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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.

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“Let’s just be honest and admit right up front that the Bible pulls no punches and leaves no room for a public relations effort to clean up the dust storm.” (Al Mohler)

One objection to the previous post is that the Bible contains history. Real history. It doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet. In the Bible real people commit heinous sins. There is crime, racial prejudice, sexual immorality, lies, and the list goes on. And so someone might object,

“Isn’t it better to watch movies or listen to songs that are more in touch with reality, that show what the Bible actually teaches about human depravity, or the redemptive qualities of authentic heroes in movies? Aren’t these more worthwhile examples of art and culture?”

Maybe. It kind of depends.

Indeed there are movies, songs, TV shows not made by Christians that are genuine works of art, portraying redemptive themes in plots, characters, stories, and lyrics. They contain heroic characters that point to God. Honestly, such examples are few and far between; but they do exist. But let me say this: the Bible is better! It is true, the Bible does not gloss over sin in its overall message of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. And without human history depicting the realness of the fall, we wouldn’t get a complete picture of the importance of each part of the story.

Nevertheless, the Bible, in the wisdom of God, protects us from temptations to sin in ways that most uninspired movies or songs probably won’t. When David commits adultery with Bathsheba, I don’t know of anyone who is tempted to lust as a result. When I read and learn from other parts of the Bible, it’s the same thing. Simply put, God’s Word will not tempt you to sin. It is a greater revelation of truth than anything you will find in popular culture. It teaches you. And it protects you.

Does that mean you should completely disengage from popular culture? I don’t think so. That is certainly not what I’m saying. Instead I’m saying that your heart for Jesus is more important than your love for entertainment. Your time spent in the Word is safer and more valuable than trying to learn all you know about God, man and salvation from popular culture.

In the next post, we will briefly discuss culture-creating.

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“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

There is no simpler answer to the question of the Christian life than to say, “Follow Jesus.” What does a heart after Jesus look like? Jesus is the supreme example of one who lived to please God the Father. He never stopped running the race until he was done. The author of Hebrews says that we should consider Jesus “so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted.” The same can be applied to your life. “Follow Jesus.” It could also be stated differently. For instance, consider the singular aim of Jesus to set his sight on the joy set before him “so that you may not get distracted” while you live in the world. Following Jesus is what it means to live the Christian life.

Yet that simple answer does not let you off the hook when it comes to your life in culture. You need to work hard to understand exactly what following after Jesus looks like in your cultural context. Jesus would not let wrong assumptions by the religious leaders of his day take a pass. And I don’t think he would let you do that when it comes to culture either.

Here an illustration helps. This will require us to return to our definitions of extreme moral legalism and extreme license. Picture your Christian life as an adventurous journey in the world down a narrow way. On either side you find dangers. To one side you notice a hot-wire fence labeled “extreme moral legalism.” When you look beyond the fence you see what appears to be a safe house. (You know, something to attract/distract you from the way.) The fence is dangerous, of course. It is a hot-wire fence.

To the other side you notice a grave danger. Just off the narrow road is a steep ravine with jagged rocks at the bottom, and you notice it is labeled “extreme license.” Yet along the way you notice a colorful hang glider. You think to yourself, “What freedom! What thrills I would feel flying that hang glider.” But, you don’t know how to use the hang glider. You don’t have a first clue! Getting off the narrow way for a thrilling ride on that hang glider would be a terrifying and stupid mistake!

I realize this is not a perfect illustration. You may object, “What if I know how to use a hang glider?” You would be missing the point. What I want you to picture is that the way of the Christian life is narrow in the world. It is following Jesus. As Jesus set his sight on the joy that was set before him, which led him to the cross, to endure hostility from sinners, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, and follow him. The Christian journey indeed is not to be a worldly one. But, it is a journey in the world. Therefore, knowing precisely how we are to live as Jesus followers in the world in reference to culture will require still more work on our part.

However, there are some key lessons that we can draw out thus far. First, though there is freedom in Christ for Christians, and there is freedom of conscience when it comes to questionable issues, extreme license can be incredibly destructive for the Christian life. We must ask, what does a heart after Jesus look like? Second, Scripture calls on us to guard our hearts, and this is a serious task! “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life!” (Proverbs 4:23)

In the next post we will consider examples of what extreme moral legalism is not.

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“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'” (Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920)

Dr. Bruce Ashford argues that the Christian has a daily life mission in the world. He writes, “As I see it, we as Christians should live faithfully, critically, and redemptively in the midst of the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves.” In this post I want to apply that statement to the questions we have already asked about popular culture, and I will begin to illustrate it toward the end.

