The Debate on Biblical Authority: Mohler vs. Stanley

Debates are often good. What?!? Yes, I reiterate, debates are good. Disagreements, when handled in a godly, civil fashion, can lead to a furtherance of learning and understanding. No one is perhaps better at debating than Baptists…although some Baptist debates lose their godliness and certainly their civility. In the theological world, a debate has been ensuing between Andy Stanley and Dr. R. Albert (Al) Mohler. Stanley is the son of the great Dr. Charles Stanley (pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta) and is senior pastor of North Point Community Church also in Atlanta. Dr. Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. The debate surrounds the comments made by Stanley in his message “The Bible Told Me So” (see link below). Stanley essentially states that the Bible is not the supreme authority–Christ is. He further goes on to note that if we are to reach individuals in this post-Christian culture, we must appeal to the evidential sources of Christianity and not the Bible alone (Stanley 2016, NorthPoint.org).

Mohler responds to Stanley’s message with a warning. He claims that another individual sought to do what Stanley is supposedly doing. That person is Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern theological liberalism. Schleiermacher, says Mohler, sought to “salvage spiritual and moral value out of Christianity while jettisoning its troublesome doctrinal claims, supernatural structure, and dependence upon the Bible. He was certain that his strategy would ‘save’ Christianity from irrelevance” (Mohler 2016, albertmohler.com).[1] Who is right? Well, without trying to straddle the fence, I do believe that both individuals bring important truths to the table.[2] Mohler and Stanley are correct in at least three areas.

mohler

Mohler is right about the authority of Scripture as it relates to the Christian’s life (2 Timothy 3:16).

If there is a serious problem plaguing the modern church, it is the rise of biblical illiteracy. Biblical illiteracy is not going to be solved by avoiding the Bible. In fact, Christian leaders must engage the Bible even more in their messages and lessons. Quick anecdotes and savvy punchlines will not improve the lack of biblical knowledge in our day. It will take in-depth expository messages to turn the tide. Mohler’s high view of Scripture is justified. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).[3] Paul was addressing the Old Testament Scriptures (also known as the Hebrew Bible). But the New Testament writings would quickly assume the same status. Paul writes to Timothy, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). The first quote comes from Deuteronomy 25:4. But the second quote is especially interesting. Paul quotes directly from Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Notice that Paul says “For the Scripture says.” Paul elevated the Gospels to the same status as the Hebrew Bible. Peter also elevates the epistles of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16 when the aged apostle quips, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Note here again that the New Testament writings are elevated to the status of Scripture. Thus, Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of Scriptural exposition taking place in many modern churches. It is the Word of God that will bring a change in the lives of believers.

Mohler is right about the inspiration of Scripture as it relates to the final revelation of God (Titus 1:2).

I also share Mohler’s view of Scripture. I hold to the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. The logic makes sense. Paul reminds Titus, “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). God does not lie. It is not that God chooses not to lie. God cannot lie if He is absolutely holy. With this logic in place, it stands to reason that God cannot speak falsehood. Giving that the Bible is the revelation of God, then it only stands to reason that the Bible is true and cannot be false. Thus, a believer should place a high value on the written words given by God. I still remember, and will never forget, the advice given to me when I first entered the ministry. My mentors would say, “If you keep your messages between the covers of Genesis and Revelation, you’re on solid ground. If you go beyond these covers, you’re on your own.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Mohler is right about the safeguard that comes with a high view of Scripture.

I also share Mohler’s concern with the erosion that comes when the safeguard of Scripture is removed. Schleiermacher’s well-intended liberalism, which sought to spare Christianity from the flood of doubt coming its way from the times, led to one Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann, a German theologian, sought to de-mythologize the Bible by removing all its miraculous content. Bultmann, who was undoubtedly influenced by Humean philosophy,[4] led a movement that would ultimately give rise to such groups as the Jesus Seminar and the like. Liberal theology has led to the doubts of many. Liberal theology has not led to the strengthening nor the salvation of Christianity. In contrast, it has led to many towards atheism and agnosticism. Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of biblical exposition in modern churches.

While Mohler is right on several points, I find myself in agreement with some of what Stanley says as well. I agree with Stanley on three points.

andy-stanley

Stanley is right about the authority of the Christian tradition as it relates to the final apologetic (1 Corinthians 15:3-9).

Stanley points to the authority of the pre-New Testament traditions and sources. I am surprised that Mohler takes issue with Stanley on this point. The Bible’s authenticity is strengthened by the strong evidence relating to these traditions, creeds, and formulae found in the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps the most important of all these early traditions is that which is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. Here, Paul relates to the Corinthian church what he had received a few years after Christ arose from the dead. Paul writes, “For what I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

The Bible does not hold authority because it is the Bible. The Bible holds authority because it is the truth. The believer should not worry. Christianity is an evidential faith. Christianity has been tested and it stands on its own. Why? It is because Christ literally rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is not a fanciful wish or desire. Christ’s resurrection is reality.

Stanley is right about the primacy of Christ above all else (Colossians 1:15ff).

I also agree with Stanley that we must worship Christ and not the Bible. The reason the Bible is the Word of God is because of God Himself. Thus, the Bible points us to the reality of the triune God. Paul, writing to the church of Colossae, notes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16a). While we must place great emphasis on the Bible, we cannot allow the Bible to itself become an idol. Our worship is of the risen Christ Jesus.

Stanley is right about the need to appeal to evidence to reach the current generation.

