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It is impossible to deny that in the last few decades, modernity has unleashed an attack on the notion of truth. This assault modernity has unleashed on truth has certainly taken its toll—not that modernity has weakened truth, for the truth stands inviolate. Rather, the toll taken by modernity’s assault is measured in the increased secularity of the culture and the churches, in the compromised witness of many Christians, in the accommodated messages preached in many pulpits, and in the deadly confusion of the age.
Within the Christian hope is the knowledge that all this will one day be reversed. By God’s grace, the imperfect will give way to the perfect, confusion will give way to clarity, modern ideologies will be seen to be empty. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And yet even now we can see that, just as modernity has launched its attack on truth, the truths of God’s Word are launching an assault upon modernity. To all who have eyes to see, the secular idols of modernity are visibly falling. With the eyes of faith, we see that truth is the hound, and modernity is the hare. Modernity, postmodernity, hypermodernity, and whatever yet may come are all evidence of modernity’s last gasp. God’s truth abideth still.
We confess that all we truly know of God and ourselves, of meaning and life, we know by the revealed Word of God. Thus we acknowledge that without the Word of God, we would be lost and ignorant, blind and hopeless. Our powers of discernment are so limited, and so devastatingly corrupted by sin, that we know nothing of eternal consequence but for the Scriptures, and even here we are dependent upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit for our understanding.
Modern naturalistic scientism claims that “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” But the Word of God declares, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Modernity is predicated upon the assumption that natural order is the product of a cosmic accident: the chance explosion of time, energy, and cosmic dust. The natural order of planets, cells, atoms, and galaxies are objects of scientific study, devoid of any meaning. Yet the Bible asserts that “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).
In essence, the universe is either meaningful or meaningless. The question hangs on the declaration of a Creator. The Scriptures reveal that nature itself reveals the Creator—even his personal attributes. But this is a knowledge we have corrupted. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we sinners have so corrupted this knowledge that, surveying the creation, we turn to worship the creature rather than the Creator. The naturalistic worldview of modernity insists that human beings are merely a complex order of evolved organisms—simply one animal among other animals, one accident among other accidents. But God’s Word reveals that “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26).
Modernity debates whether the world will end with a bang, or with a whimper, exploded by the force of the atom or dissipating into a quiet cosmic entropy. The Word declares that the Lord shall return with a shout, and all things will be brought to consummation by his decree and power. The modern worldview is predicated upon chance and contingency, but the Word of God reveals the unconditional nature of divine providence, that God governs all that occurs and has surrendered none of his power. The modern humanistic worldview assumes and asserts that human beings are basically good, even perfectible. Any undesired behavior is redefined and dismissed as the result of an abusive childhood, environmental deprivation, emotional illness, genetic predisposition, or uncontrollable urges. The awful despotisms of the twentieth century have been driven by utopian visions, attempting to create the “new communist Man” or the Ubermensch. At the root of these is the lie of humanism. But the Bible reveals that we are the children of Adam. We bear his mark, in Adam we sinned, and we have sinned on our own, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
In so far as modernity allows for God, it permits the notion of a blithe spirit or a cultural symbol. The rise of new and old paganisms in our mainstream culture is but one indication of the very tangible idolatry in our midst. Americans are not troubled by the presence of non-threatening deities, and will even commercialize their paraphernalia.
Scripture, however, reveals the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This God is jealous and will allow no rivals. He is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, immutable, personal, transcendent, indivisible, merciful, gracious, and yet filled with wrath against sin. Most supremely, he is holy. He is infinite in all his perfections. It is against this God that we have sinned.
He has revealed himself in His Word as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a Trinity of three persons who are yet one. This, too, is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but it is a truth revealed in the Word of Truth.
The modern worldview suggests a message of secular salvation through self-improvement, self-denial, self-gratification, self-empowerment, and self-consciousness. The Bible reveals that salvation is all of grace, and made possible and actual by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who died as our substitute and the propitiation for our sin.
The Bible reveals to us the truth about God, about ourselves, about our sin and condemnation, about our salvation and redemption, about our sanctification and eventual glorification. We must preach the Word—and the whole truth of the Word.
The sad reality is, however, that modernity’s assault upon the truth has taken its toll, not only in the world, but also in the church. Within the organized and culturally recognized church are those whose worldview and doctrinal commitments are more humanistic than the humanists, more naturalistic than the naturalists, and more secular even than some secularists. Vast segments of the organized church in Western societies reflect little more than a thin crust of religious language spread over modernity’s most cherished secular assumptions.
Our confidence must be that here, too, the truth is assaulting modernity even as modernity is assaulting the truth. The knowledge that modernity has given birth to a culture of death is dawning in enclaves where the light of Scripture may shine but dimly. In some churches and denominations where the maxims of modernity have reigned for most of this century, by God’s grace the light may yet again shine. This must be our hope and prayer.
Nevertheless, our primary concern must be to see our own houses are put in order. Evangelical compromise and disarray demand our humility and our urgent prayer for revival, reformation, and renewal. We must take measure of our own doctrinal fidelity and acknowledge the extent to which we have failed to apply the truth of God’s Word and to embody that Word in doctrine, worship, and life.
We are not without assistance from the saints who have gone before us. With humility and gratitude we look to the Reformers with the humble acknowledgment that our churches are in need of reformation, even as were the churches of the sixteenth century. Our churches are worldly in lifestyle, worship, and piety. We have too often sacrificed doctrinal clarity on the altar of progress, statistics, and public opinion. We have seen the worship of God too often made into a human-centered entertainment event. We have allowed our confessions of faith to be historic markers rather than living affirmations.
In the spirit of the Reformers, and following their example, let us determine to confess the truths of God’s Word—and all the truths of God’s Word.
Let us confess sola Scriptura and therefore submit ourselves before the truth of the Word of God, preaching, teaching, and applying that Word to all dimensions of life. Let there be no rival authority, and let us never apologize for our confession of the Scriptures—inerrant, inspired, infallible, and unbroken—as our sole authority for knowledge and doctrine.
Let us submit to no other authority, whether a pope, a self-declared prophet, or ubiquitous public opinion. We stand by the Word, even as we stand under the Word.
We also confess solus Christus, for we have nothing to claim for our salvation but the mercies and merits of Christ and his atonement. This is all we need, and unspeakably more than we deserve. We must confess Christ—from his preexistence and virgin birth to his exaltation and glorious return. Furthermore, we must confess that Christ is the only Savior, for there is salvation in no other name. Christ’s work is sufficient for our redemption and all God intends for us. Nothing can be added to that work or taken from it.
We confess also sola gratia, for salvation is by grace alone. Indeed, all that is ours is by grace—even the very knowledge of God. We must resist every effort to rob grace of its simplicity, and thus make of Christ’s work a mockery. We are sinners who were spiritually dead, and but for grace would die not only lost but ignorant of our lostness. By grace we have been elected unto salvation by the sovereign act of God. By grace we are kept by the power of God.
We preach justification by faith—the material principle of the Reformation—and thus we confess sola fide. By this article the church stands or falls, for justification by faith is the essence of the gospel. To make this assertion is to admit that the contemporary evangelical movement has sadly, tragically, and progressively abdicated justification by faith, and thus in some sectors is preaching a false gospel. We stand by the chief article of the Reformation—not as a historical referent, but as our living confession.
Most important, we confess soli Deo gloria, and we pray that in all things God alone will be glorified. To him all glory is due, to him all glory belongs. He is the King of glory. Let us therefore reject the glorification of any substitute, of any rival.
We pray that God will be glorified in our confession, our churches, our discipleship, our preaching, our teaching, our witness, and our living. We must acknowledge that this is a true test of our faithfulness, and perhaps our most essential test.
In an age of untruth, we contend for the truth—knowing that it is not our own, but that truth which is revealed by God in his Word. Such contending calls for a holy boldness wedded to a proper humility. Writing to Emperor Charles V on the necessity of reforming the Church, John Calvin sets a worthy example: “But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us.”
Indeed, the effect belongs to God, not to us. But we pray for reformation in our midst and in our churches, acknowledging that this will come only by the grace and mercy of our sovereign God. We stand by the truth of God’s Word—and the truths of God’s Word. The effect belongs to God. Soli Deo Gloria!
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel and Jerusalem. And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.”
With those words, King Solomon was voicing the lament of the intellectual. It is indeed a grievous role to be afflicted with. This verse from Ecclesiastes came to mind when reading Owen Harries’ article in the inaugural issue of The American Interest. In “Suffer the Intellectuals,” Harries, founding editor of The National Interest, wonders why the intellectual class seems to get the most important questions so grievously wrong.
“On political matters particularly, intellectuals tend to share these two characteristics,” Harries observes. “They are slaves of fashion, and, on the big questions, they tend to get things hopelessly wrong.”
The existence of an intellectual class is one of the hallmarks of civilization. After all, someone has to be devoted to the task of thinking big thoughts and attempting to develop a coherent understanding of reality. Nevertheless, intellectuals tend to overrate their analysis and to follow the intellectual fashions of the day. As Harries observes, intellectuals tend to fulfill Harold Rosenberg’s description of them as “a herd of independent minds.”
In Western nations, blessed with relative peace and prosperity in recent decades, intellectuals have formed a loosely organized counterculture. At times, the intellectual class has organized itself into a formidable political force. More often, the intellectuals exert their influence through the knowledge class—educating, advising, cajoling, and chastising those who actually do the work of organizing and running the society.
As observers like Paul Hollander and others have observed, America’s intellectual class has been overwhelmingly characterized by a sense of opposition to the nation’s mainstream values. This intellectual “adversary culture” desires nothing less than a comprehensive social and culture revolution in America—a revolution that would produce, presumably, a global paradise modeled after the University of California at Berkley.
Owen Harries takes a look at the intellectuals’ actual track record. In the early years of the 20th century, intellectuals like Norman Angell predicted that war was a dying institution and that a peaceful and borderless world would be produced by, as Harries explains, “the forces of Capitalism—of technology, free trade and liberal rationality.” The fact that Angell was disastrously wrong did not prevent him from being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
So, intellectuals in the early 20th century—at least in the years prior to World War I—believed that war had been rendered obsolete by democratic progress. Hostilities, they insisted, had been rendered obsolete by the forward march of civilization.