The terms need to be defined before moving on. What does it mean to live faithfully in the world? In these posts, we take faithfully to refer to a heart attitude toward pleasing God by submitting to his rules. What then does it mean to live critically in the world? We apply the term critically in these posts as intelligently discerning whether a given example of popular culture should be accepted or rejected. And, what is meant by living redemptively in the world? In these posts, we take this to mean that Christians should consider how they can live in the world in such a way as to foreshadow God’s restoration of creation and culture in the new heavens and earth.

In these posts there will be no grand aspirations to wrestle our topic into a Rick Flair figure four™. However, we should be able to lay the groundwork for conversing with culture in real life. We will begin here with a series of questions, with the first question taking up the remainder of this post.

The first question is: which is more dangerous: legalism or license? Speaking on the danger of sexual immorality Paul counsels: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). These words are timely today as well.

This first question concerning legalism and license is a sticky issue, in part, because of confusion over the terms. Because of this, we need to define these terms carefully in order to answer the question.

First, what is meant here by legalism? For the purpose of our discussion, what I mean by legalism is strictly in reference to morality. Therefore it will appear here as moral legalism from this point forward. What is moral legalism then? This will serve to indicate an extreme position where one rules that given questionable components of popular culture are dangerous and should therefore be avoided at all costs. This becomes especially unhealthy when used to bind the consciences of others. We will discuss what moral legalism is not later on (in order to [hopefully] avoid being indifferent about questionable components of pop culture).

Second, what is meant here by license? No, we are not talking about your driver’s license! Here we are talking about an extreme heart attitude toward boundaries where one might believe one has a warrant to imbibe anything and everything in the world in the name of Christian liberty.

I don’t like either extreme. However, I would argue that license to an extreme is more dangerous than moral legalism. The majority of Christians I know (at least at this stage of life) already have well-developed allergies toward moral legalism’s extremes. They find it to be joy robbing and erroneous.

With that in mind, the majority of Christians bounce around somewhere in between these two extremes. It’s an uneasy relationship. In the next post we will develop a middle road with principles gleaned from the Bible. What we will end up with serves to answer the most important question for the Christian life: what does a heart after Jesus look like? The answer to that question helps form what exactly it means to live according to Dr. Ashford’s statement above.

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If you haven’t heard, the Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC) of Gainsville, FL, a church of about 50 people, plans to burn several hundred copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11. Their Pastor, Terry Jones, told  ABC’s “Nightline” on Tuesday “Jesus would not run around burning books, but I think he would burn this one.”

I don’t know what is more infuriating—the astronomical amount coverage that has been given to a nutty, disgruntled pastor in Florida or the fact that said Pastor thinks it wise and pleasing to God to burn Qur’ans.  When folks in Jakarta, Indonesia found out about this small church in Florida planning to burn Qur’ans, thousands rioted outside the U.S. Embassy.  In Kabul, Afghanistan, thousands protested and burned an effigy of Pastor Jones!  That seems a bit of a strong reaction to the burning of your holy book.  Its incredible that this sort of nonsense is not getting the same media attention as some crack pot who leads a church of 50 people is planning to burn a few thousand copies of the Qur’an.  Nevertheless, we as Christians need to remember that not all the Muslims in the world are rioting and again that our aim is always first and foremost the proclaimation of the gospel to all people.

I think it goes without saying that this action is not the sort of thing that Christian churches ought to be doing.  We are, after all, called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).  Further the purpose of the church is to make disciples to the glory of God (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), and we are do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).  It is difficult for me to understand how burning another world religion’s sacred book would aid us in fulfilling the great commission.

This act is nothing more than disrespect.  Such statements do not represent what Biblical Christianity is about. Such statements do not promote Muslim/Christian dialogue—in fact such acts serve to cut off such dialogue and erect unnecessary walls to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what do we do when professing Christians act foolishly in public like this?

I have three suggestions:

  1. Ignore them—Pastor Jones and his church are looking for attention.  This is a publicity stunt—so the best thing we can do in response is ignore them.  If the media in our country had half a brain, they would have ignored it too, but instead its been made a national spectacle and Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus are somehow involved.
  2. Major on the Majors—what bothers me most is the unnecessary walls to the gospel that are being erected because of this.  This ought to remind us of the Biblical call to take the gospel to all nations—including Islamic nations.
  3. Live above them.  When people misrepresent Christ, we must strive all the more faithfully to represent Him as He truly is.  When Jesus said we are to shine as lights in the world, I am not sure he had in mind Christians lighting other religious books on fire in protest.  Don’t mishear me—I think the Qu’ran is a false book, I think it has led many people to Hell, but again the goal of the church is to make disciples of all nations.

