Why Study Church History?

James Detrich provides five reasons to study church history and allow our knowledge to build our confidence in our faith.

When I was in college, we had to do what was called “evangelism night.” It was a night in which a group of us would pile into someone’s old, broken-down car (we were all poor back then) and skirt downtown to the city’s walking bridge, a large half-mile overpass extending over the Chattanooga River. We were always sure that plenty of people would be there that needed our message. One night I began talking to a man about Christ and he quickly cut me off, “I am a Christian,” he exclaimed. “Great,” I replied. As we continue talking, though, I soon discovered that he was a “different” Christian than me. He said he believed in an expansive New Testament that contained many more books than the twenty-seven I was accustomed to, and he had six or seven Gospels, where I only had four. When I told him that I didn’t think he was right, that the New Testament only contained twenty-seven books and four Gospels, he asked me an important question, “How do you know that there are only four Gospels? Maybe there are more books to the Bible than you think!” I stood there, knowing that he was wrong. But I didn’t know why he was wrong. I had no idea of how to combat him—I didn’t know church history well enough in order to provide, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, an account of the assurance that lies within me.

Download the PodcastThis is one of the great reasons why we as Christians need to study church history. In this article I am going to make a passionate plea for the study of church history and give five reasons why I believe it is essential for every follower of Christ. Alister McGrath said that “Studying church history . . . is like being at a Bible study with a great company of people who thought about those questions that were bothering you and others.”{1} These bothering questions, much like the one I could not answer on the walking bridge, oftentimes can be answered through learning the stories and lessons of history. It was Martin Luther, the great reformer, who cried out: “History is the mother of truth.” This is the first reason why Christians need to study history, so that we can become better skilled to answer the nagging questions that either critics ask or that we ourselves are wrestling with. It would have been a tremendous help that day on the bridge to know that in the second and third centuries, the time right after Jesus and the apostles, that church pastors and theologians were exclaiming and defending the truth that we only possess four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If I had only known of this rich tradition, if I had only known my church history, I would have been able to give a reasonable account of that hope that lies within me.

Church History Provides Comfort

The first reason why Christians should study church history is that it helps Christians provide a more reasonable account of what we believe. The second reason is that Christians, just like any other people, go through many times of loneliness and despair. The book of Psalms reveals multiple times where various psalmists reveal that they feel as though God has left them, that their enemies are closing in, and that no one, including God, really cares. Suffice it to say that this often leads to a crisis of faith. Many of us suffer that same crisis from time to time, and the one thing that usually helps to be encouraged is to get around God’s people. When we are with others who believe as we do, it helps to stabilize, and to build, our faith. There is a sense in those moments of being with other Christians that our faith is bigger and more expansive—that it is communal, not merely individual.

Studying church history is about being with the community of faith. Reading the stories, learning the truths, examining the insights of these faithful men and women down through the centuries gives to us the sense that our faith is not shallow, but as the song used to say, it is “deep and wide.” Church historian John Hannah claims that studying Christian heritage “dispels the sense of loneliness and isolation in an era that stresses the peripheral and sensational.”{2} It breaks us away from this modern culture that emphasizes the glitz and the glamour of the here and now, and helps us to establish confidence in the faith by examining the beliefs central to our faith that have been developed over a long period of time. Christian theology does not invent beliefs; it finds beliefs already among Christians and critically examines them. The excavation site for Christian theology is not merely in the pages of Scripture, though that is the starting point, but it expands from there into the many centuries as we find the Holy Spirit leading His church. For us today, it gives us the ability to live each day absolutely sure that what we are believing in actually is true; to know and understand that for over 2000 years men and women have been worshipping, praising, and glorifying the same God that we do today.

It’s similar to those grand, majestic churches, the cathedrals that overwhelm you with the sense of transcendence. The expansive ceilings, high walls, and stained glass leaves the impression that our faith, our Christian heritage, is not small but large. Entering into a contemplation of our faith’s history is like going into one of those churches. It takes away the loneliness, the isolation, and reminds us of the greatness of our faith.

Church History Solidifies Our Faith

The third reason for studying church history takes us to the task of theology. Have you ever wondered if something you heard being preached in church was essential? Maybe you’ve asked, Is this really so important to my faith? Understanding and articulating what is most important to Christianity is one of the crucial tasks that theology performs. This task is developed from a historical viewpoint. It asks the question, What has always been crucially important to Christians in each stage of church history? Over the centuries, Christian theologians have developed three main categories for Christian beliefs: dogma, doctrine, and opinion.{3} A belief considered as dogma is deemed to be essential to the gospel; rejecting it would entail apostasy and heresy. Doctrines are developed within a particular church or denomination that help to guide that group in belief. What a church believes is found in its doctrine. Lastly, beliefs relegated to opinion are always interesting, but they are not important in the overall faith of the church. But dogma is important and history tells the story of how the church receives these important truths. It tells the story of how the church came to understand that God is three and one, the received truth of the Trinity; or how they came to understand that Jesus was both human and divine, the received truth of the Person of Christ. In examining these things, you begin to understand what is most essential and what is less important.

This is the same question that was being asked in the early fourth century. Some folks calling themselves Christians were going around proclaiming that Jesus Christ was different from God the Father, that even though He was deserving of worship, there was a time when He was created by the Father. Other Christians rose up and declared that to be heretical. They claimed that the words and actions of Christ as recorded in the Scripture clearly affirms Him to be equal with the Father. The Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 sided with the latter group, claiming that Jesus was indeed equal with His Father. The exact wording of the council’s conclusion is that Jesus is “of the same substance” with His Father. That dogmatic decision is reflected in the church’s doctrinal beliefs and it demonstrates its crucial importance for Christianity.

History is indeed the treasure chest of truth. Open it up. Discover the riches within it. Find out what is there and what is not—what is important and what is not!

Church History Helps Us Interpret the Bible

Why should we study church history? The answers already given are that it provides perspective in answering tough questions, gives a sense that our faith has gravitas, delineates that which is important; the fourth reason is that the study of church history helps us to interpret the Bible. You might been inclined to say, “We don’t need church history, all we need is the Bible.” But we must remember that people interpret the Bible in many and various ways. For instance, do you know that the largest meeting in North America that discusses the Bible is called the Society of Biblical Literature. It meets every year and boasts of having thousands of members. Among those within the society, only an astonishing 30% of them are evangelicals, or people who would have a more conservative interpretation of Scripture. People all over are reading the Bible, but they are reading it in different ways.

So, how do we know how to interpret the Bible? We believe that a certain interpretation or tradition of the text goes all the way back to Jesus and His apostles. Thus, Scripture must be interpreted in light of this tradition—the way that the early community of believers read the various texts of Scripture as they recognized its authority in matters of faith and practice. They recognized that these texts supported, explained, and gave evidence to the belief system that they held dear. For us, going back and reading the early church fathers is profitable for our understanding of the broader cultural and theological framework so that we can better understand what Scripture is saying. For instance, as we discovered above, the Trinity is a crucial dogma of the church. Therefore, any interpretation of the Bible that contradicts that basic belief would be inadequate. History helps to paint the lines that we must stay within and it helps to construct the boundaries for a faithful reading of the text. Examining what was important to the apostles, and the generation that followed, and then the next generation, gives a basic tradition, a framework, of values and beliefs, that must guide our faith today. The study of church history helps us to develop that basic framework.

It was a second-century pastor that complained that the heretics of his day read the same Bible as he did, yet they twist it into something else. He equated it someone taking a beautiful picture of a king constructed with precious jewels and rearranging those jewels so that the picture now resembles a dog.{4} We would contest ruining such a beautiful piece of art! This is exactly what happens when the beauty of the Bible is misinterpreted. To keep that from happening, we must study church history and find out what the precious jewels actually are that construct the beauty of the Bible.

Church History Demonstrates the Working of God

We have listed four reasons to study church history: it helps answering questions, it presents a faith that is deep and wide, it delineates what is important, and it helps us to interpret the Bible. The fifth reason why we should study church history is that it demonstrates the working of God. More specifically, it gives evidence that the Holy Spirit is working through and among His people, the church of God. It is the same Spirit that was working in that early Christian community that is still at work today in the community of faith. In other words, history provides a further resource for understanding the movement of God in the entire community of faith. We affirm that there is continuity between the early Christian community and the community today, because we serve one God and are the one people of that God. Hence, every sector of church history is valuable, because it is the same Spirit moving through every stage of history. Church history is His story and it tells of God’s faithfulness to the community of believers as they have carried forth His truth and have given animation to His character. Just as Christ is the image of the invisible God, the church, through the Son and by the Spirit, is also the image of the invisible God. Church history is the story of how the community reflects that invisible God.

This is the concept that brings all the others into a connected whole. The reason why studying church history can provide answers to crucial questions of faith is due to the fact that the Spirit has been moving in the hearts of men and women down throughout history, aiding them in their questions of faith and the fruit of that work has been preserved for us today. The reason why studying church history can show us what is important to the faith is because the Spirit has been at work guiding the church into truth. The reason why studying church history can help us interpret the Bible is because the Spirit has illuminated the path for understanding the Bible for centuries. This is what is fascinating about church history: it is a study of His Story. He is there, just as Jesus said He would be. Remember it was Jesus who said that He was going away, but that He would send a Comforter. And this One would guide us in all truth. Church history is the story of that illuminated path where the God of the church guides His people into all truth. History is where He is.

Notes

1. Alister McGrath, “The State of the Church Before the Reformation” in Modern Reformation [January/February 1994]: 11.
2. John D. Hannah, “Notes on the Church to the Modern Era” (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary), 2.
3. Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, Who Needs Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 73.
4. This is a metaphor presented by Irenaeus in Against Heresies, 1.8.1.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Tradition and Scripture

While many evangelical Christians treat tradition with suspicion if not hostility, Dr. Michael Gleghorn makes a case for the value of tradition in understanding and supporting our faith.

Understanding Tradition

In this article we’ll be thinking about tradition and its relationship to Scripture. Now I realize that some of you may already be asking, “Tradition! Can anything good come from there?” The answer of course is “yes”—for if it were not, then I wouldn’t bother writing about it. Indeed, it’s actually an important topic to address, for in our day many evangelicals seem to harbor an attitude of suspicion—if not outright hostility—toward the very notion of tradition.{1} In support of this attitude, some might point to what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9 NIV). And if this is what Jesus said, then aren’t we better off to simply dismiss tradition and focus solely on the teaching of Scripture?

Download the PodcastBefore we jump to that conclusion, we must first determine what we mean when we use the word “tradition.” After all, in other passages Scripture speaks very favorably of tradition. Paul told the Corinthians, “Now I praise you because you . . . hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2 NASB). Traditions, it seems, can sometimes be good—and sometimes bad. And this is true even of the Christian tradition. But in order to talk intelligently about our subject, we must first understand precisely what we’re talking about. What, then, is the meaning of “tradition”?

When theologians speak about the Christian tradition, they are typically referring to the ways in which the faith has been understood by previous generations of Christians. For example, what understanding did our Christian forbears have of worship and theology, and how did they express their understanding through creeds, confessions, sermons, and books? Stanley Grenz and John Franke describe the Christian tradition “as the history of the interpretation and application of canonical scripture by the Christian community, the church, as it listens to the voice of the Spirit speaking through the text.”{2} And Richard Lints describes it as “the faith transmitted by the community of interpreters that has preceded us.”{3}

Defined in this way, we must candidly admit that the Christian faith has been understood somewhat differently from one time and place to another. How are we to think about such differences? Should they always be viewed negatively, as a corruption of the original faith deposit? Or might they sometimes be seen as a positive and healthy development of this deposit?

Tradition: A Metaphor

In a fascinating discussion of these issues, Colin Gunton asks us to think of tradition as an organism.{4} He notes that just as a child or plant may grow larger and stronger over time, so too the content of Christian doctrine can become more elaborate and enriched with the passage of time. He then observes, “If revelation is something given in the beginning—as undoubtedly one dimension of it is, the faith once for all delivered to the saints—then it may be argued that through tradition what began as a seed or a seedling is enabled to expand without falsifying its beginnings.”{5} This comment helps us see the interconnectedness of tradition and revelation—an issue which we will return to later.

For now, it’s important to notice what this metaphor does for us. It enables us to see tradition, like the growth of a child or a plant, as something natural and healthy—indeed, something to be hoped for, encouraged, and expected. This is an important reminder for those of us who might be tempted to view tradition solely in negative terms.

