Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

All believers need to be able to explain why they believe in the resurrection. "He lives within my heart" or "I spoke to him this morning" may be fine as part of that, but it can't be the sum total of it. The bodily resurrection of Christ is a historical fact or Christianity is a joke.

The truth is that the resurrection of Christ is a story no one would make up. If you've never read that series before, please do. In all, I can combine that into one speech about 20 minutes long — and that is still leaving out some of the evidence.

Here I will boil it down into versions that can be shared in a few minutes or less.

(Bold is for subject headings/barest statements of facts. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus all happened publicly.

Jesus was executed in a public place and buried in a public cemetery. After his resurrection, his tomb was empty for all to see. Many of his post-resurrection appearances were in public places.

It is impossible to believe that Christianity could have begun in Jerusalem, within a short walk of Christ's tomb, unless that tomb was empty. The Jewish and Roman leaders would have been happy to produce Jesus' body to silence those who claimed he'd been raised from the dead (c.f., Acts 4). Instead, the oldest Jewish argument against the resurrection (the disciples stole the body) assumes an empty tomb.

2. The story contains many embarrassing elements that would have been omitted if untrue.

If first century Jews were to make up a story to start a new religion, it would not have included the founder being executed in what that society saw as the lowest, most degrading manner. They would not have women be the primary witnesses to the resurrection because that society viewed women as unreliable witnesses. They would not have made themselves look bad, being petty and argumentative and never understanding Jesus. And they wouldn't have included the fact that Jesus' own family didn't believe in him.

It's hard to grasp how that looked to people in their day. In modern terms, this story is as implausible as if the founder was put to death in the electric chair, the witness to the resurrection was the town drunk, his followers were childish high school dropouts, and Jesus' family had tried to have him committed to a mental hospital. It's not that these elements can't be true. It's that you wouldn't make these elements up if you were making things up.

3. There are many different appearance stories.

Jesus appeared to his followers under a variety of circumstances. It happened individually and in groups of varying sizes (from 2 to 500). He appeared in private rooms and in public places. He touched people and things. He even appeared to some who weren't his followers.

Some claim that the post-resurrection appearances were dreams, visions, or grief- (or drug-) induced hallucinations. But the variety of the appearances prevents that from being plausible. One person might convince himself that he saw Jesus, but not 500. They touched him. He cooked them lunch. Dreams don't cook.

4. There is no other explanation for the changes the resurrection caused.

Two changes that have to be explained are the changes in the disciples and the changes they made in their traditions. Cowards now boldly proclaimed that their crucified leader was Lord of the universe under threat of violence. And they proceeded to change the use and meaning of traditional ceremonies based on their belief that Jesus was the resurrected Lord.

First century Jews were very big on tradition. There was a right was to do everything, and it was the old way. But after Easter this group of Jews took the Passover meal and turned it into communion saying that there was a new covenant that did away with the centuries old sacrificial system. And these men, who ran and hid when Jesus was arrested, continued to teach this after being arrested and beaten and even when people started killing members of their group.

5. The story was prophesied long before it happened.

Dozens of elements of this unlikely story were foretold hundreds of years before it happened. Things no mere man could have controlled had to come together to fulfill these prophecies. Pick just eight prophecies — lots cast for His clothes, death by crucifixion, silent before accusers, badly beaten, killed with criminals, buried with rich, resurrection, betrayed for money. The odds of someone orchestrating those eight elements are 1 in a hundred million billion. Dozens of prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

One in a hundred million billion is a hard number to picture. A useful illustration goes like this: Cover the state of Texas two feet deep with silver dollars. Mark one of them and throw it out at random. Blindfold someone and let them walk as far as they want; then they pick up one silver dollar. The odds that they picked up the one you marked are the same as Christ fulfilling just eight prophecies.

These five elements of this story make for a story that you wouldn't, couldn't make up. That's why I believe it.

This argument requires that you believe that miracles are possible; that only requires that God exists. It also requires that you trust the Bible as a reliable source of information.

The above is drawn from many sources, chiefly The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe the Bible?

We need to be able to explain why people should take the Bible seriously. If the only explanation is "it works" or "I just believe it," it has nothing more to offer than the Koran or the Hindu Vedas.

But that's not why we should believe the Bible.

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye witnesses to supernatural events that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.
This sentence can constitute an answer to "why should I believe the Bible." The key points of this sentence can then be expanded as necessary for argumentation or explanation. Again, whole books have been written on this subject, but this is a thumbnail argument.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents ...

We have ample evidence that we have, within a reasonable degree of certainty, what the Biblical authors wrote.