Interestingly enough, Pastor Jones said, “We expect Muslims that are here in America to respect, honor, obey, submit to our Constitution.”  It is that very same constitution that gives Muslims the right to read the Qu’ran and Christian’s the right to share the gospel with such Muslims.

What a crazy world we live in—I think the best thing we can do with this whole fiasco is to ignore it and press on to preach the gospel to all tribes, tongues, and people

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Question: As a Christian, is Satan afraid of me?

I think this is a fascinating question. A youth in our student ministry asked this question recently, so this post is the written version of my response to him. The answer has two parts. I hope you enjoy!

(1) I believe there is a sense in which Satan is terrified of Christians, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the ability of Christians to stand against Satan. Instead it has everything to do with Jesus’ power to send Satan to flight.

Satan’s fear is locked-in on Jesus, because Jesus will destroy him in the end. Where we stand toe-to-toe with the forces of evil as infantry in Jesus’ army, Satan is fighting a losing battle — and it’s because of our captain, Jesus, not simply because of us.

James 4:7 teaches, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The picture is similar to the standoff between Satan and Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus’ temptation is the antitype of Adam’s in the book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve both crumbled under Satan’s simple argument. We must not think ourselves better than they, or we will set ourselves up to fall just as hard! Instead, we bank on God’s strength for resisting the devil, “and he will flee from you.”

So the wise Christian hears the Word of God and does not boast foolishly that Satan is too weak to hurt believers. He stands and agrees with Rev. 12:9 — that Satan is the “ancient serpent” and one “who leads the whole world astray.” He remembers that Satan even “rose up against Israel and incited” David, Israel’s great king, to sin (1 Chron. 21:1). He remembers that Satan’s ways can fill even the hearts of believers and lead to destruction, as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3). He wisely remembers that the devil “himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:4). He cautiously knows that Satan, as he did with Paul, can even try to stop you from doing what you want to do for God (1 Thess. 2:18). Then, perhaps most dangerously, the Bible warns that some turn away from Jesus to follow Satan (1 Tim. 5:15).

I list those verses to help us keep our heads on our shoulders. Satan is a formidable enemy! He hates the people of God, and he will do whatever he can to stop the advance of the gospel, most obviously, by destroying one’s testimony. So, my caution to you is not that you can’t face Satan with Jesus’ help and see him flee, but more that you humbly take to heart that this is a serious fight, not a simple-answer-fight against the devil.

And here is the second part.

(2) Here are some verses that should give us a rush of exhilaration knowing that Satan is no match for Jesus!

In Zech. 3:2, God himself rebukes Satan — imagine that scene! In Luke 10:18, when the disciples returned from the nearby towns after preaching the Good News there, they returned in excitement; and Jesus described it this way, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!” In Acts 26:18, Paul says that the gospel has the power to “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” And, I love this: Romans 16:20 teaches, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

I would like to encourage you to note that wherever there is victory over Satan, it is because of what God does. It’s his power over Satan, not ours. Notice that it is God who will crush Satan under your feet. So, I believe that is a biblically accurate way to say that Satan is not happy with you!

Satan is not happy with you, because you are now a light in a dark world, who is commissioned by King Jesus to share the gospel, and snatch others out of the grasp of the ancient serpent. Satan would have a much easier time deceiving people if there weren’t Christians onward marching, telling the world what the Word of God says! Satan would have a much easier time directing peoples’ paths to destruction, especially since that is their natural path anyway, if it weren’t for born-again Christians thwarting his plans by the power of God!

As Russ Moore says, “Tremble, O Proud Snake King” . . . for

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet!” (Rom. 16:20).

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Marriage exists to help us make much of Christ.  I have been striving to define marriage this way in the last two newsletters that I have written.  First I made the argument that you are what is wrong with your marriage.  I wasn’t trying to be mean or judgmental but simply wanted to point out that marital problems are not primarily circumstantial but rather they arise because in every case, marriage is a covenant entered into by two sinners.  Sin comes from within the human heart, not from without (Mark 7:20-23).  If we want our marriages to improve, we need God to change our hearts not our circumstances. In my second article, I argued that Dr. Phil can’t fix your marriage or mine.  The reason being that much of the marital advice given by secular marriage experts is based on compromise between two people of differing mindsets and passions.  I therefore argued that what our marriages need is not a healthy dose of compromise but a common vision and goal.  Husbands and wives, to have a healthy relationship, need to be going in the same direction.  They need to be pursuing something together, namely Jesus Christ and conformity to Him.

