Posts Tagged ‘Apologetics’


You Heard it Here First: The Exclusive Need for the Proclaimed Word…

September 3, 2012

Having previously covered in the prior post some positive affirmations of Christ’s exclusive role as savior and the exclusivity of the Gospel, we shall now turn to two deficits that appear within the inclusivist argument and attempt to show how these deficits are corrected by the claims of exclusivism.

Throughout the biblical narrative are instances of the general revelation of God in creation working in concert with God’s special revelation to His people.  However salvation is seen as coming not from the recognition of God within creation, but rather from deferent faith in light of His revealed mastery of it.  An excellent example of this lies in the first three chapters of the book of Joshua.  Israel, God’s exclusively chosen race, has been delivered from the bonds of Egypt and received the special revelation of His Law, and has arrived at the banks of the Jordan.  As Israel’s spies hid within the home of Rahab the prostitute, Rahab provides an illuminating and ultimately justifying testimony concerning God and His creation. ” I know that the Lord has given you this land…we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea… as soon as we heard it our hearts melted… for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)  Rahab doesn’t trust in God because he merely created the water, rather she trusts in His revelation displayed in parting the waters for His people.  An act He would perform again in Chapter 3 with the Jordan.  Her confession of this truth, and her corresponding action of hiding the spies displays that God justified her by faith. (James 2:25)  God general revelation in creation becomes special and able to save when God wields His creation in an act of revelation to His people.  The water alone saves none, but belief in He who parts the waters; it is by water and spirit that one is born again. (John 3:5)  The above speaks to effectiveness or lack thereof general revelation, if it is ineffective alone for salvation what is its purpose according to Scripture.

Scripture clearly indicates that the general revelation of God in creation was given to remove excuse from those who would claim ignorance of God absent access to the “gospel.”  A text which is indispensable to this point is Romans 1:19-23

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Inclusivists attempt to address the issue of the “seeker” outside of the reach of the revealed gospel.  What of the person who would want salvation but can not access it because he/she has no access to the gospel, which exclusivists claim is necessary?  The exclusivist response to this query would be that the natural man rejects God in light of creation rather than seeks Him.  Having received revelation about God’s existence from creation, and rejecting it, they are without excuse before God.  Instead of acknowledging divinity’s true source they exchanged His truth for His creation and thereby inherited a shadow of the Light available to them.  Luther comments on this passage drawing attention to the excuse that some may say that, “only in our time it was possible to know God.”  One could add  ‘place’ to the listed restriction of time.  Whether located in a different time, or a different and perhaps distant place, “it has been possible to know him [God] from the beginning of the world and at all times, and it is possible now.”[1]  So it is clear from this passage that God’s general revelation in creation is meant not for salvation but to act as a witness against those who would claim that His attributes were unperceivable.

The exclusivist argument is not without objection, in conclusion we shall now briefly address two common critiques.

One.  Is it not unjust for God to condemn people merely because they have never heard the gospel of Christ?  Does this not impinge on His mercy?[2]  The answer to the first questions is as follows;  people are not condemned because they have not heard the gospel, rather people are condemned because they are guilty.  This may appear to represent circular reasoning but scripture clearly states that our guilt lies not in what we have done but in who we are as sinner.  All of us have fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23) and each and every one of us is guilty in need of forgiveness from the outset.  Even those who hear the gospel and reject it do so because the natural mind is limited by its sinful condition and does not comprehend spiritual things. (I Cor. 2:14)  That one receives salvation at all is a less a testimony of having heard the word and responded, and more to being a recipient of God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Two.  Are there not examples in scripture of those who received salvation apart from the specific revelation of Christ, and so by extension is that same generic faith, held by some in the world today sufficient to provide salvation?[3]  This argument addresses the idea of “holy pagans” individuals who appear in the Bible as believers but do so without any evidence, within the text,  that they were ever exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These include: Abel, Noah, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, Balaam, Naaman the Ninevites and Cornelius.[4]  Scripture provides the key to understanding this mystery.  Acts 4:12 states, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  This axiom was true for the time of Melchizedek, as it was for Paul, and as it is today.  Christ too stated that no one comes to the Father but by Him. (John 14:6)  That these men are listed in scripture as being believers, saved by God, is a testimony that at sometime and at some point, they experienced the special revelation of God unto Salvation.  The revelation may have been in the form of a promise ala Abram or Noah, nonetheless they were responding to a specific promise in faith to a special revelation from Yahweh.  What they displayed was more that a generic faith in an undefined creator God.[5]