It is frequently claimed that modern Bibles are based on translations of translations that take us far away from the original writings of the Bible. That is false. We have thousands of copies of the Biblical texts in the original languages. We also have thousands of early translations. We also have quotations from the Bible in the writings of saints of the past. With all of these sources, we can determine what the original text really said.

We also have ample evidence that the authors wanted to and were able to honestly record what happened.

The authors tell us they wrote what they heard and saw or what they carefully researched. They share embarrassing or confusing things they could easily have left out. Where they can be checked against archeology, they have held up.

...written by eye witnesses to supernatural events...

These people wrote about what they saw, and what they saw were things that couldn't have happened by natural means. From a handful of men routing armies to the raising of the dead, the authors recorded a series of impossible things.

...that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.

Those impossible things were, in many cases, foretold. Prophecies come true throughout the Bible — for example, the destruction of Tyre or Cyrus' returning the Jews to Israel — but most center around Jesus. There are more than a dozen very specific prophecies fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those prophecies and the supernatural events they foretold are the proof that the Bible was not written merely by men. God is the ultimate author of this book.

This argument is the strongest for the New Testament. If we have to further bolster the case for the Old Testament, I argue that the support of a man who died and rose from the grave gives it more than enough credibility.

The above borrows heavily from The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in God?

These are the arguments for the existence of God I find most compelling. There are others. Use what appeals to you, the ones you find compelling.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics gives explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The Cosmological Argument

A. Whatever began to exist has a cause. The universe began. Therefore the universe must have a cause.

Something cannot come from nothing. Even subatomic particles that arise from vacuum fluctuations aren't coming from "nothing" but from an energy-rich quantum field. If anything has ever come from nothing, anything can come from nothing.

However, God doesn't need a cause because God did not begin. There cannot be a continual, infinite progression of causes. It must stop somewhere. True infinities do not exist. There must be a first cause, and that is God (see B).

But the universe did begin. That the universe began to exist is a necessary result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and General Relativity (among other physical observations). It is simply not possible that the universe has always existed.

If the universe didn't always exist, and if something can't come from nothing, something created the universe.

B. If the conditions for the creation of the universe were always met, the universe would have always existed. The universe has not always existed. Therefore some condition had to change. The physical conditions could not change, so it had to be a decision on the part of the creator — thus the creator has to be personal, not simply some force.

2. The Design Argument

The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design. It is not due to physical necessity or chance. Therefore, it is due to design.

The design in the universe is unmistakable. There are dozens of physical parameters in the universe that have to be just so before life — any life, not just human — is even conceivable. One example is the cosmological constant which drives the expansion of the universe. If it were different by one part in 10 to the power of 120 (or 10^120; 10^9 is a billion) life couldn't exist.

These numbers don't have to be anything like they are, but if they weren't what they are, no one would be here. The odds of all of them being what they are simply by chance are beyond ridiculous — it would be like one person winning the lottery millions of times.

Therefore the features of the universe that make life possible must have been designed by an intelligent, personal designer

3. The Moral Argument

If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God exists.

Notice that this is NOT arguing that atheists cannot be good. It's arguing that if God doesn't exist, there is no such thing as objective "good." If humans are just unusually advanced animals, murder is not wrong. One man killing another is no more wrong than a lion killing a gazelle. There is no moral obligation to help each other. Selfishness is nothing worse than the lion failing to share with the hyena.

But we all know instinctively that murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. Stealing is wrong. It is good to help people who are in need. We feel bad when we do wrong and when we fail to do right because this morality is ingrained in us. When someone does evil we do not respond as if the rules for a well-functioning society have been violated. We respond as if something evil has been committed. Those few who seem not to recognize morality do not disprove morality any more than the colorblind disprove the existence of color.

This inborn, universal knowledge of objective moral values and duties shows that God must exist.

The above only proves that a god exists. It takes more to prove the existence of the Christian God. For that you have to move from here to the case for believing the Bible and for the resurrection of Christ.

Whole books have been written on these topics. This is of necessity a brief summary. I encourage you to study so that you can explain these arguments in more detail where it is needed.

The above borrows heavily from On Guard by Williams Lane Craig.

Staying Ready to Defend the Faith

One day I was eating lunch and had a puzzling thought:

I collect knives. I have big knives and small knives. I have pretty knives and scary knives. I have knives with lights in them, knives with tools in them, and knives with knives in them.

So why am I cutting my chicken with a spoon?

Having all the knives in the world does me no good if I don't have one with me when I need it.

Christendom has all the tools it needs to defend the faith. They will do you no good if you don't appropriate them. And even if you go out and buy some good books, having all the books in the world will do you no good if you don't remember what is in them.

I've read quite a few theology and apologetics books. I've also read blogs and magazine articles. I've watched tv shows and listened to podcasts.