I also find myself in agreement with Stanley in the need to provide evidence for the post-Christian generation which we are trying to reach. Most people are not going to listen to what we say about the Bible until they know that there are reasons to accept the Bible as an authentic document. Apologetics is necessary to do evangelism in modern times. William Lane Craig has noted on his podcast, Reasonable Faith, that we are amid an exciting time. An apologetic renaissance has begun. This renaissance is not something to fear. Rather, it is something that Christians, including Mohler, should embrace. This website has noted the resistance that the modern church has held against apologetics, which is quite bizarre.

So, what can one draw from this debate? I think the following conclusion can be made:

Mohler is right in his strong view of Scripture and Stanley is right in his strong view on apologetics: therefore, the appropriate view consists of a blending of both.

Let me say, I respect both Al Mohler and Andy Stanley. Both have contributed greatly to the kingdom of God. However, I think Mohler and Stanley are both guilty of accepting an “either/or” mentality when they should accept a “both/and” approach to this issue. Yes, the Christian should preach and teach the truths found in the Bible. I think Stanley is guilty of taking too low a view of Scripture. 

Yes, the Christian should engage the evidences and promote apologetics. I think Mohler has taken too high a view of Scripture, bordering on the level of fideism.[5] Quite honestly, the modern preacher should seek to find a balance between Mohler and Stanley’s view. The Christian leader would do well to wholeheartedly focus on the truths of God’s Word, discipling people in the truths of the Scripture, while also standing ready to provide evidence for the faith one holds (1 Peter 3:15). Theology and apologetics are two sides of the very same coin. Both are necessary. Both should be sought. Both should be accepted.

© October 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

McKnight, Scot. “In the Beginning: The Gospel—Al Mohler vs. Andy Stanley.” Jesus Creed (October 3, 2016). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/10/03/in-the-beginning-the-gospel/?platform=hootsuite.

Mohler, R. Albert. “For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied…Again.” AlbertMohler.com (September 26, 2016). http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/09/26/bible-tells-biblical-authority-denied/.

Stanley, Andy. “Why ‘the Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore.” Outreach Magazine (September 30, 2016). http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/19900-the-bible-says-so.html/3.

Stanley, Andy. “The Bible Told Me So.” North Point.org (August 28, 2016). http://northpoint.org/messages/who-needs-god/the-bible-told-me-so/.

Notes

[1] For full fairness on this topic and the authors involved, the links to all the writings and resources concerning this debate are posted in the “Sources Cited” section of the article.

[2] In full disclosure, I am a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Even though Mohler is part of the SBC and Stanley has connections to the SBC, I seek to examine the points of view from both participants in this debate.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[4] Humean philosophy comes from the atheist philosopher David Hume who rejected the miraculous and argued that it was impossible for the miraculous to take place. Furthermore, it assumed that it was impossible to prove that a miraculous event took place in history.

[5] Fideism is the view that faith alone is necessary without any evidence whatsoever. In many ways, fideism is a blind faith and ends up committing a circular reasoning fallacy.

Advertisements

The Importance of Rest for the Impact of Your Ministry

Americans celebrate the holiday known as Labor Day on the first Monday of September each year. This day celebrates the hard working men and women on the labor force, offering for many a day of rest. One of the most important things Christian apologists and ministers can do to benefit their ministries is to take a necessary break.

On last week’s podcast, Nick Peters wisely warned that apologists can often become “married to their ministries.” Such is not only true of Christian apologists, the same is also true of pastors and church leaders. In fact, the danger is greater with Christian leaders actively involved in church ministry. Meetings here, study time there, and countless other tasks can drain the minister and lead to ministry failure if the minister does not take necessary time for rest and recuperation.

One of the most important classes I took during my Master of Divinity program at Liberty University was a class called Preventing Ministry Failure. The advice given in that class is invaluable. I would like to share some important truths that I learned in that class.

1. Set necessary boundaries.

It’s important to have boundaries in ministry. Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffman note that “Personal boundaries help us prioritize our relationships…and focus on things consistent with our calling” (Wilson and Hoffman 2007, 140). It’s okay to say no to some ministerial offers. Many ministers think that the eleventh commandment should be, “Never say no.” However, it is often necessary to set time aside for oneself and one’s family.

2. “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.”

Dr. Kevin King of Liberty University once quipped, “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.” King is dead on the money. One of the things I am learning (and I am still a work in process) is the great importance of time management. The congregation and the minister must remember that the pastor is NOT omnipresent. He does not hold the ability to be in all places at all times. Scheduling helps gauge more important ministerial tasks from those of lesser importance.

3. Your first calling is to your family.

Somehow Paul’s admonition to church leaders is often forgotten. Paul notes that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5, ESV)? The minister’s first ministry is the ministry to his family. If this is forgotten, then it does not matter how many degrees he possesses, how expositionally sound his messages are, or how many individuals he has visited that week. The minister will have failed. To sustain his family, the man of God must take sufficient time with his wife and children.

4. Take time alone with God.

Mark’s Gospel documents a noteworthy aspect of Jesus’ ministry–His prayer life. Mark notes that Jesus rose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark…and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35, ESV). Simon Peter and the apostles could not find Jesus. Apparently, Jesus must have walked far into the wilderness to take time alone with His Father. If Jesus (the Son of God) needed time alone with the Heavenly Father, how much more do we? It is critical that the minister and apologist take appropriate amounts of time alone with God. The Christian ministry is a spiritual work. If the minister’s spiritual tank is empty, his ministry will be too.

