Help is Come!

Rembrandt van Rijn -  Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb

Rembrandt van Rijn - Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb

Reliable rumors circulate a dark lord has arisen.  He is seeking to strengthen his power.  He is annexing peaceful lands; building large armies; and manufacturing weapons at breakneck speed.  His ultimate prize is the last gold ring.  With the last gold ring his dominion will be complete.

By torturing a captive, the dark lord Sauron learns of the ring’s whereabouts.  It’s in the possession of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.  A hobbit is a hafling – a little person of small stature and large feet.  Hobbit Bilbo Baggins dwells in a rural Shire in Middle Earth.  The dark lord Sauron dispatches wraith-riders to the Shire to seize the ring.  Oblivious to it all, the rural dwellers of Hobbiton throw a great birthday party for Bilbo.  Meanwhile, dark wraiths are riding to the Shire.

Before their arrival, a wizard galumphs down the road into Hobbiton.   In a donkey-drawn cart the wizard Gandalf comes wearing a dull, pointy, felt hat, a long grey beard and grey tunic.  He has come to help Frodo Baggins receive the ring and take it to safety.  The grey wizard comes with one motive:  to save the land from tyrannical evil. 

This story imitates the greater, true story.  We live in perilous times.   It certainly was then.  Judea was ruled by a foreign, world-empire, Rome.  There was no independence for the locals.   Disease was rampant.  ‘Doctors’ only made the ill worse.  Demonic activity was present but unrecognized.  Sin ruled personal and social relationships.  Sin wasn’t acknowledged but accepted as the way things are.  People lived in guilt.  There was little means of obtaining forgiveness.  Houses of worship were led by religious leaders interested more in themselves than God’s glory.  Death could strike at any time, even among the young. 

Though disease is moderated, the same dynamics are still present today.  Empire- building tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Muslim terrorists threaten us.  Once Christian Europe and America have lethal elements working within to expunge God from public life.  Sin is destroying the personal and social fabric of society.  Many today – even the churched – don’t recognize sin as sin.   Everyone reading this sees its effects in your lives.  Philosopher Etienne Gilson observed, ‘A world which has lost the Christian God cannot but resemble a world which had not yet found him.’  Someone please help us!  Help!! Help!!

Help has come!  A Rescuer is at hand!  A Deliverer is here!  Like the grey wizard Gandalf showing up in the village - but ten times better - ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1: 15).   Indeed, ‘the true light, the light that enlightens all, was coming into the world’ (John 1: 9) and ‘I have come as a light into the world’ Jesus says (John 12: 46).   Perk up your ears!  Hear the joyful news! Celebrate it!  Help has come!  Help is here!  ‘Ye blind behold your Savior come, and leap you lame for joy!’

Is it too good to be true?  What are the motives?  Who offers help without expecting something in return?  What’s the catch?  Is it for personal gain?  No. Jesus’ estate was a cloak for which soldiers gambled.  Was it for power?  Does the God of the universe need power?  Jesus had no institutional power.  The church hierarchy excluded him. Rome crucified him.  Was it for reputation?  For glory?  Called an illegitimate son, a false prophet and a fraud, Jesus died a criminal.  Even followers forsook him.  Don’t think so.

What’s His motive?  Love.  ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…’ and ‘to Him who loves us’ writes John.  When Jesus saw the crowds, he pitied them.  Our Helper has a heart to shepherd us lost souls through this dark world.  “I have come as a light into the world so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness’ (John 12: 46).   More, Jesus wants to overcome death with life.  ‘I came that they may have life…’ (John 10:10).  He does not want me a sinner to die in my sin alienated from God.  ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.

Jesus helped us by accomplishing salvation through His death on the cross.  His death removed my sin the offense standing between God and me. His death removed my offense and fulfilled my sentence.  The novel I Am David takes place seven years after World War II.  The Communists take a little boy David from his mother.  David is put into a Stalinist labor camp in Bulgaria.  An older man Johannes befriends and mentors David.  Johannes prepares David to escape from prison.  He wants him to be reunited with his mother.

One day when David is twelve, the guards force the prisoners into a line-up.  Someone had stolen a soap bar.  The authorities will flush out the offender and shoot him.  The commander began to go down the line.  Little David had stolen the soap bar.  He held it in his hands behind his back.  He didn’t know what to do.  The guard brandished a pistol ready to shoot whoever held the soap.  His mentor Johannes, standing next to David, saw David had the soap.  Johannes slipped his hand secretly over David’s and took the soap from him.  No sooner had Johannes done so then the guard discovered Johannes held the soap.  Quickly pointing his pistol he shot Johannes dead.  David was spared.  Johannes covered David’s theft.  He made David’s wrong his own and took the judgment.  But having learned from Johannes, David escaped.  David lived and was reunited with his mother.  Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many.’

You are in great danger.  You’re holding the gold ring.  The soap bar is in your hands.  Jesus has come to rescue you.  Picture Him as in Holman Hunt’s oil painting, ‘The Light of the World’.  See the figure of Jesus standing at night at your cottage door.  Holding a lantern in one hand, with the other Jesus knocks at your door.  His lamp illumines the vines growing up by your door.  Hard times have come to you.  Night is upon you.  But here Jesus is… at your door: the Light of the world, your Rescuer, your Savior, the Son of God, at your door!  The door has no handle on the outside.  Only you can open it from the inside.

“He came to his own home, but his own did not allow him to enter’.  Do not be like the passengers Seaman Leslie Morton saw in 1915 on the deck of the sinking Lusitania.  The Lusitania, the twin of the Titanic, fifteen minutes earlier was struck off the coast of Ireland by a Nazi U-boat torpedo.  The sea was filling the ship at a steady pace.  Seaman Leslie Morton lowered a lifeboat to some passengers.  Strangely, they were afraid to let go of the sinking ship.  They held tightly to the ship’s ropes and deck rails.  They more trusted the big sinking ship than the lifeboat that would save them.

Be persons who receive.  Even if you received Jesus twenty years ago, reaffirm you receive Him still.  To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to be His children.  See Jesus before you…at your door… your Savior come… ready to help you…able to save you.  Let go rebellion.  Let go of yourself.  Throw yourself onto Him.  Help is come!  


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  Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

 

 

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Tom Thomas

Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

Risen from the Dead? A Sample Sermon Manuscript for Apologetic Preaching

            Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit another brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to positive apologetics, i.e., where the apologist focuses on reasons why someone might believe, rather than focusing on what is wrong some particular belief or religion. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.

Specify the Apologetic Topic

            What reasons are there to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? That question may surprise some of you, since you already believe Jesus rose, and you have never felt the need to develop a list of reasons for your belief. If that describes you, then I invite you to simply listen and consider why you believe what you believe. Remember, faith involves evidence and certainty, so what you hear today can be a help in growing your faith. Plus, you never know when the Lord is going to give you the opportunity to talk with someone who is not as sure as you about Jesus’ resurrection, and you will be able to help them along after hearing this message.

            Maybe, though, you are new to the Christian faith and hunger to know more about your faith, or possibly someone has recently posed a question or objection about the resurrection that you would like to be able to answer with confidence. In either case, this message is for you, too. It’s also offered with the seeker in mind, the one who is looking for answers and thinks Christianity may be where to find them. Whoever you are and whatever your situation, let’s make a journey together and discover reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Tell the Topic’s Significance

            Before considering the biblical and rational basis for believing the resurrection occurred, consider a few of the theological and practical reasons the topic is significant. From a theological perspective the resurrection is an essential part of the gospel message. As Paul explains in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” In this passage we learn that the gospel is about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—all three are fundamentals of the good news, but especially the resurrection. This is why Paul goes on in 15:14 and 17 to declare that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty…. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Clearly, the Christian faith depends upon the resurrection.

            Likewise, the resurrection is a practical help when considering our own mortality and the death of our loved one who are Christians. Jesus’ victory over death holds a promise of future things for all who believe, since every Christian, too, will one day rise from the dead if they die before Jesus returns. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:20, 52 and 54 are especially helpful in this regard: “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible…. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” What is the basis of this hope? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead! Death is not the final word. Resurrection is. Eternal joy is coming because Jesus rose from the dead.