“Had you been a typical intellectual 25 years later, on the other hand, you would have believed the exact opposite,” Harries argues. Intellectuals between the wars observed the Great Depression and prophesied that “the world was witnessing the death throes of capitalism and liberalism, that the failed system was destroying itself due to its ‘internal contradictions.’” Certain of capitalism’s collapse, an entire class of English-speaking intellectuals such as John Strachey predicted “a fight to the death between Fascism and Communism.”
As Harries observes, “the belief that capitalism was finished remained intellectual orthodoxy in Europe well into the next decade.” In other words, the very revival of capitalism after World War II led some intellectuals to predict its almost immediate collapse. Harries sites British historian A. J. P. Taylor, who told the BBC: “Nobody in Europe believes in the American way of life, that is, in private enterprise. Or rather, those who believe in it are a defeated party, and a party which seems to have no more future than the Jacobites in England after 1968.” Then again, maybe not.
Directly in the aftermath of civilization’s victory over fascism, some of the most influential intellectuals were declaring “closing time in the gardens of the West.” As Harries explains, “All this as the West was on the eve of the biggest surge of economic prosperity ever witnessed in human history, brought about by the supposedly terminally ill capitalist system.”
During the Cold War, intellectuals were often absolutely certain that communism would prevail and that democracy would collapse. Interestingly, this analysis was often shared by intellectuals on both the right and the left. Harries cites “the intellectuals’ favorite economist,” John Kenneth Galbraith, who was insisting as late as 1984 that “the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years.” Galbraith went on to argue that “the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its man power.” The fact that communism was then well on its way to collapse in the Soviet Union should have been apparent to any fair observer of the Soviet economy during those days. Galbraith, Harries insinuates, was simply captive to his prejudices.
Interestingly, Harries does not cite the example of Whittaker Chambers, who, in making his break with communism in 1937, told his wife: “You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world.” Not so, as it turned out.
The parade of intellectual confusion continues in more recent years. During the 1970’s, the Club of Rome predicted the self-destruction of the world due to overpopulation and environmental limitation. As Harries remembers, the Club of Rome’s famous book, The Limits of Growth (1972) “was enthusiastically seized on by most intellectuals.”
“Why do intellectuals get things so wrong, so often?,” Harries asks. “The question is worth asking because they are still with us, still vocal, still taken seriously by many as interpreters of the course of human history.”
In answering his own question, Harries suggests that intellectuals are often wrong because thinkers tend to demand coherence in human affairs, looking “for pattern, meaning, and consistency.” Since intellectuals tend to be overwhelmingly secular, Harries observes that most intellectuals attempt to find such consistency in the form of ideology.
“Ideologies vary a good deal, but among the things they have in common is that they all require great selectivity with respect to empirical evidence,” Harries suggests. “That which supports the ideological creed is readily assimilated and emphasized; that which conflicts with it is either noisily rejected or quietly filtered out and ignored.”
Harries makes an important point here, and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative, should pay close attention to his analysis. The world is a great deal more complex than any intellectual analysis can fully understand or assimilate.
Harries also argues that intellectuals, having generally very little to do with the actual running of organizations, nations, and institutions, have little practical understanding of how the world actually works. “Thus individuals who have never organized anything more demanding than a round-robin letter to the editor or a university tutorial will without hesitation dismiss as simpletons and ignoramuses individuals who have been responsible for organizing and implementing vast practical projects,” Harries explains.
Harries then turns to one of the central intellectual conceits of the last two hundred years. Citing critic Edmund Wilson, Harries observes that the intellectual class found it “extraordinarily difficult” to surrender “the assumption of inevitable progress.” As he explains, “Brought up on it, their whole picture of the universe was constructed around it, and they were still likely to cling to it even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.”
For most of the last two centuries, this particularly intellectual fault has been primarily an affliction of the left. Liberal thinkers tended to argue for the inevitable progress and improvement of humanity. The left saw the rise of liberalism, Marxism, democratic socialism, and similar movements as vehicles for the spread of an inevitable progress towards ever greater human fulfillment and happiness.
In more recent years, some conservatives have fallen prey to this same intellectual temptation. Books such as Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, reinterpret human history to argue for the inevitable victory of democratic ideals and freedom.
At this point, George Orwell steps into the picture. Harries cites his 1946 essay on James Burnham’s theory of a managerial take-over of modern civilization. Orwell conceded that Burnham was on to something, but then went on to critique Burnham and his fellow intellectuals for “power-worship.” Orwell’s point is this—intellectuals tend to believe that “whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.” As history records, this is often just not the case. Seen from a secular perspective, the circus of the intellectuals serves as a significant warning against intellectual hubris. The problem with all secular theories of reality is that the reality tends to nullify the theory.
Intellectuals, like everyone else, can fall prey to their own egocentricity, ideological commitments, and blindness to reality. Furthermore, Harries observes that intellectuals tend to be characterized by “a narcissistic belief that what is happening now, in their lifetime, is uniquely important and valid.”
Owen Harries’ article should serve as a helpful warning against intellectual over-reaching and arrogance. Christians should observe the influence of the adversary culture and the intellectual class and be ready to present a distinctive Christian response in the intellectual arena. After all, Christians are assigned the task of intellectual engagement, and we have no right to be absent from the battle of ideas and the war of worldviews.
At the same time, we must be careful to enter the world of ideas with intellectual humility and a constant dependence upon our inheritance of Christian truth. “Behold I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge,” Solomon confessed. “And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also was striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” No one said this was going to be easy.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Q.: How were people in the Old Testament saved?
A. They were saved though faith in God. This short answer is deceptively straightforward. It needs to be unpacked.
The Bible divides the human race into two groups: Jews and gentiles or those who have a special communication from God and those who do not. The Old Testament contains examples from both groups who have trusted in and been saved by God.
Look first at Abraham, who is used by Paul as a model of justification by faith alone. In Romans 1-3, Paul argues that gentiles who lack the law (1:18-32) and Jews who possess it (2:17-29) stand before God “alike . . . all under sin” (3:9). He goes on to say that God has made known a righteousness apart from the law that “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (3:22). Jews and gentiles both are justified through “that same faith” (3:30). The primary biblical model of justification by faith is Abraham. He was reckoned righteous because he trusted that God would give him a son despite his age and Sarah’s infertility (4:1-21). The same trust is required of those who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (4:22)—trust that God can and will do the impossible.
One may object that Abraham was the object of God’s special care; that through Abraham all the world was blessed because he was the forefather of God’s people, Israel and God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly this makes Abraham a unique case. But there are others in the Old Testament who were justified without this singular covenantal relationship. Consider two examples. Abel, who by faith (Hebrews 11:4; Genesis 4:1-16) offered a better sacrifice than his brother, was commended by God. So was Job, who tenaciously trusted in God’s ability to deliver him even while he expressed his doubts. God’s reply to Job (Job 38-41) is especially instructive. It is sometimes read as God’s challenge to Job—”Who are you to question me, Job?” I’m not sure that this reading is correct. Rather, over four chapters, God points to the vastness and majesty of creation to demonstrate His ability to govern what He has made. God says, in effect, “Yes, Job, you can trust me.”
This salvation is no different from the salvation won by Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ alone is the name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). Nevertheless, study of these characters suggests that one need not know about Christ in order to be saved by Him. Rather, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Tim Perry is assistant professor of theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
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Though liberal Christianity is dying in the West, evangelical and charismatic faith are flourishing in Africa, Asia and Latin America
Liberal Christianity is dying. The signs are everywhere.
Ottawa’s Catholic Archbishop Marcel Gervais and Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George both have recently told audiences that liberal Catholicism is dead. “It has shown itself unable to pass on the faith in its integrity and is inadequate,” said Cardinal George.
Attendance in Canadian mainline Protestant churches may have stabilized over the past decade, but the percentage of Canadians who identified with the United, Anglican and other historic churches was cut almost in half between 1961 and 1991. There have been similar declines in Catholic attendance not only in North America, but also in Europe.
Here is another sign: a recent survey of Protestant pastors in the U.S.A., the one Western country where church attendance has held relatively steady over the last several decades. A majority of the American pastors believe that in the next 10 years the influence of non-Christian religions will increase, and so will New Age spirituality. The only pastors among the 567 surveyed by Ellison Research who were at all optimistic were the conservatives: Pentecostals and charismatics and, to a lesser extent, the evangelicals.
What is less well known in the West is the upsurge in old-time Christianity among both Protestants and Catholics in the southern half of the world. In a recent book, The Next Christendom, a Penn State professor, Philip Jenkins, documents the explosion of Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Africa alone, the number of Christians has soared from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000. The religion they are practising is one of faith healing, exorcism, traditional morality, and helping brothers and sisters in the faith to find jobs and survive poverty.
“Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure,” says Jenkins.
What the exploding churches of the South and the slower-growing evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches of the North share are doctrinal orthodoxy, piety and evangelism, the very qualities that are dying out in liberal Christianity.
One reason for the slow death of liberal Christianity is the enormous social transformation of Western society over the past century. In the early 1900s, my grandfather’s generation moved off the farm and became industrial workers. My generation has seen knowledge workers displace industrial workers as the largest single group of workers.
Peter Drucker, the venerable business guru, says these knowledge workers differ fundamentally from any group in history in their characteristics, social positions, values and expectations. “In the knowledge society, for the first time in history, the possibility of leadership will be open to all.” When we all strive to be leaders and pioneer our own unique lifestyles and even our own religions, then families, communities and churches suffer.
Few of our churches have come to grips with the effects of this social revolution. One characteristic of knowledge workers is mobility. Yet I know of only one religious group, the Mormons, that keeps track of its members’ moves and forwards their new addresses to the congregations in their new communities.
Knowledge workers are also trained to keep on learning and questioning. Maybe that is why groups like the Jesus Seminar have captured so many headlines. Doctrinal orthodoxy is hard to maintain among a population trained to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Christian beliefs and morals are under constant public attack by learned men, and though the majority of freshmen university students may still know who Jesus is, many will be unable to identify adequately such figures as the Apostle Peter.