That God provides access to Himself is by far the greatest measure of grace extended to His creation.  While His attributes are clearly displayed in the universe, its order and form, beauty and character, His greatest gift is the revelation of His Son.  Those whom he foreknew He predestined to receive this gift, and by it traverse the hurdle of sin and be justified into the transcendence of glory.   Such is the nature of the exclusive revelation of the Gospel.

[1] Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans. ed. Wilhelm Pauck. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1961.) 23.

[2] Peterson, 15.

[3] Ibid. 15.

[4] Kaiser, Walter. “Holy Pagans: Reality or Myth?” in Faith Comes by Hearing ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Downers Grove: IVP. 2008) 123.

[5] Ibid. 141.


Love and the City: The Greatest Text for Urban Witness…

March 12, 2012

Cities are truly miraculous places.  Tense with progress and teeming with energy and vibrancy.  Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in his great book, The Triumph of the City states that, “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies.  They are proximity and closeness.”  While this is true, we as Christians must look beyond the physical existence of cities and recognize the hand of God in forming them and drawing people into them.  As I have said in previous posts, God creates proximity so that those searching for Him might find Him.  Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” 

While the world is content to use the metrics of absence to describe the city, we must do more.  Cities are not mere accidents of economics, nor are they defined by the absence of space between people.  Cities and their character are defined by the presence of God and the proximity to His witnesses.  Witness is key.  God has drawn these people together so that His glory might be seen by the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.  There is a reason that Pentecost and Peter’s sermon did not occur in the desert, or in some far-flung cave.

This brings us to the manner of our witness and how to engage with those in the city.  Cities breed adventurous apathy.  The opportunity to succeed in the city is great, but so too is the presence of failure.  People come to cities with a sense of adventure, but soon become apathetic to the prevalence of failure around them.  People cold and unconvinced by pleas for attention and messages of truth.  With this in mind,we must ask ourselves, how can we break through?

Though there are many texts in Scripture that speak to the means of and the need for evangelism.  One text reigns supreme in my mind for engaging the city.  I have seen it on display, used by church planters throughout NYC over the years of engaging that city.  I am not talking about Matthew 28 or Acts 1:8, or Acts 17.  The text that speaks to our task  is this:

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

It is not enough that we have the intellectual capacity to engage the minds of the city, or the media savvy to captivate the eyes of the city.  We must have love.  Pure, sacrificial love that wants nothing in return.  It does not matter if we desire to serve the needs of the city, or are willing to move into it and sacrifice blood and treasure to reach it.  We must love the people in the city, and display that love through service.

This passage informs both the task at hand and the promise of how to fulfill it.  It is not easy to love the those who question your motives, or those who are openly hostile to your efforts.  The only remedy for the apathy of the city is continual, persistent, abiding love witnessed in deeds of selfless followers of Christ.  A love that bears all and endures all.  We must create churches of faith, we must preach the hope that is in Christ alone, but above all we must be willing to love when we are not loved in return.  We must be willing to serve others, be patient with others, and be kind to others.  I am not speaking of a social gospel, that tends only to physical needs.  Rather a gospel that uses the meeting of physical needs through service to proclaim through deed and word the lavish love of God.

