Apologetics for the heart

From an email I sent

The ultimate purpose of apologetics is to overcome intellectual obstacles to the gospel so that people can actually hear the gospel. Like every other Christian ministry, apologetics is completely and utterly useless by itself. No-one ever came or ever will come to Christ through mere intellectual agreement; it is God who opens peoples’ hearts and eyes and minds to receive the good news (John 6:44; Acts 16:14). It is good to remember that when we are halfway through esteemed Professor Schwischwarffkopf’s 6,000-page treatise on the Ontological Argument und Adam’s Navel. And yes, I made that up. Don’t go Googling it.

But here’s a thought: Are apologetics only for non-believers? Are Christians immune to doubts, unanswered questions and bewildering problems? Of course not. In fact, we often suffer the worse because that’s not something Christians readily admit.

So what happens is, we readily engage the latest assault of village atheism with unmatched zeal, but meanwhile our personal walk with Christ has slowed to a trudge. We educate unbelievers on why the Bible is historically, textually and scientifically reliable, but that seems to have very little impact anymore on the way we read it – if we do.

My point is, apologetics should be levelled first at ourselves before we start wielding those five arguments for the existence of God. Why? Because we still need to grow. We are still vulnerable. But we are supposed to be constantly transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) and that goes beyond mere intellectual agreement.

With that in mind, I recommend Timothy Keller‘s sermons, which you can find here. Keller has become known for the relevant and biblically uncompromising way he does apologetics. These aren’t dry lectures – they are passionate and deeply insightful answers to some really tough questions. But it goes beyond that: Keller speaks to Christians and addresses some of the things that constantly harrow us. It’s the kind of thing you want to take notes on.

Assurance

From an email I sent

…I wanted to commend to you this mp3 series, called “Assurance by faith”, by Dr Joel Beeke. Only four sermons, which you can find here.

Assurance is one of the major struggles of the Christian life. In fact, among Christians that I’ve known beyond Sunday morning, there isn’t one who hasn’t, at some point, really been battered by doubt. “Am I saved?” “How can God love me?” “If only you knew!” And so on.

In a strange way, incredulity at the grace and love that God has poured on His children in Christ can be a sign of either spiritual health or death. But if we are Christians, we’re not called to live our days this side of eternity in paralysing doubt. We’re called to rejoice in God’s salvation. We’re called to rejoice in it and in Him above all other rejoicing that might or might not come in our lives. Being assured/confident in God’s promises is the only and sole anchor that’ll keep us from despairing or outright losing our minds when our lives fall to pieces. How do we know that? Read Romans 8:38-39, think about who’s writing it, and you’ll find out.

And given how much the Bible has to say on the subject, it’s certainly something that we should deal with sooner than later.

Dr Beeke’s approach is comprehensive and he takes angles that I personally haven’t come across in such teaching. Lesson 3 is the core (“Why Christians Lack Assurance”) but he takes the time to set the foundations before he starts to build to it.

A Christian Christmas

House decorated for Christmas. Jeffreys Bay, E...

From an email I sent

As the festive season draws nigh, we remember that we are among those who have eternally benefitted from the events that the season actually commemorates. In any way you celebrate it (with or without “pagan” influences), the fact is that, as Christians, we relate to Christmas in a very, very different way than the rest of the world.

For us, Christmas goes beyond blinking trees, mince pies, carols and turkeys. It’s more than just time off from work (for those who get it) or an opportunity to flood inboxes and mailboxes with inoffensive, politically-correct “Seasons Greetings” cards. It’s more than plunging ourselves and future generations further into debt trying to translate our relationships into consumer goods.

Nope. For us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Incarnate God, this season should be no different than any other season of the year. We remember what God has done for us in Christ. We remember what a breathtaking sight it is to read that the eternal God laid as a helpless newborn baby in a place so unhygienic we wouldn’t let our pets – let alone our children – spend the night. We remember the tremendous words of Paul, who tells us that Christ “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7b-8).

But is that all? Is Christianity no more than a pious memory exercise? Μη γένοιτο! to quote Paul. There’s no gentle translation of that, so I’ll go with the ESV: By no means! No way. Remembering “the reason for the season” leads us to a renewal of our worship and, maybe, repentance for how lightly and even apathetically we often take what God has done for us. Or how we often take it for granted. Or look for something else to substitute the supreme joy and delight that it once brought us. Hmm. Let’s leave that there.

Worship of God, then. Should we spend all December singing like plump Renaissance cherubs, eyes upturned in their sockets as if we’re being strangled by sheer rapture? Well, I hope that our worship does not consist only of singing. I hope our understanding of worship is not restricted only to musical expressions.

We worship our Redeemer God with our whole being. Think of an OT sacrifice. It’s where the term “holocaust” came to us. Everything on the sacrifical altar is burned up, consumed and offered up to God.

Same with us. When we worship God, it should involve every aspect of “us”. And that means that worship extends beyond a church gathering, past the end of that last hymn and well into the “non-spiritual” parts of our lives.

And it’s beautiful.

So, this season presents us with an opportunity to renew our worship and renew ourselves in worship. But it also offers an opportunity to present those who do not know Christ with the message of the gospel. Anecdotal experience suggests that people reflect more on religious matters this time of the year. Maybe it’s someone wondering what this whole “western” Christmas business is. Maybe it’s the overtly materialistic atmosphere that drives people to ponder the true meaning of Christmas.