Surprisingly, Drucker even has some advice for the churches. The churches that have the capacity to grow, he says, are “pastoral churches, which focus on the spiritual needs of individuals, especially educated knowledge workers, and then put the spiritual energies of their members to work on the social challenges and social problems of the community.”
Bob Harvey is the religion editor of the Ottawa Citizen.
What will happen to people who, through no fault of their own, never hear the gospel?
This perfectly natural question is often asked by those from unbelieving families or cultures. Answering it, however, has proven to be very difficult; Christians with a strong sense of the necessity of missions and evangelism have found it to be especially disruptive. Those who express optimism are often said to be undermining missions; on the other hand, it is said that those who are pessimistic will enjoy heaven only if hell is crowded. Unfair caricatures like these should be avoided. Such divisions arise, I think, because some have rushed to reply without closely examining the question itself. Such investigation exposes hidden but significant assumptions that can be criticized.
First, consider the words, “through no fault of their own.” Questioners seem to wonder whether there is a loophole in God’s plan of salvation. They express the hope that at the Last Day, some may avoid judgment through ignorance. This assumption fails to grapple with Paul’s contention that evidence for God’s existence and nature is so obvious in creation that God’s wrath on human beings is justified (Romans 1:18:32). Humanity’s problem is not passive ignorance but active unbelief; and all, says Paul, are without excuse (1:20). It seems to me that “through no fault of their own” generates more controversy than clarity and should be put aside. So let’s rephrase it: “What will happen to people who never hear the gospel?”
Even in this more innocuous form, the question may still be wrong-headed. It seems to assume that the goal of God’s plan of salvation is human happiness. It is not; God’s glory is. That the redeemed will freely and happily declare God’s glory is truly wonderful, but really secondary. Furthermore, it may hide a presumptuous desire to “look over God’s shoulder” at heaven’s entry list. God is the judge; we are not. Finally, when Jesus was asked whether only a few would be saved, He redirected His hearers’ attention to the unnamed asker, saying, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:23-24). Jesus would not speculate about the final number of the saved, but warned His followers that their time would be better spent worrying about their own salvation (Luke 13:25-30).
After working through these cautions, it seems to me that a different question presents itself. Namely, “Can God be trusted to judge even those who have never heard?” The answer, I think, is “Yes.” God’s justice is sufficiently merciful and His mercy is sufficiently just that we can in confidence commit the fate of all unevangelized people to Him.
Tim Perry is assistant professor of theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Man.
The James ossuary may be a significant reinforcement to the credibility of the New Testament
Andre Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at the Sorbonne in Paris, stunned the world last fall with his discovery of a small coffin that may have held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. Lemaire wrote the lead article for the November-December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The cover reads: “World Exclusive: Evidence of Jesus Set in Stone.” The Review’s web site proclaims: “After nearly 2,000 years, historical evidence for the existence of Jesus has come to light literally written in stone.”
Hershel Shanks, the Review editor, held a major press conference in Washington on Monday, Nov. 21 to announce the discovery. The small coffin, known as an ossuary, is literally a “bone box,” used in first-century Palestine for second burials. About a year after a loved one’s death, the bones of the deceased would be moved to a smaller container that would remain in a family burial cave.
Jack Meinhardt, who works with Shanks, gave Faith Today a description of the response at the press conference as reporters caught on to the potential significance of the ossuary. Their first reaction, he said, was “stunned silence” and then . . .
“The result was a whirlwind, with radio and television interviews and people calling from all over the world. Then the detractors came forth, saying that the ossuary was too perfect or too flawed to be genuine. Then the ossuary was damaged in transit to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum—and the story hit the headlines again. More interviews, more calls. Then an Israeli newspaper released the name of the bone box’s owner, who told a slightly different story about the box’s provenance from what had been released earlier—setting the winds blowing again.”
Time magazine’s David Van Biema gave a dramatic introduction to the ossuary discovered by Lemaire. “It is smooth to the touch, cool and solid. It is worn, but not so much that its extraordinary message cannot be read. Its inscription (in Aramaic), as with most Semitic writing, starts on the right. ‘Ya’akov, bar Yosef,’ it begins, carved strong and deep in the stone. James, son of Joseph. Then, slightly more eroded, ‘akhui di...’ Brother of. And at the end, clearly visible from only close up, ‘Yeshua.’ Jesus.”
The ossuary belongs to Oded Golan, a 51-year-old engineer from Tel Aviv. He claims that he bought it in the mid-70s for a few hundred dollars. He had no idea of its importance since he did not even know that the Jesus of Christian faith had a brother. He casually mentioned the James ossuary to Lemaire when the French scholar was visiting him last spring. After initial inspection convinced Lemaire that it was no ordinary ossuary, he contacted Shanks at the Review and together they began the detailed testing for dating and authenticity, working in conjunction with Israeli experts in the relevant sciences.
Lemaire concluded that the ossuary dates from the first century and that its inscription is genuine. He also believes that the most credible interpretation of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” (three ordinary names in first-century Jewish society) is that the inscription refers to the figures mentioned in the New Testament. It is unusual for ossuary inscriptions to have a reference to a brother. Why the mention of “Jesus” unless he had unusual significance?
The Review’s announcement in October led to an instant scramble for facts and instant debate over the credibility of Lemaire’s views. Some leading scholars in archaeology support his conclusions; others are far less certain that the ossuary is from the James, Joseph, and Jesus of New Testament fame. Professor Robert Eisanman of California State University in Long Beach, and an expert on James, wrote in The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 29 that the ossuary story was “too good to be true.”
The most significant attack on Lemaire and Shanks has come from Rochelle Altman, an expert in the study of inscriptions and writing techniques. She argues that the ossuary itself should be dated from the time of King Herod, decades before the death of James in 62 A.D. Furthermore, she contends that the words “brother of Jesus” are in a different handwriting, added to the inscription some time in the third or fourth century.
Altman is so certain that the words about Jesus are forged that she wrote that a person would have to be “as blind as a bat” not to notice the two different writing styles on the inscription. Her critics have dismissed her as an “unknown” scholar, suggesting that she is writing outside her area of expertise and has the audacity to make dogmatic comments when she has not even examined the ossuary directly. Some Christians issued very nasty threats against her and she was a target of a smear campaign on the Internet.
What does this mean for Christians? On one hand, the credibility of the gospel is not at stake. If part of the inscription is forged, it is a commentary only on the authenticity of the ossuary, not on the historical integrity of the Gospels. On the other hand, if Lemaire’s interpretation is correct, we have a very significant addition to the archaeological data that reinforce the credibility of the New Testament.
Certainly Christians should care about history and the connection between facts and faith. Luke said he was following “eyewitness” testimony in writing his Gospel and the Book of Acts. Paul said that the story of Jesus “was not done in a corner.” Peter wrote that the first disciples of Jesus did not follow “cunningly devised fables.” John states “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It is no wonder that the Apostles’ Creed ties the gospel to history in the simple affirmation that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
So the ossuary is an important and amazing discovery. However, compared to the ancient eyewitness reports that a certain tomb was empty on a famous Sunday morning, the ossuary is more of a curiosity than a faith‑building discovery. Certainly, an old limestone box is nowhere nearly as important as the ancient witness that Jesus appeared to many of His disciples, including His own brother James.
James A. Beverley is professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.
Quick Facts on the Bone Box
Where did the ossuary come from?
It was probably stolen from a grave site and then sold to antiquities dealers in Israel.
Is the owner in trouble because of being in possession of stolen goods?
Not if, as he declares, he received the ossuary before 1978 when Israel passed a law against the purchase of stolen ancient artefacts.
What are the physical facts about the ossuary?
Made of limestone, the box weighs about 45 pounds. It is shaped like a trapezoid, measuring 10 inches x 20 inches by 12 inches, a bit smaller than most ossuaries.
What do you think about the ossuary debate?
Lemaire’s views deserve respect and serious consideration, and I personally would like to believe he is right. Yet, as Steve Mason, a scholar at York University, helped me to see, it is difficult to date the ossuary with precision. Also, Altman’s contention about two different handwritings must be answered. (In a phone interview from Israel she told me that her comment about “blind as a bat” was not meant for public consumption.)
Who are the best Christian writers on faith and history?
I recommend any of the writings of Gary Habermas, a researcher at Liberty University, including The Historical Jesus (College Press). John Warwick Montgomery, the evangelical Lutheran scholar, has written several excellent books including History and Christianity (InterVarsity). Reporter Jeffery Sheler’s book Is the Bible True? (HarperSanFrancisco) is a recent and impressive look at the Bible’s reliability.
In a world of proliferating religious options, what is the most important thing Christians can do to further the gospel?
Since 9/11, the market has been flooded with books and articles telling us about Islam and, in the Christian media, about how to witness to Muslims. Well, yes: Islam has been a factor in Christian history for about 14 centuries, so it’s always a good idea to know about the religion that is Christianity’s chief rival in many parts of the world.
But Islam isn’t the most important alternative to Christianity in India (Hinduism), or Southeast Asia (Buddhism), or China (Communism and Confucianism), or Europe (secularism).
Islam certainly isn’t the most important alternative to Christianity in Canada, either. The number two spot after “Christianity” in any list of religious affiliation in Canada is held by “no religion.” And within both categories—”Christian” and “no religion”—reside a vast number of Canadians who essentially practise “do-it-yourself” religion. They enjoy Christianity for rites of passage, perhaps, but also resort to horoscopes for daily guidance, psychic hotlines for crises, yoga for relaxation, and so on.
So how can we Christians possibly equip ourselves to encounter so much religious variety? Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other great world religions are now not just on our TV screens, but next door in our neighbours. New Age religion isn’t popular by that name any more because it conjures up too many crystal-wearing kooks. But its emphasis on “choose your own spirituality” is more widespread than ever. Mormonism and other New Religious Movements (as sociologists call them) haven’t gone away.
Is it time, then, for Christians to embark on crash courses of world religions plus New Religious Movements plus atheism plus self-created spiritualities? Do pastors even have time for such a vast curriculum in their own education?
No. Only scholars of religion need to learn about all of these options in even introductory detail. The rest of us need to know, instead, just two things.