At the same time, however, Gunton is aware that things can always go wrong. He writes, “The organism might become diseased, and require surgery; or it might simply grow too many branches, or branches in the wrong places, and require pruning.”{6} In this case, instead of the tradition developing in a natural and healthy way from the original revelation, it develops in an unnatural and unhealthy way. We might identify this latter situation with the unpleasant possibility of heresy—something which needs to be corrected or even surgically removed so that the organism doesn’t die or mutate into a completely different, unrelated life-form. If that were to happen, then while we might still have tradition of a sort, it could no longer be properly thought of as Christian tradition.{7} It will be helpful for us to keep this metaphor in mind as we continue to reflect on the role of tradition and its relationship to Scripture, particularly because we must now deal with a problem that this discussion inevitably raises.

Scripture and Tradition: A Problem

Stanley Grenz and John Franke view tradition as a “source or resource” of the Christian church, which can aid in the church’s task of both theological construction and lived performance.{8} Some of the specific elements of the Christian tradition which they see as especially valuable in informing how we accomplish these tasks are the histories of worship, liturgy, and theology, as well as the “classic” theological formulations of the church, such as creeds and confessions. Of course, they are careful to point out that while these resources are extremely valuable, they “must always and continually be tested by the norm of canonical scripture.”{9}

In a similar way, Richard Lints describes the “goal of theology” as bringing “the biblical revelation into a position of judgment on all of life,” including tradition.{10} But this raises a bit of a problem, for in order to bring tradition under the authority of Scripture, Scripture must first be interpreted. And many scholars maintain that the Christian tradition primarily consists of the scriptural interpretation and application of faith communities from the past. Indeed, this is basically how Lints himself defines the term. “In the discussion that follows,” he says, “tradition will signify the faith transmitted by the community of interpreters that has preceded us.”{11}

Moreover, Lints rightly believes that we neglect this tradition at our peril. For in banishing past interpretations of Scripture from our present consideration in doing theology, we can easily become ensnared “in a web of subjectivism” regarding our own interpretation of the Bible.{12} And this would be an incalculable loss to the church in her ongoing task of preaching and teaching the Bible. The fact of the matter is that these past interpretations are a necessary aid, both in revealing our own biases and blind spots, and in helping us avoid “what C. S. Lewis aptly called ‘chronological snobbery’—the conceit that we are necessarily wiser than our forbears.”{13}

But this leads to the following problem: If Scripture is to be brought into a position of judgment over all of life (including the Christian tradition), it must first be properly interpreted. But it would be irresponsible to engage in this interpretative task without the aid of the very tradition of past interpretation over which Scripture is to sit in judgment. How can this difficulty be resolved? Does Scripture occupy a place of authority over tradition, or does tradition rather occupy a place of authority over Scripture?

Scripture and Tradition: A Solution

Before we attempt to respond to this question, we should first take time to remember just how it was that Scripture came into being in the first place. As Grenz and Franke remind us,

[T]he community precedes the production of the scriptural texts and is responsible for their content and for the identification of particular texts for inclusion in an authoritative canon to which it has chosen to make itself accountable. Apart from the Christian community, the texts would not have taken their particular and distinctive shape. Apart from the authority of the Christian community, there would be no canon of authorized texts. In short, apart from the Christian community the Christian Bible would not exist.{14}

It might now be interesting to ask what the Christian community and the Christian Bible have in common. According to Grenz and Franke, it is the work of the Holy Spirit—a work that grants to each one its respective authority. They write,

In this conception, the authority of both scripture and tradition is ultimately an authority derived from the work of the Spirit. Each is part of an organic unity, so that even though scripture and tradition are distinguishable, they are fundamentally inseparable. . . . The authority of each—tradition as well as scripture—is contingent on the work of the Spirit, and both scripture and tradition are fundamental components within an interrelated web of beliefs that constitutes the Christian faith. To misconstrue the shape of this relationship by setting scripture over against tradition or by elevating tradition above scripture is to fail to comprehend properly the work of the Spirit.{15}

Does this mean, then, that there is no sense in which all of life (including tradition) should be brought under the judgment of Scripture? This does not seem to be what Grenz and Franke are saying. Although they do contend that the triune God “is disclosed in polyphonic fashion through scripture, the church, and even the world,” they then qualify this by noting, “albeit always normatively through scripture.”{16} In their view, Scripture is still theology’s “norming norm,” but since Scripture must always be interpreted, it cannot be easily separated from tradition. Scripture still holds the place of prominence in doing theology, but in a carefully nuanced and qualified way that gives appropriate weight to God’s other mediums of revelation, such as tradition, creation, and the church.

Tradition in Scripture and Theology

In one of his 1993 Warfield Lectures, the late Colin Gunton observed that two of the narrative sections in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contain possibly the most easily recognizable accounts of “the working of tradition in the New Testament.”{17} In both 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul discusses the Lord’s Supper, and 1 Corinthians 15, where he refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the heart of the gospel, Paul specifically declares that he is delivering to the Corinthians certain traditions about Jesus which he himself had previously received. In other words, the biblical writings themselves are seen to be “part of a tradition of interpretation of that which is in certain respects prior to them.”{18}

The unique revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is prior to the traditions about Him which Paul had received. And the traditions which Paul had received, including the meaning given them by the early church and Paul himself, are also prior to his deliverance of them to the Corinthians (as well as those of us who have subsequently read this letter). Tradition, it seems, cannot always be so easily separated from the Bible itself.

Of course, very few Christians would disagree that traditions like those passed on by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians are “authoritative for the faith and life of the church.”{19} The problem rather arises with how the original revelation “is interpreted and handed on by those who follow the . . . apostles: the way in which revelation is mediated by tradition.”{20} How should we understand this relationship?

For one thing, we should probably grant a certain degree of freedom, in response to the Spirit’s guidance, to the way in which the tradition is articulated in different cultural and historical contexts. This allows the tradition to grow in a healthy way which, at the same time, is still amenable to correction when necessary. Granted, we are speaking of the development of tradition in something like an ideal setting, and the world in which we now live is certainly not ideal. But if tradition is one of the means which God has chosen for mediating revelation from one generation to another, then for better or worse, it will (and should) continue to play an important role in the life of the church. As Gunton wisely concludes, “although we may and must be critical of tradition, as the action of fallible and sinful human beings, we may not lay aside the means which God has himself chosen.”{21}

Notes

1. Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 109.
2. Ibid., 118.
3. Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 84.
4. Colin E. Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 85-87.
5. Ibid., 85.
6. Ibid., 86.
7. Ibid., 87.
8. Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 120-29.
9. Ibid., 124.
10. Lints, The Fabric of Theology, 82.
11. Ibid., 84.
12. Ibid., 93.
13. Ibid., 96.
14. Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 115.
15. Ibid., 117.
16. Ibid., 117-18.
17. Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation, 93.
18. Ibid., 95.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 102-03.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


How to Kill Sin: John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin

Paul Rutherford provides an overview of the Puritan John Owen’s classic book The Mortification of Sin.

In my early twenties I confessed to a friend an ongoing battle with sin. He suggested I read John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin{1}. I wish I had read it back then. It would have saved me so much pain in my battle against sin.

download-podcastSo I want to help you in that same way by sharing some of Owen’s key insights in the battle against sin.

Let’s begin with the title. Mortification, what does that word mean? Broadly speaking, it means to kill or put to death. The Latin root from which this English word is derived, “mort-“ or “mors” means death. Mortificare—to kill.{2} Other examples of this root include mortuary, mortician, and mortgage.

Simply put, mortification means death, but note the dictionary also lists “shame” and “humiliation” as definitions as well. So mortification involves death. More to the point, Owen wants you to kill sin. More importantly, he makes a case that Scripture commands you to kill sin.

This message today is not for everyone. It’s only appropriate if you believe in Jesus. Early in the work Owen gravely warns those
who would mortify sin, but do so without first believing in Jesus.

I would warn you as well. Please don’t sit here and read another minute if you have not put your faith in Jesus Christ for your righteousness, for your salvation. If you’re reading this right now and have never made a confession of faith, and you’re ready, please do so now. Just talk to God and tell him you believe that Jesus is Lord, that He died for your sins, was buried, and raised from the dead, and you are putting your trust in Him. Then tell someone you know who already believes. It will be the most important thing you do, ever.

If you’re still reading, then let’s press on. Owen discusses at length what it means to kill sin, how to do it effectively, and why you should do it.

But before we jump in, remember John Owen was a 17th century English pastor and theologian. This is not his first book, and at the time he composed it, he was Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford. Owen has academic credentials. But this book is more devotional than academic. Owen draws from personal experience. It is not merely intellectual. He meant for it to be practiced.

What is Mortification?

John Owen wrote The Mortification of Sin in England in 1656. Mortification means death, or in this case to kill. . .sin. That’s what we covered in the previous section. This matters because your life is at stake here. In chapter two, Owen warns us with this now famous quote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” That is probably the most famous quote from that book.

Did you catch the significance of that quote? Sin will kill you. That’s why this is a big deal. That’s why this matters. That’s also why sin’s presence requires such a drastic response. It must be killed. James tells us that “[S]in when it is fully grown brings forth death.”{3}

Your best option—the most effective option—your only real option is to kill sin. Just like John Owen said. Kill it. Or it will kill you. Because trust me. It will kill you—in every way: physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually—every way.

Owen quickly reminds us this is impossible in a complete, ultimate, or perfect sense, until Jesus comes back, not before.{4} So until then we mortify sin.{5}

Now let’s talk about mortification. Let’s talk about killing sin. What exactly does that mean? Sin is an abstract thing, not a biological organism. How do you kill an abstract thing? Owen’s instruction is clear: “utterly destroy it” or, make it cease to be.

Owen defines the process of mortification three ways: sin gets weaker, you fight against it constantly, and you have full success over it.{6}

So then mortification means to weaken sin, or drain it of its power. It means the desire to sin decreases in degree, frequency, and
quality. That comes as you “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires,” as we read in Galatians 5:24.

Mortification also means to fight sin constantly. You have an enemy. Employ any means necessary to destroy his work. The contest will be vigorous and hazardous.

Finally, mortification is success against sin in any given moment. This isn’t merely resisting temptation. Owen has more in view here; it is recognizing temptation, bringing it before Christ, pursuing sin to its root, and conquering it in Jesus’ strength.

Before we discuss how to do this, for clarity let’s talk about how not to mortify sin.

How NOT to Mortify Sin

Mortification means to kill, and the point of John Owen’s book The Mortification of Sin is to kill sin. Nothing short of your life is at stake here since sin always leads to death.{7}

Sin is not to be trifled with. It cost Jesus His life.

Owen himself covers what mortification is NOT in the book, before he defines what it is. So now we will follow his lead.

Mortification is commonly mistaken. It is tricky to identify properly. Four things frequently masquerade as mortification, when they are in fact not. These four are: faking it, having a calm disposition, cross-addiction, and behavior modification.

Faking it, the first instance of false mortification, is making yourself look good on the outside, instances where outward signs of sin are obvious—compulsive spending, for example. You may choose not to buy something the next time you’re tempted, but that outward choice is not the root of sin. The root is inside. It goes deeper.

The root is the belief that material will fill that void inside. Owen further points out hypocrisy as a real danger here. Not only did you not mortify the sin, you are now making it look as if you have.

Mortification is also not simply a calm disposition. Some sins are obvious, visible, even violent in nature. In these cases if you become more calm, more quiet, more gentle, it could appear on the outside as if the sin is gone. In fact it is not. Owen reminds us that mortification is more than a simple change in disposition.

Mortification is also not replacing one vice for another. For example, if the presenting sin is addiction to pornography, keeping yourself from erotic material may appear as victory unless you pick up the bottle. Now you simply exchanged pornography for alcohol. You exhibit a cross-addiction. This, too, is not mortification.

Mortification is also not mere change in behavior. Surely you have made a big change before—created a new habit, lost weight, something, even a New Year’s resolution. You can force the behavior for a while—maybe even through February! You can make yourself do what you’ve resolved. But eventually, that old habit creeps back; unless some real changes are made, it’s merely a shift in behavior. This also is not mortification.

What is mortification, then? How do you do it?

How to Mortify Sin

After all this preliminary discussion, you probably want to know how you can kill sin, conquer it, and be victorious, because if you don’t it will kill you, as Owen himself says in the book.