Conclusion

Randy Kilby was the president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College when I attended the school in the late 90s. He used to say, “You must get under the spout, where the glory comes out. Then the glory you experience will flow out to others.” In addition to the numerous issues the church faces today, there is yet another problem that challenges the church. Many individuals in ministry are leaving. Wilson and Hoffman provide the following startling statistics:

“Of ministers in the United States: 25 percent have been forced out of or fired from their ministry at least once; 90 percent feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands; 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively; 45 percent say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence; 40 percent have serious conflict with a church member at least once a month; 20 percent admit to having an affair while in the ministry; 37 percent admit that Internet pornography is a current struggle; 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend” (Hoffman and Wilson 2007, 31).

The struggle in ministry is real. To make a long-term impact, the minister must realize that he is not Superman. He is not the Savior of the world. There is only one Savior–Jesus Christ. Understand your limitations and take the necessary rest that is needed. If the minister and apologist does so, then the impact of his ministry will grow exponentially.

(c) September 5th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

Trusting God in an Anxious World

Today, I read about the United Kingdom’s decision to pull out of the European Union. Without engaging in whether such an idea was good or bad (I’ll leave that to the political pundits), many fear that the global economy could suffer because of England’s decision.[1] It seems to me that every time I turn on the news there is something even more shocking than the day before. For many, the looming thoughts of a global World War III seem more and more like a possibility. How does the Christian remain calm and peaceable in such a tumultuous time? Let me suggest a few points.

  1. The Church has previously endured similar circumstances and survived.

Solomon notes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).[2] While technology increases in complexity, people never change—both good and bad news. The gospel message remains the same. The Church has endured the persecutions of the Roman empire. The Church made it through the dark ages. The Church has survived times when people thought that the gospel message would die.[3] Church, we will make it through by God’s grace. Yes, we may have to use different tactics and methodologies, but the message of Christ will never change.

2. God is sovereign: He knows what we do not.

God is sovereign. This means that God is in control. Grudem associates sovereignty with God’s power in noting that “God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will.”[4] When the prophet Jeremiah asked for understanding pertaining to the events of his day, God inquired, “Is anything too hard for me” (Jeremiah 32:27)? The obvious answer is, “No.” When I have questions and concerns (which I have in recent days), God keeps assuring me saying, “Trust Me! I have this under control.”

3. Jesus never promised an easy road; He just promised His presence.

The Church has largely become spoiled. This is not true of those in the Eastern church and certainly not true of those in the Southern Hemisphere. But in the Western church, false promises of an easy life have overwhelmed the message of Christ. Instead of proclaiming, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27), the Western church has proclaimed, “God wants you to be a multi-millionaire and live an easy life.” It may be that some would enjoy such pleasure, but such has not been the case for the majority of Christians throughout time. In the end, we must be reminded that Christ never promised an easy road, rather He promised His presence. For He reminds us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

4. Each day is a day closer to Christ’s return.

As a futurist, I believe that the Book of Revelation gives a description of what will take place in the end of human history. I will not speculate as to when Christ will return. It is impossible to predict Christ’s coming for He has told us, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). While it is impossible for one to postulate when Christ will appear to redeem the Church, it is with certainty that one could claim that each day is one day closer to that time. Rather than become depressed at the current status of the world, we need to remember the work that is set before us. We may not have much longer before God calls the Church home.

5. The joys of a heavenly eternity far outweigh the problems of today.

The apostle Paul reminds us that “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV).[5] The eternity that God has prepared for those who love Him far outweigh the problems that we may encounter today. If you are depressed about the events of today, focus your attention on the joys of eternity that await you. Some may argue, “Doesn’t this place less attention on the here and now?” Certainly not! When a person lives with the hope that is found in heaven, the person is able to look beyond oneself and see the larger picture.

Conclusion

The world is currently unstable. Chances are highly likely that it could become even more unstable before it gets better. Nevertheless, Christians have the opportunity to “step up to the plate.” We speak of the trust found in God. Such times allows such trust to be seen in a vivid fashion. While the world becomes an increasingly dark place, the Church has the opportunity to illuminate the light of Christ even more vividly than before. Will you succumb to the darkness of worry and anxiety or will you stand and say, “Let the floodwaters come! I will not be moved from the Rock of my foundation, the Lighthouse shining forth in an ocean of darkness—that Rock, that Lighthouse being Jesus Christ!!!” Christian, what will your response be?

Notes

[1] See Griff Witte, Karla Adam, and Dan Balz, “Britain Shocks World: Breaks with European Union, British Leader Steps Down,” MSN.com (June 24, 2016), retrieved June 24, 2016, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/britain-shocks-world-breaks-with-european-union-british-leader-steps-down/ar-AAhznhT.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Take for instance the proclamation of Voltaire who predicted that no one would read the Bible in 100 years. Voltaire lived in the 1700s.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 216.

[5] Scripture marked NIV comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

© June 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

A Tribute to an Unknown Spiritual Giant: Remembering Rev. Odell Sisk

Chances are highly likely that you have never heard the name Odell Sisk. He never wrote a book. He was never the pastor of a mega-church. He had no connections with influential leaders. He held no degrees. Yet, the influence of this individual is felt by every person who reads this post. If the spiritual legacy of Odell Sisk did not exist, then chances are likely that this website would not exist. How so? Let me explain his story.

Odell Sisk was born on Sauratown Mountain in Stokes County, North Carolina. He was one of 14 children (12 boys and 2 girls). On one fateful day, Odell met a woman named Mildred Beck. Mildred loved Odell. It was love at first sight. But there was a catch: Mildred was a devout Christian; Odell was not. Against the advice of some, as they were unequally yoked,[1] they married. Mildred’s father, Henry Beck, warned her, “You made your bed. You’ll have to sleep in it.” But Mildred loved Odell. Mildred did something that neither her father nor Odell expected. She prayed. And she prayed hard! She prayed consistently that God would save Odell, her newfound husband. God heard her prayers and began working on young Odell’s heart. Although he ran, he eventually accepted the loving grace of God into his life by receiving Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. God, however, was not done with Odell just yet.