First, we need to know about the religious outlook of our own actual neighbours. Our particular neighbours constitute our particular vocation. Whether the “neighbours” be literally next door, or in the next office, or in the same club, we should indeed get to know about their religious outlook as part of getting to know them so we can relate to them appropriately.
We can learn about their religious outlook, furthermore, in two ways: By reading good materials (my favourite textbook is Theodore Ludwig, The Sacred Paths [Prentice-Hall]) and by asking them to tell us about their faith. In a multicultural society, it should be perfectly polite to express honest curiosity about how they celebrate holidays, how they regard other major religions in the news such as Christianity and Islam, how other people make moral choices, and so on.
In short, we learn what we need to learn in order to do our own particular work in the kingdom of God.
Second, and much more important, we need to know our own faith well. We will be able to spot how Christianity does differ from Islam, or astrology, or Mormonism simply on the basis of our own thorough grounding in Christian beliefs, practices and convictions. As we do so, however, let’s remember that showing how another faith is deficient is not nearly as important as being able to present and commend the gospel!
In Reginald Bibby’s trilogy on religion in Canada (most recently, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada [Stoddart]), he has been telling Christians to pursue a basic strategy: Become healthy, vibrant versions of yourselves, and you’ll attract at least the many Canadians who are nominally, but not actively, allied with your tradition.
For all of the ways this advice needs nuancing (and Bibby provides some qualifications himself), it’s pretty good counsel. Let’s not worry about being experts on other people’s religions. Let’s be “expert,” in the best sense of discipleship, in our own.
John Stackhouse teaches at Regent College, Vancouver, and is author of three new books: Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford); Evangelical Landscapes: Facing Critical Issues of the Day (Baker Academic); and Church: An Insider’s Look at How We Do It (Baker).
Some truth may be found in other religions, but Christianity makes the radical and necessary affirmation that Christ is Lord
“Are you a New Age wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
The caller was a Christian radio talk show host from an American city I was scheduled to visit in a month. She had gotten a press release announcing my visit to a local school, and she was trying to decide whether to publicize it on her show.
“Dr. Stackhouse, I’ve been spending most of the day trying to figure you out. You’re speaking as a Christian, but you’re speaking at a secular school that is notorious for giving Christian students a hard time.
“I’ve checked your professional credentials, and I’m even more confused. You have a degree from Wheaton College, and I know that’s a good evangelical school, but you also have degrees from secular universities. I’ve never heard of this ‘Regent College’ you now teach at. Is it Christian?
“Then I found that your web site makes it seem as if you actually respect other religions and even think they offer us wisdom. So are you really a Christian?”
I assured her that I really am the sort of Christian she could safely put on her show. But it wasn’t enough.
She called back a little while later to announce that she had checked with what she judged to be an indubitably Christian agency (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) that was aware of my work. They had given me their seal of approval. So we went ahead with the interview.
She then confessed that her fellow evangelicals felt embattled in her town. New Agers were common there, self-help gurus got a lot of media play, and evangelicals were openly ridiculed by school boards and other public institutions. So they were extra cautious about any sort of compromise with alternative religions, any sort of latitude toward anything non-Christian.
I sympathize with such Christians. I sympathize with them especially in countries in which Christians are in terrible danger—economic, political and even physical danger—because of their faith. We listen to such stories from many of our Regent students. In such a charged situation, polarization is natural.
But that doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to withdraw into a paranoid fantasy of black and white, of “good guys” and “bad guys,” of “us vs. them.” We ourselves are sinners, so we cannot count ourselves entirely good. Our neighbours bear God’s image, too, and are graced by Him with measures of truth, goodness, and beauty that we can enjoy. They are not entirely bad.
For that matter, the history of Christianity has its own some dark chapters—some of them being written today. We dare not congratulate ourselves when we encounter other faiths.
We ought to recognize, instead, two deep truths. First, let us hear Malachi as he echoes a theme of many prophecies: “I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations” (Malachi 1:14).
Does this mean that all religions are equally good? Of course not! What God says, however, is that He has given blessings of insight beyond the boundaries of the designated “people of God”—whether Israel or the Church.
The second truth is that Christianity is not better than other religions because it alone possesses all that is good and the other religions have nothing of value. Christianity has the “one thing needful”: It puts Jesus Christ in the centre. Even as we value the Bible, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and so much more that is wonderful about Christianity, we recognize that everything flows from the radically correct positioning of Jesus as Lord.
So let us continue to offer the Christian message of the centrality of the Lord Jesus to all our neighbours—as I did when I spoke on that Christian radio program and also at that secular school. But let’s do so with appreciation both for our own shortcomings and for the gifts God has generously given to others.
John Stackhouse teaches at Regent College, Vancouver, and is the author of several new books: Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford); Evangelical Landscapes: Facing Critical Issues of the Day (Baker); and Church: An Insider Looks at How We Do It (Baker).
We know that God is at work when good and beauty blossom out of evil wherever it happens
One of the odder phrases in the theological lexicon is felix culpa: “happy/beneficial sin.” Augustine was perhaps the first to use it, and he referred to the Fall, the terrible primordial sin of Adam and Eve that occasioned the marvelous gift of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Bible depicts many other evils that God turned to good, of course, whether Joseph’s sale into slavery that resulted in Egypt’s and Israel’s salvation or Paul’s being arrested and testifying before senior Roman officials at the other end of the Bible.
The great English historian Herbert Butterfield taught that one could trace the hand of God in history precisely here: where good was brought out of evil. Whether or not Butterfield was correct about this assertion from a professional historian’s point of view, the Christian who knows his or her Bible can rejoice along with Butterfield. We know that God, the “source of all good,” as Calvin calls him, is at work when good blossoms out of evil wherever it happens—even in a jazz club.
Journalist David Hajdu recently profiled Wynton Marsalis, arguably the greatest jazz musician of his generation—and one of the finest classical musicians as well. Marsalis has won Grammy awards in both categories, and has presided for some years now as head of “Jazz at Lincoln Center,” arguably the highest profile position in the world of jazz. He is easily the most recognizable jazz musician of our day, and ranks among Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as one of the premier trumpeters of all time.
So what was Marsalis doing as a sideman playing with a small, little-known combo in a New York basement club in the “dead time” at the end of August?
He was about to act out a parable of the felix culpa.
In the first few tunes by the band, Marsalis played only a little, virtually unrecognizable as he lurked in the shadows at the side of the stage. But then he walked to the front of the bandstand and began an unaccompanied solo of the heartrending 1930s ballad, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You.” Hajdu records that the audience became rapt as Marsalis’s trumpet virtually wept in despair, almost gasping at times with the pain in the music.
Stretching the mood taut, Marsalis came to the final phrase, with each note coming slower and slower, with longer and longer pauses between each one: “I…don’t…stand…a…ghost…of…a…chance—”
And then someone’s cell phone went off.
It began to chirp an absurd little tune. The audience broke up into titters, the man with the phone jumped up and fled into the hallway to take his call, and the spell was broken. “MAGIC—RUINED,” the journalist scratched into his notepad.
But then Marsalis played the cell phone melody note for note. He played it again, with different accents. He began to play with it, spinning out a rhapsody on the silly little tune, changing keys several times. The audience settled down, slowly realizing they were hearing something altogether extraordinary. Around and around Marsalis played for several minutes, weaving glory out of goofiness.
Finally, in a masterstroke, he wound his cadenza down seamlessly to the last two notes of his previous song: “…with…you.” The audience exploded with applause.
God was at work in that club. That same versatile, resourceful God is at work in your life and mine.
That same brilliantly adaptable God is at work throughout this sin-sick world, bringing beauty out of baseness, heroism out of holocaust, love out of loss—even salvation out of sacrifice. He calls us to believe, and then do the same.
O felix culpa!
John Stackhouse teaches at Regent College, Vancouver, and is the author of three new books: Humble Apologetics (Oxford); Evangelical Landscapes (Baker Academic); and Church: How We Do It (Baker).
A vibrant Christianity is sweeping much of the world, gaining millions of new believers in Africa, Asia and Latin America
He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The truth in the old spiritual song matches with the claim of Scripture that “the earth is the Lord’s.” Given this, it is imperative for Christians to think about the work of Christ in its global dimension. This focus will keep us from spending too much time in our own backyard and help us to see our local church stories as part of a grander reality.
On this theme we owe a lot to the provocative, informative work of Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, published by Oxford University Press in 2002. Jenkins’ research was highlighted in his article on “The Next Christianity” in The Atlantic Monthly (October 2002), and his book has been examined widely in both religious and secular publications.
Why is his book important? Simply put, Jenkins has painted a picture of the emergence of a robust and dynamic Christianity that is sweeping Latin America, Africa and much of Asia. His work is a harsh blow both to secularists predicting the demise of the gospel and to liberal Christians (like the radical John Spong) who have announced the death of a supernatural version of Christianity.
Jenkins’s work is also a rebuke to any Christians who envision North America and Europe as the necessary centre of the faith. He estimates that by 2025 there will be 460 million believers in Asia, 633 million in Africa, and 640 million in South America. These numbers are based on the astonishing growth of Christianity in these continents in the last 50 to 100 years, a reality often missed by western Christians because of our focus on Washington rather than Manila, on London rather than Nairobi, on Toronto rather than Buenos Aires. The growth of independent churches in Africa and Pentecostalism in Latin America are just two examples of a Christian harvest that is truly inspiring.
Some critics of Jenkins have accused him of fostering paranoia about Islam and of being simplistic about the conservative nature of the Christianity that is capturing the Third World. Jenkins deserves the benefit of the doubt. First, he is appropriately concerned about Muslim-Christian conflict without being totally pessimistic that clashes are inevitable. His book was written before 9/11, and his warnings about Islamic jihad are reasonable ones in light of events in the last two years.
Obviously Jenkins’s statistics about the growth of global Christianity provide encouragement about the power and spread of the gospel. His numbers were drawn largely from the research of David Barrett, the main person behind the two-volume World Christian Encyclopedia, a monumental work that traces in almost infinite detail the hard data on church life in every country of the world. Barrett, once an Anglican missionary in Kenya, was one of the first people to draw the world’s attention to the explosive growth of the gospel across Africa.