Explain the Biblical and Rational Basis Concerning the Apologetic Topic

            The biblical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is plentiful. Paul’s testifies what Jesus “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also” (1 Cor. 15:4-7). Concerning the five hundred brethren Paul describes, he explains that “the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:6). Why is this significant? Only because Paul was making a public claim that many who saw Jesus after his resurrection were still alive at the time the letter to the Corinthians was written. Paul was appealing to eyewitness testimony writ large. Further, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all give accounts of the resurrection in their gospel narratives, each providing specific details about when the empty tomb was discovered, who was there, as well as accounts of the encounters they and others had with Jesus after he arose. These examples indicate there is strong biblical evidence to support Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

            What about other reasons to believe the resurrection account? Consider the historical testimony of leaders in the early church after the time of the apostles. Men like Origen, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr—sometimes referred to as Church Fathers—all testify to the resurrection of Jesus as both historical fact and having pastoral significance. Consider also the personal changes in the apostles after the resurrection, how Peter went from denying Jesus to boldly proclaiming him as the risen Lord, and how Paul went from persecutor of Christians to missionary for Jesus and defender of the resurrection. Finally, if the resurrection did not happen, they why didn’t the Jewish authorities simply produce the body of Jesus and end the early church’s growth and influence? They didn’t do so because the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. He rose from the dead, just as he promised. This isn’t all the biblical and rational evidence for the resurrection, but there is certainly much that is worthwhile in what we have considered. The evidence is in, and there is good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Practically Apply the Apologetic Topic for the Hearers

            Amid all this talk of biblical and rational evidence there are also particular practical benefits to the resurrection for each of your lives. Perhaps you are struggling with a sinful habit and you seem to always make one step forward but two steps back. As a Christian you can gain the victory because of the resurrection of Jesus. That’s right! According to Rom. 8:10-11, “if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Without the resurrection you are powerless, but with the resurrection comes power through the Spirit. You can overcome sin in your life because Jesus rose from the dead.

            Another benefit to believing the resurrection relates to the brokenness in our world. Do you ever find yourself thinking that the news is always bad, that things just seem to get worse and worse? You are not alone, and the world is a dark place in many ways. However, because of the resurrection of Jesus there is hope that one day the world will be put to right. Concerning this hope, Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:22-25 are comforting: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the  first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” These verses remind us that the resurrection of Jesus is more than a doctrine, more than a historical fact, it is the final hope for an end to suffering and the beginning of a better world.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            We started by asking about the reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. We have considered this question in several ways, including its theological and practical importance, the biblical and rational case for believing the resurrection, and how the resurrection matters in particular circumstances of our lives. I trust that you feel the weight of the evidence concerning Jesus’ resurrection, and that your faith is strengthened. If you are seeking answers, I pray you give sincere consideration to those offered here.

            As we conclude I would like to give this simple invitation. Christian, the resurrection is central to your faith. Perhaps it is time to give yourself to serious study of its reliability, asking God to give you opportunities to share the evidence for the resurrection with others. Will you do that today? Someone in your life needs to hear about the resurrection, and you are the one to tell them. What about you, the seeker who came today looking for answers? As I just stated, I pray you give sincere consideration to those offered here. Jesus died for you, and was buried and rose again, all for you. He offers to give you new life, resurrection life. Will you accept his offer today?


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

If God, Why Evil?: A Sample Sermon Manuscript for Apologetic Preaching

            Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit a brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to negative apologetics, i.e., where the apologist is playing defense…seeking to remove obstacles to belief. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.

Specify the Apologetic Challenge

            If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world? A tsunami destroys several coastal villages, sweeping entire families into the sea. A military dictator decides a neighboring people are a threat and orders his troops to kill them all in a merciless genocidal purge. A car spins out of control on a patch of black ice, crashing into a ravine and leaving a mother and her infant son dead. These are real examples of evil in the world around us, and each one brings heartache and brokenness in its wake. Such instances leave many unsure how to reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil, and some even conclude that in a world of such pain God cannot exist.

            Maybe you agree with them and sit here today not believing in God, or at least you are not sure if God exists. You have experienced evil, and know of others who have, too, and now the idea of God seems more of a fairy tale than a reality. Surveys of religious beliefs, and specifically about whether God exists, show that you are not alone in your conclusion and questioning. Not everyone believes in God, and often the reason is related to so much evil in the world. Let’s think about this together. Does evil in the world prove that God does not exist?

Tell the Critic’s Best Argument

            Before I present what I think are good reasons to believe in the existence of God in spite of the evil in the world, I want to talk a bit more about what many atheists have argued in defense of the conclusion that evil rules out God’s existence. The atheist begins by acknowledging the presence of evil in the world. Consider, for example, what I discussed earlier. The tsunami that kills thousands; a tyrant who commits genocide by killing an entire neighboring people; the mother and child who die in a car crash—these are examples of evil in world. The tsunami and car crash represent what may be called natural evil, and the genocide is an example of moral evil.

            If God exists, the atheist continues, then surely he would be powerful enough to stop evil, both natural and moral. God is all-powerful, right? Further, if God exists, then surely he would want to stop evil. God is all-good, right? Yet, evil still exists, both in natural disasters and in the wicked choices people make. So, the atheist concludes that God is either not powerful enough to stop evil, or he is not really good, since he does not stop evil. Therefore, since evil exists, God must not exist, at least not an all-powerful and all-good God. This is especially challenging for the Christian conception of God, which considers God’s power and goodness as essential to his existence. Thus, if the atheist is right, and evil proves God is not all-power or all-good, then what of the Christian God?

Expose the Weakness of the Critic’s Argument

            But wait a minute. Before we conclude that the presence of evil in the world is proof that God does not exist, and if he does then he is weak, wicked, or both, I think there are some problems with the atheist’s argument. Let’s consider these as questions. What if God is all-powerful and all-good, but he refuses to override human free will? While we can certainly imagine a world without moral evil—without genocidal military dictators, without child molesters, without rapists—such a world would also be somehow less than human if free will were taken away and the only reason for no moral evil was because there was no human freedom. True freedom implies choices, the freedom to choose good or to choose evil.

            Further, if God does not exist, then where does the atheist get the ideas of good and evil, of right and wrong? If the atheist responds that each person must decide what is right and wrong, then possibly what the rapist does is actually right in his own way of thinking. Even if the atheist refuses to go along with such relativism, insisting that there are actual moral facts, a real and objective right and wrong, they have no ultimate standard from which to make this conclusion. Moral laws require a moral lawgiver, but the atheist does not think one exists. There are other questions to ask the atheist who believes evil and God cannot coexist, but these represent what I think are the ones especially important for now.

Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge

            What does the Christian faith teach about God’s existence, especially considering the presence natural and moral evil in the world? For starters, the Bible explains that God made the world and everything and everyone in it, and that when he did this he made humans as his special representatives. Genesis 1:1 declares that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and in 1:27 that, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” However, as the Bible goes on to reveal, the first humans chose to disobey God in the very area we are discussing—in the area of good and evil. Genesis 2:15-17 describes how “the LORD God took the man and put in in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

            Perhaps you have heard how this all turned out, how the man and woman chose to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and how that resulted in several far-reaching consequences. These include a breakdown in human relationships and, eventually, the first murder. Likewise, the natural world became a difficult place for the man to work and live. What are we to make of this? It seems reasonable to me that the misuse of human freedom goes a long way in explaining the presence of evil in the world that God created. The account doesn’t stop here, though. No, far from abandoning the world to evil, God began redeeming it, promising one day that he “will wipe away every tear…there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). Thus, it also seems reasonable to me that God will one day bring an end to all evil and, though I am not immune from its effects, that God’s existence is a key to understanding evil in the world.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            I don’t pretend that this brief message answers every question related to the presence of evil in the world and whether God exists. There are other aspects of the topic to discuss, and you may have even deeper, more personal questions. However, what we have heard does offer a possible solution to the dilemma created by evil. Yes, evil exists. There have been and will likely be more terrible natural disasters, more evil regimes, and more fatal crashes. Natural and moral evil are part of the world we live in, and they touch all of our lives. Does the Christian faith offer a solution? Absolutely, though it is not a simple, quick fix. The Christian faith not only explains the presence of evil related to human freedom and the promise that evil will one day be fully dealt with; the Christian message is also one that includes God’s own struggle with evil. Jesus Christ was the victim of moral evil. He was murdered in a most ruthless, painful manner, even though he had done no wrong. Jesus took evil personally, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross, centuries ago. The Christian faith does not teach that it ended on the cross, though. Rather, as an example of how God will eventually overcome evil, Jesus rose from the dead and will return to earth someday.

            What does all this mean to you as you struggle with evil and God’s existence? Maybe it means that you have begun to consider that evil is not all there is, that God really does exist. If that is you, I hope you will continue to wrestle with these matters and let the evidence build. Talk with the person who invited you here today or talk with me after the service. There is more to know about evil and God and the hope of the Christian message. Maybe you are that person here who has decided it is time to stop doubting and start believing. The evidence makes sense. You’ve heard this message and others like it, maybe even read books and talked with others, and now you are ready to follow the evidence where it leads. It leads to Jesus, and in just a moment we will offer you an opportunity to talk with someone about taking the next step in your journey of faith.

(Next week’s article will give another sample apologetic sermon outline, one that focuses on positive apologetics.)


