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You don’t have to have a degree in theology, philosophy, or science to engage in Christian apologetics or “defending the faith.” What you need is a deep-seated faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and an abiding love for Him.

but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. -1 Peter 3:15-16

Did you notice what Peter didn’t say? He didn’t say you need to have a working knowledge of metaphysics or a basic understanding of aristotilian logic or even the scientific method.  He didn’t even suggest that conversation on spiritual matter requires an ability to answer all spiritual questions an unbeliever might have. While knowledge in the above areas is incredibly valuable, none of these things actually equip us for the task of defending the faith.

On the contrary, regarding “Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts is the means by which we will be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. In other words, if you want to be prepared to defend your faith–you must simply treasure Christ supremely in your heart.

You might object that some people won’t care about how precious Christ is to you. They have questions about Christianity, the Bible, evolution, etc. etc. Let me first say that most people don’t have nearly as many questions as we think they do. And secondly, all people are naturally opposed to the things of God anyway (1 Cor. 2:14).

When we seek to convince a non-Christian of the veracity of the Christian faith, we are fighting a losing battle. Apart from the work of God on the human heart, people suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In other words, its impossible for Christianity to gain a fair hearing–everyone you would hope to convince of Christianity’s merit are already opposed to it.

Does that mean that apologetic task is doomed to fail? If all our arguments will not convince people, how are we to approach apologetics? I have never met anyone who converted to Christ because they lost an argument about Christianity. On the contrary, I have witnessed many come to faith because of testimony of a faithful Christian and the hope they found in Christ.

The manner in which we do apologetics is as important as the answers we provide. Thus Peter says when you give a reason for the hope you have in Christ, do so “with gentleness and respect.” So its important that our lives are consistent, in some regard, with our testimony. I am not arguing that Christians seek to be perfect, but rather that they continually rely on, live by, and hope in the gospel.

Peter would have us be ready to give an answer “to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us.” You don’t have to be an expert in philosophy or science to do so because life’s biggest questions cannot be answered by science or philosophy. What happens when I die? Why did my friend die so young? Why is there so much sin, sickness, and despair in the world and will it ever go away? What is the meaning of my existence?

Science and philosophy attempt answers at these questions but neither can fix the problems that drive them. The gospel does one better. The gospel offers a fix to the problems behind these questions. Simply put, the gospel offers what people truly need:  hope.

Science and philosophy can only attempt answers to the “why” questions but neither can solve our most desperate problems. So instead of constantly worrying about whether you can intelligently answer every question your unbelieving friend might have, simply offer them the hope you have found in Christ. They may be completely closed off to any discussion of Jesus now, but eventually life will confront them with questions that they cannot answer and problems they cannot fix and if you are abiding in Christ you have the answer to their heart’s deepest longing–to know their creator through the sacrifices of His Son. When you have a friend desperate to save their marriage or coming to terms with the reality of death, if you are abiding in Christ, you have the answers to their most desperate questions.

I am thankful for intelligent Christians in the public square who are answering the scientific and philosophical questions of the unbelieving world. I praise the Lord for them but these conversations are not likely to produce much fruit. What will, however, is one friend offering another hope–hope to overcome our deepest flaws and failures. Hope to live again. Hope that will not disappoint.

I am still trying to figure out what my role is here at Elect Exiles. As many of you know, for the last year and a half I have been writing at Christ and Pop Culture. More recently I have taken on a larger role there as an editor. On a personal note, I think CaPC has benefited my writing tremendously due to being surrounded by an active community of writers and taking on the added challenge of editing. I grew weary of the random nature of my posts here at Elect Exiles and needed a more challenging and creative platform on which to write. CaPC has proved a fertile ground for such endeavors. Even more recently, I have begun writing a monthly column on Christianity, culture, and videogames for Relevant Magazine. This project has been incredibly rewarding as I believe the world of videogames is a pretty massive field that Christians are failing to adequately discuss, criticize, and interact with. These writing and editing endeavors along with being a husband, pastor, and soccer coach, have left me with little to no time to spend here at Elect Exiles.

At one point Elect Exiles was a fairly well read blog–at least in the sense that we had a number of subscribers, a regular rotation of weekly posts, active contributors, significant weekly hits, and the occasional article that blew up and spawned a lively discussion. However, life got busy for our other writers and eventually I was more or less the only active writer with Kevin Schaub posting the ocassional article.