When we look really look at trends around the world, it becomes obvious that God’s Spirit is not restricted by what Western Christians plan or by what traditional denominations have in mind. In fact, Barrett has argued that traditional “party lines” are often a barrier to evangelism. Gospel work in Latin America has been hurt by distrust between Pentecostals and other Protestants. The African Church owes most of its growth to new groups that do not follow distinctive denominational grids.
There is also a tragic side to the global reports from Jenkins and Barrett. As much as their writing celebrates the power of the gospel of Jesus, both researchers also give the numbers about the poverty, disease and death that stalk the Third World. Jenkins said in one interview: “People in Europe and North America really aren’t very interested in the poorest of the poor. If you are a poor person in Ethiopia or Uganda or Peru, you don’t show up on the radar screen.” This chilling verdict, proven by ongoing reports of unprecedented famine in Ethiopia, can be erased as Western Christians think more with the whole globe in our minds and hearts.
Resources on Global Christianity
* Allan H. Anderson, African Reformation (African World Press, 2001)
* James Beverley, J. Gordon Melton, and Donald Wiebe, eds., The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Religions in Canada (2004)
* David Barrett, George Kurian, Todd Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford 2002)
* Stanley M. Burgess, ed., The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Zondervan 2002)
* Paul Marshall, ed., Religious Freedom in the World (Freedom House 2000)
* Richard P. McBrien, ed., The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (1995)
* J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions (Gale 2003)
* Melton and Martin Baumann, eds. Religions of the World (ABC Clio 2002)
* Scott W. Sunquist, ed., A Dictionary of Asian Christianity (Eerdmans 2001)
* Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Light & Life Publishing)
James Beverley is professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. His book Understanding Islam has just been published in Dutch.
Facts on Global Christianity
Roman Catholics 1,057,328,063
Independent Christians 385,745,407
Total Christians worldwide 1,999,563,838
Global population 6,055,049,000
In the next 24 hours on our globe:
* 122,000 people will be baptized
* 334,000 New Testaments will be distributed
* 24,500 people will become Christians in Africa
* 500 worship centers will be started
* 5,000 people will become Christians in North America
* There are Christians in all 238 countries of our world
* 30 million believers worship in Han charismatic house churches in China
* Protestants number over 2.6 million in Papua New Guinea, almost 57% of the population
* Southern Baptists work in 150 countries
* There are over 51 million Christians in Nigeria
* Qatar has 62,000 Christians in a population of 599,000
* 9.4% of Sri Lanka is Christian with almost 70% Buddhist
Source: World Christian Encyclopedia
Will there be degrees of punishment in hell?
Speculating about the afterlife has been a Christian preoccupation for centuries. Perhaps the most famous is Dante’s Divine Comedy, a three-volume dramatic tour of hell, purgatory and heaven written during the medieval era. For him, as for most Christians, the afterlife is graded, with rewards in heaven and punishments in hell proportionate to one’s earthly conduct. There seems to be an intuitive agreement among many Christians that God’s justice demands this kind of arrangement, especially for hell. It is obvious that while all are sinners, we are not all as sinful as we might be. Surely Josef Mengele, Pol Pot and other such authors of moral evil will be punished more than those whose sins are smaller.
There are two factors to consider. First, we must weigh Jesus’ words. There are two gospel passages that hint at degrees of severity in judgement. The first is Matthew 11:20-24. At the climax of his denouncing of the cities of Korazin and Bethsaida for their lack of repentance and unbelief, Jesus says, “I tell you it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you” (11:22). Similarly, Capernaum’s unbelief is compared with that of Sodom, and at the day of judgement, it is Sodom that will fare better (11:24). Jesus says Gentile cities—even notoriously evil Gentile cities—will be judged less harshly because they did not have the opportunities to repent and believe as those in which Jesus ministered. Likewise, when speaking of watchful servants in Luke 12:42-49, Jesus contrasts two kinds of servants—those who knew the master’s will and disobeyed it and those who, while their conduct was no better, did not. The latter group, says Jesus, will be “beaten with few blows” (Luke 12:48) while the former will suffer “many blows” (Luke 12:47). In both instances, Jesus ties punishment to the level of truth received and rejected. Those who know more are more accountable.
The second has to do with the continuity of our identity in the afterlife. The notion is straightforward: we are the same people and have the same character after we die as before. If someone consistently and deliberately resisted God’s Spirit in this life and that character persists with them in to the next, then they will, I think, persist in that belligerence. The doors of hell will indeed be locked, but from the inside.
Tim Perry is assistant professor of theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
After six years, there are still many more things to hope for
Faith today, and Faith Today, are all about “things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV). We Christians go about our daily business and make our plans for tomorrow in light of what God has done for us in the past and will do in the future. Our hope is upon God, and therefore our hope is sure.
I have had the privilege of hoping for a lot of things in this space. As I give way to someone else, I’ll list a few more hopes I have for the Canadian Church:
* I hope that we will help younger leaders who are quietly struggling to take their places in the shadow of older ones. Empowering younger people is hardest, it seems, for leaders who once themselves were “young lions” and who hate to admit that they now represent the past more than they do the future. How many people in leadership on your board or staff are under 50? How many are under 40? Are any under 30?
* I hope that we will improve our financial support for churches and other Christian organizations. We are a wealthy country, yet there is hardly a Christian organization from coast to coast that isn’t very hard pressed to do its work well. Yes, we can keep telling them to learn to do more with less. Wouldn’t we prefer them to enjoy the challenge of doing more with more?
* I hope that we will learn both to confront genuine and important sin in authentic church discipline, and also to lovingly moderate our complaints about secondary matters. We need more discernment, fibre and, yes, fire in our hearts about issues that are central to the gospel, and more charity, humility and temperance about issues that aren’t.
* I hope that we will recover our denominational distinctives, so that the gifts God has given peculiarly to each tradition—whether Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mennonites or Brethren—will not disappear into a generic evangelicalism. Let’s rejoice in our ecumenical harmony, but not in our increasing monotony.
* I hope that we will improve adult Christian education. We persist in terminating people’s Christian education as soon as they finish high school. The result shows up in that many churches across the country by now have offered Alpha programs to inquirers—only to find that their own Christian members were enjoying it as brand new teaching!
* I hope that our intellectuals will enjoy our mystics, and our mystics will affirm our activists, and our activists will support our intellectuals—and that we will all seek to learn from each other, since none of us is only a head, or a heart, or a hand.
* I hope that we will care more for the needy: for the poor, for the mentally troubled, for foster kids, for the elderly, for the sick, for the dying, for the lonely. We are all so busy, and Jesus one day will ask us, “In all of that activity, did you ever care for me?” (Matthew 25:31-46).
* I hope that we will value our children and particularly their spiritual formation. We need to provide excellent Sunday schools and kids’ clubs, with good materials, good spaces, and good teachers—not just babysitting. We need to provide excellent youth programs, whether our churches are large or small. (How much status and money go into youth work in your congregation?) And we need to provide excellent “family services” that really do aim at the whole family in tone and content, rather than remain adult services with perhaps a “children’s moment” as garnish.
* Finally, I hope that we will pray more and better. That we will read more and better. That we will recover Scripture memorization, spiritual conversation, separation from vice, purity of speech, family Bible reading, and other disciplines of vital holiness even as we reach out to our neighbours with the affection and vigour and persistence of our Lord.
I dare to hope for all of these because I have faith that our Lord hopes for them, too.
Editor’s Note: Faith Today wishes to thank John Stackhouse for writing this column since September/October 1997. Watch this space next issue for something new.
John Stackhouse is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver, and author of several new books: Humble Apologetics (Oxford); Evangelical Landscapes (Baker Academic); and Church (Baker).
What are the warning signs of a “sick” church, and how can you make sure yours stays healthy?
We often make the most important decisions in life with little thought, preparation or guidance. It can be that way with marriage and career choices. It can also be that way with church life. I have been thinking a lot about this recently because of some intensive study of people who have chosen to follow some pretty sick churches.
Item: A mother in a church near Boston allows her child to starve to death because the “prophet” in their group tells her to follow his word about the infant’s diet.
Item: A young woman in a group in Ohio allows her church leader to seduce her because of “biblical” teaching that she should meet his needs as a man of God.
Item: Parents in a church in Illinois allow their child to die because they believe by “faith” that doctors should not be consulted.
Item: A group based in New England specializes in beating their children because of “spiritual” wisdom from their leader.
Item: A nomadic group of Christians eat out of trash cans because of their “trust” in the guidance of their “godly” teacher.
Item: An older Christian couple lose all their money planting “seed faith” into the hands of a very wealthy evangelist who promised them that God would reward them with mansions this side of eternity.
I picked these cases at random out of a long list of news reports that I have examined recently. What matters for this column is not the exact names of individuals or churches but the generic pattern that is duplicated again and again in sick church life.
One of the most important things to realize in finding and maintaining a healthy church is to develop the kind of rigorous analysis that keeps one safe from the subtle ways in which religious disease is spread. Paths to death, harm and loss are often paved with sincerity, faith, Bible quoting, and alleged words from God.
Over the years that I have studied religion I have developed a series of tests that can help in the detection of sick religion. Here are some of the most important ones for evangelical Christians.
* The Freedom Test. Paul warned the Galatian Christians about the dangers of giving up their freedom in Christ. In that context it was about legalism, losing freedom to law-based religion. In other contexts it may be about being a slave to some preacher or blind follower of some prophet. It is so heartbreaking to see Christians imprisoned by their blind loyalties to false teachers and false doctrines.
* The Bible Test. Sick religion will be detected through a commitment to a full and deep understanding and obedience to the Bible. The vast majority of false teachings in Christian churches are rooted in the abuse of scriptural texts. The solution arises in a balanced and rich and wise handling of the Word of God.
* The Love Test. Much grief in church life would be avoided if every pastor, elder and church member put 1 Corinthians 13 on their fridge door and paid attention to this most famous chapter. Love is patient, kind, gentle, unselfish, etc. The Pauline description of love would unmask the true nature of a lot of church business meetings, for example. Likewise, the list on the fridge door would speak to the real spirit behind hateful preaching.