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

Mailbag: The Best Progressive Arguments for the Acceptance of Homosexuality and a Traditionalist Response

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, we shared an article, “African Methodism will not bow the knee to US progressivism”, on social media. Charlie commented the following:

So, I would consider myself for this topic to be part of the aforementioned US Progressives. However, this article, while being very pointed, seems to a good job representing the African Church. 

I do have a request though, would it be possible for you guys to release an article on the, honestly, strongest argument presented the conference for the One Church Plan? I feel like they're missing the component of the opposing argument and I would really appropriate the honest response to the US Progressive camp from an evangelical perspective as opposed to an article very caught up in the political side (money, power, etc)

We asked our resident Methodist scholar, Dr. Tom Thomas, to give a reply.

Thank you very much for asking for the best arguments for the acceptance of homosexual practice, marriage and leadership in the church and an evangelical response.  That you are interested in thinking through this difficult issue by examining both the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ encourages me.  Too often today both sides of an issue are not given fair opportunity for rational interaction.  Permit me to make this proviso: our subject is way too long for a piece this short.  Nonetheless, your request is a worthy exercise.  Let us try to drill down to main arguments.  May this piece spur your study of fuller treatments.   

The determinative factor of both the progressives (those advocating acceptance of homosexual practice) and traditionalists (those advocating sexual relations only between one man and one woman in marriage) viewpoints is their take on the shared text:  Holy Scripture.  One’s assumption here is the basis of a continental divide between whether Scriptural commitments on homosexuality run east, or west!  Progressives reassure traditionalists ‘we love the Bible’ and ‘believe in its authority’.  ‘Good’, says the traditionalist, ‘but cannot one also love the United States Constitution and believe in its authority’?  Is not the paramount question whether the Holy Scripture is the God-breathed Word to human authors who unfailingly express what God desires written; or, whether it is a record of humanly, gifted people’s reflections of their experiences of God?  The traditionalist sees Scripture as God’s revelation to his people; the progressive as human revelation of God-experiences.  For the traditionalist the issue is not Scriptures’ authority but its supreme authority.  Is or is not the Bible God’s inspired, infallible word preeminent over every authority? While progressives privilege ‘the totality of human experience’ and subject all texts to it, the traditionalist submits every authority to Scriptural authority.

In assuming this, therefore, the progressives can say the debate over homosexuality is not about words in the Bible but about what the words ‘mean for us today’.    The GC 2019 Delegate newsletter of the pro-acceptance United Methodist group ‘Mainstream UMC’ says the meaning of the Bible’s words change over time.  Much of the Bible is ‘descriptive truth’ which means what was ‘true’ in former times and cultures is not ‘true’ today.   The traditionalist responds the authors’ words mean today just what they meant then, in South Korea or Kansas.  The meanings’ ‘significance’ may vary and continuing research enlightens the contexts, but what God meant to say then God means to say today.

You can see this play out in specific biblical texts (called ‘clobber texts’ because they are overwhelmingly negative regarding homosexuality) invariably at the center of the debate.    Leviticus 18: 22 (also, 20:13) states, ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.’  Receiving accolades for his recent theological argument for same sex covenantal partnerships, Durham University Professor Robert Song acknowledges with traditionalists that it is difficult to see any other reference here than to homosexual anal intercourse.   However, Professor Song and other progressives typically discount the force of the prohibition.  They are seen privileging contemporary experience over Scriptural authority when they argue such a law as the above was part of an Old Testament Jewish ritual, purity code fulfilled in Christ.  Like ritual, dietary laws (eating pork), they are no longer binding on Christians today.  Traditionalists in a long tradition beginning in the New Testament distinguish between Jewish purity practices which are obsolete for Christians and Old Testament moral prescriptions such as homosexuality which are not.   The New Testament renews and reinforces these moral prescriptions (not ‘descriptions’) in the manner of Jesus who said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

 A second major passage in the homosexual debate is Romans 1: 18-32. Herein the apostle Paul describes how rather than honoring God as God, persons rebelled against Him and exchanged the worship of the Creator for the creation.  This idolatry subverted the creative order God established in Genesis 1.  God constituted the nature of ‘Adam’ (Man, humankind) in His image and likeness, gender-differentiated, opposite-sex pairings, male and female.  Human revolt against God results in a dishonorable disordering of creation plainly demonstrated in males having sexual intercourse with males and females with females. Professor Robert Song basically agrees.  However, Professor Song says, the reason same-sex sex is a sin for Paul is only because it is non-procreative sex.  Procreative sex producing children is the only reason for gender differentiation.  Paul rejects homosexuality on the grounds it prevents offspring.  Professor Song declares Paul’s concern for procreative sex of two opposite genders is now superseded.  Christ’s resurrection has brought in a new, eschatological order, a new age, which reorients male-female procreative sex.  Jesus, speaking of this new age says, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage’(Luke 20: 34f).  A new vision of resurrected life makes the old age heterosexual marriage with its procreative sex obsolescent.  Resurrection life envisages a trajectory of life beyond marriage and procreative sex.  Song comments that same-sex covenantal partnerships might have been impossible for Paul and the New Testament.  Are they not now possible for us?

A traditionalist’s response is threefold.  First, the complementarity of gender differentiation of male-female pairing is not limited, as Song says, to the difference in male-female genitalia (responsible for children).  They run as deep as every cell’s sex chromosome pairings, whether xx (female) or xy (male).  The implications of gender differences of anatomy and physiology extend well beyond the necessity of procreation.  Second, Robert Gagnon, acclaimed New Testament scholar who has written exhaustively on homosexuality, notes Paul, in contrast to others of his day, recommended sexual intercourse in marriage not just for procreation but for mutual satisfaction of desire that might otherwise result in promiscuity (1 Corinthians 7: 2-5). Third, when Jesus speaks of those who ‘neither marry nor are given in marriage’, he is speaking not of the ‘in between times’ in which we Christians now live but the end of time when mortal death is no more and ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ have come.  The new creation has not transcended heterosexual, procreative sex!

Progressives submit the possibility of accepting same-sex covenantal partnerships on account of the church changing its mind over the years on such social issues as slavery, women’s issues, and divorce.  Logically speaking, this argument digresses from the moral issue at hand, homosexuality.  Further, every one of these subjects is a distinct issue which must be discussed in its own right.  The Church may be, and has been, at variance and back and forth on certain positions but God’s Word is constant in its meaning.  However, as Robert Gagnon states, where churches have moderated positions you can usually find a New Testament trajectory that has opened a countervailing possibility. Nevertheless, for instance, in regards to slavery, the New Testament never affirms slavery is a good institution.  New Testament scholar Ben Witherington shows Paul takes God’s people where they are but like Philemon, moves them to realize the Gospel’s implications and treat Onesimus as a free brother in Christ.  The early church worked to emancipate slaves but some churches in the nineteenth century did not.

Be that as it may, the Church and its theologians with roots in Old Testament teaching have never wavered, until very recent times, and always regarded the practice of homosexuality a sin. 

Progressives claim Jesus never spoke of homosexuality and the word is not even in the Bible.  They say the issue is not important to the New Testament.  Traditionalists respond Jesus reinstituted the natural, created order of marriage of Genesis as a biological, spiritual and interpersonal union of the complementary pairing of one man and one woman.  Jesus’ statement on marriage excludes the legitimacy of homosexual behavior, or, for that matter, any extra marital sex.  Indeed Jesus condemns porneia (fornication) in Matthew 15: 19 denouncing any sexual intercourse outside of the marriage covenant.  True, the actual word ‘homosexual’ is not used in the Bible (neither is the word ‘trinity’) but a rose by any other name is still a rose.  In another critical passage, 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 Paul says ‘male prostitutes (malokos), sodomites (arsenokoitai)…none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.’   Progressives assert Paul is not here condemning loving, same-sex partnerships but only homosexual prostitution.  This follows what they deem is the problem in Genesis 19 - homosexual, gang rape and not consensual, homosexual acts when the men in the town seek to have sex with the visitors in Sodom and Gomorrah.  Their contention Paul is condemning unloving, brutal homosexual acts centers on Paul’s use of two debated Greek words, malokos and arsenokoitai.  Malokos means ‘soft’ or ‘effeminate’ and is likely a young male posing effeminately as a woman as the passive partner to attract another male (often for prostitution).  The second word arsenokoitai is literally translated ‘men who take males to bed’ and means active, consensual partners in homosexual intercourse. When one considers Paul’s Jewish, religious culture’s aversion to homosexuality, traditionalists affirm with New Testament scholars and Robert Gagnon these two terms together comprehend every conceivable passive and active type of same-sex intercourse which Scripture altogether condemns. To summarize, Paul in 1 Corinthians 6: 9 and elsewhere with Jesus condemns all forms of sexual intercourse outside the marriage of a man and a woman.