Here’s the bad news, though. You can’t mortify your sin. You will have no victory over sin by employing any method I recommend to you. Now, don’t despair! This doesn’t mean you can’t experience victory! God forbid. Rather, it is God’s will for you to find victory over the curse of sin. What I mean here is that mortification is not something you do. It is instead something God does, namely the Holy Spirit.

Only the Holy Spirit can mortify sin, kill sin in the flesh. Only He is strong enough to put to death the old man.

So what do you do, then? Here are Owen’s words. “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror. Yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.”{8}

The way to mortify sin is to set faith at work. Put your faith to work. Believe in the work Jesus did on the cross. His sacrifice is your remedy. That’s how you kill sin—you don’t. You believe in the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, and let Christ kill it for you.

It’s freeing really. Would you want the responsibility of killing the broken flesh within you? I don’t. Owen goes on to add two more points of substance. First “fill your soul” with the provision of Christ. I might call that meditation. Meditate on Christ. Fill your mind with His provision.

The second point is to expect relief in Christ. Owen reasons that if Christ’s blood is enough to make you righteous—and if the Spirit is strong enough to mortify your flesh, then expect it’s going to happen. It may not be instantaneous. Anyone who’s been walking with Christ for some time will affirm this. It’s a slow and difficult, often painful process, but definitely a good one.

So that is how you mortify sin. You don’t. You let the Spirit do it. Your job is to believe by faith.

Conclusion

What have we learned so far? If you are following in the footsteps of Jesus, you need to mortify, or put to death, sin in your life. If you don’t it will kill you.

This is not a popular message. I admit. Sin is not a fun topic. But Scripture is clear. Sin must be put to death. Owen’s book, while dating over three hundred years back, could be neither more timely nor more appropriate for you today.

Owen admonishes the sincere believer to kill indwelling sin without delay. He warns the unbeliever this is impossible without Jesus Christ. Jesus is absolutely essential to the success and continued process of mortification. To do otherwise is the “soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”{9}

If you believe in Jesus and you are stuck in your sin, maybe you’re trapped in addiction, this book is for you. Mortify sin.

“Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin.”{10} You believe in His Son for salvation. Believe Him now for the deliverance of your soul from the power of indwelling sin.

It is not easy. You will struggle every day against sin. The bad news here is that you carry the problem with you. Your flesh is broken. It remains unregenerate until the day of Christ. Your soul is secure eternally by the blood of Christ, and one day you will receive a gloriously new body. But for now, we struggle.

But consider Jesus’ promise in that struggle: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”{11}

Mortification is not for the faint of heart. But it is good. Your sin does not define you. God does. And he says you are fearfully and wonderfully made.{12} He paid the price of your sin. It was an awful lot. But he loves you that much.

Trust him today. Trust in his Word. And trust in the community of saints He provided for you. Confess your sin to them today. Do you want to fully live? Then kill sin.

Notes

1. John Owen, The Mortification of Sin. (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House), 1996.
2. American Heritage Dictionary, 2000.
3. James 1:15.
4. 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
5. Colossians 3:5.
6. Owen, p.64.
7. James 1:15; Proverbs 14:12; Genesis 2:17.
8. Owen, p.161.
9. Ibid., p.23.
10. Ibid., p.161.
11. John 16:33.
12. Psalm 139:14.

©2019 Probe Ministries


Atheism 2.0? Talking Back to a TED Talk

In 2011, atheist Alain de Botton gave a now-famous TED talk “Atheism 2.0.” As part of a seminary class on apologetics, Probe intern T.S. Weaver was assigned to write a response to it, which we are honored to publish. First, here is a video of that TED talk:

 

Dear Mr. de Botton,

First, I want to say I admire your courage to share these ideas publicly and I do think you are a gifted orator. I am a Christian seminary student and have both many things I agree with and disagree with from your talk. I will try to touch on them in the order you bring them up in your talk.

To start with when you say, “Of course there’s no God . . . now let’s move on. That’s not the end of the story. That’s the very very beginning,” I can respect that because I agree that a truth claim regarding the existence of God is just the beginning. This truth claim informs our entire worldview and how we live. To me, knowing there is a God (the same conclusion to which avowed atheist Sir Antony Flew came) gives me meaning, purpose, knowledge of where we came from, where we are going, and how to live. I wonder from your perspective, though, how without a God, any of these key issues in life can be addressed. Without a God, where do we come from? What does life really mean? How do we differentiate between good and evil? What happens when we die?

Going further in your talk, I must say I too love Christmas carols, looking at churches, and turning the pages of the Old Testament. We have common ground here, so again, we do not disagree on everything.

However, evaluating your view again, I do not see how you can be attracted to the “moralistic side” of religion without the existence of God. You say you are “stealing from religion;” that I agree with as well. I wonder if you have thought, if you are truly an atheist, how can there even be such things as morals? How can you define good? In relation to what? Where does this come from? If there is some moral law, have you thought about where it comes from? Do you think that implies there must be some sort of law giver? In the atheistic worldview what is the moral law and who is the law giver?

You go on to say, “There’s nothing wrong with picking out the best sides of religion.” That sounds nice, but I disagree. You must either adopt it all or nothing, otherwise you do not have a worldview that makes sense. There will be self-contradictions all throughout your view. A perfect example as I touched on above is your idea of “Atheism 2.0.” It is impossible to adopt a moralistic side because without God there are no morals. There is no reason to have a moralistic side. This is a contradiction. Have you considered this?

As your talk goes on, you say some remarkably interesting things I have not heard before, even from an atheist. Your claim the church in the early nineteenth century looked to culture to find morality, guidance, and sources of consolation is new to me. I would like to know how you came to this conclusion. Which denomination? Which church? What was your source of information? It is noticeably clear to me that the practice of the (Christian) church is to find all those things from Scripture and God. In fact, the Bible tells us in several places not to conform to culture. Here is one example from my favorite verse: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) So, your claim is the exact opposite of what I as a Christian know presently and have learned about church history.

Furthermore, does not this refute how you opened your talk when you said, “We have done secularism bad”? You even say the church replacing Scripture with culture is “beautiful” and “true” and “an idea that we have forgotten.” This is the very description of how atheists “have done secularism,” is it not? From my understanding, atheism replaces Scripture with culture. Is this true, or am I missing something? If it is true, you have already done the reflection on how it is working and concluded it is “bad.” Yet you want to “steal from religion.” So, if your claim about church history is true, this is how it falls out: You think secularism has been done bad and want to instead steal morality from religion. And yet, religion (according to you) has gotten morality from culture (i.e., secularism). So, the very thing you would be stealing is what you yourself already called bad and would end up stuck with in the end anyway. Nothing has changed. Do you see how this is incoherent if it were true? Have you thought about this?

I do like your thoughts about the difference between a sermon (wanting to change your life) and a lecture (wanting to give you a bit of information). I also agree we need to get back to “that sermon tradition,” and we are in need of morality, guidance, and consolation, because like you said, “We are barely holding it together.” And I do mean “we” to cover both the atheist and the Christian alike. This is exactly what Christianity is about. We cannot “hold it together” on our own. That is why we have a Savior, and we live dependently on God, the moral law giver. Now again, you cannot have morality without the moral law giver. Furthermore, if you get guidance from atheists preaching sermons are you not facing the same problem I wrote of in the earlier paragraph? Where is the guidance coming from? Culture? Have you considered this to be the blind leading the blind?

I also agree with your point about the value of repetition. I have so much information coming at me so fast that if I do not revisit it enough, almost none of it sticks. That is another reason I am repeating some of my points.

Now you mentioned one of the things you like about religion is when someone is preaching a rousing part of a sermon, we shout “Amen,” “Thank you Lord,” “Yes Lord,” “Thank you Jesus,” etc. Your idea of atheists doing this when fellow atheists are preaching passionate points is both clever and funny. However, as Rebecca McLaughlin (a Christian) pointed out in her book, Confronting Christianity, your examples of secular audiences saying, “Thank you Plato, thank you Shakespeare, thank you Jane Austen!” falls flat because of the examples you chose. McLaughlin writes, “One wonders how Shakespeare, whose world was fundamentally shaped by Christianity, would have felt about being cast as an atheist icon. But when it comes to Jane Austen, the answer is clear: a woman of deep, explicit, and abiding faith in Jesus, she would be utterly appalled.”

Your point on art is amazingly fascinating. You say if you were a museum curator, you would make a room for love and a room for generosity. While this sounds beautiful, there is a problem. This will sound repetitive (helping us both learn and remember), but it is just like the morality dilemma you have presented earlier. If no God exists, what is love? What is generosity? How do you define it? Where does it come from? Why is it valuable? Why is anything valuable?

To beat the dead horse one more time (apologies) . . . In your closing statements you again you say all these things are “very good.” Well, what is good? How do you define it? In relation to what? Where does it come from? How do you know that? As you earlier confessed, you are stealing from religion. These stolen values have no grounding if atheism is true.

I know some of the issues I raised were not necessarily the purpose of your talk, but in all, I wonder if you have considered how the facts and implications you presented correspond to reality. Do you think all the assertions you made cohere? Do you find your idea of Atheism 2.0 logically consistent and rational? If you could give a follow up talk, could you offer any way to verify your claims empirically? Could you supply answers to the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny?

Sincerely,

A Christian – T.S. Weaver


Atheist Myths and Scientism

Steve Cable exposes some atheist myths and the false ideology of scientism, all designed to destroy people’s faith.

A Two-Pronged Attack Against Christianity

download-podcast

Atheist attacks against American Christianity are gaining more traction in our society. Their success can be readily seen in the growth of the number of American young adults who do not profess to be Christians. Tracking recent trends, around 50% of American Millennials fall in this category, with most of those identifying as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. More identify as nothing in particular than as atheist, but the atheist attacks certainly have a role to play in their ambivalent feelings about Christianity.

What have atheists done to create a cultural milieu that is drawing more and more young Americans away from Christianity? In this article, we will focus on two prominent prongs of the attack against Christianity. Those
prongs are:

1. Fabricating myths around the premise that Christianity and modern science are enemies of one another and have been so since the advent of modern science, and

2. Promoting the philosophy of scientism as the only way to view science.

First, the myths are an attempt to cause people to believe that the Christian church and a Christian worldview were and are anti-science. They want us to believe that the findings of science are counter to the make-believe teachings of Christianity and the Bible. They want us to look back at history and believe that the church was actively opposing and trying to suppress scientific knowledge. As Michael Keas tells us in his 2019 book Unbelievable, “These stories are nothing but myths. And yet some leading scientists . . . offer these stories as unassailable truth. These myths make their way into science textbooks . . . (and) enter into popular culture, whereby the myths pass as accepted wisdom.”{1}

However, many historians and philosophers have correctly pointed out that the Christian worldview of an orderly universe created by an involved God produced the mindset that gave birth to the scientific revolution. In his book How the West Won, sociologist Rodney Stark states, “Christianity was essential to the rise of science, which is why science was a purely Western phenomenon . . . science only arose in Christian Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. And the basis of their belief was their image of God and his creation.”{2} In this article, we consider the key figures who propagated this myth and some of the falsified stories they have foisted upon us.

Second, they want us to accept scientism as the only valid way to view the role of science in our understanding of the universe. What is scientism? In his 2018 book Scientism and Secularism, professor of philosophy J. P Moreland defines it this way: “Scientism is the view that the hard sciences provide the only genuine knowledge of reality. . . . What is crucial to scientism is . . . the thought that the scientific is much more valuable than the non-scientific. . . . When you have competing knowledge claims from different sources, the scientific will always trump the non-scientific.”{3}

But scientism “is not a doctrine of science; rather it is a doctrine of philosophy . . . (In fact,) scientism distorts science.”{4} This philosophical doctrine came into favor among the public not because of scientific results, but rather as the result of proponents presenting it in popular ways as if it were the undisputable truth. As Moreland points out, “It is not even a friend of science but rather its enemy.”{5}

Myths about Christianity and Science

Atheists want to create stories to demonstrate that Christians are and have been the enemies of scientific exploration and discovery. Why this drive to recreate the past? They want to encourage people to turn away from Christianity as an enemy of science and weaken the faith of believers.

As Michael Keas makes evident in Unbelievable, this thinking is not based on reality. Instead, historical myths have been created to bolster their position either as a result of ignorance of the actual history or intentional deceit. After creating these myths, they use the educational system and mass media to ingrain these myths into the thinking of the masses.

Keas specifically looks at seven myths used for this purpose which we find embedded in our textbooks and proclaimed by popular television programs. To understand the nature of these myths, let’s consider two of the ones discussed by Keas.