And a couple of years later I couldn't recall half of what I had once learned.

So I decided I should create some "crib sheets" I could review from time to time to jog my memory — or that I could flat out pull out in a pinch. (People choke under pressure. Don't be ashamed. Be prepared.)

I encourage you to do something like this on your own, but in the meantime, these notes are something you can refer to if you need them. You can even copy them into a memo on your phone or bookmark them in your browser if you want. Use them however you need if you find them helpful.

Apologetics crib sheets:

Why do I believe in God?

Why do I believe the Bible?

Why do I believe in the resurrection of Christ?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preparing to Defend the Faith

We need to be able to explain what we believe and why we believe it. It's not hard to do, but it does require some effort on our part. The best place to get this is from books, but that's not the only place. There are radio programs and podcasts that cover this as well as online classes. I highly recommend's classes on the Bible, theology, and apologetics — all free.

But don't run away from reading. If the average reader can spend just 30 minutes a day reading, he can go through 5 or so good books a year. And there are books on tape/mp3 (visit Some Kindles will read to you, too. (I have my Kindle plugged into the aux port in my car stereo, and it reads to me every day as I commute to and from work.)

In short, there are a lot of ways you can equip yourself if you’re willing to put the time and effort into it. After you start learning, you need to practice. Basically, start up discussions with your friends 
 get used to using the information, and try to learn the arguments that can come up against them. You also might want to read a little anti-Christian literature. This is an area where it is important to test yourself against the other side or you won’t grow. So at first find Christian friends to play devil’s advocate, and then find people who are actually on the devil’s side. It’s a painful growth process, but you’ll be glad you did.

Preparation is the key here. You have to prepare before you’re in trouble. If you wait until you need this, it’s too late.

Last, after you’ve prepared, and after you’ve practiced, repeat! If you don’t use it, you lose it. Think about all that math you used to know. It's gone now due to lack of use, right? If you don’t keep refreshing yourself, you’ll start to forget.

So what should you read? Theology and apologetics. What does that mean?

Theology focuses on drawing what we believe out of the Bible. Systematic Theology tries to gather up everything the Bible says on certain topics. This is mostly what I'm talking about (not that other types of theological study don't have value, too). There are good books on certain theological topics (eg, the nature of God or the deity of Christ) — both large and small. There are a number of good single-volume systematic theologies. There are also multi-volume sets. You can go as shallow or as deep as you want. You could just read one quality systematic theology and call it done, or you could read a few and see what differences there are and work out what you personally believe. I recommend reading at least one single-volume systematic theology.

5-Minute Theologian is the shortest book I've found that can be called a systematic theology. It's the bare minimum, but it's something. Read one short "5 minute" chapter a day and you'll have a fair survey of systematic theology in just over a month.

But if you can go a little heavier, there are good single-volume texts by Ryrie, Grudem, Erickson, and Geisler. (A word of warning, most systematic theologies are written by theologians of a Calvinist bent; they're all written from some theological system or another. Don't let it bother you if they don't teach everything you believe.) Some are written for a popular audience, and some are aimed at theology majors or even graduate students; check descriptions and reviews so you aren't surprised, but while the popular may give you all you need, you might find you enjoy the deeper studies.

Remember that theology is just what we believe. Some people can make it dry, but studying the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit can be powerfully moving. You will probably find yourself drawn to worship as you read about the working of God. It's not for nothing that Paul so frequently slipped into doxology as he explained God's nature and plans.

As for apologetics, you can break it up into different topics. What I call historical apologetics refers to questions about whether or not the Bible is reliable or whether Christ really rose – things like that. A great introduction to that topic is Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. Besides being a good book, its best feature is that at the end of each chapter on the different topics it gives you a good list of books to read if you want to go deeper. Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter is a popular and shorter book, though it’s narrower in focus.

Scientific apologetics gets into questions regarding the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Strobel has another of his survey/introduction books called The Case for a Creator that you might want to check out. Two books I really got a lot out of are Hugh Ross’ The Creator and the Cosmos and The Fingerprint of God.

(I should probably step off on a tangent here. Ross is what is called an old-earth creationist – he believes God made everything billions of years ago. Many evangelical Christians are what is called a young-earth creationist – they believe that God made everything a few thousand years ago. I don’t care which you are as long as you believe God created everything. But if you are a young earther, and you come across a typical non-Christian who believes the earth is 4 billion years old, your choices are to spend a lot of time trying to convince them that everything he believes about the universe is wrong or you can use what he believes to show that God must have created the universe. The second is a lot more likely to succeed. Believe whatever you think is true, but meet your atheist friend where he is.)