A prominent, persistent narrative of progressive and homosexual proponents is that homosexuals are ‘born that way’.  I have no doubt homosexuals feel this way.  Professor of Medicine Emerita of the University of Kansas Dr. Barbara Lukert states ‘there is consensus among human sexuality researchers and therapists that homosexuality is unchosen and in most cases unchangeable.’  National proponent for homosexual inclusion in the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Tom Berlin states, ‘We believe sexual orientation is a way a person is created by God rather than a sin they commit against God.’  Believing that this is an immutable, human quality like skin color, progressives assert the church is discriminating against and excluding, oppressing, and hurting homosexuals as it has other minorities.  As a traditionalist, I feel their passion about this; yet, I know of no traditionalist pastor who either desires or acts to exclude any member of the LGBTQIA community.  Pastors want any body and every body to be in worship on Sunday!  In fact, most traditionalist pastors have homosexuals in their church.

Nevertheless, truth and falsity are not emotional categories.  Though progressives are highly motivated to land this argument, truth and falsehood deal with what is and is not, regardless of how one feels.  In the 1990’s William Byne and Bruce Parsons of Columbia University reviewed the entire literature on the biology of homosexuality.  Their conclusion: there is no biological or genetic theory for homosexuality which has scientific consensus.  The New Atlantis journal reported in 2016, ‘Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the “born that way” hypothesis, simply are not supported by science.’  The American Psychological Association states: there is no scientific consensus on the cause of homosexuality.  Objectively speaking, we cannot claim homosexuality is inherent.  Even if there were some biological connection, as is suggested in alcoholism, the Bible speaks not of one’s proclivity or orientation, but of one’s behavior. The progressive lament that traditionalists by their rejection of homosexual behavior are oppressing and discriminating against homosexuals whom God has created this way is neither scientific nor biblical but emotionally manipulative.

Nevertheless, progressives contend those who disallow homosexual behavior are ‘judging’, condemning and rejecting homosexuals as unacceptable and to be excluded.   Indeed, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but Jesus welcomed and accepted all sinners.  Jesus said, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone...‘do not judge in order you may not be judged’ he said.  Traditionalists agree with progressives Jesus sought out and radically loved marginal persons (including sexual sinners).  Traditionalists are heard to be condemning the practice when they say ‘no’ to homosexual behavior.  Often they are in a position of having to condemn the practice before they are able to show they accept the person.  Our heart is to accept the person though not the practice.  Is not this Jesus’ emphasis?  Like the woman who interrupted his dinner, she had been a notorious sinner, guilty.  She left a cleansed sinner forgiven. Jesus said to her, ‘Go and sin no more’.  At this point progressives and traditionalists part company.  For the reasons recited above, when they say Jesus loves and accepts homosexuals, they mean ‘lock stock and barrel’ – person and behavior.  We love the sinner - but hate the sin.

Indeed, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, ‘Judge not’.  That is, do not be a judgmental person putting dark constructions on ambiguous situations.  Do not pronounce eternal condemnation on anyone.  Nonetheless, Jesus says in Matthew 18: 15 ‘rebuke’ those who sin.  Bring their sin to light.  Point it out so that it may be forgiven.  ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love’ says Proverbs.  Identifying same-sex sex as sin is not judging.  It is trying to bring to bear grace and mercy. 

Our differences range over Scriptures’ absolute authority, textual interpretations, theology, and even science.  At the end of the day, through such interchanges as this, the clarity of truth will shine like gold in a stream and the fullness of grace will come.

 

 


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Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.


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Tom Thomas

Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

Mailbag: Why Would God Harden Pharaoh's Heart?

Question: Can you offer any insight into God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? If God is good, why would he do that?

Answer: Eleonore Stump, in her magisterial Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (and an older article on sanctification, freedom, and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart), offers some very useful insights that may shed some light on this topic. In a nutshell, we’re as human beings all of us, to one degree or another, internally fragmented, double minded, and in a real sense our deepest freedom is compromised when there’s a fundamental disconnect between our (1st order) desires and our (2nd order) desires about our desires. So if I have an overwhelming desire to gamble but a desire not to have that desire, I’m in that sort of dissonant state and my deepest agency is somewhat compromised.

Suppose I ask God for help and to take away my desire to gamble, and in an act of miraculous deliverance he does. He’s not thereby vitiated my freedom by this gift of sanctification; to the contrary, he’s enhanced it, by enabling my first order and second order desires to move into alignment and for me to live more effectively as the person I want to be.

An inverted example is a case like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Nazi propagandist, who wanted his own heart to harden so he wouldn’t feel compassion for the suffering Poles when he saw a graphic account of the hideous atrocities they were suffering at the hands of German soldiers. “Be hard, my heart, be hard,” he told himself. On reflection his choice was to be that kind of uncompassionate person. His first order desire, at least fleetingly, was one of compassion, but his second order desire, which more accurately reflected who he wanted and deliberatively chose to be, was not to have those compassionate desires.

If God, suppose, were to intervene and harden Goebbels’ heart, taking away some of that compassion, he would be bringing Goebbels’ lower and higher order desires into alignment, making him a more internally integrated person. Rather than detracting from his free will, in a real sense he would be enhancing it a bit. He certainly wouldn’t be making Goebbels less free. God would be giving Goebbels what he really wanted down deep, what he chose when, presumably he could and should have done otherwise. (For all we know, God doing this might help Goebbels see the horror of his choices and choose to repent and change course.)

So when Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God hardened it even more, God was actually honoring Pharaoh’s choice, not detracting from his freedom. God loves us, and desires that none would perish; love isn’t just what God does, it’s who he is. But God will also honor our choices if we decide to hold on to sin tighter than we hold on to him; if we renounce the only ultimate source of Joy there is, we may just get what we want.

That’s the basic idea, and I think it’s a helpful analysis to get our minds, at least a little, around what’s going on in the Pharaoh passage that, for many, poses quite the bête noire of OT stories. Of course the clearest picture we have of the immeasurable love of God is the cross; the Pharaoh passage is one of those challenging ones we have to think about a bit more to understand—in light of the cross.


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With his co-author, Jerry Walls, Dr. Baggett authored Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. The book won Christianity Today’s 2012 apologetics book of the year of the award. He is working on a sequel with Walls that critiques naturalistic ethics, a book to be called God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning. They are under contract with Oxford University Press for a third book in the series, a book that will chronicle the history of moral arguments for God’s existence. Dr. Baggett has also co-edited a collection of essays exploring the philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and edited the third debate between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew on the resurrection of Jesus. Dr. Baggett currently is a professor at the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, VA.  

A Model for Apologetic Preaching

            Most preachers I talk to about apologetics and preaching agree that the two can and should go together, but few have a workable model for developing apologetic sermons. Thus, I developed an approach to preparing apologetic messages that utilizes the acrostic STEPS. Before I share the details of the STEPS model, a word about two types of apologetics: negative and positive. Nash’s definition of the two is helpful:

In negative apologetics, the major objective is producing answers to challenges to religious faith. The proper task of negative apologetics is removing obstacles to belief…. In negative apologetics, the apologist is playing defense. In positive apologetics, the apologist begins to play offense. It is one thing to show (or attempt to show) that assorted arguments against religious faith are weak or unsound; it is a rather different task to offer people reasons why they should believe. The latter is the task of positive apologetics.

Given the difference between negative and positive apologetics, I adapted the STEPS model to address each approach. Here is how STEPS works for negative apologetics.

Specify the Apologetic Challenge

            Given the concern in negative apologetics to defend the faith against attacks, the starting point in developing an apologetic sermon outline for negative apologetics is to specify the apologetic challenge the sermon intends to address. The preacher’s goal at this point is to initiate a connection with the audience based on the topic under consideration. While there is not necessarily one “right” way to do this, it may prove useful to quote an opponent of the Christian faith, followed by a question.

Tell the Critic’s Best Argument

            Having identified the apologetic challenge, the negative apologetic sermon now includes the best example of an argument in favor of the position stated in the challenge. At this point the preacher must take the time to learn and accurately represent the views of those he is engaging. God is not honored nor are the saints helped when strawmen are built and attacked. Always present the opposing view’s best argument.

Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge

            At this point the preacher will present what the Bible and other sources say about the apologetic challenge. The focus of the preacher turns from answering the critic to offering reasons to believe the Christian faith despite the apologetic challenge being discussed. When sharing the answer to the apologetic challenge the preacher is helping the hearer understand that the Christian faith is both reasonable and based in divine revelation.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            It is possible to present the first four parts of the STEPS model within a sermon that is broader than just the apologetics (e.g., a message about foolishness could include a discussion of the fool’s denial of God’s existence). However, if the message is wholly apologetic, then the preacher’s last responsibility is to summarize and offer a gospel invitation relevant to the audience (i.e., if evangelism, then the gospel portion is an invitation to believe and repent, but if discipleship, then the gospel portion is an invitation to trust God more deeply; if both, then both).