Mildred kept praying. She prayed, “God, use him for your glory.” God again heard the prayers of this godly woman. God began working on Odell in a different way. God called Odell to preach. Odell did not have a high school diploma, something that personally troubled him, so he wondered if he could truly accomplish what God was requesting of him–much like Moses who felt like he was ill-equipped to speak for God. One day while plowing one of his fields being the farmer that he was, Odell surrendered to the call while driving his tractor.

Grandpa with kids
Odell and Mildred with their great-grandchildren.

When Odell finally accepted the call, God used him mightily. His first church was a little church by the name of Hills Grove Baptist Church in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. He was used of God to lead this congregation for many years. Eventually, he accepted the call to pastor Albion Missionary Baptist Church in Westfield, North Carolina. Odell retired after a lengthy tenure at Albion. However, that retirement was short lived. Another church named Little Richmond Baptist Church in Elkin, North Carolina called him to be their pastor. Odell left his so-called retirement to pastor again. After serving at Little Richmond for several years, Odell retired again. But Odell’s retirement was again premature, Albion Baptist called Odell for a second tenure to be their pastor. It is unique that a church calls a minister to a second-term after a period apart. Altogether, Odell served Albion as pastor for over 27 years, a rarity in modern times. Due to health reasons, Odell had to again retire, this time for good due to COPD and other medical issues. On May 19, 2016 at 8:25am, Odell was called home to meet his Lord leaving behind a long legacy of ministry.

Albion Baptist Church
Albion Missionary Baptist Church, Westfield, NC

While not a largely popular person outside of a tri-county area in the foothills of North Carolina, Odell’s legacy is one that has influenced countless individuals. In fact: if it were not for the spiritual influence of Odell Sisk, the online ministry of Bellator Christi.com and my personal ministry might have never existed. Why? Odell and Mildred Sisk are my grandparents. I have personally witnessed countless occasions where Grandpa locked himself up in his office to have personal time with the Lord. I have seen Grandma on her knees in prayer. Grandpa consistently checked to ensure that his family knew about Christ Jesus. He was even known during his last few weeks to have evangelized the doctors who were treating him—against the advice of some.

Grandparents with me at Moms house
Grandparents with my sister and I.

Grandpa is the one who told me about Jesus. Grandpa is the one who led me to the Lord. In September of 1983, Grandpa led me in a prayer to receive Christ as my Savior while sitting in his living room. It was Grandpa who baptized me in the Dan River in the summer of 1984. When I told him about my calling to preach, it was Grandpa who said, “Run. If you can do anything else, you are not called. But if you cannot, then you are called.” When my calling was verified, it was Grandpa who said, “As long as you keep your messages between the two covers of the Bible, you are okay. But if you go outside these covers, you are on your own.” This advice is one that I take seriously even to this day.

Throughout history, we hear of many spiritual giants, such as the Apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham. But it is often the otherwise unknown spiritual giants that lead the way for the Pauls, the Augustines, the Spurgeons, and Grahams. Quite frankly, I feel that God uses those who are largely unknown to bring about great ends. There will be more of these unknown spiritual giants in heaven, like my simple rural grandparents. The unknown spiritual giants make an impact of the like that will not be fully known until the final pages of history are turned, and we all stand before God in eternity.

Grandpa Sisk_revised
Grandpa in his living room where I received Christ.

The apostle Paul notes that we shall all stand before the bema seat of Christ (i.e., the Judgment Seat of Christ) “so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).[2] At that time, the work of each Christian individual will be tested. Paul notes that “if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). For those whose work stands the testing, they will be given rewards. For those whose work does not stand, they will suffer loss although they will still enter into God’s heaven.

Grandpa was not perfect, but he had a perfect Savior. Grandpa undoubtedly earned many rewards as his influence is carried on to future generations. The challenge is now with us. What will we do with the legacy that God left through those like Grandpa? This challenge is not only true for my family, but for all who have their own unknown spiritual giants.

My family will celebrate the life of my Grandpa this weekend. But I must say, that God challenges me through the legacy of my grandfather to go forth and make my own legacy as well. The legacy is not really mine to give, just as it wasn’t Grandpa’s. The legacy is that of Jesus Christ. The challenge is still the same. Will we receive rewards in heaven like those who preceded us? Or will we stand before God with nothing to offer Him?

Grandparents with me at graduation
My grandparents with my family and I at my graduation from Gardner-Webb.

Grandpa left a Christian legacy. Go make your Christian legacy…even if you are largely unknown in society. For with God, there are no unknown spiritual giants–just spiritual giants.

© May 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

[1] Meaning that one was a Christian and the other was not.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman, 1995).

Lessons Learned from Graduation

    This weekend, I had the honor to be counted among the 19,432 graduates for the 43rd commencement ceremonies at Liberty University. I cannot even begin to express the excitement and love that I felt at the university. The journey to graduation was tough. The drive to Lynchburg even proved difficult as we will soon discuss. However, my education did not end at graduation. In fact, during graduation weekend, I learned four valuable lessons that I hope to take with me for the duration of my days on planet earth. These lessons play off of the adopted biblical verse for Liberty University which is “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).[1] The context of the verse implies that God removes the veil from our eyes so that we can “see and reflect the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).[2] Thus, what does God’s liberty mean to us?

Lesson #1:      With God’s liberty, there is power to do the impossible.