So where does that leave Elect Exiles now? I have often thought about starting an entirely new blog where I write mostly personal things about life, marriage, family, ministry in the local church, and the like–things that don’t require extensive research and/or multiple drafts. However, most blogs die almost overnight it seems and I don’t see the point in starting something new when I have a blog I could resuscitate. Maybe I should let go of EE–it at least had a handful of productive years. And yet I haven’t been able to shut EE down, I feel like I still have something to say here.

For now my intention is to at least post a couple articles a week here. They will likely be personal rather than professional and reflective rather than academic. I know I have made commitments to this blog many times that I have failed to keep, so I am not making any promises but I do want a place to share what is going on in my life, my family, my church, and occasionally expound on my writing endeavors. Google+ may prove to be a better place for such endeavors but for now neither Facebook nor Twitter is sufficient for what I want to do, so I am going to try to pick EE back up.

So that is the tentative plan. Maybe Kevin Schaub will join in too and share his experiences–it was his blog in the beginning. Who knows maybe Tyler Whitman will resurrect his presence here as well–I can only hope so because blogging with Kevin and Tyler was a tremendous privilege. With that said, sometime this week–hopefully tomorrow, I plan to post a reflective piece on the birth of my daughter, Evelyn Jane Dixon, who was born last week and is precious!

I hope what I write here profits you but if not just remember the internet is a really big place ;)

Mark 2:1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This man and his friends were clearly determined to get a hearing with Jesus and their motivation seems clear enough—they believe Jesus can heal the lame. Of course if you read on you will find that Jesus did indeed make this paralytic man walk again but Jesus doesn’t begin by healing this man. Instead Jesus sees these men’s faith and says to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This isn’t what the paralytic was looking for. Perhaps he had some sense of his spiritual condition as we are told that Jesus “saw their faith,” but the goal of this man and his friends is physical healing and Jesus instead redirects the conversation toward sin.

Sin is rarely a popular subject in conversation and yet Jesus leads this conversation with, “your sins are forgiven.” Tim Keller reflects on this passage in his book The King’s Cross:

Jesus is confronting the paralytic with his main problem by driving him deep. Jesus is saying, “By coming to me and asking for only your body to be healed, you are not going deep enough. You have underestimated the depths of your longings, the longing of your heart” (pp. 28).

Physical healing is not this man’s deepest need. Our deepest needs are spiritual. The human heart’s deepest need is to know its maker. Sin is our greatest barrier in seeing that need met. Only Jesus can bring the sort of healing we really need and he offers this freely to this paralytic. He offers it freely to us.

I praise the Lord that He doesn’t always answer my prayers in the way that I would like Him to because in so doing He promises to meet my greatest need. Every day Jesus meets my greatest need—to be restored to the Father—to be a child of God. Jesus meets that need every day because every day He “lives to make intercession for me” (Hebrews 7:25).

Follow Jesus!

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1)

I looked up the word “imitation” in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. There are several Old Testament texts listed as negative examples. However, it only lists one negative example in the New Testament: Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 develops the concept of “masquerade” as false imitation or faux imitation. There, false apostles are masquerading as real apostles in the same way Satan masquerades as an angel of light and his servants masquerade as well. Finally, Jesus, in Mark 7:7, quotes Isaiah condemning hypocrites as those who honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.

The Bible is candidly clear: we will be either imitators or masqueraders. The question is, what/who will we imitate? The Eerdmans article states that discipleship and imitation are inseparable. Christians are called on to follow Jesus. In following Jesus, they are to pattern their lives, values, beliefs and behaviors after their Master. To masquerade, then, would be to outwardly appear to imitate Jesus, but not inwardly. Christian imitation of Jesus is more than outward conformity to certain patterns. It is a whole-person following of Jesus.

The Book of Revelation

Here’s how I chose to invite friends to study the Book of Revelation with me:

Humans are fascinated with the end of the world. We see this fascination everywhere. Alien invasions, Godzilla attacks, nuclear holocausts, and meteor strikes are only a small selection of our disaster movies that cinema enthusiasts relish. Even when real disasters strike, we have an uncanny knack for finding comfort in our apocalyptic entertainment and millennial charts. This appears odd at the outset. But is it, really?

Do we read books on the end of the world because we wish demise upon ourselves? Are we really that sick? Or, do we somehow believe that the end, whenever it comes, is not actually the end? The Bible speaks of the end times in great detail. But, the message seems awfully obscure to most of us. That complicates things. It seems too confusing to understand, at least for the most part. Yet we want to know. We want to know what will happen. We want to know, is the end really the end? Will we somehow triumph? Will death have the final say?