Philosophical apologetics is really just answering those more generalized questions – does God really exist, how can a good God allow evil, things like that. C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is considered one of the classics of the field; it also gets into some theological stuff. The oh so prolific Lee Strobel has another book called The Case for Faith that deals with these kinds of questions too. William Lane Craig's On Guard covers this well with a bit on the reality of the resurrection as well; it's my new favorite.

5 Minute Apologist (written by the same author as 5 Minute Theologian) has a book with those same brief chapters that covers the gamut on apologetics in obviously less detail, but if that's all you can do, or if you need a primer to get started, do what you have to do.

These are just my suggestions. There are lots of great books out there, and if you’ve got some, or if someone’s recommended some others, that’s fine. This is a resource for those who don’t have any idea where to start.

This is all general stuff. If you need to answer questions regarding a particular religion or cult or issues impacting our society right now – like the stem cell debate – you may have to do more specific reading. But if you’ve never read a single book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet you’re very familiar with Christian theology, you will be equipped to deal, at least on a basic level, with JW questions that arise. We can’t be specialists in everything, but we can be broad generalists, and that will help you know where to go when you need more specific information.

What matters is to prepare. Decide you're going to do it, buy a book or download some mp3's, and set a time to go through the material. The other side's information is everywhere, ready to assault hearts and minds. You are the defense. Arm yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Defending the faith against attackers

When we are equipped to defend the faith, we are a tool for bringing the lost to Christ and a help for the saints around us. But there's another kind of person we may meet.

Some unbelievers honestly ask questions wanting to understand why we believe what we believe and perhaps join us in the family of God. Other unbelievers, though, are not just non-Christians, they’re anti-Christians. These people are convinced that Christianity is synonymous with brain-death. They find every aspect of our faith absurd and think it is their responsibility to make everyone else see the light.

When Christians encounter these people out in the world, a battle of sorts should occur – a loving, grace-filled battle, but a battle no less. We should show them and all bystanders that Christianity is based on solid truth and that the skeptic is the one who has built himself a house of cards. Typically, however, Christians run for the hills or, worse, get trounced. Everyone sees that the Christian – and therefore Christianity – is intellectually inferior. The world sees these encounters and comes away convinced that Christianity is for the weak and the stupid. Lots of these encounters occur at the water cooler at work, but many of them occur in full public view.

One of the most infamous was the so called “Scopes Monkey Trial” where the teaching of evolution in schools was debated. The prosecution was Williams Jennings Bryant, a good man by all accounts and a believer. In comparing Darwinian evolution to the biblical view of creation, Bryant could have called theologians, apologists, and scientists. Instead, he called himself. He made a fool of himself, lost the case, and cemented in the minds of the other side the notion that anyone who dares question their pet theory is an ignorant rube that only just developed opposable thumbs.

We are at a point where society as a whole is starting to look at Christians – especially the evangelical variety – as mindless dolts. This is bad because it is untrue, but worse than that, it keeps people from coming to Christ because they either don’t want that association or they reject the gospel out of hand – because we are, after all, mindless dolts.

Being able to skillfully defend the faith is necessary to be the salt and light we are supposed to be in this society. We cannot affect this world positively if this world rejects everything we say out of hand. It is also necessary because we lose the ability to reach some people with the gospel as long as we have the unfortunate reputation we have.

People need to know that we have a thoughtful faith. If they examine the faith and can’t believe, it’s sad but their choice. If they don’t believe because we’ve let them think faith is unreasonable, though, that’s a tragedy of our making.

You may be thinking, “We need a practical religion, not theology and philosophy.” I want you to realize that this is very practical stuff. When a young mother wants to know why her baby died, that’s terribly practical theology. When your cousin is flirting with joining the Mormons, theology suddenly becomes very practical. When your friend doesn’t want to hear the gospel because he “doesn’t believe in anything he can’t see,” apologetics just jumped from philosophical conversation to deadly serious pre-evangelism. When you’re questioning why God is allowing unpleasant things in your life, a little theology – that God is sovereign, that God is all-powerful, and that God is good – becomes very practical.

You may be thinking that you’ll bring those people to church with you or give them a good book. But the odds are that most of them will not want to come to church with you – and if they did, would they necessarily find the answers they need in that week’s sermon? And while some will, many will not read the book – they’ll be polite and take it from you, but what are the odds that they’ll read it? Pretty slim. They’re going to be dependent on you to be their resource. And you need to have it readily available – on the top of your head if at all possible – because you never know what kind of opportunities you’re going to get.