When I read Ephesians 5:22-33, I think we see the purpose of marriage very clearly.  God designed marriage to make us holy—to make us more and more like Christ and thus to magnify Christ in greater and greater degree during our sojourn here on earth.  Does that mean that single people are less holy?  No not at all (1 Cor. 7:6-7), it just means that God has designed marriage in a unique way such that it provides special opportunities to image Christ to the world.

So how can your marriage display the glory of Christ more clearly?  How has God designed your marriage as a means to holiness?  I can think of at least three ways:

Marriage is a means to holiness by . . .

  1. Its very nature.  God created marriage to be a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Eph. 5:31).  In the Old Testament, “flesh” more often than not is synonymous with “person.”  In other words the idea of sinful flesh or the flesh being synonymous with the sinful nature is a not what is intended by marriage being a “one flesh” union.  For example, in Genesis 6:12, just before the flood, we learn that “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  Clearly here, God means that all people corrupted their way on the earth.  Thus in being one flesh, a husband and a wife are no longer two people but one.  This idea of “one flesh” certainly carries a sexual aspect but it is much bigger than that.  Inside of marriage, you can no longer think of yourself as an autonomous individual.  Marriage by its very nature attacks selfishness and self-worship.  What is at the heart of your marital squabbles?  If you are honest before God, is not selfishness at the root?  As a follower of Christ, God has graced you with a spouse to reveal your own selfishness to you so that you might repent from it and He will uproot it out of you and make you more like Jesus.  That is good news and God has designed your marriage to do that on a regular basis. Marriage shows us our sin so that we might hate it and repent from it and thus image Christ more clearly.
  1. Its roles.  Wives and husbands are clearly equal in Scripture (Gal. 3:28-29; Gen. 1:26-28; 1 Peter 3:7), but Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly gives them different commands.  God commands wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord” (v22) and husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).  In the curses pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the fall, we see that there is going to conflict inside of marriage because they will struggle to keep these commands (Gen. 3:16).  We could probably all attest to the fact that husbands get frustrated when they feel they are not respected and wives get frustrated when they don’t feel loved.  The headship of the husband is not all about making all the big decisions, let’s not forget that the husband and wife are now “one flesh”  In fact, the husbands headship is primarily spiritually directed.  The primary way in which husbands are to lead their wives is toward Christ (Eph. 5:25-27).  Husbands lead primarily through love—loving in a self-sacrificial, Christ-like way that frees the wife to grow in her relationship to Christ because she is receiving the kind of love that God intended for her inside of marriage.  Similarly, wives point their husbands to Christ by submitting to them as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22).  This doesn’t mean that wives are to blindly do whatever their husbands say, it means they strive to respect their husbands and submit to their humble headship out of love for Christ.

Husbands its worth noting at this point, that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about you taking the back seat when it comes to keeping house and raising the children.  In fact you are to be the lead discipler of your children (Eph. 6:1-3) and are to love your wife in a self-sacrificial way (Eph. 5:25).  The Bible tells us more about who we are supposed to be in marriage than it does about exactly what we are supposed to do.  It is clear, you are to love your wife to such an extent that you would give your life for her—that may mean swallowing your pride, turning off the TV and helping her around the house.  Similarly, wives when you do not feel loved there is a very discouraging and disrespectful way to express that which will crush your husband.  Strive to respect him—even when you disagree with him.  Work to communicate your frustrations and disagreements in a way that values and respects your husband.  Husbands when you love your wives like Christ loves the church, they will find joy in submitting to your Christ-like leadership.  Wives when you respect your husbands, they will find joy in loving you self-sacrificially.  When we live faithfully inside the roles God created for marriage, we display the glory of Christ in our marriages.

  1. By its evangelism.  Marriage is a mighty tool in the hands of God to take the gospel to the world.  When we live within the roles God created to be exercised in marriage, a godly marriage then naturally displays the gospel–husbands are showing the love of Christ for the church by giving of themselves for the good of their wives and wives are submitting to them out of love for Christ.  Godly marriages are grace-centered, deep hurts can be overcome inside of Christian marriages because they are grounded in the gospel that tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12).

There is a call inside of Christian marriage to invite unbelievers into our lives, to let them see the way we live and be challenged by it.  If we are living the way that God calls us to live in marriage, we will display the grace of Christ in the gospel—we will stick out from the secular marriages around us that are treading through the muddled waters of compromise.  God has designed Christian marriage to be a display of Christ’s redemptive love for the church—thus your marriage is a mighty tool to draw both your neighbors and the nations to himself!

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