We naturally refuse to believe that kind of horrific idea, and say, death will surely not win.

This is because Christians are an incredibly hopeful people. It is built into our eschatology. We believe in all of God’s promises. We believe Jesus will return and reign at the end. We believe evil will be defeated and all wickedness will be destroyed, cast into the lake of fire.

And, we believe that the blessings Jesus brought with him at his first coming will be increased greatly when he returns. This is what theologians call the “already” and “not yet” theme of the kingdom of God in which we presently live. But that is simply the surface of what Scripture says about the future. We know it is difficult to understand what the Bible says about the end of the age and the age to come. We wonder, for example, will there be a millennium? If so, what will it be and when will it come? Will there be a “secret” rapture? If not, when will it be? There are certainly options for a framework of the key end times’ texts: premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial. But which, if any, are correct? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?

That is why books on the end times are written, at least the good ones. But we want to know what God’s book says about these things. If we can’t understand everything, what does God really want us to know right now, while we await the day of his return?

————————-

It is with that introduction that I invited friends into my home to study this difficult book. I’m curious as to how you might invite friends over to study the Book of Revelation? As for the study itself, my goal will be to help my friends see Revelation in terms of its present usefulness to Christians, much in the same way it would have been encouraging, useful, and needed among the churches it was originally addressed to. So, we will leave behind the charts and focus of the text itself. We’ll use the help of study Bibles and commentaries to help us as much as they can. And when we get to incredibly debated topics along the way, I’ll explain the different options and say which one I hold or lean toward.

“In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige.” (C.S. Lewis)

What does a heart after Jesus look like? Simple. Find nothing to think of more interesting than Jesus’ prestige! Where the world and culture has become opposed to God, the fundamental problem is idolatry. We are prone to trample what is good because we too often “find nothing to think of more interesting than [our] own prestige.” Christians know better. Jesus is worth every heart, every praise, and every allegiance. But we know the god of “this world” is in total opposition to Jesus. How should that truth affect how we live in the world? The Bible teaches, “Do not love the world.” What does that mean? To answer that question, we will need to study the different uses of the Greek word for “world” in the Bible, especially as it is used in texts like James 1:26-27 and 1 John 2:15-17.

The Greek word is kosmos, a word found 104 times in John’s writings alone. The text we will focus on here is 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” These are serious words. Many Christians cite 1 John 2:15-17 to denounce popular culture. But does 1 John 2:15-17 really teach that all popular culture is bad? Or, for that matter, does it really teach that “the world” is all bad? Here it helps to see the different ways in which the biblical writers employed the term kosmos in their writings. We will look at four of them briefly in this post.

First, kosmos can mean “all of God’s creation.” This is the world, the universe, and everything in it. In John 1:10, Jesus is said to be the one who created the world, and the word used there is kosmos. So, we should ask the question — should we love or not love the world Jesus created? Of course, the answer is, yes, we should love God’s creation. God loves his creation, and we should certainly love it also. Thus, this first meaning of kosmos doesn’t seem to be the use John is employing in 1 John 2:15-17.

What other meanings are there? A second use is what Kittle defines as “the theater of human and earthly history.” This use of kosmos simply means the inhabited world, what we call the earth. We see this definition employed in Matthew 4:8, for example, where Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” World in Matthew 4:8 is again that word kosmos. In this verse, it is a neutral term — unless, of course, “their glory” refers not only to the kingdoms. Again, this use of kosmos does not seem to fit John’s use in 1 John 2:15-17.

So let’s consider a third use. This one is pretty important. Kittle defines this third use as “the theater of salvation history.” This is what we call the world of redemptive history. Here we find kosmos used in that famous verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So, should we despise the “world” that God so loves? The answer is clearly no. So what does John mean by world in 1 John 2:15-17?

Thankfully, there is a fourth use — or I’m not sure what we’d do! John employs kosmos in 1 John 2:15-17 in reference to the world which is in opposition to God. This is the kosmos which, according to Kittle, is lost in sin, wholly at odds with God, lost and depraved. We see this use employed in John 16:11 where Satan is described as the world ruler, the “prince of this world.” This is the world in which Christians are to avoid at all costs. As John Bunyan writes, “What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.” We see this meaning of kosmos similarly used in verses like 1 Corinthians 1:27, Hebrews 11:38, and in many places in John.