 

And here is how STEPS works for positive apologetics.

Specify the Apologetic Topic

            In a positive apologetic message, where the goal is to present a positive case for belief, the preacher begins by specifying the apologetic topic. This approach sets the expectation with the hearer that the sermon will provide reasons to believe. It will help the preacher connect with his audience if, when introducing the apologetic topic, he avoids the language of doubt (though such language may prove helpful with negative apologetics), focusing instead on inviting the hearer into a deeper consideration of the positive case for believing.

Tell the Topic’s Significance

            After specifying the topic, the preacher gives the hearers a few key reasons why the topic is important. It will help the preacher to think in terms of doctrine and practice at this point. Help the listener understand the doctrinal significance of the topic, how it relates to overall Christian theology. Likewise, discuss how the topic generally relates to living the Christian life, to the practice of faith.

Explain the Biblical and Rational Basis Concerning the Apologetic Topic

            The topic has been presented and its significance considered, so the preacher turns to a presentation of the biblical and rational basis for believing whatever is under consideration. This is the central apologetic content of the message, where the argument in favor of the belief is put forth in clear and compelling terms. While the preacher’s goal is not to harangue his hearers and browbeat them concerning the topic, he should make an impassioned case for “the hope that is in [him]” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Practically Apply the Apologetic Topic for the Hearers

            This is where the preacher transitions from apologetic case-making to practical application. How does the apologetic topic relate to the hearers? The emphasis at this point in making apologetic realities fit real life needs.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            As with the STEPS model applied to negative apologetics, so it is possible for the positive model to be a part of a message dealing with something not exclusively apologetic. If so, there is not necessarily a transition to a related invitation. However, if the positive apologetic message is stand-alone, then the preacher will conclude by summarizing and making a transition appropriate to the topic and audience—unbeliever, believer, or both.

Conclusion

            I realize it is probably easier to understand STEPS in an actual sermon. At this point, however, what is most important is the basic structure. In the next two weekly installments I will present actual sermon manuscripts, one for negative apologetics and one for positive apologetics.


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

A Twilight Musing: The Education of Jonah

 

                  Jonah is well known for running away to Tarshish to keep from having to preach to the people of Nineveh.  We tend to assume that Jonah’s flight from God’s command is a spontaneous reaction.  But actually, the author reveals at the end of the book that Jonah’s refusal to go where God sent him was based on deep reservations about God’s mercy: “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2, ESV).  Essentially Jonah is saying to God, “I knew you were setting me up to look ridiculous: I go in there full of fire and brimstone, and then you go soft and don’t zap them after all.”  So it’s obvious that Jonah needs an education, and God sends him to school through the journey to Nineveh.

          Jonah’s conscience is quite bothersome as he boards the ship to Tarshish, for he is fleeing “the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).  God responds by saying, in effect, “You want to hide?  I can do you one better than the hold of a ship.  How about the belly of a big fish?”  From that place Jonah cries out to be restored to the Lord’s presence, and he is cast up on shore by the fish, ready to hear again the Lord tell him to go preach to Nineveh.  He’s now turned around to do God’s bidding, and he dutifully walks the three days’ journey through the town warning the citizens of their impending doom.  But he evidently does not have the heart of his merciful God in delivering his message, and, perversely, he is even chagrined at his success in turning the Ninevites from their wickedness!

          We then see the last unit of Jonah’s course acted out in the last chapter of the book.  First, we see the compassion of God contrasted with the vindictiveness of Jonah as God “relented of the disaster he had said he would do to them” (Jonah 3:10), and Jonah was angry at God’s mercy.  God asks him, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4), and Jonah’s lack of an answer is an implicit “Yes.”

          The next step is for God to show Jonah how sinful is his sense of values.  When Jonah builds a little arbor for shade as he self-righteously waits to see “what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5), apparently without much charity in his heart for the inhabitants of Nineveh, God makes His final point with Jonah by supplementing the prophet’s shade with a vine, for which Jonah is glad.  But as quickly as it came, God caused it to wither, once again making Jonah angry enough to want to die.  God asks a second time, “Do you do well to be angry” over the loss of such an insignificant thing?  God drives home the absurdity of Jonah’s feeling more for the loss of a trivial comfort than for “a great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11).

          We are not told whether Jonah took God’s lessons to heart and changed his attitude toward those he preached to, but we would do well to heed God’s lesson to His prophet: don’t be more wrathful toward sinful people than God is.


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 Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

 

         

         

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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Making the Case: Apologetic Preaching and Abductive Argumentation

            Doing apologetics requires some level of logical argumentation. Groothuis explains that “apologetics means philosophical engagement, and philosophy trades in logic.” Though logic and argumentation may be difficult for some Christians, apologetics without arguments quickly reduces to assertions and becomes a denial of Peter’s command to “be ready to give a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15). Is there, though, a preferred style of argumentation for apologetics, especially apologetic preaching? While I think that all forms of valid argumentation could have a place in apologetics at some point, it is in abductive argumentation that apologetic preaching may find its greatest ally.

What is Abductive Argumentation?

            Simply stated, abductive argumentation hopes to arrive at an inference to the best explanation without claiming a standard of certainty usually associated with other types of logical arguments (e.g., deduction or induction). This is not to deny any Christian’s testimony and the certainty they possess based on the coming together of reason and faith in their minds and heart. Rather, abduction seeks to point toward certainty without “demanding it” based on the outcome of a particular logical construct. Admittedly, discussions of argumentation can quickly get to a pretty heady level, and that is certainly not the goal of using abduction in apologetic preaching. However, preachers will make some type of argument, so the matter is really how they will argue, not if they will. Here’s an example of how abduction might be stated in the form of premises and conclusion related to a moral argument for God’s existence.

            P1: Most of us recognize that some things are morally good, and some are bad.

            P2: We applaud the child on the playground who stands up to the bully. We boo the bully    for picking on others.

            P3: If the bully changes his ways, we praise him for becoming a better boy. If the bully         reverts to his bullying, we consider him to have started acting badly again.

            P4: Why do we conclude that standing up to the bully is good, or that bullying another is       bad? We do so because we have a standard of what is good and bad by which to assess what    we and others do.

            P5: The Christian claims that this standard is based on who God is, and that our sense of good and evil relates to our being made in God’s image.

            C: Thus, Christianity provides a reasonable explanation—possibly the best explanation—for     the human experience of good and evil.

The goal of making an abductive case like this is to let it build in a cumulative manner that moves intentionally toward the goal of offering—not necessarily demanding—that the Christian conclusion is reasonable and may be the best answer. In preaching particularly this type of abductive approach provides a couple of important benefits.

A Couple of Reasons Abduction Helps in Apologetic Preaching

            First, because it claims to come to an inference to the best explanation, abduction offers a manner of apologetic reasoning in preaching that avoids being overly dogmatic. As Baggett and Baggett explain, “the procedure of abduction goes like this: we come across something that needs to be explained, then we identify a range of possible explanations, and then we narrow the list down to the best one.” Some apologists might chafe at this approach, claiming that the apologetic enterprise should insist on certainty, and that apologetic preaching, especially, should prefer more than an inference to the best explanation as an outcome. However, there is a sense in which claims to absolute certainty may lack explanatory power when it comes to how faith forms around what is “hoped for...[and] unseen” (Heb. 11:1-2). Is the Christian worldview compelling? Absolutely. Is there evidence worthy of consideration? Of course. However, the ideas of certainty associated with argumentation are not something found in the pages of the Bible, but in the later developments of modern thought, which has a decided bias against the idea of biblical faith. Abduction is a way to keep the apologist in check against the temptation to overconfidence in the power of his arguments, and to help him remember that there is more involved in coming to faith than syllogisms and rationality.

            Second, abduction can help preachers avoid oversimplification. This is an error that apologists fall into when they think a simple syllogism is all that is needed to make the case for some aspect of Christian truth. Rather than accepting that one cannot with absolute epistemic certainty prove the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, apologists may assume that their personal convictions are equivalent to philosophical standards of truth and certainty. They assume that belief is simply a matter of following the premises to the logical conclusion and expect that their hearers only need to follow the logic of an argument to come to belief in God or some other Christian claim. Yet, conversion is ordinarily a process that takes time and possibly numerous conversations, and it is only the exception that finds a person coming to Christ after hearing only one argument. Like Paul in Athens sharing the gospel on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34), the abductive argument in the hands of the apologetic preacher offers a reasonable explanation of the audience’s circumstances while presenting the Christian worldview. Some may scoff, some may decide to hear more, and some may believe—whatever the outcome may be, the cumulative abductive case for faith has been made.

