possible through the power of Christ in us by believing the gospel!  Note the serious implications of this.  When a man does not show this kind of love to his wife, he is ‘preaching’ to the universe a lie about God and false doctrine concerning the gospel!  By not loving his wife sacrificially, the husband is distorting the purposed picture of marriage and is declaring to the watching universe that Christ does not sacrificially love his bride, the church.  So we see that marriage is not just about US; God’s glory is involved.

Similarly, a wife (fully equal to her husband) has a role to play out in this grand picture.  Wives are given the command to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (vs 22, 24).  This is a highly controversial message in our day.  It must be pointed out that this is not talking about slavery, abuse, or quieting a woman’s personality (Indeed, this kind of voluntary submission to an equal is gloriously exampled by our Lord Jesus.  Though equal with the Father [Hebrews 1:3-4], Jesus voluntarily takes a submissive role [Philippians 2:6-8]).  This is talking about obedience to the gospel for those who are more concerned about God’s glory expressed rightly through the picture of marriage than they care about their own ego. Just as men must surrender their rights and give themselves in sacrificial love and godly leadership to their wives, women also must deny themselves in beautiful submission to their husbands.  Both of these roles can only be fulfilled through the power of the gospel of Christ!  The gospel empowers us to glorify God in our relationships.

Are you personally more concerned about God’s glory in marriage than serving yourself?  Do you trust that the Creator and Redeemer, who is all-wise, has good reasons for doing it this way…even if it doesn’t make sense to you?  The Creator of marriage has every right to regulate marriage for his own glory.  And when we obey him (by the grace and power given in Christ through the gospel) God will not only be glorified, but we will walk in peace and blessing!

I spoke to a woman who was in a very difficult marriage.  Her husband was in jail and had put her through one nightmare after another for many years.  She told me that she had considered leaving him several times; but then she said, “But when I think about how graciously God has treated me, in spite of my sins, I know I need to stay with him and show him that love.”  Wow!  That is the power of the gospel in the family.  This precious lady was loving the unlovable because of the gospel.  Because God had mercy on her and forgave her sins in Christ, she had been liberated and empowered to forgive her husband and show him grace.  When the world would cry “divorce!” the gospel brings grace and power.

What about children?  Paul continues, with commands for the children:   “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

All authority in our lives comes from God (See Romans 13:1-7).  How we treat the authority in our lives is how we are treating God:  Whether it is civilians to police officers or tax collectors, students to teachers, churches to their elders and pastors, wives to their husbands, or children to their parents.  The gospel gives power for children to obey their parents.

But Paul is not finished.  To the parents, he says, “Fathers” (for it is the role of the men to lead in the home) “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).  Parents are commanded to raise their children in the things of the Lord, but in love and grace (not “provoking” them).  The gospel gives power to the parents to show grace, yet discipline, in the bringing up of their children.

Correcting children should never be done apart from the gospel.  It is important to share the gospel with our children during correction.  Our goal is not to raise merely moral children, but children who delight in Jesus Christ and God’s glory; who love him and serve him and rejoice in the cross of Christ.  Correct your children, but in the context of the message of hope:  that Christ died for our sins that we may be forgiven and walk in love with God and one another.

Yes, the gospel is for the family!  Believe this good news today of God’s love for sinners shown in crushing his Son on the cross in our place that we may be forgiven and clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  Believe the gospel, and be transformed into the image of Christ; empowered to lovingly obey God with joy, and have godly relationships with others…even your family members.

May God be pleased to raise up families in Conway that are built on the gospel of Jesus Christ, giving glory to God!

(Cary Cox can be reached at seetheunseen@yahoo.com)

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Gospel and Family – Kevin Hale

Last month we said, “The gospel is the message that God sent His Son, Jesus, to Earth as a man to atone for the sins of His people by dying for their sins.”  This month we are asking, “How does the Gospel apply to families?”  In order to answer this question, we will first consider a few implications of the Gospel, and then we will consider how those ideas help us understand the impact the Gospel has on the family.

The Gospel implies that there is a problem, sin.  The problem of sin is a problem of epic proportions that can hardly be overstated.  Sin separates us from God.  We are in bondage to sin and death.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Sin has affected everyone and everything.  Our hearts are deceitful beyond belief and cannot be understood.  Our relationships have been ravaged by our sin.  As sinners, we approach every aspect of life in the sins of pride and unbelief.