Surely this was modeled by God who stayed faithful to the faithless Israel.  Surely this was heard from Christ as He forgave those nailing Him to the cross.  What remains to be seen and remains to be heard, is whether or not our proximity to others will bear witness to God’s love in us.  May our growing presence in these cities be marked not by the mere absence of space; but by the abundance of God’s love lived out in service.


God in the City…

May 17, 2011

Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each on of us.”  What powerful words,  it is easy to breeze across these words and miss the impact of what Paul is saying.  As we walk around the streets and blocks of our cities and towns we should look passed the randomness of the chaos which marks the cities; we should see there God’s guiding hand. 

In every corner, alley, byway, sub station, office building, apartment complex, mall, store, restaurant and park He as brought the nations together to be in close proximity to His word. That Word is entrusted to us, resides in us, and should flow through us in unending witness of the Gospel.  He has crafted this time, this era, and this place to bring people to a knowledge of Himself, to grant life and to grant it abundantly to all who call on Him. 

Cities are no accident; they are the intentional gathering of people by God to bring them into close proximity to His word.  This only works if we stand amidst the flow and wash of people and lift up His word, so that looking to it, people might see and have Hope. The lostness of cities is not due to God’s oversight, but rather our failure in being the obedient vehicles of His message of Grace.   The period of their dwelling is determined.  The boundary of their influence is set.  They seek to find that which is close.  Closer than the brush of the person on the sidewalk, or the arm of the passenger on the subway, will they find Him when they find you ?


Vehicles of God’s Pursuit, the Necessity of Persistence in Evangelism…

March 23, 2011

“5What then is Apollos? What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted,Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7Soneither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9For we areGod’s fellow workers. You are God’s field,God’s building.” I Corinthians 3:5-9

The “Go ye therefore” commission that animates the heartbeat of the church should echo ever louder in the mind and heart of the believer.  Our individual obedience to this command and to all it entails is a chief evidence of our own interaction with the power of the Gospel.

God does not need the assistance of man in the task of Evangelism.  This God has written His law on the hearts of men, He can arrest a mountain with His glory and apprehend a heart with His spoken word.  However, in his infinite grace and providence He has chosen the weak to serve and the broken to carry His message to His redeemed throughout the nations.

Each one of us, if we claim the name of Christ, assume the mantle of evangelist in one capacity or another.  Evangelism is the proclamation of the love of God in the Gospel of Christ to those in sin in need of redemption.  This can be an act, a word, a speech, or a lifestyle that reflects the unique grace of God to those around you.

It is often easy when engaging in evangelism to become discouraged if conversion is not immediate, or if there is not an instant result. We live in a results-driven culture, and our churches occupy a subculture that is equally results-driven.  While the end is important, the obedience displayed in the means should be our primary focus.  We sow, but it is God that brings the growth.

I lived the first decade and a half of my twenty plus years as christian burdened with the idea that my task in evangelism was two-fold: to preach; and to bring about their conversion.  When I was faithful to the first task but unproductive in the second, I often experience debilitating discouragement.  It is difficult for me to convey the freedom that washed over my heart when the burden of responsibility for another’s conversion was removed from me and rightly placed on God.

This brings me to topic of obedient persistence in evangelism.  Francis Thompson, the nineteenth century poet and tragic opium addict, wrote the haunting poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”  This work is a bit obscure in some areas but the overall message is powerful as it describes God’s pursuit of the wayward soul. Thompson writes:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears…

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

My reflection on this is to ask some questions; How is this lost soul pursued? Whose feet follow after him?  Could they be the ‘beautiful feet of those who preach the good news.”? (Rom. 10:15)

When those around us are fleeing through the nights, we should be there with the Light.  As they fill their days with idle distractions, we should be there with a focus. Through the years, as they progress through the labyrinths of philosophical excuses, we should be there with an answer.  With unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy we should be the voice they hear, in the mist of their tears, proclaiming the love of God through Christ.