Many of you learned of the Dark Ages, a period of time between A.D. 500 and 1500 where textbooks have claimed that science and the arts were stifled by the control of the church which opposed scientific understanding. In truth, this view is not supported by historical evaluations of that time. As reported in Stark’s revealing book, How the West Won, “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Dark Ages myth is that it was imposed on what was actually “one of the great innovative eras of mankind.” During this period technology was developed and put into use on a scale no civilization had previously known.{6} Keas found that this myth first appeared in textbooks in the 1800s but did not surface with an anti-Christian slant until the 1960s. Carl Sagan, and later Neal deGrasse Tyson, would help promulgate this myth on television through their Cosmos series.

Another myth exploded by Keas is that “Copernicus demoted humans from the privileged ‘center of the universe’ and thereby challenged religious doctrines about human importance.”{7} In fact, Copernicus as a Christian did not consider his discovery that the earth orbited the sun a demotion for earth or humans. What Copernicus saw as unveiling the mysteries of God’s creation over time began to be pictured as a great humiliation for Christians. In the 1950s some scientific writers began using the term “the Copernican principle” to refer to the idea “that the Earth is not in a central, specially favored position”{8} in the cosmos. As one Harvard professor has noted, “This is the principle of mediocrity, and Copernicus would have been shocked to find his name associated with it.”{9}

Keas also documents how this atheist strategy also pretends that many early scientists were not Christians. Johannes Kepler, known for his discovery of the three laws of planetary motion, is cited by Sagan in Cosmos as someone who “despaired of ever attaining salvation,”{10} implying that Kepler always felt this way. Sagan leads one to believe that in his astronomical discoveries Kepler was somehow freed from this concern. Yet from Kepler’s own writing it is very clear that he was a Christian, telling people shortly before his death that he was saved “solely by the merit of our savior Jesus Christ.” And speaking of his scientific endeavors he wrote, “God wanted us to recognize them [i.e. mathematical natural laws] by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.”{11}

Much of the reported relationship between science and Christianity is a myth made up to strengthen the atheist position that science repudiates Christianity and makes it superfluous and dangerous in today’s enlightened world. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a Christian worldview was foundational for the development and application of the scientific method.

Methodological Naturalism: A Farce

What about the prevalence of scientism, a belief system claiming that the hard sciences provide the only genuine knowledge of reality?

When considered carefully, the whole concept of scientism is a farce. Why? Because as philosopher J. P. Moreland points out, “Strong scientism is a philosophical assertion that claims that philosophical assertions are neither true nor can be known; only scientific assertions can be true and known.”{12} So the premise is self-refuting. They are saying that only scientific facts can be objectively true. Thus, the statement that only scientific facts can be true must be false because it is a philosophical assertion, not a scientific fact.

Another example of the faulty philosophy behind scientism comes in their insistence on adopting methodological naturalism as a criterion for science. Methodological naturalism is “the idea that, while doing science, one must seek only natural causes or explanations for scientific data.”{13} This idea immediately demotes science from being the search for the truth about observable items in this universe to being the search for the most plausible natural cause no matter how implausible it may be.

Although they appear to be unsure as to whether to apply the concept uniformly to all forms of science, its proponents are sure that it definitely should be applied to the field of evolutionary science. They make the a priori assumption that life as we know it originated and developed by strictly impersonal, unintelligent forces. No intelligence can be allowed to enter the process in any way. This approach to trying to understand the current state of life on earth is certainly an interesting exercise leading to a multitude of theories and untestable speculations. It is a challenging mental exercise and is valuable as such. However, scientism does not stop there. They declare that their unsupported (and I would say unsupportable) theories must be the truth about our origins, at least until replaced by another strictly naturalistic theory.

This approach seems to be an odd (and unfruitful) way to go after the truth due to at least three reasons. First, many other areas of science which include intelligent agents in their hypotheses are respected and their results generally accepted, common examples being archaeology and forensic science. Second, the current state of evolutionary science primarily appears to be tearing holes in prior theories, e.g. Darwinian evolution, rather than closing in on a plausible explanation. And, third, scientists are continuing to find evidence supporting a hypothesis that intelligent actions were involved in the formulation of life on earth.

If the sum of the available evidence is more directly explained by the involvement of some intelligent agent, then it would be reasonable to accept that potential explanation as the leading contender for the truth until some other answer is developed that is more closely supported by the available evidence. This is the attitude embraced by the intelligent design community. They embrace it because so much of the evidence supports it, including

1. the inability of other hypothesis to account for the first appearance of life,
2. the complexity of the simplest life forms with no chain of less complex forms leading up to them,
3. the relativity sudden appearance of all types of life forms in the fossil record,
4. the fine tuning of the parameters of the universe to support life on earth, and
5. the emergence of consciousness within humans.

In contrast, those supporting theistic evolution appear to do so in order to conform to the methodological naturalism of their peers. They claim to believe that God does intervene in nature through acts such as the miracles of Jesus and His resurrection. But they claim that God did not intervene in the processes leading up to the appearance of mankind on this planet. In my opinion, they take this stance not because the evidence demands it, but because methodological naturalism does not allow it. As Moreland opines, “Methodological naturalism is one bad way to put science and Christianity together.”{14}

Things Science Cannot Explain / God of the Gaps

As we have seen, scientism is a philosophy that says the only real knowledge to be found is through application of the hard sciences and that no intelligence can be involved in any of our hypotheses. So, they believe hard science must be capable of explaining everything (even if it currently doesn’t).

In this section we will consider some very important things that science cannot now nor ever be able to explain. In his book, Scientism and Secularism, J. P. Moreland lists five such things for us.

First, the origin of the universe cannot be explained by science. Why? Science has been able to identify that the universe most likely had a beginning point. But as Moreland points out, “Science can provide evidence that the universe had a beginning; it cannot, even in principle, explain that beginning; that is, it cannot say what caused it. . . No real thing can pop into existence from nothing.”{15} He points out three specific logical reasons science cannot address this issue:

1. A scientific explanation cannot be used to explain the universe because scientific explanations presuppose the universe.

2. Science cannot explain the origin of time and without time no explanation can be considered.

3. Coming-into-existence is not a process which can be reviewed and explained because it is an instantaneous event. Something either does or does not exist.

Second, the origin of the fundamental laws of nature. All scientific explanations presuppose these laws. We can conceive of a universe where these laws might be different resulting in a different reality, but we cannot explain how our universe came into being with the laws we see active around us.

Third, the fine-tuning of the universe to support life. As far as science is concerned the parameters of the forces within this universe can be observed but we cannot know what caused them to assume the values they do. However, in recent years it has been discovered that our universe “is a razor’s edge of precisely balanced life permitting conditions.”{16} Over one hundred parameters of this universe, such as the force of gravity, the charge of an electron, the rate of expansion of the universe, etc., must be precisely balanced or there could be no life in the universe. Science cannot answer the question of why our universe can support life.

Fourth, the origin of consciousness. In this context consciousness is the ability to be aware of oneself and entertain thoughts about things which are outside of oneself and possibly outside of one’s experience. From a naturalist point of view, “the appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable.”{17} However, God may choose to create conscious beings; beings that are capable of asking about and discovering the works of their creator.

Fifth, the existence of moral laws. As the late atheist philosopher Mackie admitted, the emergence of moral properties would constitute a refutation of naturalism and evidence for theism: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.”{18}

These five important questions can never be answered if scientism’s flawed premise were true. However, Christian theism answers each of these questions and those answers are true if God is the real creator of the universe.

Integrating Christianity and Science

Scientism claims that you cannot integrate Christianity and science. Instead, they claim all theology is nonsense and only science exists to give us the truth. As Moreland points out, “One of the effects of scientism, then, is making the ridicule of Christianity’s truth claims more common and acceptable (which is one of scientism’s goals).”{19}

If this view is clearly wrong, how should we as Christians view science and its relationship with Christianity and the Bible? First, we need to understand that the topics addressed by science are in most cases peripheral to the topics covered in the Bible. The Bible is primarily concerned with God’s efforts to restore people from their state as enemies of God back into eternal fellowship with Him.

One area of significant interaction is the question of how this universe came to exist in its current state. How one views that interaction (i.e. as adversarial or as complementary) depends on whether they are clinging to the unsupported myth of unguided evolution or to the new science of intelligent design. As Moreland states, “Science has done more to confirm the Christian God’s existence than to undermine it, and science has provided little or no evidence against belief of theism. Science has, however, raised challenges to various biblical texts, and Christians need to take those challenges seriously.”{20}

Moreland suggests there are five ways to relate issues in science and Christian philosophy. Let’s consider two of those methods. One is the complementarity model. In this model, two disciplines are addressing the same object or feature but from different, essentially non-overlapping perspectives. “Neither one purports to tell the whole story, but both make true claims about reality.”{21} This is the model used by advocates of theistic evolution who take as gospel the latest claims of evolutionary science while saying of course God kicked off the whole process including us in His plan for the universe.

Another way to interact is called the direct interaction model. In this model, theories from theology and from science may directly interact with one another on some topic, either positively or negatively. One area might raise rational difficulties for the other. This approach has the most potential for bringing information from different fields together into a fuller picture of truth. Intelligent design is an area where this model is applied as it questions the validity of eliminating intelligence from the options considered in understanding the development of life on earth.

Since scientism swears that science is the only source of truth, even when scientists cannot agree as to what that scientific truth is, they want to discount inputs from any other source no matter how helpful. So the direct interaction model is a difficult road to take. What are the rational criteria for going against the experts? Moreland suggests there are four criteria for Christian theologians to decide to take this road.

1. Make sure there is not a reasonable interpretation of the Bible that resolves the tension.

2. There is a band of academically qualified scholars who are unified in rejecting the view held by a majority of the relevant experts. In this way, we know that there are people who are familiar with the details of the majority view, who do not believe that it is true.

3. There are good non-rational explanations for why the expert majority holds the problematic view. For historical, sociological, or theological reasons, the majority is not ready to abandon their position rather than because their evidence is overwhelming. “For example, the shift from creationism to Darwinism was primarily, though not exclusively, a shift in philosophy of science.”{22}

Given the large amount of evidential support for a Christian worldview, any view that is counter to central components of a Christian worldview should be rejected precisely for that reason. Any view meeting the first three criteria that also attempts to undermine key parts of a Christian worldview will be overwhelmed by the significant rational support for a Christian worldview.

As followers of the God of real truth, Christians need to realize that the so-called truths being taught to justify science over theology are in fact myths and/or self-refuting statements. Every Christian needs to be able to address these fallacies in today’s popular science culture. Equip your young adults with this understanding and more by attending our summer event called Mind Games Camp. More information can be found at probe.org/mindgames.

Notes

1. Michael Keas, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion, ISI Books, 2019, 2.
2. Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, ISI Books, 2014 p. 304, 315.
3. J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Crossway, 2018, 26 and 29.
4. Ibid., p. 23.
5. Ibid., p. 55.
6. Stark, p. 76.
7. Keas, p. 4 and Chapter 6.
8. Herman Bondi, Cosmology, Cambridge University Press, 1952.
9. Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe, Belknap Press, 2006.
10. Sagan, 1980 Cosmos TV series, episode 3.
11. Kepler, letter to Herwart von Hohenburg, April 9/10, 1599.
12. Moreland, p. 52.
13. Ibid., p. 131.
14. Ibid., p. 159.
15. Ibid., p. 138.
16. Ibid., p. 146.
17. Ibid., p. 151.
18. J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, Oxford, 1982, p. 115.
19. Moreland, p. 31.
20. Ibid., p.174.
21. Ibid., p. 184.
22. Ibid., p. 192.

©2019 Probe Ministries


The Professor: Why Are You a Christian? – When Challenged, Can You Defend Your Faith in Christ

Are our adults ready to give a defense of the gospel? When challenged, can they give a reasonable explanation of their faith? Dr. Bohlin presents a sobering view of this question based upon years of experience questioning high school and college-age students on the basis for their belief in Christ. By exposing their lack of cogent answers to questions they may be asked, he challenges them to spend time exploring the questions and developing biblical worldview-based answers.

The Professor

Over the last ten years, I have used a very effective technique to help teens realize their unpreparedness for the step toward college. It seems our young people are heading into public and even Christian colleges thinking they are ready for the challenge to their faith that higher learning can be.

Download the Podcast Probe Ministries has sponsored a college prep conference since 1991 that was designed to help young people gain some insights and even some knowledge on how to address the intellectual challenges that college will provide.