However, sin and the death that it brings are not necessarily the end of the story.  Christ died to atone for the sins of his people.  Jesus died in the place of his people in order that we might be forgiven and justified on account of the work of Christ through faith.  By faith, we are united to Jesus in his death and if in his death then in his resurrection also.  We have been fundamentally changed by grace and are continuing to grow in grace.  Grace touches every aspect of our life.  There is victory over sin.  We are set free from the law of sin and death.  Every thought, action, word, and relationship is impacted by the grace of Christ.

It should be no surprise to us that families are massively impacted by sin.  The Bible clearly defines the order of the family.  The husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of the church.  The Bible also clearly states that our pride and unbelief, our sin, wreaks havoc on the order of the home.  Because of sin the wife’s desire is for her husband.  She will seek to rule over him.  Further, the husband will dominate the wife.  He will oppress her in even her natural roles.  Around the world, two extremes are found in marriages that have been patterned by sin rather than faith.  Sometimes the wife rules the roost and virtually castrates her husband.  Other times men oppressively subject women to virtual slavery.  A third type of marriage defined by sin is also found.  Frequently marriages are found that consist of two individuals living under the same roof but refusing to give up any individuality.

The parent child relationship is also compromised by sin.  When parents act out of pride and unbelief toward their children discipline either does not happen or is no more than behavior modification.  Some parents, in the name of letting their child be himself, simply don’t give any discipline and train their child in foolishness through their own passivity.  Other parents, too prideful to risk the embarrassment that often comes with a lack of discipline, seek to change their kid’s behavior.  The problem with both passive parenting and behavioristic parenting is not that it does not change behavior but that it cannot affect the heart.  We have all known, or been, the kids who kiss their parents’ feet when they are around, and make a mockery of themselves and their parents when apart.  The issue that underlies both issues is sin.  Both parents and children are sinners.  The mind and heart of a child is not a tabula rosa, but even if it was, parents would make short work of it.

The Gospel dramatically affects the family at every level.  When a husband is changed by grace he begins to figure out how to love his wife as Christ loved the church.  He leads in love and gentleness.  When a wife is changed by grace she begins to realize that submission to her husband in not an issue of taking a “lower” position, but an issue of acknowledging the God ordained and biologically supported roles for men and women.  She submits to her husband as to the Lord with respect and dignity.  A marriage between a man and a woman living with each other in grace and truth is a glorious tale of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When husband and wife, saved by grace through faith in Christ, become Dad and Mom, how they relate to their children is transformed.  Parents made alive by the gospel are neither content with passively leading their children in foolishness nor satisfied with mere behavior modification.  They are far too concerned with the glory of God and condition of their child’s heart to have such selfish and bottom line goals.

A child saved by grace is a brother or sister in Christ to his parents.  It took no more, or less, of the blood of Christ to cover the child’s sin than it did to cover the parents’ sin, and both parties know this.  A child whose heart has been changed begins to recognize the loving and godly discipline of his parents for what it is, and he responds.

While the gospel does have dramatic redemptive effects on the family, we must bear in mind that while justification is a one time act of God’s grace, sanctification, the process of being renewed, dying to sin, and living to righteousness, is an on going, gracious work of the Holy Spirit that is not complete until glory.  The Gospel defines family properly, but none of us have been made perfect yet.  We will fail, but the gospel enables us to forgive when we do.  Continue with one another in grace.

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Gospel and Family – Phil Fletcher

The next three articles were written by two of my friends ministering here in Conway and myself.  The three of us have teamed up on a writing project.  Each month we pick a topic and explore how the gospel affects that issue; then, the Log Cabin publishes the articles on consecutive weeks in the Friday religion section.

Phil Fletcher is laboring in the Oakwood Mobile Home Park.  He has developed a great ministry among the residents as he has poured out his life for them.

Cary Cox is the pastor of Conway Celebration (aka – The Barn Church).  He has served this congregation faithfully for several years.

All three of us are committed to the theology that came out of the protestant reformation.

The topic for this series of articles is the Gospel and the Family.  Here is Phil’s article.  Enjoy!

Michael and Sandy’s worldview has been shaped by their home.  While the father is a dedicated construction worker and the mother is a faithful homemaker, these children have a worldview which sees limited parental involvement, limited encouragement and love. Michael and Sandy along with their family, faithfully attend Sunday Service, participate in many of the church activities but at the end of the day, the children leave the tranquil environment and return to their world of viewing parents who are consistent strangers in their lives.