* The Authority Test. The Bible teaches us to respect authentic spiritual leadership, but we are often warned about the dangers of false teachers and false prophets. Abusive churches thrive on the cultivation of blind obedience to authority figures. Are you allowed to disagree with your pastor? Can your denomination be tested? Is your church accountable?
* The Prophecy Test. It is quite amazing to see how often bad religion goes hand in hand with leaders who show their true identity by grandiose predictions of the future. Most cult leaders make bold claims about their divining of the future and make foolish predictions. In a word, false prophets are good at making false prophecies. Sick churches stick with false prophets, no matter what.
* The Rational Test. Evangelical Christians have inherited an anti-intellectual mind-set that aids in spreading disease in church life. It is perfectly okay and, in fact, absolutely necessary to use your mind to make rational assessment of the bizarre, crazy, silly and wild claims that can be passed off as the truth. Don’t be scared to test the spirits. Gullibility is not a synonym for faith. Love God with your mind, even in church, especially in church.
* The Money-Sex-Power Test. Both Old and New Testament writers know the seductive allure of money, sex and power. Often Church abuse can be tracked by asking the right questions about proper boundaries in all three areas. Are the books open on church finances? Who holds the power and how is it wielded? Does your church have guidelines on sexual misconduct?
* The Jesus Test. Ultimately the Church is the body of Christ. Sick churches and abusive religion is marked by a betrayal of the teaching of Jesus and a failure to duplicate the path that Jesus walked. Do we care for the poor as Jesus did? Do we really have His view of money? How do we treat our enemies? Do we fast as Jesus did? WWJD is a good test for healthy Christianity.
Q & A on False Prophets
Do false prophets and cult leaders believe their own claims?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes in the vast majority of cases. Rev. Moon really does think he is the Second Coming of Jesus. David Koresh believed he was the end-time prophet and ordered the fires that killed him and his followers.
Are people in sick religions brainwashed?
In my opinion, brainwashing theory is very suspect in most religious stories. Most followers choose to believe their leader or group ideology through normal means. In some extreme cases the idea of brainwashing or radical social coercion is reasonable to use as part of the explanation for belief and behaviour.
If a Christian leader has a private plane does it prove that he/she is a false prophet? Isn’t this obviously abuse of Christian funds?
It actually may be a wiser use of money for a ministry to have a private plane. Taking an entire evangelism team on frequent revival campaigns is cheaper if regular airlines are avoided.
What is wrong with Christian Science belief in prayer for healing?
Christian Science leader Mary Baker Eddy actually taught that illness is not real. Sickness and death are delusions. Healing means being cured of belief that one is sick. This wicked theory employs the language of faith to deny the obvious reality of cancer or appendicitis. No medical treatment is sought and Christian Scientists die as a result.
Can denominational leaders be corrupt?
Sometimes. Jim Jones was ordained in a decent denomination and went off into his own crazy cultic world. Usually, however, denominations have guidelines and structures that force cultic-style leaders to depart from the group, all done while pointing to the evils of the denomination while the true follower is led down the garden path.
James Beverley is professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.
As our society repeatedly seeks the truth about Jesus, our backgrounds continue to affect the way He is seen
Every Advent season demands of all Christians a renewed commitment to the core reality of Christmas—the gift of Jesus to the world. With more than 70,000 biographies about Him, the figure of Jesus retains a significance virtually unmatched in human history. In spite of this ocean of ink, the debates continue in response to that ancient question—who is Jesus?
Mel Gibson’s new film about Jesus has created a new round of bitter controversy about the carpenter from Nazareth. Who is Jesus—that singular query leads anyone, Christian or otherwise, to a host of other issues, about the Gospels, history, miracles and revelation.
Two clear realities emerge from the study of what humans have thought about Jesus. The first is the abundance of different theories about who Jesus was or is. Here is a quick list: eternal Son of God and human, only human, only divine, adopted Son of God, a prophet, a revolutionary, a cynic, a radical rabbi, a philosopher, follower of Allah, avatar of the Hindu gods, enlightened Buddha, a magician, a drug dealer, sexually confused mystic and nothing more than a myth. We could add to this the ways in which every new religion draws a different picture again—Jesus as New Ager, defender of Rev. Moon, and on it goes.
The second thing is that views of Jesus parallel the moods of a given time period or the dominant framework of a particular denomination or school of thought. “Let us make Jesus in our image” seems to be the operating motif, even if unconsciously. Colin Brown noted in his Jesus in European Protestant Thought 1778-1860 that scholars generally treated Jesus “as someone like themselves, separated from them only by the lapse of centuries.” He said that they came to their study with their minds already made up that Jesus shared their theology and view of life.
What Brown documents about Europe applies worldwide and in all centuries. Early Catholic writers picture Jesus as a monk. The Eastern Orthodox see Jesus as the one who blesses icons. In post-Constantine Christendom Jesus becomes a regal king in harmony with his papal ambassador at the Vatican. In darker days the name of Jesus was invoked as Crusaders assaulted both Jews and Muslims in their campaigns from France to the Holy land. Torture machines for the Inquisition were built with invocation to Jesus and His mother. The various Orders of the Catholic tradition picture Jesus as a good Jesuit or Dominican, etc.
Protestant denominations paint Jesus according to their particular distinctives—Jesus the Lutheran, Jesus the Calvinist, Jesus the Mennonite, Jesus the Pentecostal, etc. When I was young I thought that Jesus was a Baptist who turned water into grape juice and was particularly interested in whether we smoked, danced and went to movies. Jesus was not very concerned with poverty or political integrity. He tolerated most other churches, but his work centred on Atlantic Baptist life, especially in New Brunswick.
Obviously, our denominational and theological traditions can distort the truth about Jesus. However, we should not be too self-critical. Even in the darkest days of the Catholic tradition some knew Jesus and followed His ways. The different Protestant traditions help us to capture some neglected aspect of Jesus. Pentecostals teach the rest of us that Jesus has given us the Spirit. Mennonites remind us of Jesus’ concern for the poor. I am proud of my own Baptist heritage for its emphasis on new birth, missions and prayer.
This Christmas season should find all Christians looking for Jesus in the only secure source about Him—the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament. In any historical study, pride of place goes to the earliest and primary documents. Apart from a few references in Roman and Jewish histories, the New Testament constitutes the sole source by those who either knew Jesus directly or wrote within decades of his death. If the Gospels are not reliable, there is no hope of knowing the truth about Jesus.
Now a warning—avoid scholars who believe they can reconstruct Jesus while deconstructing the Gospels. This cut and paste, pick and choose method leads basically to denial of the clear and repeated testimony of those who knew Jesus. These radical academics (like John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk) are smart and sincere. However, their assumptions and method strip Jesus of His divinity and miracles. They divorce faith from its historical anchor. In their guessing game with the Gospels, they lose both the meaning of the cross and the triumph of the empty tomb. Theirs is not a productive path. It empties churches and produces a very hollow Jesus.
The answer to Crossan, Funk and company is not found in abandoning the scholarly study of Scripture. Here, evangelical scholars like Craig Evans and Ben Witherington have provided very careful critiques of the Jesus Seminar. In his book The Controversial Jesus Arthur Paterson Lee has an extensive response to skeptic Robert Eisenman. Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig have written powerful defenses of the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus. Probably most important, C.S. Lewis in his classic essay “Fern Seed and Elephants”subjected the doubts of Rudolf Bultmann (the famous German scholar) to a devastating analysis.
One must pay a price for not being charmed by the skeptics. Their main taunt is that taking the Gospels at face value amounts to being guilty of that most wicked of crimes—taking the Bible literally. If literal means following standard rules of hermeneutics (the art of interpreting texts), plead guilty with pride! You will also be called a fundamentalist and an ignoramus. So be it if that means you follow the example of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley in accepting the obvious and plain meaning of sacred Scripture.
The famous biblical scholar Oswald T. Allis wrote one time that one has two choices about the Bible—either adopt it as your authority or adapt it to your own ideology. Any view of Jesus that does not adopt the Gospel records and the New Testament as a whole is doomed to present a false picture of Him, regardless of the intellectual pedigree. This is so simply because all we have (and all we need) are these reports by those who lived with Him, followed Him, and often suffered death because of their belief in His identity and calling from God and as His Son.
Who is Jesus? Read the Gospels once or a thousand times, in any version, and it is obvious. He is human, descended from David, born of a Virgin, worker of miracles, a prophet, Son of God, the promised Messiah and the incarnation of God. He was a powerful preacher, exorcist, prayer warrior and healer. He was demanding, gracious, powerful, gentle, courageous and loving. He drank wine, liked parties, hung around with sinners and loved the outsider. He died for our sins, rose bodily from the dead and is the coming King. He is more than this but not less. Have a Merry Christmas.
James Beverley is professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.
Tonight marks the beginning of a one-night, one-day event that organizers are calling the nation’s “strongest” apologetics conference.
Nearly 1,500 teens, parents, and church leaders have registered in advance for the sold-out event aimed to help teens to understand and defend the Christian worldview in a secular society, while more than 500 had to be turned away.
“With two out of three teens evacuating the church completely after they graduate from high school, we must do a better job of providing the answers teens need to make their faith their own,” explained Focus on the Family, which planned the Aug. 26 – 27 “Dare 2 Dig Deeper: Big Dig Apologetics Weekend Conference” in Colorado Springs, Colo.
According to several studies, a majority of the teens attending church will forsake their faith by their senior year of college. The loss of youth is frequently cited as one of the top five issues facing the church today.
“That’s why we’ve gathered top apologists from around the country,” Focus on the Family explained in a statement.
Although apologetics – the study of explaining Christianity using logic, science, and history – died out early last decade, apologists say it became popular in recent years as churchgoers increasingly lost their grasp of the message.
Conference director Alex McFarland, said his eyes were opened three years ago when he read a Time Magazine article by the Associated Press’s religion writer, Richard Ostling, who wrote: “Not only has the church in North America failed to convey its message to the young generation, but the church seems increasingly unsure what its message is.”