Conclusion

There is certainly much more that could be said about abduction in apologetic preaching, but I trust its conduciveness to humility and avoiding oversimplification are somewhat clear. In the next installment I will present a model for developing apologetic messages.


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

Equipping the Saints: Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship

              I’ve been preaching for over thirty years. I’ve preached a lot of sermons in that time, and most were directed to believers. I consider preaching to be my primary means of equipping disciples. It’s not that I don’t engage in other activities to aid the flock—I also counsel and mentor and provide general pastoral care. However, preaching is my main disciple-making practice. Apologetics has a role in this, but I confess that I have not always appreciated its importance nor have I (until recently) carefully considered why apologetic preaching as discipleship is fundamental to my calling as a preacher. Yet, in God’s kindness He has broadened my vision for preaching, and here are few of the things I am learning about the rationale for apologetic preaching as discipleship.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Helps Remove Obstacles to Christian Growth

              Growing, active Christians will inevitably experience doubts about the content of their faith or the surety of their relationship with the Lord as they grow and are tested. To paraphrase Luther, the Christian cannot keep all doubts away any more than a man can control the birds that fly around the trees in his yard. Also, if Christians are engaging their culture and sharing their faith, they will eventually encounter someone who is hostile to the faith and armed with one or more substantive arguments.

              When Christians experience these challenges, apologetic preaching for discipleship can help address the doubts and provide answers to challenges to the faith. Sometimes, as Habermas explains, doubt is intellectual, sometimes it is emotional, and sometimes is it a matter of refusing to believe out of rebellion. Regardless of its source, apologetics through preaching can help the Christian move past doubt to faith and obedience. Apologetics is like a coin with two-sides: one side focuses on those who are not yet Christians, and the other side focuses on those who already believe. Both are legitimate roles for apologetics, and when a pastor knows this and takes seriously his responsibility to preach sermons that include apologetics, he helps his congregation grow in spiritual maturity.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Aids in Teaching the “How” of Apologetics

              Like it or not, a preacher’s congregation will learn how to do certain things by the way the preacher does them. For instance, how a preacher regularly explains the gospel at the time of invitation will have a pedagogical effect on the congregation over time, and they will likely explain the gospel in terms similar to their preacher. This is not necessarily a problem if the preacher is careful of his method and cognizant that he is teaching by doing, especially in the pulpit. The upside to this phenomenon is that when it comes to apologetic preaching as discipleship, a preacher can both equip the saints with apologetic content and with apologetic presentation skills.

              While the congregation may not acquire the precision and polish of their pastor, they can learn the basics from his delivery method. This is, in part, how Augustine taught his mentees to preach and teach during his years of ministry as pastor and bishop in North Africa. Smither explains that, “the daily disciplines of prayer, scriptural study, and reading, as well as regular interaction with Augustine’s teaching, prepared many monks for a possible future in church ministry.” Smither also reports that much of Augustine’s apologetic material (e.g., against the Donatists, against Pelagius, against the Manicheans) was developed and presented in the context of training his mentees. Thus, Augustine provides an excellent example of how what is said in a sermon or teaching conveys both content and method to the hearers. Apologetic preaching for discipleship is one of the means to convey such content and methods to the people of God.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Serves as a Means to Guarding the Flock

              When pastors commit to apologetic preaching as discipleship, whether for a specific series of messages or as an ongoing practice in all messages, they are helping maintain the right and left limits of orthodoxy within the congregation. This aspect of apologetic preaching is sometimes easily overlooked, yet faithful and regular apologetics in the pulpit sets a certain tone in the congregation, making clear that false teaching and attacks on the faith will be addressed, and biblical orthodoxy will be maintained in the spirit of speaking the truth in love for the sake of edifying and protecting the body. Though this practice cannot guarantee false teaching will never find a place among the brethren, it is true that through regular preaching that explains and defends the Christian message, a congregation can and will gravitate toward consistent orthodoxy. Taylor offers historical support for this in his exploration of the role of apologetics in the first three centuries of the church, explaining that through the use of apologetics the early church stood firm against encroaching heresy by offering “justification for belief in and commendation of Christianity.” When faced with attempts by heretics to alter “one or more aspects of the deity, death, and resurrection reports as they related to Jesus,” these early apologists helped “establish the credibility of Christianity.”  Likewise, when pastors commit to apologetic preaching today they help believers live within a hostile culture without sacrificing their distinctive beliefs. Perhaps one of the greatest though underutilized weapons in the preacher’s arsenal when it comes to doctrinal purity is the practice of regular apologetic preaching for discipleship.

Conclusion

              Apologetic preaching as discipleship has much to commend itself to preachers, as does apologetic preaching as evangelism. What about the type of arguments used in apologetic preaching? In the next installment in this series we will consider why abductive argumentation is well-suited to apologetic preaching.


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

Love ~ A Five Letter Word

Love is a five letter word.  Did you think four letters enough?  Five letters are needful for this particular love, agape.  Five-letter agape is the love encompassing the other loves.  Agape makes best sense in reference to God in Jesus Christ.  Put aside for now agape as the love of God with his own.  This piece focuses on agape as God’s love shared between his own. Since the apostle Paul urges us to ‘let all that you do be done in agape’, celebrate with me three of agape’s winning features:  agape love comprehends (1) mutual subjection, (2) mercy/kindness, and (3) loyal commitment to death.

First, five-letter agape love entails mutual subjection. ‘To be subject’ to another person is to render oneself dependent on; to place oneself under or in a lower position to someone; or to put oneself at the service of another.  The thought of being ‘subject’ to another carries a negative connotation in our society.  It smacks of being deprived of freedom or in bondage to another.  Early Americans were ‘subjects’ of Great Britain’s King George.  As his ‘subjects’ we rebelled against King George’s goal of ‘absolute tyranny over these states.’

There is a much talked-about tussle of dominance and subjection between men and women. G. K. Chesterton was skeptical of Women’s Rights talk that ‘men are the rulers and masters and women the menials.’  Jokes abound parodying the opposite, ‘When she wants his opinion, she gives it to him.’  Subjection carries a negative connotation.

What if husbands in the above relational equation decide to be subject to their wives?  What if, further, wives determine to place themselves under their husbands?  This is exactly what five-letter love agape envisions: mutual subjection!  ‘Be subject to one another in reverence of Christ’ says the apostle Paul (Ephesians 5: 21).

Eighteenth century writer and pastor Jonathon Swift thought this an extraordinary oxymoron.  How can two equal persons both be subject to one another?  Being subject to another is only due from inferiors to those above them:  a subject to a prince.  Nevertheless, there it is!  For the believing Christian community, mutual subjection is the rule.  Be subject to one another!  Regardless of gender, rank, power, or prominence, put yourself in the service and at the disposal of others: husbands to wives and wives to husbands!  Let Jesus Christ be your model.  Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You call me Lord and Master…for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master, wash your feet, how much more ought you to wash one another’s feet?’  Living at the disposal of others in mutual submission is a win-win aspect of five-letter love.

Consider a second aspect of five-letter agape love.  ‘Agape is kind.’  The word ‘kind’ in the original New Testament language is ‘chrestos.’  ‘Chrestos’ is bearing good will to someone undeserving. It is being suffused with a gracious, generous spirit toward the unworthy.  Jesus Christ is kindness.  He was dining at a Jewish leader’s table.  A woman crashed the party.  She positioned herself at Jesus’ feet.  Bursting out in tears she anointed his feet with ointment from her alabaster jar.  The Pharisee leader was horrorstruck.  ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him,’ he said under his breath.  Jesus answered the Pharisee, ‘I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.’  Turning to the woman he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Luke 7: 37ff).  Jesus treated this public sinner with ‘chrestos’ – a spirit of generous mercy.  The Pharisee rightly reckoned her behavior wrong.  Though Jesus agreed, he met her repentant heart with sweet benevolence.  Jesus became so identified with ‘chrestos’, heathens called him ‘Chrest’ rather than Christ and Christians ‘Chrestians.’  Imagine persons, even yourself, at every level and in every walk of life – politicians, citizens, teachers, students, doctors, patients, executives, merchants, husbands, and wives - carrying on with chrestos!

Jane Austen’s heroine in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Bennett, is pretty, smart, and self-possessed.    She dared turn down the marriage proposal of the area’s most eligible bachelor, the noble, handsome, and wealthy Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.  In the meantime, Lizzie’s sister Lydia had an affair with a ne’er-do-well rake, Wickham.  Lydia and Wickham’s improper relationship disgraced Lizzie and her family.  Lizzie felt her and her sisters’ eligibility for marriage was gone.

