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 to 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. Average believers can, with a little effort, equip themselves 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.