If you remember the thousands of college radicals who protested and picketed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they found their push for change was not very effective. Instead, many of them stayed in college, obtained Masters Degrees and PhDs. After all, it was easier than getting a real job! As a result, they are now your children’s professors!

The college campus was an anti-Christian breeding ground several decades ago and now it is even worse. Christianity is not so much openly mocked as it is marginalized and deemed a false and mischievous mythology.

If you haven’t already heard some of these statistics, you need to hold onto your hat.

In 2007, LifeWay surveyed 23- to 30-year-olds and found that seventy percent had taken at least a one year break from church during their college years.{1} Now, almost two-thirds of these return to some level of church attendance, but mainly to please family or friends who encouraged them to return. That means that most of our churched youth are making many of their life decisions, including marriage and career, apart from a church context. Even many who return carry numerous scars from bad choices during those years.{2}

With this statistical background, it’s plain our young people need some preparation before going on to college or the military. But as most parents of teens know, just telling them they need this is less than likely to be convincing.

Enter the Professor. The technique I mentioned at the beginning is to impersonate an atheistic college professor doing research on the religious beliefs of young people. Sometimes the students know I am playing a role with them, but occasionally I play the professor and the students are none the wiser.

A Simple Question

When I step to the front of the room, I introduce myself as Professor Hymie Schwartz (a name borrowed from my late colleague Jerry Solomon who played this role far better than I do). I tell the group that, since I am conducting research on the religious beliefs of young people, their youth pastor, counselor, principal, teacher—whatever, has allowed me to visit with them.

I begin the conversation something like this: “Since this is a church or Christian school I presume you are all Christians. Is anyone not a Christian?” Of course no one raises their hand. But I am always aware that some may indeed not be believers and may not appreciate my questioning so I am always paying attention.

At this point I simply call on someone, usually someone who isn’t really paying attention or is engrossed in conversation with a neighbor. “You! Are you a Christian?” No one has ever answered no. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, with hands casually stuck in my pockets, I demand, “Why?”

Students are paying attention now. This is for real. Now consider my question for yourself. If Peter warns us to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks to give a defense for the hope that we have, this is a pretty basic question. In our highly secular culture, if someone finds out you’re a Christian, they may indeed ask you why. Peter says you ought to have an answer.

But this simple question why is usually something our young people, and even their parents, have never really considered. Their Christian faith is certainly something they would claim is central to their lives, but the dumbfounded looks on their faces tells me repeatedly that this question is a new one.

It’s usually about this time that any parents sitting in the back are suddenly quite relieved I’m not talking to them!

By asking such questions, I can get them pretty riled up and confused. The point is not to have fun but to help them see that they need to be prepared and think a little about why Christianity is important to them and why they think it’s true.

“I Asked Jesus into My Heart!”

Having their Christianity questioned usually comes as a surprise and even shock. Rather than directly answering the question, they try to tell me how they became a Christian. It usually takes the form of confidently saying they asked Jesus into their heart.

The professor quickly fires back, “You asked Jesus into your heart?! That sounds pretty gross, really. What’s he doing in there with all that blood? Yuck!” That always gets a surprised reaction and a little befuddlement. The student typically tries to recover by saying something like, “No, I mean it’s like I trusted Jesus as my Savior.”

Again the professor will fire back quickly with a question like, “Why did you do that?” or “Savior? What did you need saving from?” I think you can see where this is going. It really is not difficult to pick something from what he or she said and challenge it. I either pretend I don’t understand what they said, forcing them to better explain themselves (which is rare), or I deliberately ask them why they think that way, or how they know that.

In answer to “How do you know that?” I am often told that “It says so in the Bible!” They usually can’t tell me where the Bible says that. I also ask if the Bible is true, and they say it is. But when I ask, “How do you know it’s true?” the blank stare reemerges.

Sometimes a student will say, “Because it’s the word of God!” Now I can really dig a little deeper. In response to further questioning, they usually can’t tell me where the Bible says it’s the Word of God nor can they tell me why the Bible is different from The Book of Mormon or the Qur’an. If there is a youth pastor or chaplain present there is usually an embarrassed look on their face or a head buried in their hands.

By this time the class is very tense and full of nervous laughter. When I reach a dead end with a student—for instance when they say, “I don’t know” with a very resigned and defeated voice—I look for one of the laughing students and ask, “What about you?” Of course that gets everybody’s attention again and off we go.

While I admit I have a little fun playing this role, it never ceases to break my heart at how ill-prepared our young people are to follow Peter’s advice to always be prepared with an answer. I have yet to find a student in ten years who is willing and able to go toe-to-toe with the professor.

“You’re a Narrow-Minded, Self-Righteous Bigot!”

Here are three other directions our conversations have frequently taken.

When I have challenged students to tell me why they think or believe Christianity is true, some will turn to their own subjective experience. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this, specifically when speaking to a Christian audience. But someone who doesn’t even believe in God will frequently find ways to truly make fun of this element.

A student may describe that Jesus speaks to them in their prayer time, to which I quickly ask what His voice sounds like or how they know it was Jesus and not indigestion. The blank stares usually resume at this point. We have become so comfortable in our Christian bubble sometimes that we frequently don’t see how unintelligible our language is to those outside the community of faith. It’s tough to share the gospel that way.

Sometimes a student will interject that they believe in Jesus because that’s what their family has taught them or it’s what they learned in church. I usually pounce on that pretty quickly and repeat that this student believes Christianity is true because their parents told them so. The student usually agrees. After commending them for honoring their parents I tell them that’s really pretty stupid. Pausing a second for the shock to register, I go on about the boy raised in India whose parents are Hindu and he respects his parents and believes Hinduism is true, so the boy in India and this student are both headed to heaven because they trusted their parents!

One time a student stammered around and eventually agreed with my statement as his youth pastor put his head in his hands.

Finally in talking about salvation I ask what happens to those who don’t believe in Jesus. Most will hesitatingly say they go to hell. The professor predictably rants, “Just because I don’t believe the same fairy tale as you, I’m going to hell?” When they predictably shake their head yes, I get down eye to eye and spit out, “You’re a narrow minded, self-righteous bigot!”

Always Be Ready to Give an Answer, with Gentleness and Respect

Students enjoy the interactive nature of this routine even though they are routinely embarrassed by their inability to handle the challenge. When Peter admonished all of us to always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that we have, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15), they fail miserably. Perhaps as a parent, you may be glad that I don’t do this with adult groups.

Often students will try to turn the conversation in their favor by asking the professor a question. I quickly dismiss that idea by simply answering that I’m asking the questions. But when we’re done, if time allows I attempt to leave them with hope by quickly summarizing how I, Dr. Ray Bohlin, Vice-President of Probe Ministries, would answer the same question.

Here’s the outline of my response. In a calm voice I quickly assert that I know there is a God. As a scientist I look principally at how marvelously our universe, galaxy, solar system, and planet are designed for complex life here on earth. The number of highly improbable coincidences rules out chance and strongly implies design. This is reinforced by the evidence from biology of the incredible complexity of life, particularly the coded information in DNA. This remarkable molecule with its accompanying system of transcription and translation screams for intelligence.

The fact that all people have some sense of right and wrong, even though we may disagree sometimes, tells us we are comparing our morality to some invisible standard outside ourselves that must come from a supreme Law Giver. I am convinced there is a supernatural God.

If this God exists, then has He spoken to man? I quickly tell about the uniqueness of Scripture, written by forty authors from eight countries over fifteen hundred years in three languages and all with a consistent and unique message of a God of love who ransomed us from our sins. Where we have archaeological evidence it consistently confirms the accuracy of biblical events. I am convinced the Bible is the true and unique Word of God.

The Bible throughout is about Jesus, who repeatedly claimed to be the unique divine Son of God and offered his death and resurrection on behalf of mankind as proof. That Jesus bodily rose from the dead is the only rational conclusion of the evidence of the empty tomb. On top of that, my personal experience of the last thirty-seven years has shown me again and again the unique love and power of God.

So what about you? Why are you a Christian?

Notes

1. “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” 2007, www.lifeway.com/article/165949/, accessed May 15, 2010.
2. Youth Transition Network has researched this problem over the last ten years and has excellent resources, videos, research, and books and DVDs for purchase. Take a look at www.ytn.org.

© 2010 Probe Ministries


Is Jesus the Only Way? – Part 2

Paul Rutherford explains how reason, Christ’s resurrection, and the Bible all testify that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

I can’t drive around town seven days straight without passing at least one car with a bumper sticker that reads, “Coexist” on the back. You know the one. It spells the word using symbols associated with the world’s faiths, ancient and modern.

download-podcast

The popularly held mantra is that “all religions are equally valid ways to heaven.” This is what’s called pluralism. So is there room in this brave new world for the words of an ancient and historically respected faith?

Jesus once said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) That sounds offensive and inflammatory today. I will remind you that Jesus said it, not me.

Even more important is the truth question. It is perhaps even more offensive! Are Jesus’ words true?

I fully acknowledge even the question itself may strike you as antiquated, out of date. Perhaps I sound to you like an eccentric, soured-up, fuddy-duddy. I may be. But if the words of Jesus are true, then far more than your offended sense of style is at stake here. Far, far more.

So listen up. And take note because this crazy sounding first-century Jewish rabbi made some crazy-big statements about the nature of man, the nature of reality, and how to live the good life, here, now, and forever. Does that at least sound appealing to you? If even just for the sake of a little controversy?

Explore with me the words of this rabbi. In this article we’ll think through three reasons you should agree with him. And maybe you’ll even find eternal life in the process. If you’re a long-time listener to Probe radio, or a regular listener, this may sound familiar. I have another program exploring the position that Jesus is the only way to God. This one is part two. In this one I give you three reasons Jesus is in fact the only way to heaven. In the previous program, I defended Jesus’ statement against three lines of criticism. So in the next sections I’ll explain how reason, the resurrection, and the Word all testify that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Jesus the Only Way Because of Reason

Western culture today is more pluralistic and secular than ever before. This means at least in one small part, that people believe multiple religions lead to heaven. Western culture has been moving this way for some decades. Now it has reached mainstream. Pop culture increasingly accepts this. It is therefore so much more important to consider this exclusive claim Jesus made. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6)

This is an increasingly unpopular teaching. Before I defend it, allow me to clarify. It was made by the Lord Jesus himself. I didn’t make it up. I am merely defending it.

So today I want to talk about how it is reasonable to believe this statement—why it is that you should yourself believe Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Today’s reason is logic itself. I will base this conclusion on two points: first, that the belief in one God is more logically defensible than believing in multiple creator gods; and second, that the belief in Jesus Christ as God is more reasonable than claims to deity made by others.

The first point is that believing in one creator God is more reasonable than believing in multiple. The god Aristotle believed in (the unmoved mover) was eternally simple. That is, at the root of all things is ultimately one thing—one cause, one source, one origin to which all other things owe their existence.{1} This position beautifully avoids the difficulty of what philosophers call reductio ad absurdum—or the problem of infinite regression—or the problem of which came first, the chicken or the egg?  The search for the first, original, or ultimate source, does not continue on and on forever. It cannot.

The second point is that Jesus is the most reasonable candidate for divinity. I respect the Buddha. But he never claimed to be God. Neither did Mohammad. Jesus was very clear. He claimed to be God.

Consider His teachings. They have not been surpassed in excellence in the two millennia that have passed since He walked the earth. Consider His actions. History’s best biographies about the man Jesus, record Him loving His enemies, healing the sick, and showing compassion to outcasts. Jesus’ life exemplified extraordinary moral rectitude.

I conclude, therefore, that it is more reasonable to believe Jesus is the only way to God given that it is more reasonable to believe in only one creator God, and given that Jesus has the best case for divinity among man’s founders of faith.

Jesus the Only Way Because of the Resurrection

We have a saying in American culture that nothing is certain but death and taxes. So if the taxman doesn’t come to call, the grim reaper will eventually. Death finds each of us, so we must face our own mortality.

By the best historical accounts Jesus also died and was buried, just like so many of His human brothers before Him.{2} But Jesus, on the other hand, experienced something unique, declaring Him God above all others.

I speak, of course, of resurrection.{3} Jesus Christ is the only person ever to have raised up Himself from the dead of his own volition, and by His own power.

This one point may be the most compelling of the three I offer this week. It is perhaps the most intuitive case for Jesus being the only way to Heaven. If Jesus really died and raised Himself from the dead, then His power exceeds those of any other man before Him, or after, for
that matter. Surely He must be God.