Ronald Hawkins noted that the first graduating class of 1974 had 46 graduates. This year’s graduating class had 19,432 graduates. With God, there is power to do what may seem to be impossible. Our commencement speaker was Rashad Jennings who is the running back for the New York Giants. Jennings noted that he should not be playing football by normal standards. Jennings said that he was told that he was too short, in high school had a 0.6 GPA, weighed 275 pounds and had asthma. However, as Jennings noted, “With God, you can dream crazy big.”[3]

With God all things are possible. No mountain is too high and no valley is too wide for God. God can help you do the impossible. This is the very thing that the angel told Mary before she became the mother of our Lord. Mary had learned that her relative Elizabeth would be with child. Elizabeth was too old by most people’s standards. However, the angel told Mary that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Lesson #2:      With God’s liberty, there is love to reach the impoverished.

            My wife and I have been dealing with great strains as of late. Due to personal reasons, I cannot relay the reasons behind these problems. Both of us have been stressed for so long that it was a radiant breath of fresh air to experience numerous people who congratulated us and wished us the very best. My wife was stunned at how loving and kind the professors were. She said, “I always thought that professors were somewhat distant from the students. But, the professors here really care about their students!” At the School of Divinity, the professors laid their hands upon the graduating class praying over them. Again, our minds were blown!

My wife and I have been impoverished here lately due to the stress and strains of life. To experience the overwhelming love and kindness that we received this week from the students, families, and staff at Liberty University was refreshing. We met a man who was good friends with the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. He told us about their friendship and about the passion that Dr. Falwell had for the Lord and the compassion that he had for people. The gentleman invited us to attend his church (Thomas Road Baptist Church) some weekend when I wasn’t preaching. He gave all of us hugs and said, “I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say, ‘I’ll see you later.’”

I learned this weekend that the love of God radiating through His children is a refreshing drink to the dehydrated soul. It is a nourishing meal to the malnourished heart. Perhaps this is why Jesus commanded us that the mark of true discipleship is love. Jesus noted that the believer is commanded to “love one another, even as I have loved you…By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Ed Hindson noted in the School of Divinity graduation that knowledge is important. However, some people will not care how smart a person is. The Spirit of God must open their hearts before they can receive the truth of Christ. The believer is to show grace and mercy to all people. Hindson’s statements really resonated with me. I have failed to show love the way I should from time to time. Perhaps some of this has stemmed from personal attacks that I have received in my ministry. Yet Christ was attacked and prayed for the forgiveness of His offenders. Love is a cherished gift from God. May we all make it a priority to focus on loving others the way Christ commanded us.

Lesson #3:      With God’s liberty, there is humility to counter one’s importance.

Going back to Dr. Hindson’s powerful message, I was reminded that despite our achievements, we must always remain humble. As noted previously, Hindson reminded us that some people will not care about how smart we are until they experience the grace of God within us. Hindson is absolutely right. Knowledge and wisdom are important. In fact, they are critical. Yet, if knowledge and wisdom are shrouded with a haughty spirit, then they are for nothing. Peter reminds us that we are to “humble [ourselves] under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NLT).

Lesson #4:      With God’s liberty, there is strength to endure the interruptions.

“Interruptions” is probably a bad word to use for this lesson, but I wanted to stay true to the “I” theme. While my family and I were driving up to Lynchburg, we received a call that my grandpa was not doing well. My mother and father needed to go back home. We were all riding together. My wonderful wife took it upon herself to drop my son and I off at the hotel and drive my parents back home. Altogether, my wife drove for 6 hours the Friday before graduation. She told me afterwards, “You know, God gave me strength to make the journey.” God will give us strength to endure many of the obstacles of life. My grandpa improved, although he still has many health issues plaguing him.

Many have noted that when they have faced troubles and trials, God always shows up to provide them strength to endure. God also provides us means of rest if we will take it. It is up to us to make sure we give ourselves the rest that God provides. Jesus invites to “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).

Conclusion

            Some will undoubtedly read this and say, “Well, you are just pumping up your alma mater.” That is not the purpose of this article. Rather, I have sought to show the importance that comes taking God seriously in both word and deed. When we devote ourselves to the Lord, we can find power, love, humility, and strength. Will you devote yourself to Christ? My challenge for all the graduates of 2016, not only at Liberty but everywhere, is to devote yourselves unto Christ Jesus. Receive His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control. Then, go spread those attributes to each person you meet. With God, we can have an impact upon the world!

© May 16, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[3] Rashad Jennings, Commencement 2016, Liberty University (May 14, 2016).

My Top 5 Recommended Study Bibles

As a pastor and a student of the Word, people often ask me which study Bible is best. For those who may not know, a study Bible is a Bible that contains scholarly and/or popular notes at the bottom of the page. These notes serve as a commentary for the biblical text. Some of these notes may provide historical information that provides insight for the passage at hand. Other notes may give a cross-reference to other passages of Scripture. Even other notes may try to explain more difficult passages of Scripture.

But many people will ask, “Pastor, in your experience, which is the best study Bible?” Such a question is good and completely understandable due to the massive number of study Bibles on the market today. Therefore, I would like to present you with my personal top 5 list of recommended study Bibles. I may revise this list in a future article as more study Bibles are published. I gauge these study Bibles according to the quality of notes and articles provided along with the usefulness of the study Bible in question.

life application study bible

  1. Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. 2004. Avg. price $39.99.[1] 2448 pages.