During this weekend’s apologetics conference, some of the nation’s leading apologetics experts will teach some of the most exciting issues in the Christian worldview debate today. They will demonstrate the facts on the Bible’s authenticity, provide evidence for Christ’s resurrection and life, propound on the existence of absolute truth and the dangers of moral relativism, and explain the difference between creation and evolution. The conference will help people understand and overcome spiritual doubts, reach skeptics with the Gospel, have a Christian response to Islam, respond to atheism and agnosticism, debunk The Da Vinci Code, and expose wicca, witchcraft and the occult.
The one-night, one-day conference features eight speakers including internationally-known Josh McDowell, author of More Than A Carpenter and famed atheist turned Christian, Lee Strobel, author of Case for Christ. Combined they’ve published 15 million books.
Also speaking will be Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church; Gary Habermas, a world-renowned expert on Christ’s resurrection who leads the Apologetics Christian World View program at Liberty University; Frank Turek, who authored I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist; and David Noebel, who founded Summit Ministries and authored the classic seminary text, Understanding the Times.
Rounding out the group are two others from Focus on the Family – the executive vice president, Del Tackett, who produced the upcoming worldview DVD series The Truth Project, and Alex McFarland, who serves as the teen apologetics director and hosts the radio show Truth Talk Live.
Over the years a number of explanations have been given to explain away Jesus’ walking on the water. Some have argued Jesus wasn’t actually walking on the water but was standing at the lake’s edge in a shallow place. Because the night was cloudy and dark, the disciples only thought they saw Jesus stride across the sea, when actually He didn’t. Others have fancifully argued Christ actually walked across a series of stones in the middle of the lake.
Nevertheless, not to be outdone among the skeptics, Professor Doron Nof of Florida State University claims it may have been ice Jesus stood on and not water. According to a recent article by Reuters, “Nof used records of the Mediterranean Sea’s surface temperatures and statistical models to examine the dynamics of the Sea of Galilee, which Israelis know now as Lake Kinneret. Nof’s study found that a period of cooler temperatures in the area between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago could have included the decades in which Jesus lived. A drop in temperature below freezing could have caused ice — thick enough to support a human — to form on the surface of the freshwater lake near the western shore ... it might have been nearly impossible for distant observers to see a piece of floating ice surrounded by water.”
It’s hard to believe any such theories are ever taken seriously. Yet they often are. Why? Why is it so incredibly hard for some to believe the obvious — a miracle took place?
Perhaps it’s because in a scientific age some people feel we’ve outgrown the idea of miracles as nothing more than silly superstitions. But what makes us feel some of the people in Jesus’ day weren’t skeptical too? There’s every reason to believe Nicodemus, a highly educated man in his day, was skeptical. Yet it seems it was the miracles of Christ that drove him to seek a meeting with the Savior by night to try and resolve his many questions (John 3:1, 2). Certainly Thomas was skeptical concerning the miracle of the resurrection. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe,” he said (John 20:25). So the people of Jesus’ day were no less skeptical than many are today.
Yet they couldn’t avoid the inescapable, irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ miracles. He healed leprosy, paralysis, a withered hand, deaf and dumbness, blindness, a severed ear, hemorrhaging, and dropsy. He turned water into wine, stilled a storm, caused a supernatural catch of fish, multiplied food, and dried up a fig tree. He raised a man’s daughter, a widow’s son, and Lazarus from the dead. Interestingly, even the critics of Jesus’ day didn’t deny His miracle-working power. Instead they wanted to kill Him before everyone believed in Him (John 11:48).
According to Reuters, Nof says, “If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t. Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it.” But how will Nof, and others who share his position, naturally explain all the other reported miracles of Jesus?
Moreover, apologist Josh McDowell writes: “[W]e must remember that scientific laws neither dictate events nor do they explain them. They are merely a generalization about observable causes and effects .... The proper way of determining if something happened is not whether we can explain it. The first question to be asked is not can it happen, but rather did it happen .... If an event can be determined as having happened, yet it defies explanation, we still have to admit that it happened, explanation or not. The evidence for biblical miracles is as powerful historically as other historical events (such as the fall of Rome and the conquests of Alexander the Great). Just because miracles are outside our normal daily experience does not mean they have not occurred and do not occur.”
Still another reason why some people have a hard time accepting the miracles described in the Bible is because they compare them to Greek and Roman mythology — tales of pagan miracle accounts that are clearly superstition. The difference, however, between the miraculous events recorded in the Bible and those in pagan religions are the firsthand accounts. In the Bible, miraculous events are always validated by the testimony of eyewitnesses.
What is more, their reality is often attested to by Christianity’s adversaries. For instance there are many references to Jesus’ miracles in the Jewish law books and histories. These are not mentioned in a complimentary way, but in a way that verifies Christ performed miracles. Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor from A.D. 361-363, an ardent opponent of Christianity, also unwittingly admits Christ’s power to perform miracles when he writes: “Jesus ... has now been celebrated about three hundred years; having done nothing in his lifetime worthy of fame, unless anyone thinks it a very great work to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany.”
So the fact that some miracles are counterfeits doesn’t mean all are a sham. It’s incredibly unscientific to throw out the miracles of the Bible based on “guilt by association.”
The fact is the miracles of Jesus attest to His person. They are His credentials, proving His claim to be the Son of God. As A.E. Garvie once so eloquently stated it: “A Christ who being the Son of God, and seeking to become the Savior of men, (and) wrought no miracle, would be less intelligible and credible than the Jesus whom the Gospel records so consistently present to us.”
There is only one reason Jesus walked on the water. It was not because He was walking on ice, but because He was who He claimed to be — God in human flesh — the very one who has the power to supersede all the laws of nature. Most importantly, it should be mentioned Jesus also performed miracles to demonstrate His authority to change and redeem lives, which is a considerably greater miracle than the ability to walk on water.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (email@example.com) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
A team of scientists from a Christian think-tank supports the idea that science and faith are not necessarily enemies.
Scientists from the Pasadena-based Reason to Believe (RTB) responded with support to a recent commentary from Gloria Hillard of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition concerning teaching intelligent design in the public classroom. Hillard concluded that scientific facts and faith do not have to contradict one another.
Astronomer Hugh Ross, founder and president of Reasons To Believe explains in a statement issued by RTM on Tuesday that “Attempts by both public educators and church ministers to keep science and religion in separate compartments end up castrating both the scientific and theological enterprises.
“Both science and theology deal with cause and effect and both attempt to explain the origin and history of the universe and life.”
Fuz Rana, a biochemist at RTB adds, “Science is a powerful tool for testing different religious and scientific ideas and models. Instead of holding seminars to help teachers know what to say when challenged by their students about evolution, we should be giving them the scientific tools they need to help students dig deeper and put the different models to the test.”
Scientists at the faith think-tank have voiced that they are not in favor of teaching the form of intelligent design that “certain religious groups have tried to force upon a number of state and local school boards.”
“These groups never identify the designer and consequently cannot produce an adequate explanation for the record of nature,” contends Ross.
“The question of who or what is the designer must be addressed through scientific models that are testable, falsifiable, and have the capability to make specific predictions of what scientists will discover in their future research.”
Founded in 1986, Reasons To Believe is an international, interdenominational ministry established to communicate the uniquely factual basis for belief in the Bible as the error-free Word of God and for personal faith in Jesus Christ as Creator and Savior.
“We have a unique opportunity make science education exciting again,” Ross concludes. “When believers and un-believers alike are willing to let science be a brutal yet fair competition among ideas, we show students how powerfully science can guide them in life’s most important decisions.”
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Science has become a dreaded seven-letter word that many Christians have avoided, thinking that there is no common ground between science and religion.
Reasons to Believe President Dr. Hugh Ross, whose international ministry was established to communicate the uniquely factual basis for belief in the Bible, urged Christian writers to show the links that exist between science and religion, however. The Christian apologist thinks that, through knowledge, the existence of God is becoming clearer and more visible, even to the secular world.
“There is an apologetics explosion that is quickly increasing with today’s discoveries,” explained Ross to an audience of religious journalists on Friday at the 2007 Evangelical Press Association (EPA) Convention. “Our increased knowledge is bringing new evidence for truth in the Bible.”
As a main subject, the ministry leader described the problems that Christians have had with science in the past.
One of these includes Christian persecution of evolutionary models while refusing to take a position on the history of life or the universe themselves. A setback also arises when the faith community makes out evolutionist to be only “evil.”
He explained that evolutionists will not just give up their model unless they are presented with a better one that is supported by the current evidence.
“We shouldn’t just have angry debates [with non-Christians] about science,” expressed the Canadian-born Old Earth creationist. “We can make models and peacefully present them.”
Other dilemmas that have occurred in past science stories done by religious publications include the tone of voice and the way information is presented. According to Ross, several writers have reported their view arrogantly as if others were silly for not agreeing. They also are sarcastic and make caricatures to describe other theories and prejudiced against opponents.
Another important aspect to scientific articles is to find reliable sources. This means to really doing the homework on scientists. Ross noted that more than 75% of religious literature written on science is biased and not well researched or supported by data.
With the growth of scientific knowledge, Ross sees much hope for the future. He believes that God will be revealed more and more.
Ross cited one example of science crossing over into religion, explaining that an overwhelming majority of Japanese astronomers have become Christians, which is unusual in the Christian-scarce country. It was through their studies of the universe that they uncovered a notion of God, one that later led them to a faith centered around Jesus.
Ross was also encouraged by an upcoming date in 2009. Feb. 12 will mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth as well as the 150th anniversary of the release of the Origin of Species, his research that led to the start of evolutionary thought.
The day will be a day where many Darwinists will come out to support the renowned scientist’s findings, but Ross expressed how Christians can use the date to reveal God’s work in nature.
“The book of Job…Job 38-39 has 50 questions that are asked by God,” explained the apologist. “We’ve answered 10.”
He expects to answer many more as time moves forward.
The loss of another leading Christian in the conservative movement poses concerns for the older generation of evangelicals, at least for one who sees America tipping at any moment either to the right or to the left.
“We’re in a very critical time in our nation where the pendulum ... could swing in one of two directions,” said Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential conservative evangelicals, this past week. “And so many of the things that we believe and have fought to defend are in question today.”