You may be thinking that you’re not smart enough or educated enough to study this stuff. If so, that is patently untrue. More than that, you have to realize that the average person you’re going to talk will know less that you. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy or theology or anything else to study or use this kind of information. The average unbeliever doesn’t have one. He has some basic ideas regarding moral relativism, has been told that evolution removes the need for God, and may have seen a Jesus Seminar TV special or magazine article. The average believer can, with a little effort, equip himself to deal with these issues and lead the unbeliever toward, if not to, Christ. You might at some point in your life find someone who has made attacking Christianity a hobby or even a career – let someone else deal with that one. But the vast majority of the people in your life will not be like that, and you can help them.

In all of this, remember that you cannot argue someone into the Kingdom. Only God can work on a person’s heart and bring them to Him. But we can help overcome their objections, questions, and fears and clear the way for them to come to faith.

I’ve tried to convince you of the need to study theology and apologetics. Here’s my last attempt … today. The unbelievers out there are watching us to learn whether or not our faith is real. They are watching our lives first and foremost, but then they will have questions. How we handle those questions may well determine how they will decide the most important decision they can make – the fate of their souls. No pressure.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Making Him Known: Defending the Faith

We are here to know God and to make him known. To effectively make him known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the faith, defend the faith, and apply the faith to our world.

Defending the faith is a vital part of making Christ known. It's also the most controversial among Christians. To some it's too confrontational, to some unnecessary. To the apostle, though, it was essential:

"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 3-4).

Notice what Jude says here. He wanted to write to his readers about our salvation! Instead he had to send them a timely warning – be prepared to defend the faith. He says “contend” for the faith. What does he mean? He means to fight for the faith. He wants us to strain, struggle, sweat; this word is the root for our word “agonize.”

Why did he write this to them? Because people had slipped into their church who were false teachers – they were perverting the teaching of God’s grace and denying that Christ is who he is.

Jude’s instruction to them was to stand up to these false teachers. He’s not telling us to be contentious, but we must, gracefully, protect the faith. What is “the faith?” It is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that has been handed down.

It’s interesting to compare Jude’s world to ours. The Church was born in a time of great religious diversity. There were at least four great philosophical movements, a variety of cults, a number of local traditional religions, and pressure from the state to conform to the approved religious practices. There were atheists, pantheists, monotheists, and polytheists. There were those who said that you had to follow their religion, and there were syncretists who said all religions were basically the same. In short, Jude’s world was a lot like ours.

In the history of the church, there were literally a thousand years where a person could go his whole life without meeting someone who didn’t at least claim to be a Christian. That day is gone. We live in a world with great religious diversity, and like the early church, we have people who are trying to bring that religious diversity into the Church. Jude says, “Don’t let them!”

To successfully contend for the faith, we have to know what we believe and why. Based on the errors Jude describes these false teachers spreading, we can identify two fields of study in this matter: theology and apologetics. By theology, I mean knowing what we believe and why based on the scriptures – for example, knowing the proper teachings regarding grace. By apologetics, I mean knowing why we believe, the foundation for what we believe, based on scriptural and non-scriptural information – for example, knowing the biblical and extra-biblical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

Jude was not writing to pastors – he was writing to simple believers. Every believer has a scriptural mandate to study to be able to defend the faith. Besides that scriptural mandate, there are other reasons to prepare yourself to defend the faith.

We talked about the fact that we are here to represent Christ – we are His ambassadors. We cannot represent Him effectively unless we know His position on the matter at hand. Can you imagine the ambassador to the UN from the US going into a vote without knowing the president’s stand on the issue? Our job as an ambassador for Christ requires that we have at least a basic familiarity with theology.

There was a time when the average believer was an amateur theologian. It was considered important for everyone to know the nature of God and the nature of salvation and things like that. Then, a couple of hundred years ago, people started leaving that stuff to the preacher. And now we are in a situation where the preacher can get up in front of his congregation and teach completely unscriptural things, and no one calls him on it because no one knows. A.W. Tozer said,

"It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, so sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching."
Sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching. We’ve got a lot of unsound teaching running around today, and I think we can see it in the character of many Christians today – Christians who are representing Christ rather badly to the world around them.

Based on the message of Jude and on the nature of our calling as an ambassador, we all need to have a basic knowledge of theology and apologetics. We also have an obligation to study to defend the faith based on our calling as witnesses of the Gospel. When we share the gospel with people, it is always possible that they’re going to ask why they should believe it. It may take the form of how can a good God send people to hell or how could the incarnation be possible. It might be more of questioning whether God even exists. Sometimes objections will come up during the gospel, and sometimes you’ll hit them well before you’re able to share the gospel itself. Apologetics can be part of presenting the gospel, and it can be pre-evangelism.

The unbelievers most likely to ask apologetic questions of you are your children. Kids naturally ask questions like “who made God” and “how to we know Jesus rose from the dead.” It’s in their nature. But if we can’t give them good answers to those questions we run the risk of either giving them an immature, easily destroyed faith or even not having them come to faith at all.