The Life Application Study Bible comes in a wide array of translations. For those who love the NIV or the KJV, you will find this study Bible for your preferred translation. The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) offers a chart harmonizing the Gospels along with over 10,000 notes. The downside to this study Bible is that the LASB offers more of an application of the text rather than scholarly notes. Thus, if you are desiring a study Bible that serves as a devotional Bible, then the LASB will be for you. In contrast, if you are looking for a more scholarly treatment of the text, then you will want to consider some of the other study Bibles given in this article.

hcsb study bible

  1. HCSB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2100 pages.

The HCSB Study Bible is the recipient of the 2011 Christian Book Award Winner. And for good reason. The study Bible offers around 15,000 study notes, 315 word studies, 141 color photographs, 62 timelines, 59 maps, 24 articles, 16 illustrations, 15 charts, and even a one-year Bible reading plan. The notes are scholarly and well-written. The only problem is that this study Bible is written from a particular perspective within evangelicalism. It is a perspective that with which I am in great agreement. However, I do not feel that it offers a fair treatment on some issues, particularly issues pertaining to the age old debate surrounding divine sovereignty and human freedom. Also, I have a love-hate relationship with the HCSB text. The HCSB is very easy to read. The HCSB is a conservative translation as well. However (and it may be where I am too traditional), it is difficult for me to get accustomed to the number of times the HCSB uses the personal name Yahweh in the Old Testament. Most translations keep the tradition in translating the personal name of God to “LORD.” Regardless, if you can get past some of the nuances with the translation, the HCSB Study Bible may be for you.

apologetics study bible

  1. HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012. Avg. Price:$39.99. 2048 pages.

The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible is a must have for anyone interested in apologetics. The Apologetics Study Bible offers 5 full-color maps, 11 charts, and a timeline of Christian apologists and their works. The downside to this study Bible is that it does not have many in-text notes. If you are looking for historical information pertaining to particular passages of Scripture, then you will need to look at other study Bibles in this list. However, this study Bible excels in its articles. The Apologetics Study Bible features 132 articles written by individuals such as the late Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, Hank Hanegraaff, Josh McDowell, Albert Mohler, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and 90 more contributors. The Apologetics Study Bible is one that the serious student, pastor, and layman alike will want on their shelves.

niv zondervan study bible

  1. NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2015. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2912 pages.

The newest study Bible on our list was released in August of 2015. This Bible is chock-full of information from some of the most notable scholars in our day. Drs. D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University), Richard Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College), Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews), and Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) are among the top contributors to this work. The study Bible offers approximately 20,000 comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes; hundreds of color photographs, maps and charts; over 35,000 verse concordance; section introductions, over 60 scholarly contributors; dozens of full length articles; and to top it off—free digital access online for those who purchase the Bible. The only downside is that the NIV 2011 updated text has come under scrutiny since the update was released (something that I feel has been both unjustified and unfair).[2] However, the fact that conservative leaders such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Tim Keller, and R. Albert Mohler have added their endorsements to this study Bible should relieve any hesitations that one may possess. The study Bible is MASSIVE which indicates the voluminous contributions that the study Bible will hold for your personal study of the Scriptures. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a hot-contender for the number one spot.

esv study bible

  1. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2752 pages.

To say that the ESV Study Bible is the king of the mountain when it comes to study Bibles is an understatement. I have many friends in graduate school and teachers alike. I often hear praises from them concerning the value of the ESV Study Bible. It is also telling that one version of this study Bible was out of stock and waiting to be refilled on Amazon.com at the time this article was published. The ESV Study Bible provides 25,000 verse-by-verse notes, over 200 full-color maps, over 80,000 cross-references, over 200 charts, section summaries, book introductions, and a massive collection of articles in the back of the Bible. The study Bible was created by a diverse team of 95 leading scholars from 9 countries, 20 denominations, and 50 institutions of higher learning. The study Bible also holds the English Standard Version (ESV) text which has been praised for its accuracy and readability. Dr. Daniel Wallace (Greek expert and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) even praised the ESV at a recent conference for its translational accuracy from the original biblical languages. For any serious student of the Bible, the ESV Study Bible is a must-have. I recommend it as the best study Bible up to the point that this article has been published.

 

© March 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] All prices given are for the hardcover editions. The list prices are also given. Bibles may vary from the price listed. Leather bound study Bibles will hold a higher cost, whereas softcover editions may be somewhat cheaper.

[2] The controversy stems over the NIV’s use of gender inclusive language where masculine pronouns are intended for both men and women. However, other translations such as the ESV, NLT, and HCSB all do the same. Contrary to the hype, the NIV does not change the divine pronouns. While the NIV does make some changes that I do not like (holding that John 3:16-21 is a teaching of John rather than a quote of Jesus, and italicizing the script of the two controversial passages in Mark 16:9ff and John 7:53-8:11), the NIV is a good translation. It may not be as literal as the ESV and NASB, but many find it to read easier than others listed.

The 10 Most and Least Bible-Minded U.S. Cities

A Barna research team recently interviewed people from various areas of the nation to see which cities and/or areas were the most and least biblically minded. That is to say, they were seeing which areas held a high view of Scripture. The study evaluated each city’s “Bible-reading habits and beliefs” (Zylstra 2016, ChristianityToday.com). The study interviewed over 65,000 adults in the 100 most populous areas.