Dobson made his comments Thursday at the public funeral service honoring the life of Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Coral Ridge Ministries, who died last week at age 76.
“What I will miss most from Jim Kennedy is his courage, his willingness to stand for the things that he believed,” said Dobson, who said it was curious to him as to why God chose to take Kennedy when He did.
Kennedy’s death follows that of many prominent, older evangelicals that have stood out as leaders defending biblical values and resonating the Word of God as absolute and inerrant. Widely respected Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Dr. Jerry Falwell, who rallied conservatives to the political arena, are a few of those who have recently passed.
Other leaders who remain from that generation, including Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson and Billy Graham, are now at the point of having to pass the mantle down to the next generation.
“Many giants of the Church are coming to the end of their journeys and are leaving this earth one by one,” said Dobson, 71.
And now, “the passing of Dr. D. James Kennedy ... poses serious concerns about the future of the conservative Christian movement,” he said, reading from what he had written last week when he heard news of Kennedy’s death. “Its senior leadership is undergoing a dramatic and inevitable change at this time.”
Kennedy has been described as a man of his time who came on scene as an evangelical after World War II and viewed the United States as “a light on the hill,” as Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation and member of Coral Ridge Church, stated. Kennedy broadcasted messages nationwide defending traditional family values, condemning abortion and rejecting evolution. His messages currently reach 3.5 million people through radio, television, the Internet and print.
While critics have charged Kennedy of being political from the pulpit, Dobson defended the Presbyterian pastor saying “it wasn’t politics he cared about; it was morality and righteousness.”
With Kennedy’s death along with other evangelical giants, Dobson asked, “Who will defend the unborn child? Who’s going to fight for the institution of marriage which is on the ropes today? Who will teach young people the dangers of both heterosexual and homosexual promiscuity?
“Who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat when it is so much safer and more comfortable to avoid the controversial subjects? Who’s going to defend traditional morality and a culture that’s spinning into moral decline? Who will call sin by its name and lead a nation to repentance and holiness?”
Dr. Charles Stanley, 74, whose biblical messages are also broadcasted to millions of homes, understands Kennedy’s death is a big loss for the whole body of Christ, not just the religious right, as he recently pointed out. But Stanley is confident a new generation will rise to pick up the torch.
“God always raises up His servants to get His work done,” he said in an interview with The Christian Post.
Stephen N. Tchividjian, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, expressed willingness to carry on and pass on the legacy older evangelicals are leaving behind.
“There’s a new generation being raised up to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And it’s with that that we stand here and with great hope and desire to carry on the legacy [and – with] each and every one of us having had that impact in our own lives and being charged by the Lord himself to do that – to pass it on to the next generation,” said Tchividjian at the funeral service on Thursday.
“There much work to be done,” he noted. “You and I have been charged with that.”
While wondering if the younger generation would heed the divine call of the Lord and be willing to die, if necessary, to defend the truth, Dobson said he believes new leaders will emerge in the next few years.
“I pray that the Lord will anoint another generation of Jim Kennedys – courageous men and women who will never waver one inch in the defense of righteousness,” he said. “May God help the younger generation carry on the work that Dr. Jim Kennedy did so aptly for more than half a century and I pray that the Gospel will continue to prosper in their hands.”
Sometimes, giving pat answers to some of the most common apologetic questions students ask isn’t satisfying.
“What is truth?” and “How can we know Christianity is the true religion?” are two questions that Dale Fincher, author of the newly released Living with Questions, frequently comes across in his ministry career.
Fincher is offering students a softer approach to apologetics, a reading that doesn’t sound academic and that’s more accessible to younger Christians and those seeking answers about Christianity. [KH: doubtful; truth is hard]
“I really sensed there was this world out there that needed to wrestle with these questions and get honest with themselves [about] them,” he said, according to Youth Specialties, which supports Christian youth workers across various denominations.
With an educational background in performing arts and philosophy of religion, Fincher travels with his wife Jonalyn Grace, speaking to thousands of students and youth workers using narrative apologetics, or what they call “giving sturdy answers for better souls.”
Over 15 years into story telling and addressing common arguments in the church, Fincher doesn’t believe Christians are living in as much of a postmodern culture as many say they do, at least not among their students.
“I find that students really want to know what the truth is,” he said, arguing against many baby boomer authors who say the truth is dead and that it’s all relative in this culture. “They’re just confused about what truth is and I think if we clarify some of that confusion, they’re a little more ready to accept it and go into it.
“What I think our kids are allergic to right now is some sort of dogmatism by just saying something is true because we said it’s true, or that’s the way we’ve always done it,” Fincher noted.
Christian apologist Anthony Horvath and his brother Brian have started a new movement to fill in the gap that churches often leave when educating students on even basic Christian teachings and reasons for believing Christianity to be true. The brothers began a T-shirt line called Apologia315 to help students preserve and defend their own faith while also witnessing to others. T-shirts read “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” and “Why does God allow suffering?”
“While we hope that these T-shirts are a good first step, they’ll work best when integrated into a church’s whole educational program where Christian apologetics already is a critical component in the curriculum,” said Brian Horvath in a statement. “Unfortunately, not enough churches have such a program.”
But there aren’t really any five-minute answers to the questions seekers and Christians have, Fincher indicated.
“It’s just hard work,” he said, describing the research an individual needs to do to get find answers.
Although Fincher’s new book gives students some answers to the difficult questions and youth workers tips on how to address the student who’s asking, they’re all just “breadcrumbs of truth” along the way of an individual trying to piece together an answer satisfying to their own soul.
“Don’t put on the attitude that we know all the answers because we don’t,” said Fincher, addressing youth workers. “At the same time, [encourage] students that this is part of the journey of life and we’re trying to get to the point where we’re satisfied with an answer” and not to the answer that nobody can disprove.
Fincher reminds youth workers that all the burden isn’t on them when it comes to answering the difficult questions. “Of course, kids are responsible too and I believe they can handle it.”
By Dinesh D’Souza
My new book What’s So Great About Christianity starts hitting the stores this week. It’s the first comprehensive answer to the atheist books out there, such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great. I’m debating Hitchens in New York on October 22, and if you’d like to attend the details are at http://www.tkc.edu. I’d also like to kick some of the atheists off the bestseller lists. You can help by ordering my book online or asking for it at your local bookstore. But first let me tell you why I wrote the book and what it is about.
Christians are called upon to be “contenders” for their faith. This term suggests that they should be ready to stand up for their beliefs, and that they will face opposition. But in order to give reasons, you must first know what you believe. You must also know why you believe it. And you must be able to communicate these reasons to those who don’t share your beliefs. In short, you must know what’s so great about Christianity.
This is the arena in which many Christians have fallen short. Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear different language from that spoken in church.
Instead of engaging this secular world, most Christians have taken the easy way out. They have retreated into a Christian subculture where they engage Christian concerns. Then they step back into secular society, where their Christianity is kept out of sight until the next church service. Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time.
This divided lifestyle is opposed to what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells Christians not to be of the world, sharing its distorted priorities, but it does call upon believers to be in the world, fully engaged. Many Christians have abdicated this mission. They have instead sought a workable, comfortable modus vivendi in which they agree to leave the secular world alone if the secular world agrees to leave them alone. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould proposed the terms for the treaty in his book Rocks of Ages when he said that secular society relies on reason and decides matters of fact, while religious people rely on faith and decide questions about values. Many Christians seized upon this distinction with relief. This way they could stay in their subculture and be nice to everyone.
But a group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a powerful public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice. A new set of antireligious books—The God Delusion, The End of Faith, God Is Not Great, and so on—now shapes public debate.
These atheists reject the Gould solution. They say that a religious outlook makes specific claims about reality: there is a God, there is life after death, miracles do happen, and so on. If you are agnostic or atheist, you have a very different understanding of reality, one that is formed perhaps by a scientific or rationalist outlook. The argument of the atheists is that both views of reality cannot be simultaneously correct. If one is true, then the other is false.
The atheists have a point: there are not two truths or multiple truths; there is one truth. Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it. Either the Big Bang was the product of supernatural creation or it had a purely natural cause. In a larger sense, either the secular view of reality is correct or the religious view is correct. (Or both are wrong.) So far the atheists have been hammering the Christians and the Christians have been running for cover. It’s like one hand clapping.
This is not a time for Christians to turn the other cheek. Rather, it is a time to drive the money-changers out of the temple. The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control the school curricula, so that they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion—and especially the Christian religion—disappear from the face of the earth.
Christians must confront the challenge of modern atheism and secularism. This book provides a kind of tool kit to meet this challenge. The Christianity that is defended here is not “fundamentalism” but rather traditional Christianity, what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” the common ground of beliefs between Protestants and Catholics. This Christianity is the real target of the secular assault.
I have written What’s So Great About Christianity not only for believers but also for unbelievers. Many people are genuine seekers. They sense there is something out there that provides a grounding and an ultimate explanation for their deepest questions, yet that something eludes them. They feel the need for a higher sense of purpose in their lives, but they are unsure where to find it. Even though they have heard about God and Christianity, they cannot reconcile religious belief with reason and science: faith seems unreasonable and therefore untenable. Moreover, they worry that religion has been and can be an unhealthy source of intolerance and fanaticism, as evidenced by the motives of the September 11 terrorists. These are all reasonable concerns, and I address them head-on in this book.
This is also a book for atheists, or at least for those atheists who welcome a challenge. Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy. Their arguments have gone largely unanswered. They have been flogging the carcass of “fundamentalism” without having to encounter the horse-kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity. I think that if atheists are genuine rationalists they should welcome this book. It is an effort to meet the atheist argument on its own terms.
Nowhere in this book do I take Christianity for granted. My modus operandi is one of skepticism, to view the claims of religion in the same open-minded way that we view claims of any other sort. The difference between me and my atheist opponents is that I am skeptical not only of the irrational claims made in the name of religion but also of the irrational claims made in the name of science and of skepticism itself.
Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the others, this book will show the following—1) Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2) The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3) Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4) There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5) It is reasonable to have faith. 6) Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7) Atheism is often motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. I end this book by showing what is unique about Christianity and how our lives change if we become Christians.