The above story is played out in many of our homes, week after week as families who bear the name “Christian,” isolate the redemptive work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fail to see that the Gospel impacts every area of life. The family unit is best served when the Gospel is the foundation for the marriage and parenting. Understandably, there are many homes in which the family unit has been fractured because of divorce, death or there is one parent in the home. Needless to say, the Gospel brings hope to all these family situations.

Paul in writing to the believers in Thessalonica has a great love and passion for those who have come to know the Lord.  In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul appeals to the role of parents and their interaction with children to describe his love for the Thessalonians. There is a great deal that Christian families can learn from Paul and how he viewed the Gospel in light of impacting the family structure.

Single motherhood takes on different forms in our society. Single motherhood predominately exist among those who are 18 years and younger and there is a growing class of women who are choosing to have children while remaining single.  In either case, these women have made choices that now impact another individual made in the image and likeness of God.  These women are now to be nursing mothers who have received a child from the Lord.   While parenting is difficult, single parenting is obviously more difficult, but nonetheless hopeful in light of a home built on the Gospel.

Paul provides some insight and I believe hope, to women who are mothers regardless of their situation. Paul sees his relationship to the Thessalonians as a “nursing mother.”  He, including other believers have taken care of the Thessalonians in two ways; they have shared the Gospel and shared of themselves.  Mothers, there is great instruction for you in this passage of Scripture. With all gentleness, share the Gospel with your children. In their formative years, take the opportunity to explain in simple terms the depth and love of God which was revealed in Jesus Christ.  There are many competing messages for children. Television programming such as Nick Jr., Playhouse Disney, books such as Twilight and Harry Potter are all competing for the hearts and minds of children.  Mothers, as many of you have nursed your children from your breast with life giving milk, nurse your children with the life giving message of the Gospel.

Not only should you look for times in your day to share the Gospel with your children, look for opportunities to share more of yourself in the life of your children.  The Gospel spoken is made even more brilliant when the Gospel is lived. Mothers have a unique makeup to demonstrate the gentleness, meekness, humility and compassion of God our Savior. Share with your children, at appropriate ages, stories of how God has radically transformed your life. Women if you have daughters include them on how you care for your home and pour into the lives of other women. The result of Paul loving the Thessalonians as a nursing mother was an increased joy in his children and that joy can be yours as well.

A family is greatly benefited when there is a man in the home. From the very beginning, God started the human race with a man and also redeemed humanity with the God-Man Jesus Christ. The presence of a man who loves Christ and the family given to him is a reward to both wife and children.  Paul relates to the Thessalonians not only as nursing mother but also as a father with his children.

Men are built to lead, to serve, protect and provide for those given in their charge and there is no charge more important than the family given to him. Paul provides for us men with three distinct actions that when centered on the Gospel will bring about transformation in our homes.

Fathers and husbands should be found exhorting the families they lead and serve through the proclamation of the Gospel. Fathers can be found urging their sons to excel in finance, achieve high academic standards or be the next great Razorback. In their proper context, these urgings can be good but they are not lasting.  Christian fathers, it is more profitable that you exhort your sons and daughters to receive Christ.  How pleasing will it be that your sons/daughters, grand-children and great-grand-children are living faithful in the Gospel and that life is impacting their financial life, scholastics or sports endeavors?

Encouragement is another aspect that Paul highlights in his relationship with the Thessalonians. Our children and wives are looking to us to persuade them to live lives that are beneficial to them and others. I have asked myself, “How am I encouraging my family to live out the Gospel of Christ in their schools, activities and among each other?” Men promote in your family a Christ centered life that upholds a love for one another and a love for those who are outside the family of faith. Advance among your children a worldview that upholds the God given distinctions in men and women, the beauty of sex within marriage and the joy of loving someone unconditionally.

Finally, men charge your families.  Men we must speak with confidence and boldness, humility and love as we communicate the truths of the Gospel to our families. Our families, our women, our children look to us to be unwavering and committed to what we do and what we say. What proceeds from our mouths and characterizes our lives will be a great testament to our families when both are resting on the Gospel.

The Gospel impacts our families in very significant ways. Mothers are to be nursing their children in all gentleness with the living Gospel. Fathers, we are to exhort, encourage and charge our children in both word and deed. The result is that we would have children who God has called into his own kingdom and glory and out of that they walk in a manner worthy of God. God calling our children into his own kingdom is the result of Christ redemptive work on the cross of Calvary.  It was on that cross Jesus Christ purchased redemption for his people and the result is men, women, children and families who walk in a manner worthy of God.

(Phillip Fletcher can be reached at thecityofhope@gmail.com)

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