No other religious figure can make that claim. In a class by Himself, Jesus reigns over all the founders of world religions. Muhammad’s burial site is a common tourist destination in Saudi Arabia for contemporary pilgrims. Buddha’s cremation site is in northern India. No such site exists today in contemporary Israel for Jesus. His body has no confirmed remains.

The tomb is empty. That much is clear. Records indicate He definitely died and was buried. The empty tomb demands an explanation. Resurrection makes the most sense. Jesus is the only way because He is the only one who has died and raised himself up to new life.

We have several excellent articles at our website devoted to just this topic.{4} Go check them out for more detail. Jesus is who He said he is, “The way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)  So the question is, do you want some? Believe in Jesus today by faith.

Jesus the Only Way Because the Word Declares It

Western culture today increasingly accepts the belief that multiple religions are equally valid and they are all ways to eternal life. I propose to you today another reason to believe something
diametrically opposed to this—namely that the Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible, is the only way to eternal life. As the gospel writer John quoted Him, He is, the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). No one comes to the Father except through Him.

This third and final line of reasoning that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, springs from the Bible—from the very word of God itself.

You may not accept the Bible as God’s word. That’s ok. Just hear me out. Let me explain how this line of reasoning at least makes sense. Then after you’ve heard it, you can judge for yourself if it’s true or not.

So first, the Bible claims to be God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16). If we therefore assume the very commonly held conception that God is good and perfect, then that includes the words He speaks as well. So if He speaks good words, then those words must be true. They must accurately describe reality.

The Bible also makes this claim. Jesus in a famous prayer to the Father asks him to sanctify His disciples with the truth before stating, “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) It’s a profound statement.

So if God’s word is true, and God says in His word that Jesus is, in fact, the only way to God—that none can come to Him except by Jesus, then that means it’s true. See how simple that is?

But this statement is also made in another part of the Bible, Acts 4:12. Peter and John have been arrested and are being examined by the Jewish leaders. Peter declares Jesus to them and explains, “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”

I fully admit this line of reasoning rests on you acknowledging the authority of the Bible—in which case you may not have needed to be convinced in the first place. But if you had not already been convinced of the truth of God’s word, I am very sincerely relying on the power of the Spirit at work in you to believe this truth. (Isaiah 55:11)

Conclusion

In this article we considered the truth of a controversial claim. It might be one of the most hotly contested claims in religion today—that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.

This is not popular these days in America, Europe, anywhere in the English speaking West, or the non-English speaking West. To hear responses to criticisms against the claim, check out part one of this two part series.

Jesus was Himself no stranger to controversy. He died a criminal’s death at the hands of His enemies. He was killed and buried. The Jewish and Roman leaders were smugly satisfied they’d dispatched this unquiet voice.

But when Jesus’ enemies attempt to end his earthly ministry, they unknowingly ushered in a spiritually unending ministry of atonement and reconciliation. By his death Jesus paid the price of sin—death—satisfying the just wrath of God. Jesus made peace with God on your
behalf. Believe in Him by faith today and you can have peace with God. Would you like to have peace with him? Tell Him right now. Use your voice or pray silently. But tell Him. Go ahead.

The only thing required of you to receive eternal life is to believe Jesus is Lord. One of Jesus’ most famous sayings is, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Confess this belief with your mouth that Jesus Christ is God and believe in your heart that God has raised up his Son from the dead. And you can be saved. (Romans 10:9)

Jesus is the only way to God because there is no other way to get to God but by Jesus. Mankind is imperfect. You are dead in your transgressions and sins. The only way to satisfy God’s holy wrath is to give Him what is due: death. Jesus died that death for you. He’s the only one who could ever have paid your debt. And He did.

Human reason leads us to this beautiful conclusion that Jesus is the only way. God has declared it himself clearly in his divinely inspired book—the Bible. His resurrection seals it.

If you believed this for the first time today you are now heir to an eternal throne. Pick up a Bible and read Jesus’ life story in the book of John. Tell a friend who’s a Christian. Make plans to join them at their church Sunday. Keep praying and reading the Bible. You can discover the wonderful adventure of life in Jesus Christ, the only way to God.

Notes

1. Metaphysics, Lambda.
2. Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19
3. Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20
4. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? — A Clear Christian Perspective;
What Difference Does the Resurrection Make?;
The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?
— A Real Historical Event
;
The Answer Is the Resurrection

©2020 Probe Ministries


Historical Criticism and the Bible

Historical criticism of the Bible often threatens believers’ faith. Dr. Michael Gleghorn explains that it is often grounded in false assumptions.

What Is Historical Criticism?

Throughout the history of Christianity, students of the Bible have used many different methods of interpreting the text. But since the Enlightenment, one particular method (or rather, family of methods) has been quite influential, especially in the academy.{1} I’m speaking of what is often called historical criticism, or the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

Download the PodcastSo what is historical criticism, you ask? Although the term gets used in different ways, I will here be using it to refer to a method of biblical interpretation which attempts to read the Bible as a purely human document from the distant past. In other words, the historical-critical method does not typically regard the Bible as divinely inspired. It is merely a human book, like any other, and should thus be read like any other book.”{2}

In the past (and to some extent even today) scholars liked to portray this method as “scientific” in character, able to obtain “assured” and “objective” interpretive results. But critics tell a different story. For example, Eta Linnemann, who before her conversion to Christianity was a well-respected scholarly advocate of historical-criticism, claims that in practice the so-called “scientific” character of this method is grounded in a prior assumption of naturalism, perhaps even atheism. As Linnemann observes, “Research is conducted . . . if there were no God.’”{3}

Another critic of this method is the renowned Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. After rehearsing certain principles of historical investigation, which many historical critics would endorse, Plantinga notes that these principles are understood “to preclude” God’s direct involvement in the world.{4} Because of this, he notes, such principles “imply that God has not in fact specially inspired any human authors in such a way that what they write is really divine speech addressed to us; nor has he . . . performed miracles of any other sorts.”{5}

As I’m sure you can see, at least some of the results of this method come about simply because of assumptions the interpreter brings to the text. The problem, however, is that the assumptions are biased against Christianity in favor of naturalism. We must thus think rather critically about the historical-critical method. But first, we need a bit of background on how and when this method originated.

The Origins of Historical Criticism

Although many scholars helped develop the historical-critical method, Johann Salomo Semler, an eighteenth-century theologian, is widely regarded as its “father.”{6} Semler was primarily interested in “critical work” on the canon of biblical writings.{7} For our purposes, the “canon” can simply be thought of as the books of the Old and New Testaments. The Church regards these books as the divinely inspired Word of God and, hence, completely authoritative for Christian faith and practice.

Semler, however, considered these books (especially those of the Old Testament) to be largely of merely historical interest. They might give us some interesting information about the religion of ancient Israel or (in the case of the New Testament) the beliefs of the early church, but they could not be regarded, at least in their entirety, as the divinely inspired Word of God.{8} Hence, Semler was led to make a distinction between “the Scriptures and the Word of God.”{9} Although the Church had always considered the Scriptures to be the Word of God, Semler made a distinction between them. In his opinion, “some books belong in the Bible through historical decisions of past ages, but do not make wise unto salvation.”{10} Books of this sort, he reasoned, can still be called “Scripture” (for they are part of the biblical canon), but they are not the Word of God (for in his view, they are not divinely inspired).

Although historical criticism continued to be developed after Semler, it’s easy to see why many consider him to be this method’s “father.” In his own study of the Bible, Semler generally disregarded any claims that either it or the Church might make regarding its divine inspiration and authority and attempted instead to read the Bible like any other book. In the opinion of theologian Gerhard Maier, it’s “the general acceptance” of Semler’s view which “has plunged theology into an endless chain of perplexities and inner contradictions.”{11} Before we examine such difficulties, however, we must first consider why so many scholars see value in the historical-critical method.

Some Proposed Benefits of Historical Criticism

To begin, virtually everyone agrees that when you’re attempting to understand a book of the Bible, it can be helpful to know something about the origin of the book. Who was the author? When did he live? What sorts of things were happening at the time the book was written? Was the author influenced by any of these things, or attempting to respond to them in some way? Who was he writing for? How might they have understood him? Answering such questions can often clarify what the author may have been trying to communicate in his book. Historical critics are right to see this as an important part of understanding the books of the Bible. And most everyone agrees on this point.{12}

More controversial would be the principles of historical investigation originally proposed by Ernst Troeltsch in an essay written in 1898.{13} These principles are still generally embraced (though with some modifications) by historical critics today.{14} Briefly stated, Troeltsch proposed three principles that can simply be called the principles of criticism, analogy, and correlation.{15} Although there’s no universal agreement about how these principles should be used in actually doing historical research, historical-critical scholars have generally regarded these principles as helpful guides in critically evaluating what is written in the Bible in their effort to determine what really happened. This is considered a great benefit of historical criticism. For, rather than simply accepting the claims of a biblical author uncritically, Troeltsch’s principles provide some help in critically evaluating such reports in order to assess their believability.{16}

Now in one sense this is commendable, for it is good to search for truth about what the Bible is trying to teach us. But there’s a problem with how these principles are typically understood by historical-critical scholars. As the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga reminds us, such scholars generally take these principles to exclude any “direct divine action in the world.”{17} That is, such principles forbid us to believe that God has ever directly intervened in the world which He has made. And for Christians, this presents a real difficulty with historical criticism.

Some Problems with Historical Criticism

According to Christian scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix, a fundamental problem with historical criticism is that “it is based on an unjustified antisupernatural bias which it superimposes on the biblical documents.”{18} This can easily be seen by examining some of the things which have been written by proponents and advocates of this method.

For example, Rudolf Bultmann, who was interested in “demythologizing” the New Testament, famously wrote, “It is impossible to use electric light . . . and to avail ourselves of modern medical . . . discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”{19} Similarly, another theologian has written that whatever the biblical authors may have believed about such things, “we believe that the biblical people lived in the same” world we do, that is “one in which no divine wonders transpired and no divine voices were heard.”{20}

Now if we ask such scholars why it is that we’re to think that miracles are either unbelievable or impossible, we’ll usually notice rather quickly that the responses are generally short on arguments and long on assumptions. That is, such scholars typically just assume that God is not directly involved in the world and that miracles never occur. But if a personal Creator of the universe exists (and there are good reasons to think that one does), then why should we simply assume that He would never directly intervene in the world which He has made? Such intervention would hardly seem impossible. And if it produced an effect which would not have come about had nature been left to itself, then this could quite properly be regarded as a miracle.

So it seems to me that if a personal God exists, then miracles are possible. And if miracles are possible, then it is nothing more than “an unjustified antisupernatural bias” (as Geisler and Nix assert) to simply assume that the Bible’s reports of miracles are all false and unbelievable. And since historical criticism of the Bible often begins with just such an assumption, it appears to offer us an inadequate method for correctly reading the Bible.

An Alternative to Historical Criticism

Having looked at some problems with historical criticism, we can now consider a preferable alternative, namely, theological interpretation.{21}

So what is theological interpretation? As I’m using the terminology here, it’s a method of reading the Bible like a Christian, with the aim “of knowing God and of being formed unto godliness.”{22} Theological interpretation takes a sober and serious account of what Christianity is, believes, and teaches. It then attempts to read and interpret the Bible as “a word from God about God.”{23}

It’s a radically different way of reading the Bible from that practiced by historical critics. Of course, as theologian Russell Reno reminds us, “There is obviously a historical dimension” to the truth found in the Bible. “Nevertheless,” he continues, “to be a Christian is to believe that the truth found in the Bible is the very same truth we enter into by way of baptism, the same truth we confess in our creeds, the same truth we receive in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”{24}

But historical criticism attempts to read the Bible in the same way one would read any other book from the ancient world. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human book. The only way to really understand a book of the Bible, then, is to try to understand how it originated and what the original author was trying to say.

Theological interpretation, on the other hand, does not view the Bible as a merely human book. Of course, it realizes that each of the biblical books has a human author. But it also insists, along with the consensual teaching of the Christian community, that each of these books also has a Divine author.{25} It thus views the Bible as a divinely-inspired document.

Is this a legitimate way to read the Bible? Alvin Plantinga has written extensively on the theory of knowledge.{26} According to him, the biblical scholar who is also a Christian “has a perfect right to assume Christian belief in pursuing her inquiries.” Doing so, he says, is just as legitimate as assuming the principles of historical criticism.{27} Indeed, for the Christian it is arguably better—for it allows us to read the Bible in continuity with the tradition and faith we profess and believe.