For we are the vehicles of God’s pursuit of those He loves, of those He sent His son to die for, of those who flee not knowing where to they go.  They may not repent during your preaching, but perhaps it is your time to sow, another’s time to water and in God’s time the growth will come.

“For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13-15)

Brothers and Sisters we have been sent. Go. Obey. Pursue. Preach. And let God reap the harvest and the glory.


Theological Inception, waging war within a hostile mind…

January 24, 2011

Their inclination to hide is as old as the garden, they retreat from God not in fear but in contempt, not behind bushes but beneath ignorance and indifference.  Why then do we hide when we possess so great a catalogue of grace?  May God grant us strength to resist denial and courage to say what Peter would not, ‘yes I am His disciple.’ -R. Nash.

There are common phrases in the evangelical world, rallying cries of evangelism that find their root in Scripture.  “We must reach the nations,” “we must preach to unreached people groups.”  These phrases are supplemented by organizations that highlight our mission to “Go into all the world, making disciples of all the nations;”  to “be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”   We spend millions of dollars, give thousands of sermons to millions of agreeable souls, all focused on the mission we’ve been given and the various ways to carry it out.  But when the people leave the pews, the churches are quiet and the dollars reach their destination a stark reality begins to take hold.  No amount of oratorical skill or financial resource will be able to do what it is pledged to do; no program can replace the delicate skill of an individual Christian speaking the truth in love into the darkened mind of the hostile sinner.

The New Testament is replete with instances of Christ and His apostles engaging one on one with individuals; confronting desires, rhetorical defenses and extraneous supernatural forces to address the individual’s true need.  There were no capital campaigns, there were no ‘evangelism emphasis weeks’, or mass rallies, just daily interaction with the living Word, the Word that exposes the needs of men.

Mind you, I am not criticising modern efforts to address the logistical hurdles that exist in evangelism, rather I wish to redeem the act of conversation as central to our walk and our witness.  Too many Christians, would rather aspire to Peter at Jerusalem than settle for Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch.  Many pastors would rather engage the intellectual elite like Paul at Mars Hill than mirror Jesus with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, or Zaccheus.  What lies beyond the crowds of the unreached is the individual.  Each one with their personal story, searching for solace in every location imaginable except the one place where they may truly find rest.

As we encounter these persons along the byways of life we come face to face with their efforts to deaden the pain of a Godless existence and muffle the call of the Shepherd.  They soothe their divorces with drink, their abuse with misplaced affection and their failures with anger and frustration.  Frustration with a world claiming to possess answers but whose mantra is to continually question everything.

A glance across every crowded coffee shop or airport waiting area will expose a sea of hurt masked by technology, hidden behind laptop screens and deafened by head phones.  These defenses on display are the same ones we use to signal that we are far too busy or preoccupied to engage nearby persons in conversation.

When you do engage in conversation you soon become aware that you are combatting forces both within and without of the individual.  These forces are working in concert to fend off the advance of the Gospel.  These external forces lie within the domain of the unseen powers and can range from the distraction of sirens and music, to loud neighboring conversation, perhaps even rude and hostile neighbors at the next table.  There is a genuine element of spiritual warfare on display, it is truly amazing how at key points in conversations the atmosphere around you can change and the cacophony rises to repel any advance you may be making in the mind of your subject.

When those outside distractions are overcome or if they are non-existent in your setting, there still remains the formidable front of the natural human mind.  This line of defense is multifaceted.  There are cultural preconceptions, past experiences, personal preferences and non-sensical opinions all working together to change the subject and distract you from your message.  Most lethal is the impression they may give that they are open and accepting to all points of view.  This is moralistic relativism on display and in practice, they will say ‘you have what works for you  and I have what works for me, to each his own.’  The temptation is to accept these statements as passive toward the Gospel, nothing could be further from the truth.  As Ronald Nash rightly puts it,  “Human beings are never neutral with regard to God.  Either we worship God as creator and Lord, or we turn away from God.”