The research noted that Tennessee “is home to more megachurches per capita (67) than any other state” (Zylstra 2016, ChristianityToday.com). As previous studies have indicated, “the South remains the most Bible-minded region of the country, with all of the top 10 cities located below the Mason-Dixon line,” (Zylstra 2016, ChristianityToday.com) said Barna. According to the Barna research, the following represents the 10 most Bible-minded cities in the United States:

10. Lexington, Kentucky (44%)

9. Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson, South Carolina/Asheville, North Carolina(44%)

8. Knoxville, Tennessee (45%)

7. Little Rock/Pine Bluff, Arkansas (45%)

6. Charlotte, North Carolina (46%)

5. Tri-Cities, Tennessee (47%)

4. Shreveport, Louisiana (47%)

3. Roanoake/Lynchburg, Virginia (48%)

2. Birmingham, Alabama (51%)

1. Chattanooga, Tennessee (52%)

In contrast, the top 10 least Bible-minded cities are found in the Northeast and West. They are the following (note, this was a top 100 list):

  1. Salt Lake City, Utah (17%)
  2. Phoenix/Prescott, Arizona (16%)
  3. Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut (16%)
  4. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, California (15%)
  5. Las Vegas, Nevada (14%)
  6. Buffalo, New York (13%)
  7. Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, Iowa (13%)
  8. Providence, Rhode Island/New Bedford, Massachusetts (12%)
  9. Boston, Massachusetts/Manchester, New Hampshire (11%)
  10. Albany/Schenectady/Troy, New York (10%)

It is interesting to note that Lynchburg (#3) is home to Liberty University, whereas Charlotte (#6) is home to Southern Evangelical Seminary, the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary extension in Charlotte, and a host of other Bible schools. Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute is found between Greenville, SC and Asheville, NC (#9). North Greenville University, a university with a large Christian component, is also found in the area. There are a couple of principles that stand out to me.

First, discipleship works! That is, those who have held a strong biblical mindset are using good discipleship methods in many areas of biblical training, while promoting the Christian worldview. If one considers the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then discipleship is mandatory. Not only should one desire to grow with God, but one should also desire to grow others.

Second, evangelism is necessary. Some may be tempted to stay away from areas with a populace possessing a lower Bible-mindset. But, how does that help? Perhaps, we need more emphasis on the Christians and the churches located in the more hostile areas of the nation. The following map, from Christianity Today (taken from Barna), provides the full top-100 list.

Barna Top100

Blessings,

 

Pastor Brian

 

© January 26, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Source Cited

Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff. “The Bible is Still Buckled: America’s 100 Most Bible-Minded Cities of 2016.” Christianity Today.com (January 21, 2016). Accessed January 26, 2016. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/january/bible-belt-buckled-100-most-bible-minded-cities-2016-barna.html

3 Troubling Trends Encountered This Week

This past week, my heart has been grieved. It was not grieved by events happening in foreign nations. My heart was not grieved by any assault by atheistic innuendos. My heart has been grieved by particular things that I have seen coming from the American church. I was grieved in three areas of ministry and faith which were attacked, not by persons on the outside of the church, but by persons who are supposedly church leaders. These trends are highly dangerous.

1. Anti-biblical rhetoric.

The first area represents a trend that is of greatest concern. I read an article this week by a youth leader from the Raleigh-Durham area that demonstrated a troubling trend. The youth leader dismissed the authority of the Bible. He essentially claimed that the Bible was not the Word of God. Of utmost surprise to me what that many people came to his support! I don’t know of a more troubling thing for the church than for its young Christian leaders to be found dismissing the authority of the Bible. It is one thing to hold differing interpretations about a particular area of the Bible, but it is an entirely different problem when one dismisses the Bible entirely. Such a statement is especially troubling since this individual holds a great influence over the youth of his church.

2. Dismissal of biblical preaching.

Another problem I have encountered this week stems from a lackadaisical approach to expository preaching. Perhaps this dismissal stems from the lack of authority given to the Bible. Some feel that preaching is too old-fashioned. People want to hear stories and fancy tales rather than those pesky moral codes found in the Scriptures. The argument goes, “People want to hear about nice things. People want to hear about pleasant things. People do not want to be told what to do.” Would such people allow Jesus into their church? Would they allow the prophet Amos? What about that wildman John the Baptist? These men were teachers and preachers. Jesus expounded upon the Word of God (the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible). He often quoted and explained the texts. Don’t get me wrong! The gospel provides us positive things to contemplate. One of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. However, we must expound all of the Bible instead of picking and choosing those areas that are found most favorable.

I am reminded of the late Dr. Randy Kilby, former president of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute.” He said in one of his last messages before he died, “I hear people say, ‘Preach to the people’s needs. The problem is, you don’t know what the people need. Just preach the Word! God knows what they need” (Randy Kilby, 1998)! We desperately need more Randy Kilbys.

 3. Anti-apologetics.

The third problem has been a problem area for quite some time. This problem area is an anti-apologetics movement within the church. Which is really quite bizarre! Recently, a major denomination chose not to allow the proponents of Intelligent Design to host booths at their annual conference. The move by the major denomination stunned many of the leaders of the ID movement, such as Dr. Stephen Meyer. To compound the mystery of the denomination’s rejection of ID, many of the leaders of the ID movement are also members of the denomination in question.

Conclusion

We need to stay true to the calling that God has set before us. We must remain firm in our faith. But, we also need to realize that, as Jude has told us, in the last days we must be about “building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 20-23, ESV). Pray for those flirting with spiritual disaster.

 

© January 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Top 10 Challenges Facing the Church in 2016 (Part 2)

Due to the overwhelming response from the first installment, I decided to post the second installment earlier than anticipated. The previous article dealt with the first five challenges facing the church in 2016. Those challenges were:

10. The issue of the Christian’s right to self-defense (that is, the right to bear arms).

9. The sense of entitlement.

8. Apathy for evangelism.

7. Race relations.

6. Trusting God despite chaos.

See the article “Top 10 Challenges for the Church in 2016 (Part 1)” for a fuller treatment of the previously mentioned issues.