Opportunities to communicate the gospel can abound. Shouldn’t we be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15)?

With that in mind, let me present you with two excellent (and free) audio resouces. What can I say? We listen faster than we read.

First, J.I. Packer on the Attributes of God. Clear and well-rounded with a good emphasis on apologetics.

Second, Don Carson’s famous 2009 seminar “The God who is there”. I’m still going through this one, but so far it’s profound. This is actually a great resource for either new Christians or non-believers who’d like to understand what the Christian faith is all about. I’m particularly enjoying how Dr Carson looks at the Bible from the lens of Christianity.

I wish you all a blessed Christmas. May the paraphernalia not distract us.

Think

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From an email I sent

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” In Eph 4:23 the apostle repeats that we ought “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds”. And then, lest we wonder why and how, in Col. 3:10 he informs us that we “…have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”.

The world is fallen, and that falleness manifests first and foremost in its thinking. How? Quite simply, by completely removing God from every outlook and worldview. From secular philosophy to manmade religions, God is gradually pushed aside and outside while humanity vies to settle in His throne. Adam and Eve started it in the Garden, and we’ve had plenty of time to try it on for size.

So here we come in. Christians. Forgiven sinners, mere beggars who want to tell others where the banquet is. Justified by grace and now set on a mind-blowing course of recreation and transformation. In this world, but not of it anymore (John 17:11, 16).

How are we then to live in the midst of a thousand thoughts, beliefs and worldviews that set themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5)? By constantly renewing our minds, removing the elements of the “earthly, unspiritual and demonic” wisdom (James 3:15) that we baggaged along when we came to Christ, and replacing it with the kind of thinking that is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

In short, we have to un-learn and to re-learn. It is how the Father works to make us more like Christ.

And here I recommend to you the series from this year’s “Desiring God” conference. The topic was “Think: The life of the mind and the love of God”. Although I haven’t gone through all the sessions (e.g. I eschewed Rick Warren’s talk) the material is astounding and – more importantly – profoundly convicting. Try to listen to Thabiti Anyabwile speak on Islam without dropping what you’re doing. Listen to Albert Mohler without hitting “Pause” to take notes and/or digest the information. Listen to Francis Chan without weeping over the lost. And all this, in the context of renewing your mind in Christ.

You can find all MP3s and videos here.

Pocket ebook, articles, dehydration and atheism

Dry land, Geography of Israel

It gets like that sometimes

[From an email I sent]

A dear brother reminded me the other day that I haven’t sent one of these resource-emails around for a while.

And I thought, “uh-oh”.

Why? Because that meant that the ever-growing list of materials to share with you would have reached epic proportions. And it was indeed so. But, knowing that there are far more important things in a Christian’s life than clicking on links, I worked hard (well, just worked) to trim the fat.

First and foremost, “A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology” by I. Howard Marshall. I’ve been e-reading it during lunch breaks and have found it profoundly useful, as it covers more than just the basics of our faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3b).

I particularly enjoyed the simplicity with which the writer explains what we believe and, importantly, why (good to have a Bible at hand). I did have some minor quibbles on how he handles the “problem of evil”, but that’s nothing compared to the way he reviews the foundations of the Christian faith and the clarity with which he describes differing views (e.g. baptism, church government and eschatology).

Clear, brief, concise, insightful and helpful to everyone. Perhaps a great read for non-Christians too. And please notice how we circumnavigated terms like “systematic” and “theology” in this brief review. That’s an acquired skill.

Next, lots of articles.

“What is Covenant Theology?”, by Ligon Duncan. Pretty self-explanatory title of a good article with some great insights into the why and how.

Something that might bring a tear to your eyes: Our Father. Beautiful and convicting. And, believe it or not, it’s about apologetics.

MUST READ: “Spiritual dehydration”, by CJ Mahaney. I’m itching to write an article about this article, but we’ve talked about these things so often in these emails that I will just leave you to read it. In fact, I’d say that this link should be clicked above all other links.

A useful resource of biblical texts (originals and translations) coupled with accompanying notes: http://biblia.com. Who needs shelves anymore? We have the interwebs!

And finally, VERY finally, a couple of things on atheism. In fact, you can put these on hold and read that article on spiritual dehydration instead. Atheism can wait.

So first, a response to Richard Dawikins’ atheism from Gary Gutting, a philosopher professor from the University of Notre-Dame. It includes a good critique of the Prof’s vociferous arguments and, in my opinion, does a great job in exposing their – often embarassing – simplicity and strawmanity (look! I made a word!). The comments that follow below are usual fare.

Then, there’s this: An Amoral Manifesto. “What’s a link from Philosophy Now doing here, brother?”, I hear you ask. Well, you won’t see many in these emails (mostly because I don’t have a subscription), but have you ever heard an avowed atheist growl about the evil of religion or the immorality of religious people? It’s a strange spectacle because, you’d think, if I’m an atheist, I have to be a [WORD OF THE DAY] moral relativist. In other words, no God = no absolute morality = no real morality = no morality = no right or wrong. Yes? Yes. (By the way, this is why I think that the problem of evil cannot be logically used to disprove the existence of God. But that’s another fish).

Well, now we can finally read it from the atheist horse’s keyboard. In Philosophy Now, agnostic-cum-atheist Joel Marks declares that atheism=no morality. It’s good to see them finally admit it, that’s all.

Until next time, many blessings to all of you.