The role of apologetics is not to engage the mind in order to sway it but rather to use world-views to weave past the mind’s defenses and confront the rebellious soul with the gospel of Truth.  Once Christ is proclaimed as Lord within the conversation the person’s mind will engage in every manner of distraction to avoid confronting the uncomfortable truth that they are subject to a sovereign God.

Rarely are we able to maintain the discipline necessary to keep combating every distracting argument with the Gospel.  Jesus models this intuition and persistence with expected brilliance.  To Nicodemus who focused on earthly fixations, Christ trained his eyes toward Heaven to see the Son of Man descending so that none should perish.  To the woman at the well so keen to discuss water and worship, Jesus taught her confront her sin and to savor a new spring of eternal life.  To the multitudes obsessed with physical restoration and healing He would address their malady then primarily speak those words He and He alone could say, “See, you are well, go and sin no more.”

When the crowds had drifted away, and the sermons had been preached, the distractions of this world faded, grace came to a thief hanging next to his savior.  There was no mundane coffee shop, no water cooler, just a poignant conversation between two men.  One facing death hopelessly lost and the other bearing the reproach of the world, giving His life that all might live.  Our context is different but our message the same; ‘one day we can see each other in paradise, if only you will confess His Lordship and utter the simple phrase’, Lord “remember me.”

These stories in the gospels are not merely fodder for crusade sermons, but a blueprint for daily intellectual and spiritual engagement.  How do you engage those around you?  What form does your apology take?  Do you have grand un-accomplished designs for evangelistic greatness or small intimate displays of one-on-one faithfulness to the great commission?

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,

Searching all the innermost parts of his being”  -Proverbs 20:27


Online Tools for the Theological Trade…

January 12, 2011

There is a great site that I have just been made aware of; is a “Wikipedia” like site for Theological topics.  It claims to be “essentially a community-driven, information-management system,” whose sole aim is to compile a library of theological and biblical topics.

Theopedia is separate and unrelated to Wikipedia and prohibits word-for-word copying/pasting of Wikipedia articles onto its site.

You can read their Statement of Faith, which every editor of the site is required to affirm prior to editing any material on the site.

As with any site of this type, discretion is called for when searching for and gathering information, as the “community-driven” nature of these sites can be unpredictable and sometimes unreliable.

If anything, use this site as a jumping off point to study and delve into the profound truths which spring from the Word and make up the body of theological studies.

Click here for Theopedia’s Home Page…

Click here for Theopedia’s about page...


Apprehending απολοgetics…

October 20, 2010

The Word of God is fundamental to apologetics, the chief instrument of intellectual warfare within the battle of worldviews. And a Christian worldview, if it is anything, must be rooted in and must spring from the fathomless depths of the Scriptures.

The word serves as both the backdrop and the means of every salvation experience. Beneath every proclamation of God’s special revelation in Scripture lies the Word, implanted and incorruptible; that when received by a humble heart is the means God uses to bring one to a saving knowledge of Him. (I Peter 1:22-25)

It is false to create a distinction and to separate apologetics from evangelism. For to what end does one engage in apologetics if not to inject into a dark heart and mind of a sinner, the light and knowledge of the Gospel in Christ. God is in no need of theological or philosophical defense or justification. Christ does not charge us with the defense of His glory through apologetics, but rather charges us to proclaim His glory wielding the “Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”, so that His elect may ultimately hear to believe and believe to confess.

Rightly seen, apologetics serves the church by engaging the various beliefs, behaviors and objections of the lost with the Gospel of Christ. Our weak tools of rhetoric and argument must be met with His sufficient Grace in order to experience His power made perfect in our weakness.

With this in mind, here is the first post of this series: Theological Inception… Waging War Within a Hostile Mind. What is intellectually and spiritually occurring when we witness with individuals and share the Gospel with lost souls.

The second post is Vehicles in God’s Pursuit… the necessity of persistence. How God uses those He loves to hound the souls of those whom He will have.