So why bring this up? It is important to know what Scripture says about the world when it comes to your interactions with the things of this world. Should we flee from culture, live in the mountains, and await the Lord’s return? Or, should we wisely live in the world, on mission for Christ, redeeming the culture, creating culture, and avoiding those things that are in hardened opposition to God? The second option seems more fitting for Christians. Why? Because God loves the world, even lost humanity in the fallen world. He created a beautiful world, and one in which humanity can also creatively create! Remember, the Father sent his Son in the world in order to save it, as John 3:16 and 12:47 teach. In other words, texts such as 1 John 2:15-17 and James 1:27 do teach that we should be in opposition toward the “world” whose prince is Satan and stand against his schemes — that world will pass away — but we should conversely love God’s creation, and its people in the same way God does as well.

What does this mean for culture, then? How does an understanding of what the Bible means by “world” in texts like 1 John 2:15-17 help us when it comes to popular culture? Well, let me give you a couple of things to think about. One, “world in opposition to God” is not simply another way to say “culture” or “popular culture.” It’s not that simple. There are things in culture that are in opposition to God. And there are things which please God. To dismiss culture in one broad stroke as to say that it’s all anti-God or polluted is to forget that there are some aspects of culture that are good, sometimes beautiful.

Therefore, we need wisdom — and here are some practical helps. First, when it comes to moral legalism and license (which we discussed in part 2), think about this: don’t focus so much on what you must not do. Rather, focus on what you get to do when you are following Christ! It is a joyous privilege to follow Christ! Remember, a heart after Jesus is key to understanding what the Christian life is all about (see part 3). Consider your freedom to find joy in Jesus a greater freedom than your freedom to enjoy a movie — even if you do both at the same time! As one who enjoys watching movies, listening to music, watching TV, playing video games, and using social media, this is something I must take to task on a daily basis.

Second, God does give us real beauty and good things in the world, even from non-Christians. Still, even if some elements of popular culture are good, they must never become our gods (see part 4). Proverbs 24:13 and 25:16 are helpful here: honey is sweet, but if you eat too much of it you will get sick and vomit.

And third, for all of these things, we need to be asking the question about whether we should/can accept it, whether we must reject it, and whether we can redeem it. Or, as Bruce Ashford says, “we must consider how we, as Christians, can live faithfully, critically, and redemptively in the world in which we find ourselves.”

A Basic Guide to People

Christianity ought to radically change the way that we see people and relate to them. As I am currently working through the parables of Jesus, I have been struck by how many of them address our relationships with people. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus intimates that all people are our neighbors–even the person we are most frustrated with (for the Jew that was the Samaritan). Further, Jesus is more concerned with us living like neighbors than determining who fits that bill. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus indicates that we should be reaching out in love to all people. Living in a kingdom that is upon us and yet awaits fulfillment (already/not yet) should open our eyes to see the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy in our midst.

The gospelradically changes the way we see ourselves and other people and how we relate to them.  Using the four gospel truths of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, here is a basic guide to poeple:

  1. Creation:  God created the world and he made it good–everything in it, including you and me, belongs to him. Every breath is a gift.
  2. Fall:  God’s good creation has subjected itself to corruption. We have sinned and what God made good has been broken.
  3. Redemption: God promises to fix his broken creation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ.  People who trust Christ are healed of their corrupt nature.
  4. Consummation: God will send Jesus back to finally redeem those who trusted him and he will finally and decisively make all that is wrong in the world right.

Seeing ourselves in the right light:

  1. 1. We are created beings. We have value.
  2. We are broken. There is much about us that isn’t good–we need to be familiar with this aspect about ourselves. Our nature has been corrupted in a way that we cannot fix by ourselves.
  3. We can be redeemed through Christ. Our corrupt nature can be done away with and replaced with a new one. We don’t deserve this–its the most marvelous gift.
  4. We are not yet what we will be.

Seeing other people in the right light:

  1. They are created beings. They have value. Not one is worth more than another.
  2. They are broken. We should expect them to fail and even hurt us at times.
  3. They can be redeemed by grace. No one deserves this–that is why everyone should hear about it.
  4. Those God saves he will perfect.

Seeing ourselves in relation to other people:

  1. You are created and therefore have value to offer other people.
  2. You are broken and thus have the potential to do great harm to people made in God’s image.
  3. You are saved by God’s grace. You don’t deserve this–its a gift so you are no better than anyone else.  This salvation does grant you a unique potential to bless others.
  4. You are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. God isn’t done with you yet.

This paradigm has the power to radically change the way we see people and relate to them. As C.S. Lewis said–humans are immortal beings–that changes everything. Christians ought to be the humblest of all people.

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