J.P. Moreland tells the story of a woman he knows whose son, though a believer, was surrounded by unbelievers who provided him with lots of hard questions to ask his mother. She couldn’t answer them. His response was that if her faith was really important to her, she would have made the time to find out the answers – after all, she had time to watch tv and pursue her hobbies. Her inability to answer some of the tough questions skeptics throw at Christianity made her son wonder if her faith mattered at all.

This world is after our children. At some point they’re going to be asking those hard questions, and they’re going to need answers. I said before that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” but if you never know, your kids are going to start wondering if your faith is really important to you, and if it should be important to them.

When you’ve studied and can answer the hard questions, though, you will be more confident about sharing your faith with your friends and neighbors – and your children.

Sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of the unbelievers; sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of believers. You’ve probably heard of The Da Vinci Code. That one book was responsible for more angst on the part of believers than anything else in recent memory. Why? Because it told them that their faith was founded on fiction, and they were defenseless against the accusation. Don’t you know the Devil giggled when that thing came out? What person who is questioning his faith is going to be sharing the gospel?

When you prepare yourself to defend the faith, you build up defenses for yourself, and you become a resource for those believers around you who have not so prepared.

For the sake of both the unbelievers and the believers around you, commit to learning to defend the faith.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Gospel

We can't make Christ known to people if we can't explain the gospel to them. It's not hard to do, but it does require a little preparation. There are many gospel presentations out there of varying quality, and just about anything is better than nothing. The old Roman Road approach has led countless souls to the Lord. The Four Spiritual Laws approach has some good things going for it. The FAITH outline can be useful. Evangelism Explosion teaches a lengthy, detailed version that can easily be pared down for time. Get comfortable with something. Be able to share the good news in sixty seconds if you have to or six minutes if you've got it.

The version I currently use is based off Evangelism Explosion's gospel presentation with some modifications where I disagree with their approach. (I say "currently." I reserve the right to change everything next week if I rethink something or find a better approach.) I reproduce my version below.

In my presentation, the bold text can be presented alone if pressed for time, the normal text can be added to explain if time allows, and the italic text gives examples and explanations that can be added if necessary and if time permits. [Square brackets] are comments to the reader from me.


Have you ever wondered how good you have to be to be good enough to get into heaven? Jesus told us exactly how good you have to be; he said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

This is bad news, because none of us is perfect. As the Bible says, everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (Rom 3:23).
Do you know what sin is? Sin is anything that doesn't line up with God's standards. It can be things we do that we shouldn't. It can be things we don't do that we should.

Have you ever told a lie? [Obviously they have.] Then according to God’s standards you are a liar. Have you ever stolen anything, even something small? "Borrowed something without permission? [Hopefully they'll admit it.] Have you ever lusted? Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Did you ever disobey your parents? Have you ever seen someone who needed help that you didn’t help?

I’m not saying you’re an awful person, but we have to look at sin through God’s eyes. If I only sinned three times a day, most people would say I'm a pretty good person. If I only lied or was selfish or lusted three times a day, that doesn't seem to be that bad. But three sins a day is over 1000 a year and in an average lifetime that adds up to over 70,000 sins. Someone who's broken the laws 70,000 times isn't "a pretty good person"; they're a hardened criminal.

But even just one sins taints us. Think about an omelet. If I made you can omelet with four good eggs and one bad one, you wouldn't want to eat it. You wouldn't want to drink a glass of water with just one drop of poison in it. That little bit spoils the whole.

If we just commit one sin, we’re ruined. And in the course of our lifetimes, we commit thousands. We’re not just criminals; we’re hardened habitual offenders.

Do you think people who commit crimes should be punished? [Sure they do.] God does too. If He let someone get away with just one crime – one sin – He would not be a holy God worthy of worship. We have all sinned – a lot. And God is a God of justice, so He has to punish our sin.

We will all stand before God one day and answer for the life we’ve lived. For our sins, we’ll be sentenced to hell. We don’t know exactly what hell will be like, but Jesus described it as somewhere no one wants to go – a place of great agony that will never, ever end.

Now, God does not want anyone to go to hell, but He has to punish sin. So He created a way for us to escape hell. Would you like me to tell you about it?

Because God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, He became a man. Jesus lived the perfect life that we can’t. Then He died as a sacrifice – paying the price for our sins – and rose from the dead to give us everlasting life in heaven.

Imagine sin as like a blanket draped over you like you were pretending to be a ghost. When God looks at us, he sees that blanket of sin. It stands between us and God. When Jesus died, he took the blanket and wore it. God saw our sin as being punished with Christ on the cross. As the scripture says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray … and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6).

Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life to us as a free gift. This gift is received by faith.

Faith is the key that opens the door to heaven. But what do I mean by faith? [Maybe hold up a key ring.] Two keys may look alike, but only one is going to open a door. It doesn't matter how much I believe the wrong key will open the door, it won't. The right kind of faith will open the door; the wrong kid will not. Saving faith is not believing God or Jesus exists. It's not even believing Jesus rose from the dead. It's not trusting Jesus with things or issues in life -- your health, finances, safety, even your family.

Saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. (Acts 16:31)

It's like a chair. I can believe a chair will hold me up. I can put my things on a chair and let it hold them up. That's not trusting the chair. I can sit on the edge of the chair, most of my weight on my toes in case the chair collapses. That's not trusting the chair. When I sit on the chair and pull my legs up under me, I am depending on the chair to hold me up.

Saving faith isn't doing something. It's receiving something. It's a beggar taking bread from an outstretched hand.

Saving faith is trusting that Jesus alone will get you into heaven.

Does this make sense to you?

Would you like to receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life?

Let me clarify what this involves:
Transfer your trust from your good deeds to what Jesus did.
Receive the resurrected and living Christ as savior.
Receive Christ as Lord -- that is, to decide to live with him as king of your life.
Decide you aren't going to live the same way, that you want to live to please God from here on out.


From there you run into the question of whether a "sinner's prayer" is necessary. I think it can help people focus, but it's not magic words. It is faith in Christ that saves.

Whatever approach you want to use, practice it, get comfortable with it, and employ it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why Don't We Share the Gospel?

So we’ve talked about the nature of the Gospel, and we all know that we should be out there sharing it. So the question is, why aren’t we?

One common reason people give for not sharing the gospel is that they don’t know what to say. You do know the basics, but it can still be difficult to put it also into a coherent presentation. What can we do about that?

The best thing you can do is to learn a good gospel presentation – memorize it – and then practice it. A very effective way to do that is by going through a training program like Evangelism Explosion. EE and programs like it will teach you a gospel presentation complete with appropriate verses and illustrations, and then they will take you out and make you practice it on real people. Presenting the gospel is something you cannot learn purely from a book – you’ve got to get out there and do it. A training program will send you out with someone who’s experienced at sharing the gospel, and you’ll go through the traditional mentorship pattern – watch them, help them, they help you, then they watch you. By the end you should be comfortable with the gospel presentation and how to steer conversations toward spiritual matters.

You don’t have to go through a formal program, but they are very helpful – especially when they give you hands-on training with someone watching over your shoulder. But if that’s not for you, you can still learn a good gospel presentation and practice it. But the key is practice – you’re highly unlikely to read a presentation out of a book and go right out and witness to people.

Besides not knowing what to say, many times people are just scared. This is another place that an evangelism training program can help. Knowing a good presentation and practicing with it can make you confident in your ability to share the gospel.

But a lot of times we’re just embarrassed. It’s a sad part of our sin nature that we’re embarrassed of the gospel. Generally we’re a bit ashamed of that embarrassment – and we should be. If a person’s house were on fire, we wouldn’t be embarrassed to let them know, but when the danger is to their immortal soul, we turn yellow. We should shame ourselves over that embarrassment and focus on the price Christ Jesus paid for us and the danger that they’re in. And then you just have to suck it up and do it.

Every hour 5,417 go to meet their Maker. Blatant emotional manipulation? Yep. I’m going to be totally shameless about this – we have to take their plight personally, or we will let fear or self-centeredness keep us from giving them what they need.

But what if you’ve got a reason to be embarrassed? What if you’re ashamed of the life you’ve led? That’s why we started this out talking about godliness. But if you’ve made mistakes, the best thing to do is confess those mistakes, change your ways, and move on. And if they ask, remind them that we’re not perfect, but we’re striving to be more like Jesus.

A lot of people are afraid to share the gospel because they’re afraid they’ll mess it up. The truth is, you probably will every now and then – especially at first. But God can still use that. That doesn’t mean you can tell them the wrong gospel, but if you mess up the right one, the Spirit is still there.

The story’s told that a woman criticized D.L. Moody for his methods of attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody replied, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The woman replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” It’s far better to do it badly than to not do it.

So what if they ask you a question that you can’t answer? Later we’re going to talk about preparing for those questions, but someone will probably ask you something you can’t answer. That’s ok! “I don’t know but I’ll find out” is a perfectly acceptable answer. If you’re not sure you’ll ever see them again (maybe you’re at an airport or something), tell them where they might be able to find out – a book or website or something.

What if they don’t believe in God or don’t believe in the Bible or something? Again, that’s something we’ll get into later, but let’s just say that sometimes you may have to do a little apologetics as pre-evangelism.