Unbeknownst to Lizzie, Mr. Darcy secretly intervenes.  Looking past Lizzie’s snub and Lydia’s scandalous behavior, Mr. Darcy has compassionate mercy on the Bennett family.  He uses his influence and wealth to insure Wickham marries Lydia.  The disgrace hanging over the Bennett family is removed.  Later, when he has the opportunity to reaffirm his love for Lizzie, she wholeheartedly accepts his renewed offer of marriage.  Would marital relationships be less fragile and brittle if ‘chrestos’ prevailed in spouses’ hearts?

Five-letter agape love is mutual subjection, kindness, and, lastly, loyal, committed love.  I call it to-the-death love.  I felt badly for actress Bo Derek.  Bo, having starred in the iconic movie ‘Ten’, was with her husband John Derek when he was asked by an interviewer the following question, ‘If Bo was in an automobile accident and her face was horribly scarred, would you still love her?’  I felt for Bo because John did not answer with a resounding ‘Yes’!  Five- letter love is loyal, committed love that goes to the death for your lover.  Agape is ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health...till death do us part’ love.  Agape love does not jump ship…does not bail….does not walk away.  It says, ‘Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; where you die, I will die.’  Period.  Psychiatrist F. Scott Peck said, ‘Commitment is the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship.’  His long psychiatric practice taught him that where commitment is absent, psychiatric disorders are present.  Look around.  Would you not like to be loved with loyal love?

To-the-death love is best revealed in Jesus Christ.  The God of the universe ‘proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’  Five-letter love is defined by Jesus’ willingness to remain steadfast and go to the death for those loved.  One can hardly find a better contemporary example of to-the-death love than Robertson McQuilken’s.  He was a university president.  In his fifties, he had finally attained his life-long dream of running a university.  His wife Muriel was skilled in tutoring college students and graciously hosting the president’s social events. Then Muriel developed Alzheimer’s disease.  Robertson faced a dilemma: care for the university, or care for Muriel.  Foregoing his presidency, he tendered his resignation to the university to take care of Muriel.  He cared for her until her death.  McQuilken knew his Master Jesus Christ loved the church by sacrificing his life for her.  McQuilken felt it his privilege to love his wife Muriel ‘till death do us part.’ Five-letter love is to-the-death love, kindness, and mutual subjection.  Love is more than a four letter word.  Are you ready for it?


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Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

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Tom Thomas

Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

Finding God in the Darkness: What I Learned in the Hospital

A Twilight Musing

          I recently went through nine days in the hospital being treated for severe pneumonia. It was the longest hospital stay of my life, and it was extremely stressful, both physically and spiritually. But it was revealing as well. I learned that Satan will take advantage of us when we are most vulnerable, and that God can and will cause us to grow spiritually when we are subjected to unavoidable interruptions to our comfort.

          The onset of my crisis was quite sudden. Although I had already had a visit with my primary care physician and received an antibiotic to combat my infection, a return visit quickly turned into a fast trip to the emergency ward and immediate application of measures to keep me from lapsing into a life-threatening condition. I was subjected to an intense regimen determined by the medical professionals, and I was merely carried along on its tide. Needles were inserted, and IVs attached. I was pumped with fluids and antibiotics, subjected to prescheduled vital sign checks, and perpetually tethered to a bunch of tubes that had to be hauled along whenever I got out of bed. Had I been knocked out, I would have not known what was going on, but I was awake most of the time and had to grab naps when I wasn’t being waked or poked or prodded by nurses and their aides.

          The first two nights after being admitted were the most trying. Because of the medications being administered, I was hypersensitive to physical and psychological stimuli, so that during those two nights I felt a palpable presence of Evil, and I had to battle fear by calling out to God to deliver me from it. During the initial nights I had a frightening sense that I was being subjected to the equivalent of an endless loop of bizarre dreams, like clips from a horror movie. Something was messing with my mind. But God answered my prayers and gave me the strength to regain some spiritual equilibrium after a couple of days. During that first part of my stay, I felt myself enveloped in a kind of heart of darkness (a la Joseph Conrad). I didn’t feel God’s Presence, but I kept hanging on to my intellectual conviction, reinforced by long experience, that God was present and that His Love was working on my behalf. In that situation, I could exercise choice only in how I reacted to the medical regimen I was being subjected to.

          Strategically, I had to be content with short naps, rather than extended periods of sleep. Once I accepted that process, I found peace in not expecting more. One of the nurses talked to me in the middle of the night, after I had complained about being unable to sleep because of all the sounds and activities around me. She explained how my (and other patients’) expectations in a hospital stay need to be brought into line with hospital objectives and practices. “Most people come to a stay in the hospital expecting to rest, whereas the purpose of a hospital stay is to be cured of your illness. Once that is accomplished, we send you home to rest.” That would seem to be analogous spiritually to the instruction of Jesus (see Matt. 6:25-34) not to worry, to trust God for sufficiency in all that we need, and to experience the peace that that trust brings.

My encounter with Darkness during these nine days in the hospital was unique in my experience, and I want never to repeat it. Nevertheless, it gave me a new perspective on the Christian’s struggle with Evil. Darkness can be a very effective teacher, but its lessons require a radical sacrifice of our comfort.


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 Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

 

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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Lighten Our Darkness

Lighten Our Darkness

Mother Teresa described her mission as lighting ‘the light of those in darkness.’  ‘Darkness’ is ancient, Scriptural prophecy’s description of the state of wayward Israel.  They are ‘those who lived in a land of deep darkness.’  This biblical assessment of ‘the land of deep darkness’ corresponds well with a broader characterization of the dark state of human existence.

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Three Ways that Apologetics Helps Preaching

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              In the first article I made a plea for pastors to include apologetics in their preaching ministry. In this article I share three ways that apologetics helps preaching. As a lead in, remember that there are two general types of preaching that pastor do—preaching for evangelism and preaching for discipleship. As the three ways I present will discuss, apologetics can help with both types.

1.       Apologetics Helps Overcome Obstacles to Faith in Evangelistic Preaching

In evangelistic preaching, obstacles to belief can be based on rational and passional barriers formed when a person is ignorant of the coherence and defensibility of the Christian message. Apologetic content in evangelistic preaching can help overcome such barriers to belief by addressing common objections to the Christian faith. For example, the central doctrine of the Christian faith is arguably the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:12-19). However, since the first reports of the resurrection were made to Jewish and Roman authorities there have been attempts to disprove the claim (Matt. 28:11-15). Each generation of Christians since Christ resurrected has also encountered detractors from the resurrection, and this generation of believers is no different. A recent survey in Great Britain concerning beliefs about the resurrection reveals that, of the 2,010 adults surveyed, 50 percent do not believe the resurrection happened, and of the respondents identified as active Christians, 43 percent do not accept the biblical account of the resurrection as accurate. Thus, when preaching a gospel message that is dependent upon the doctrine of the resurrection, the evangelistic preacher should anticipate that many in his audience likely reject the doctrine, and proactively defend is as part of a cumulative case supporting the Christian gospel.

2.       Apologetics Helps Overcome Doubt and Equips Believers in Discipleship Preaching

              In discipleship preaching, besetting doubts and answers to attacks on the faith of Christians by an unbelieving world can be addressed by including apologetic content in sermons. Through apologetic preaching for discipleship, believers are able to better overcome their own doubts (cf. Heb. 11:1-2), and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). For example, as the barrage of writing from the New Atheists demonstrate—including the frequently vitriolic and one-sided attacks upon Christianity by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett—Christians are often susceptible to challenges based on a lack of preparation to answer apologetically-oriented questions. Believers might be harangued by opponents of the faith with questions such as: How could a loving God command the genocide of the Canaanites? or How could anyone believe a Bible that was assembled in the early third century by misogynistic, power-hungry men in league with Constantine and bent on controlling people? The researcher knows from personal experience with his own congregation that an accessible series of apologetic-infused messages targeting believers and addressing such concerns can provide great strength and resources to a struggling congregation. Such messages can also buoy the pastor’s spirit amid the persistent concerns and doubts raised by those he shepherds.

3.       Apologetics Adds Overall Depth to the Pastor’s Ministry Abilities

              In both apologetic preaching for evangelism and discipleship, the preacher will spend considerable time learning apologetic content and preparing it in such a way to make it accessible through his preaching. As this happens, the preacher’s apologetic knowledge and abilities increase and will usually overflow into his broader pastoral ministry. For example, learning apologetics concerning which theodicies are most helpful in addressing the problem of evil provides a pastor with greater ability to offer pastoral counsel when someone is looking for answers to personal or societal tragedies. Likewise, when a pastor becomes better equipped with apologetics in his preaching, he is likely to show an increase in confidence related to evangelism, and, in turn, become more intentional about evangelizing and encouraging his congregation to do the same. As he does so, it is reasonable to think that the same apologetics that helped his confidence rise will also become a focal point in teaching others to evangelize.