Notes

1. Gregory Dawes, for example, notes that both form criticism and redaction criticism would fall under the umbrella of historical criticism. See Gregory Dawes, “‘A Certain Similarity to the Devil’: Historical Criticism and Christian Faith,” in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture: Historical, Biblical, and Theoretical Perspectives, ed. Carlos R. Bovell (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 354.
2. Benjamin Jowett, “On the Interpretation of Scripture,” in Josephine M. Guy, The Victorian Age: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. n.p.: Routledge, 1998. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 9, 2013), 295.
3. See Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? trans., Robert Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), 84.
4. Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, edited by Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephan Evans, Mary Healy and Murray Rae (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 33.
5. Ibid.
6. James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 29.
7. Ibid.
8. Peter Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Toward a Hermeneutics of Consent (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 38-40.
9. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 19.
10. Ibid.
11. The first sentence of Maier’s book declares, “The general acceptance of Semler’s basic concept that the Bible must be treated like any other book has plunged theology into an endless chain of perplexities and inner contradictions.” See Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method, trans., Edwin W. Leverenz and Rudolph F. Norden (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 11.
12. Plantinga, echoing the language of Robert Gordon, grants that we might refer to the attempt to answer such questions as a “warranted” form of historical biblical criticism. See Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Scripture Scholarship: A Response to Robert Gordon and Craig Bartholomew,” in “Behind” the Text, 94.
13. For those interested in this essay, see Ernst Troeltsch, “Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology (1898),” trans. E. Fischoff, rev. W. Bense in Religion in History-Ernst Troeltsch: Essays, trans. J. L. Adams and W. F. Bense (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991).
14. Edgar Krentz states, “Contemporary historians use Troeltsch’s three principles, but with significant modifications” (The Historical-Critical Method, 56). However, it does not seem necessary to qualify the modifications of Troeltsch’s principles by practicing historical-critical scholars with the adjective “significant,” for (in my opinion, at any rate) they are generally more severe in critically evaluating the sources with which they are dealing than the average historian is with his.
15. For two very helpful discussions of Troeltsch’s principles, see Alvin Plantinga’s discussion of “Troeltschian HBC” in “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 31-35, as well as Gregory Dawes discussion in “‘A Certain Similarity to the Devil’: Historical Criticism and Christian Faith,” in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture, 358-70. Although Plantinga and Dawes reach different conclusions about if and how Troeltsch’s principles can be legitimately employed, both discussions are well worth reading.
16. Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture, 45.
17. Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 33.
18. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 440.
19. Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth, edited by Hans Werner Bartsch (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 5.
20. Langdon Gilkey, “Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language,” reprinted in Owen C. Thomas, ed., God’s Activity in the World: the Contemporary Problem (Chico, CA: Scholar’s Press, 1983), 31; cited in Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 34.
21. Kevin Vanhoozer defines “theological interpretation” as “the process of keeping the canonical practices alive and well in the believing community.” A bit later he describes a “canonical practice” as “divinely authorized use of language and literature, which, when learned, presents and forms Christ.” As examples of “canonical practice,” he discusses, first, the typological, or Christological, interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ and, second, prayer. He concludes his discussion by noting, “Christians learn to speak about, to think about, and to live for God by indwelling the diverse canonical practices that comprise the Scriptures. By participating in such practices-interpreting figurally, praying to the Father, and the like-Christians grow in faith toward understanding.” This, it seems to me, is a helpful way of fleshing out, in greater detail, all that is involved in the concept and practice of the “theological interpretation” of Scripture. See Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 219-226. The citations in this note are from pp. 219 and 226.
22. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Introduction,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 25.
23. Ibid., 23.
24. R. R. Reno, “A Richer Bible,” First Things (August/September, 2010), 44.
25. I adopt this language from Thomas Oden who, in his book on Classic Christianity, states as his intention the setting forth of the “classic consensual ecumenical teaching” of the church throughout history. See Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), xiii.
26. See, for example, Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993), Warrant: The Current Debate (Oxford, 1993), and Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000).
27. Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Scripture Scholarship: A Response to Robert Gordon and Craig Bartholomew,” in “Behind” the Text, 99.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


Is Jesus the Only Way?

Paul Rutherford explains why Jesus is the only way to know God.

Coexist Bumper StickerI was sitting in my car at a red light and I saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that said, “Coexist.” Only, the letters on the bumper sticker are religious symbols. A crescent stands in place of the letter “c,” a peace symbol in place of the letter “o,” and some of the other symbols included a cross, a Star of David, and a yin-yang, all used to create the word “coexist.”

Perhaps you’ve seen an image just like this bumper sticker, but on a t-shirt or tattoo. It represents a common sentiment in our culture that everyone should get along, or coexist peacefully. And I love that sentiment. We should get along. In fact, I’m grateful to God I live in a country in which an unprecedented number of people from all different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities do, in fact, coexist every day, and for the most part without violent protest. The life we enjoy in the United States is historically unprecedented.

Download the PodcastBut the coexistence advocated in this bumper sticker is something more subtle. It’s a way of getting along that is more than meets the eye. It frequently calls for a peaceable lifestyle free of conflict between faiths. People hope that we can all unite in a single brotherhood and celebrate our differences, particularly religious ones. They don’t understand why we bicker over who’s right and who’s wrong.

The call to coexist is a reaction to the exclusive truth claims of religion, especially Christianity. In fact, its exclusivism is the most offensive aspect of Christianity today. “Repent. Believe. Come to Jesus. He’s the only way!” These are phrases easily associated with Christianity, especially street preaching. What should we do with Christianity’s exclusivism in a twenty-first century cosmopolitan society? Haven’t we progressed beyond such narrow-mindedness in these modern times? Isn’t claiming Jesus as the only way intolerant of other faiths? Don’t those Christians know all religions are equally valid paths to heaven? They shouldn’t force their beliefs on others!

Claiming Jesus is the only way to heaven is exclusive, I admit. It says there is no other way to God except by trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus most famously says this Himself in the Bible: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Even though it’s offensive, I believe Jesus really is the only way to God. In this article we’re going to explore that question by discussing objections to it, and discover why He really is the only way.

Tolerance

As believers, when we claim Jesus is the only way, you often hear people give some variation of, “That’s so intolerant!” In doing so, they reject the claim. Often implied, but not said straight out, is the demand that the Christian “tolerate” others’ beliefs, or take back what he just said.

It’s worth pointing out that claiming Christianity to be intolerant is itself an intolerant claim. But the notion of tolerance is complex and has a long history. And rather than elaborate that contradiction, let’s begin by exploring the complexity of tolerance.

What’s usually meant by tolerance these days is including beliefs that include all others. This position generally rejects Jesus as the only way because diversity and equality are now celebrated as the highest values. “Tolerance” celebrates differences of religions and equality of opportunity to practice them. To claim Jesus is the only way squelches both equality and diversity by claiming only one religion is right. Since squelching diversity and equality are socially unacceptable, the exclusivity of Jesus isn’t tolerated.

But this issue is complex. (That might be apparent already.) Truth and tolerance are actually linked. In fact, tolerance relies on truth. In the book The Truth about Tolerance, David Couchman says, “If there is no real truth, there is no reason for me to be tolerant. Without some kind of beliefs which cause me to value you as a person, even though I disagree with you, why should I be tolerant towards you?”{1} For tolerance to exist at all, it relies upon a framework of truth. That resonates with an idea mentioned earlier, how intolerance contradicts itself.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Truth also relies upon tolerance. “[I]t is also the case that truth as a reflective goal for individuals and communities. . .needs a context of right-minded toleration to flourish in.”{2} Without tolerance, truth likewise becomes the hammer of oppression. We find then that truth and tolerance go hand in hand.

Nevertheless, tolerance is the hammer of choice in culture today. Too often suppression of Christians sharing the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation is justified in the name of tolerance. Don’t be taken captive by this distortion. Genuine tolerance acknowledges all positions, even those that are exclusive. A biblical worldview holds only one truth, Jesus is the only path to heaven, while maintaining respect and dignity for those who disagree. That’s genuine tolerance.

Absolutes Don’t Exist

Here is another objection you might hear: Christians can’t claim Jesus is the only way because there are no absolutes. What Christians claim is an absolute truth. And there simply are no absolute truths.

Their justification goes like this. We know from study, from reason, from the postmodern era, that society has moved beyond absolutes. There is no absolute truth. There is no overarching metanarrative (or idea of truth) which can transcend culture, nation, or time. Truth is a construct created by each man, each culture, and bound by the strictures of the time in which it was created.

This objection shares a similar weakness to the tolerance objection. Denying absolutes is also self-defeating. It contradicts itself. If we were to ask this objector if she really believed what she was saying was true, we could ask her, “You believe no absolute truth exists, right? Are you absolutely sure of that?” This objector would have to agree. That’s what the position holds, thus contradicting her own claim.

This objection often comes out of the postmodern school of thought, which says there is no such thing as objective truth, such as 2 + 2 always equals 4. Postmodern thought also denies the meaningfulness of history along with the ability to interpret literature in a unified and meaningful way. The unfortunate consequence is that we’re left with a bleak reality stripped of purpose or meaning, which frankly, isn’t very appealing. Without truth, meaning, history, or purpose, what’s the point?

The great irony of it all is that postmodern thought arrives at its conclusions by way of reason, which it then concludes isn’t true, and then holds it in contempt. It calls into question reason itself and the whole Enlightenment project along with it. So there’s a healthy dose of despair that frequently accompanies adherents to postmodern thought, including our friends who don’t believe Jesus can be the only way to God because there are no absolutes. But that’s the lie to which I don’t want you to be taken captive. Jesus really is the only way. He’s the only way to find peace in a wrecked world. He is meaning for a confused life. And He leads us home to heaven out of a world where we don’t belong. The remedy to that despair is Jesus.

Despair at the failure of reason to improve mankind is the sad but ultimate end of every god which usurps the rightful place of the one true God: Jesus Christ. The truth is, all gods fail, disappoint, and leave us desperate. The only one who is faithful is Jesus. (cf. Deut. 7:9; 2 Thess. 3:3) But we won’t find that satisfaction until we rest assured in the truth that Jesus really is the only way.

Pluralism

There is another category of objectors to Christ’s claim to exclusivity. A difficult but less in-your-face objection is pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that any variety of beliefs and values are all equally true and valid.

When I claim Jesus is the only way, some calmly object. Pluralists tend to be more laid-back. Typically they affirm my right to follow Christ, even celebrate it. These folks calmly share their belief that all religions are right: they all lead to god. Often they cite the Eastern proverb that there are many paths to the top of the mountain.

First, I’d like to point out that pluralism is intellectually lazy. It doesn’t take seriously the law of non-contradiction. (This law says that two opposite things cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.) When a Christian claims the path is exclusive, that Jesus is the only way, the pluralist might think, “That’s nice, but actually, I know that all religions lead to heaven.” He doesn’t accept the Christian’s position as true. He says he believes Christianity is true while at the same time denying its central tenet, which is that Jesus is the only way.

But this response is not unique to Christianity. A conservative Jew sincere about his faith won’t say any path leads to heaven; neither will a Sunni Muslim. Pluralism attempts to make peace where there is none, and only succeeds in agreeing with no one.

Second, Christians who hold to exclusivism are sometimes falsely accused of pushing their beliefs on others. In condemning the exclusivist claims of Christianity, the pluralist imposes her beliefs on the Christian. It contradicts the very intended principle.

We all have beliefs or actions we want others to take seriously. There’s nothing wrong with that. From my experience, pluralism is usually based on fear, which is completely understandable. The other person disagrees but fears conflict. They fear the relationship might be at stake if they express their true belief. As believers we still accept and honor people even if they don’t agree with us. This is how we alleviate fear, demonstrating acceptance for those with whom we disagree. (And that’s the true meaning of tolerance, by the way.)

When someone throws up this smokescreen in conversation, it can feel scary—alarming. Suddenly, the person you’re talking to gets defensive. We can wonder, “Where did this come from?” In that moment it’s probably not wise to press. Ask them why they believe that way, or affirm them. Certainly no one has a right to force compliance on another unwillingly. Communicate that we don’t have to agree to be accepted. Further, don’t fall prey to this area where culture takes many believers captive. Jesus is the only way. Stand fast.