Realistically, we’re all going to miss opportunities. That’s just part of human nature. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about doing better than you did yesterday.

Next time I'm going to share my standard gospel presentation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Making Christ Known: Sharing the Faith

What is the worst thing that can happen to someone? To go to hell. The worst thing that can happen to someone isn’t to be lonely, poor, or sick; it isn’t to die young or outlive your children. The worst thing that can happen to someone is that they die and go to hell.

So what is the most important thing you can do for someone? It is to tell them how to escape hell. The purpose of all believers is to know Christ and make Him known. To make Christ known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the Faith, defend the Faith, and apply the Faith to our world. After godliness, sharing the faith is the most important aspect. We can live out marvelous lives in front of our neighbors, but if we don’t tell them how to come to Christ, we have failed them – and him.

Many of us fail to share the gospel because we aren’t totally sure what it is – we don’t know what to say. But if you’re saved, you do know the gospel – you just may not feel confident in it.

The Basic Gospel
Here’s the most basic and most important question: Why do people need to be saved? What is it that gets us in trouble? Sin.

Why is that a problem? God is just. He must punish sin.

So are we without hope? No, God is merciful and sent Christ to die for our sins.

So what do we do? Trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for our sins and repent from our wicked ways.

That’s it. That’s the heart of the gospel.

The Need
Let’s look a little closer now at an often under-appreciated part of the gospel: In Mark 10:17-23, a man comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response may seem a little strange to us. Jesus didn’t say anything about having a god-shaped hole in his heart. He didn’t tell him, “I love you and have a wonderful plan for your life.” He didn’t tell him to invite Jesus into his heart. He pointed the young man to the Law. This seeker replied that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, and Jesus pointed out that he hadn’t kept the first one – his money was a god to him.

What was Jesus doing here? Is he suggesting that keeping the commandments would get someone into heaven? No; rather he is using the commandments to point out the man’s sin. Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was, except for the law” (Rom 7:7). He also says “in order that sin might be recognized as sin, [the law] produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (Rom 7:13).

The Modern Problem
This is very important to us today. Once, you could pretty much count on everyone being aware of the fact that they are sinners. Today, that is not true. We live in a world of moral relativism. People generally want to believe that there are no hard and fast rules – whatever you believe is good for you, but it means nothing for me. So we get hung up at the first points of the gospel – sin and the coming judgment.

Some people have responded to this by making the gospel about peace with God or completeness or a cure for loneliness. But Jesus did not come to this world to merely give us peace with God or to fill the god-shaped hole in our hearts. Sin is the disease – it is why we need peace and have a god-shaped hole. Trying to make the gospel about anything else is trying to treat the symptoms without getting at the disease. It’s not good medicine, and it’s not good theology.

It’s been said that before people can benefit from the good news they have to be bothered by the bad news. The bad news is that we are all sinners and we will all be judged by a just and holy God. Any “gospel” that does not start from that point is no gospel at all. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all called people to do two things – repent and believe. If we leave out the sin part, we leave out the repent. If we leave out the repent, we fall under Paul’s curse in Galatians 1:8 – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” That sounds harsh, but we have to realize that if people aren’t coming to Christ because they’ve realized that they cannot be good enough to stand before a holy God and survive, they don’t really think they need Christ. The modern approach at the gospel – which bypasses the whole yucky sin thing – has produced a lot of so-called Christians who think they’re fine but are really headed toward hell.

This may explain why, by and large, self-described born again Christians are almost as likely as non-Christians to cheat on their taxes – or their wives! It also helps explain why over 80% of those who make “decisions” for Christ are living like unbelievers within a year.

It is only when we realize our precarious position as “sinners in the hands of an angry God” that the cross of Christ becomes attractive.

Why am I going on about this? Because I want us all to be out there sharing the gospel, but I want to make sure we’re actually sharing the right gospel.

There’s a lady at work that I’ve been trying to witness to. Some things have come out in our conversations that seemed to really peak her interest. Coming from a Hindu background, she was quite taken with the notion of a God that is personally interested in her. She also showed surprise and interest in the notion that you can be absolutely certain right now about what course your afterlife will take. A lot of people would press those things, urging her to pray a prayer and start a “relationship” with God. But until she accepts that she is not good enough and cannot ever be acceptable to God by her own merits, she can’t have a relationship with God. I’ll keep praying and looking for opportunities, but the gospel cannot be watered down. Hopefully she will one day see her need for a redeemer and come to Christ, but if she doesn’t, she will stand before God knowing that she was warned about that day.

Share the gospel. But share the right gospel. The real gospel. Anything else is doing more harm than good.

"OK, but I don't know how." We'll get into that next time.