Conclusion

              Other reasons attain regarding why preaching benefits from apologetics, but these three get the conversation started. In next week’s article I will present three ways that preaching specifically relates to moral apologetics. Until then, keep defending the faith in the pulpit.

 

Imprecatory Psalms Are Horrible Models for Christian Prayer

Imprecatory Psalms Are Horrible Models for Christian Prayer

The imprecatory psalms also have value for Christians today in reminding them of God’s holy hatred of sin, evil, and injustice. Christians not only petition for the judgment of the wicked but also for sin and evil to be expunged from their own hearts.

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Preaching and Apologetics?

Photo by  chuttersnap  on  Unsplash

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Series Introduction:

What does a pastor’s preaching have to do with apologetics, if anything at all? Some conclude that the two are separate activities, that preaching is preaching, and apologetics is apologetics. However, as T. J. Gentry’s forthcoming series “Pulpit Apologetics” will argue, preaching and apologetics not only can go together, but should, and every pastor has an obligation to learn to bring apologetics into the pulpit. In this series the general relationship between preaching and apologetics is considered, as well as the special connection between preaching, moral apologetics, and abductive argumentation. Further, as a practical offering to those seeking to better unite preaching and apologetics, a model of sermon preparation will be developed for both negative and positive apologetic concerns. The series will feature a new installment every Friday. Don’t miss it!

 

Preaching and Apologetics

Sheila’s friend, Mary, invited her to a special Sunday evening service at her church designed to answer questions about the Christian faith for skeptics and seekers. As a curious non-Christian, Sheila was intrigued by the invitation and decided to attend one of the services. Mary’s pastor began each message at these services with a question about Christianity, and the night Sheila attended the question was, does God really exist? As Sheila listened to the message, the pastor explained that each person has an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong, and that this innate sense of morality is a clue to God’s existence. Sheila was challenged by the message and, though she did not respond to the brief gospel invitation offered at the end of the service, she did promise to attend again with Mary. The preaching Sheila heard offered answers to questions about God, and she began to seriously consider the claims of Christianity.

Raised in a Christian home, John regularly attended church and other activities, including participating in his youth group and actively sharing his faith in Jesus. Upon graduating high school John enrolled as a commuter student at the local state university and, as part of his course of general studies, took a course in cultural anthropology. His professor was an atheist and an outspoken critic of religion in general, especially Christianity, and soon the professor’s challenges led John to wrestle with profound and persistent doubts about the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. Thus, when John’s pastor began a series of sermons on why the Christian worldview makes sense and the Bible can be trusted, John found answers to his doubts and his faith was strengthened. The preaching John heard helped him find reasons to believe, and he grew as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What do these examples of preaching have in common? Though the primary purpose of the preaching in Sheila’s instance was to make a compelling case for Christianity to skeptics and seekers, and the primary purpose in John’s instance was to strengthen a disciple’s faith, both messages involved apologetics. However, is this a legitimate role for preaching, whether to those who are already Christians or to seekers and skeptics? Is there a nexus—a central link or connection—between apologetics and preaching for discipleship and evangelism or are these separate activities?

Preaching is a fundamental and regularly occurring expression of a pastor’s work within most congregations, both in terms of evangelism and discipleship. Wayne McDill concludes that “of all the tasks to be done in ministry, preaching is surely one of the most important.” Paul the apostle admonished his young protégé, Timothy, who was also a pastor and mentor to other pastors, to “give attention to…exhortation” (1 Tim. 4:13), to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2), and to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). In these directives to Timothy, Paul describes the centrality of the pastor’s role as preacher—to exhort, teach, and evangelize. Haddon Robinson explains that the pastor’s call to preaching is so significant because “through the preaching of the Scriptures, God encounters men and women to bring them to salvation…and to richness and ripeness of Christian character.”

Yet, amid the prevailing post-modern and post-Christian milieu in much of the world, the audience to which the pastor delivers his message is increasingly ignorant of and unsure of the veracity of even its most basic elements. According to J. E. White, 23% of adults in the United States consider themselves as having no religious affiliation, and nearly 19% of adults claim to be former Christians. Add to these statistics the widespread veneration of philosophical and religious pluralism and one begins to recognize the challenge today’s pastor faces when standing in the pulpit and proclaiming the Christian message. As White aptly states, “It’s simply a cultural reality that people in a post-Christian world are genuinely incredulous that anyone would think like…well, a Christian—or at least, what it means in their minds to think like a Christian.”

Further, it is not difficult to see that God’s greatness and goodness are under attack directly and indirectly in various challenges presented by antagonists of the Christian faith. If God is great, the skeptic asks, then why are there so many examples of slavery in the Bible, and why would He order the slaughter of Canaanite women and children? If God is good, the struggling Christian wonders, then why did individuals kill thousands of innocent people in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and why did an earthquake kill thousands in India? These are challenging questions that strike at the very heart of God’s character, and the Christian message offers answers that reflect sensitivity to the issues and assurance regarding God’s greatness and goodness. Preaching can and should help with these challenges to God’s character.

Thus, it seems reasonable and practical to conclude that preachers should expect to engage in various forms of apologetic encounters—helping answer challenges to belief posed by unbelievers while also helping strengthen the faith of believers. What a pastor should do and what a pastor can do, though, are not necessarily the same when it comes to apologetics, and this reveals a fundamental problem: Pastors may have little knowledge of apologetics in general, and less in how apologetics relates to preaching. For those pastors who do have knowledge of apologetics, they may not know how to integrate apologetics into their ministry of preaching in a holistic manner that avoids turning sermons into dense apologetics lectures or trite and simplistic messages lacking relevant depth and substance.

What, then, is a pastor to do concerning apologetics and preaching? The answer to this question provides the impetus for future articles in this series. In the next installment we will consider further the general rationale for the nexus of preaching and apologetics. Until then, remember that Peter’s command to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15) applies to everyone, including those who preach.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory”: Three Poems on the Incarnation

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

            Incarnation has come to be a theological word associated primarily with the embodiment of God Himself in human flesh, living for a time on earth with the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  He was also given the name of “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  But “God with us” means more than the fact that the Son of God was historically present on earth for a short time.  When He went back to Heaven to be with the Father, His place was taken by the Holy Spirit, so that the joyful Presence of God within us is the “hope of glory.”  Just as Jesus’ time on earth was lived and terminated for a larger purpose, so we, dying to the flesh, will find His Presence in these mortal bodies to be fulfilled by being resurrected into the eternal Presence of God.  God’s Incarnation is reenacted in us, adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

            The three poems below present responses to and experiences of the Incarnation.  In “The Husbandry of God,” Mary wrestles with the implications and the aftermath of yielding herself to be the instrument by which the God of Heaven would be incubated and born into the world.  She is the willing ground into which divine seed will be planted to bear the fruit of Heaven, and therein she prefigures the process by which every believer in the Messiah becomes a recipient of the Presence of God and by His power reaps eternal life.

                 The Husbandry of God

                        (Luke 1:26-35)  

How can I contain this word from the Lord?

His light has pierced my being

And sown in single seed

Both glory and shame.

Content was I

To wed in lowliness

And live in obscurity,

With purity my only dower.

Now, ravished with power,

I flout the conventions of man

To incubate God.

In lowliness how shall I bear it?

In modesty how shall I tell it?

What now shall I become?

But the fruit of God's planting

Is His to harvest.

No gleaner I, like Ruth,

But the field itself,

In whom my Lord lies hid.

 

            In “Immanuel,” the “one birth” at the center of the poem both emanates from and ends in God’s Presence.  In the first triplet, we look back to the source of the unique “one birth”; in the last triplet we see the results of the “one birth.”  God became flesh that we might truly know Him, and He truly know us.  

 

                             Immanuel  

 

In God's Presence

Is the essence

Of perfect earth;

In one birth

Knows all earth

The essence

Of God's Presence. 

 

 

Finally, “And the Word Became Flesh” emphasizes that it was the very essence, or “Word” of God Who gave up His rightful place beside the Father and came in the form of a fleshly baby.  In His short earthly ministry, He steadfastly walked the road to a death He did not deserve, and thereby enabled us who believe in Him to become children of God, inhabited by His Presence as a guarantee that we will someday abide eternally in His Presence.

 

"And the Word Became Flesh"

(John 1:1)

When Word invested in flesh,

No matter the shrouds that swathed it;

The donning of sin's poor corpse

(Indignity enough)

Was rightly wrapped in robes of death.

 

Yet breath of God

Broke through the shroud,

Dispersed the cloud

That darkened every birth before.

Those swaddling bands bespoke

A glory in the grave,

When flesh emerged as Word.

 

Take up this flesh, O Lord:

Re-form it with Your breath,

That, clothed in wordless death,

It may be Your Word restored.

                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)