The Only Way

Is Jesus the only way? Yes. Multiple scriptures teach this truth. Let’s consider a few.

Matthew 11:27 says, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Jesus is claiming that God his Father has handed everything over to Him. This is an indirect claim to be God Himself. But Jesus also makes it clear He is the only one, since no one knows the Father but the Son.

Let’s also consider John’s gospel. Before Jesus even began his ministry John the Baptist responds to Jesus’ identity. “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) In Hebrew culture at the time, calling someone the Lamb of God was a claim to the Messiah who was prophesied (Isaiah 53:7). Further, only God has the power to take away sin. This was an unmistakable claim to divinity. It’s interesting also that Jesus doesn’t correct him, or deny Godhood. On the contrary, a short time later, Jesus picks up his first two disciples and encourages them, saying, “Come and you will see” (John 1:39).

It’s one thing to claim divinity and yet another to claim to be the only divinity. So, where does the Bible say Jesus is the only way? As we mentioned earlier, by Jesus’ own admission He is the only way to God in John 14:6—”I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Peter also explains the meaning of Jesus’ exclusivity in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Believers, take heart. Jesus Christ is the one and only way. Questioning Jesus’ exclusivity is a recent historical phenomenon. That question is commonly asked in the 20th century West, a culture increasingly influenced by postmodern thinking and multiculturalism. Take courage. We who accept the exclusivity of Christ are in a historical majority. Repudiation for Christians as being intolerant, exclusive, or uneducated is a recent occurrence. These are the current trends of our culture. Don’t be taken captive. Jesus is the only way.

Notes

1. David Couchman, quoted in The Truth about Tolerance, Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

2. Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, The Truth about Tolerance, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


Gen-Z: The Generation That Ends Christian Influence in America?

In order to grow the number of Gen-Z Christians, we need an understanding of ways to build bridges from their pluralistic, secular worldview to seriously contemplating the unique grace of God. Steve Cable draws upon the wisdom of two pastors who are making a real difference in the lives of young adults to address this important topic.

What Are Gen-Zs Like?

download-podcast
In this article we look beyond the Millennials to consider the latest generation and what they tell us about the future of Evangelicals in America. Gen-Z is the generation born between 1995 and 2010. This year, half of the Gen-Z generation are 18 or older. By the time they are all at least 18, the Millennials and Gen-Zs will make up almost 50% of the adult population. We will consider how this generation compares with previous generations. We want to understand this generation to truly communicate the good news of the gospel to them; to help them “to walk in a manner worth of the Lord.”{1}

In their book, So the Next Generation Will Know{2}, Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace identified some key traits common among Gen-Zs. They are:

  1. Digital Multitaskers – “spending nearly every waking hour interacting with . . . digital technology,” often while watching television
  2. Impatient – quickly moving from thing to thing with an attention span of around 8 seconds
  3. Fluid – constantly blurring the lines; making truth, genders, and family structures personal choices
  4. Lonely – swamped in social media where personal relationships are minimized while personal troubles follow them everywhere. Sean points to “the availability of endless counterfeits that claim to be able to fill their hearts with meaning.”{3}
  5. Individualistic – individual feelings more important than facts while judging the choices of others is avoided. As James White points out in Meet Generation Z{4}, “the ability to find whatever they’re after without the help of intermediaries . . . has made them more independent. . . . Like no other generation before, Gen-Z faces a widening chasm between wisdom and information.”{5}

Most importantly, most of these young Americans are thoroughly secular with little exposure to Christian theology. As White opines, “They are lost. They are not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian cultural context. They do not even have a memory of the gospel. . . . They have endless amounts of information but little wisdom, and virtually no mentors.”{6}

As they enter adulthood, the culture around them will not encourage them to consider the claims of Christ.  In fact, the Millennials going before them are already seen leaving any Christian background behind as they age into their thirties.

Gen-Z: How Are They Trending?

What can we truly know about the religious thinking of Gen-Zs age 11 to 25? Pew Research surveyed teens and their parents giving us a glimpse into both{7}.

They found one third of American teens are religiously Unaffiliated.{8} In contrast, their parents were less than one quarter Unaffiliated. Another Pew survey{9} found more than half of young adult Gen-Zs are unaffiliated.  This group is easily the largest religious group among Gen-Zs.

Teens attend church services with their parents, but lag behind in other areas. Less than one fourth of teens consider religion very important. And on an absolute belief in God and praying daily, the teens trail their parents significantly.

Using an index of religious commitment{10}, almost half of the parents but only one third of teens rated high. In fact, almost half of teenagers with parents who rated high did not rate high themselves.{11}

Perhaps the minds of teenagers are mush. Their views will firm up as they age. In reality, older Gen-Zs and Millennials also trail older adults by more than 20 points in believing in God and praying daily.{12} Also, church attendance drops dramatically among these young adults who are no longer attending with parents.

If religion were important to teens, they would look to religious teaching and beliefs to help make decisions about what is right and wrong. But less than one third of teens affiliated with a religion turned to its teachings to make such decisions.

As George Barna reports,{13} “The faith gap between Millennials and their predecessors is the widest intergenerational difference identified at any time in the last seven decades.” It seems that Gen-Z will increase this gap.

Gen-Z: Worldview and Apologetics

Why have the Unaffiliated been growing dramatically over the last 25 years while doctrinally consistent Christians have been declining? At one level, we recognize the watered-down gospel taught in many churches encourages people to pursue other things and not waste time on church. That may have been the primary issue at one time. But in this decade, we are seeing a real reduction in the number of Evangelicals as well. The self-professed Evangelicals{14} among those ages 18 to 29 has reduced from 29% down to 20%, a reduction of almost one third.

One major driver is the dominant worldview of our young adult society. The worldview promoted by our schools, media, and entertainment industry has changed from a Christian inspired worldview to a worldview which is secular and specifically anti-Christian. As James White observes, “It’s simply a cultural reality that people in a post-Christian world are genuinely
incredulous that anyone would think like a Christian—or at least, what it means in their minds to think like a Christian.”{15}

Almost all Gen-Zs have been brought up hearing the worldview of Scientism espoused. This worldview teaches “that all that can be known within nature is that which can be empirically verified . . . If something cannot be examined in a tangible, scientific manner, it is not simply unknowable, it is meaningless.”{16} At the same time, most Gen-Zs have not even been exposed to an Evangelical Christian worldview. Consequently, apologetics is critical for opening their minds to hear the truth of the gospel. Many of them need to understand that the basic tenets of a Christian worldview can be true before they will consider whether these tenets are true for them. Answering questions such as: “Could there be a creator of this universe?” and “Could that creator possibly be involved in this world which has so much pain and suffering?” is a starting point to opening their minds to a Christian view.

Encouraging Gen-Zs to understand the tenets of their worldview and comparing them to a Christian worldview begins the process of introducing them to the gospel. As White points out, “I have found that discussing the awe and wonder of the universe, openly raising the many questions surrounding the universe and then positing the existence of God, is one of the most valuable approaches that can be pursued.”{17} The Christian worldview is coherent, comprehensive and compelling as it explains why our world is the way it is and how its trajectory may be corrected into one that honors our Creator and lifts up people to a new level of life.

Gen-Z: Removing the Isolation of Faith

What will it take to reach Gen-Z? James White says, “. . . the primary reason Gen-Z disconnects from the church is our failure to equip them with a biblical worldview that empowers them to understand and navigate today’s culture.”{18} If we want to equip Gen-Zs to embrace faith, we must directly discuss worldview issues with them.

The challenge is exacerbated as most Gen-Zs are taught a redefined tolerance: to not only accept classmates with different worldviews, e.g. Muslims and the Unaffiliated, but to believe that it is as true for them as your parents’ worldview is for them. As Sean McDowell states, “Gen-Zs are exposed to more competing worldviews—and at an earlier age—than any generation in history.”{19}

The new tolerance leads directly to a pluralistic view of salvation. Christ stated, “No one comes to the Father except through me,”{20} and Peter preached that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved.”{21} Yet the survey of American teens{22} finds less than one third believe that only one religion is true, broken up into two-thirds of Evangelicals and less than one-third of Mainlines and Catholics.

Compounding these issues is the growing practice of limiting the impact of religious beliefs on real life. Sean points out, “The biggest challenge in teaching worldview to young people is the way our increasingly secular culture fosters the compartmentalization of faith.”{23} We need to help them see how a consistent Christian worldview applies to all issues. It is foolish to segregate your spiritual beliefs from your life decisions.

As an example, many Gen-Zs are enamored by a socialist view that the government should provide everything we need, equally distributing goods and services to all. Those who work hard and excel will have their productivity redistributed equally. It sounds like a possibly good approach and yet it has destroyed the economies of many countries including Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. It fails because it is based on a worldview that “assumes greed comes from inequality in the distribution of material goods in society.”{24} In contrast, the Bible is clear that greed is part of the fallenness of the human heart. As a result, any centralized function with no competition discourages productivity and becomes an inefficient bureaucracy.

Reaching Gen-Zs

Today, most Gen-Zs move into adulthood with little exposure to the gospel. The majority are either Unaffiliated, another religion, or have a nominal Christian background. Current surveys find that 98% of young Americans do not have a Christian worldview.{25}

This sobering data does not mean giving up on reaching Gen-Z. But if we are not intentional about it, we are not going to stem the tide. As James White observes, “What is killing the church today is (focusing) on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. The mission . . . must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith.”

And Sean McDowell points out that we need “to teach the difference between subjective and objective truth claims and make sure they understand that Christianity falls in the latter category.”{26}

Sean encourages a focus on relationships saying, “Relationships are the runway on which truth lands. Take the time to listen with empathy, monitor from a place of wisdom, and demonstrate your concern.”{27} White agrees, saying, “If we want (them) to know the faith, we have to teach, model and incarnate truth in our relationship with them.”{28} From a place of relationship, we can address challenges keeping them from truly hearing the gospel.

One key challenge is the role of media. As Sean notes, “Media shapes their beliefs, and it also shapes the orientation of their hearts.”{29} To counter this pervasive influence, he suggests engaging them in a skeptic’s blog. Help them consider 1) what claim is being made, 2) is the claim relevant if true, and 3) decide how to investigate the claim.{30} By learning to investigate claims, they are examining the truth of the gospel. We should never fear the gospel coming up short when looking for the truth.

Key ways White’s church is connecting with the Unaffiliated include:

  1. Rethinking evangelism around Paul’s message in Athens. Tantalizing those with no background to search for truth in Christ.
  2. Teaching the grace/truth dynamic in quick segments consistent with their learning styles.
  3. Being cultural missionaries – learning from those who have not been Christians.
  4. Cultivating a culture of invitation by creating tools to invite friends all the time.

If we focus on growing the number of Gen-Z Christians, we could change the trajectory of American faith. If we devote ourselves to prayer, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and reaching the lost in America rather than continuing church as usual, God can use us to turn the tide.

Notes
1. Colossians 1:9.
2. Josh McDowell and J. Warner Wallace, So the Next Generation Will Know, 2019, David C. Cook.
3. McDowell and Wallace, p. 66.
4. James White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, Baker Books, 2017.
5. White, p. 44.
6. White, p. 64-65.
7. Pew Research Center, U.S. Teens Take After Their Parents Religiously, Attend Services Together and Enjoy Family Rituals, September 10, 2020.
8. These are people who self-identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. In previous surveys, we referred to them as the Nones. Calling them the “unaffiliated” helps us avoid the confusion between “Nones” and “nuns.”
9. Call out Pew survey from 2019.
10. The index of religious commitment looks at the answers to questions on church attendance, belief in God, prayer, and importance of religion and rates a respondents commitment from high to low based on their answers.
General Social Survey, 2018.
11. 42% of the teenagers with parents with a high index had a medium or low index.
12. General Social Survey, 2018
13. American Worldview Inventory 2020, Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University.
14. Pew Research surveys 2007, 2014, 2019.
15. White, p. 130.
16. White, p. 141.
17. White, p. 139.
18. White, p. 80.
19. McDowell and Wallace, p. 81.
20. John 14:6b.
21. Acts 4:12.
22. Pew Research Center, U.S. Teens.
23. McDowell and Wallace, p. 87.
24. Ibid, p. 93.
25. American Worldview Inventory 2020.
26. McDowell and Wallace, p. 113.
27. McDowell and Wallace, p. 78.
28. White, p. 64.
29. McDowell and Wallace, p. 164.
30. Ibid, p. 173-4.

©2021 Probe Ministries