This second installment will provide the top-5 challenges facing the church in 2016. As noted in the previous article, these insights do not necessarily represent anything from the current or past churches that I have served as pastor. Rather, these issues stem from trends that must be faced as we move into a new year. Let’s first look at the fifth issue.

coexist

  1. Syncretism: Are there Multiple Paths to God?

It has been noted before, but must be reemphasized: the New Age movement has entered the modern American church. One of the hallmarks of the New Age movement is syncretism. Syncretism is defined as the “incorporation into religious faith and practice of elements from other religions, resulting in a loss of integrity and assimilation to the surrounding culture.[1] Other issues are at work with this problem. Primarily, one faces the classification of a “bigot” or “hate-mongerer” if one claims that there is only one way unto God. Secondly, the problem seems to emerge from a lack of knowledge pertaining to worldviews.

Most everyone in the continental United States has probably seen the bumper sticker that reads “Coexist.” While I agree that we should live civil with those from differing perspectives, the bumper sticker is often used to assume that all religions are the same.

Are all religions truly the same? Not really. For differing worldviews make different claims.

Buddhism, a pantheist worldview, is basically an agnostic religion. Hinduism, a panentheist worldview, claims that God has manifested himself by various gods and goddesses, whereas Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all theist worldviews, claim that there is only one God. Yet, contrary to Islam and mainstream Judaism, Christianity claims that Jesus is the unique Son of God, the Messiah sent to save all of humanity. While all these religious beliefs could be wrong, they all cannot be right. To make matters worse for the syncretist, Jesus himself said things like, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).[2]

Logic dictates that either Jesus was right or he was wrong. If he was the Son of God, one would think that he would be right pertaining to spiritual matters. If Jesus is right, then syncretism cannot be correct. If syncretism is correct, then Jesus was wrong. If Jesus was wrong on this matter, then one must wonder whether he really was the Son of God.

Thus, the person must make the decision. One cannot sit on the fence. Either Jesus was right or he was wrong. If you accept Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), you must ask yourself “Am I going to follow the words of Jesus or not?” If it is true that Jesus is the only way to the Father, then it is extremely evil to claim otherwise as such an accusation would mislead people away from God.

How to combat:          It would seem that the solution to this problem is also the solution to the most challenging problem found on this year’s list.

 marriage

  1. Family and Marriage: Building Strong Families One Home at a Time.

2015 has brought many challenges to the church as it relates to the definition of the family. We do need to define biblical marriage. But, I think the church needs to focus on this issue by another means. We need to build strong families in our churches. Do we emphasize the importance of marriage? Do we emphasize the benefits of having a strong home? The church should be a light to the world.

Do our families serve as good examples of the home?

How to combat:          Church leaders must not allow political fear to strangle the importance of teaching and preaching on marriage. This platform should not be used to insult those that differ with the biblical interpretation. Rather, this platform should be used to instruct and teach how to build strong Christian homes. Perhaps churches could hold marriage conferences and retreats for the families in their church. Perhaps discipleship studies could be conducted on the issue of marriage. For ministers, it is more crucial than ever to perform pre-marital counseling for interested couples to be wed.

 Hostility

  1. Increasingly Antagonistic Culture: the War with Political Correctness.

We must face it. The Leave it to Beaver days are over! Not only is America becoming a post-Christian nation,[3] it is becoming hostile to Christianity. Don’t believe me? Then, start talking about Christ in a public forum. Go talk to Christian apologists who speak at public universities. Now that the shock has worn off, let us understand something important. Seeing the culture as antagonistic is not meant to alarm you. I am not saying that you should stockpile your cabinets and build a bomb shelter somewhere in the deepest, darkest, deserted woodlands.

No!

This is not said to alarm, but to inform. The modern Christian must use different tactics than one would use back in the 1950s. Living in this time is actually exciting. Why? Because when society is at its darkest, the church normally shines the brightest!

How to combat:          As previously mentioned, the church needs to employ different strategies than it did several years ago. The church needs to face the culture much like a missionary would. When a missionary enters a land where Christianity is not dominant, he or she does not assume that the person they are speaking with understands what they are talking about. It seems to me that the modern church should employ similar tactics. Truthfully, studies have shown that as many as 20% of individuals in North America have never met a Christian[4]…as difficult as that is to believe.

 fear1

  1. Fear: An Emotion that Leads to Bizarre and Dangerous Results.

When I first compiled this list, I placed this issue as the most challenging. In some ways, it is. In previous years, persecution has led the list. Truthfully, Christian persecution is an extremely problematic issue in our world. Countless Christians have been driven from their homes and have lost loved ones. Even young children! I mourn with my Christian brothers and sisters across the globe who have suffered greatly because of their faith.

However, it seems to me that there is a greater problem than just persecution. It is the problem of fear. Fear leads individuals and societies to do strange and bizarre things. Fear may even lead one to a loss of love for another due to race or nationality. Yes, I understand that there are great challenges in our time. But, were we not told that one of the greatest commandments was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31)? Fear causes us to lose our bearings.

Paul notes that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Let the world worry about the world. Let us worry about fulfilling the Great Commission and serving God up until the time that our soul is required of us.

 How to combat: Focus less on the cares of the world and focus more on the concerns of God. Personally, I am making a resolution to watch the news less and read the Bible more in the upcoming year. Yes, we need to stay up on the current issues. We need to pray that God would lift up godly, Christian leaders. I know some good Christians who are starting to enter the political field. We need more of that. Nevertheless, it is even more important to stay focused on the eternal issues.

In case you haven’t heard: in the end, God wins!

 biblical illiteracy

  1. Biblical and Theological Illiteracy: The Problem that Propagates other Problems.

When I first compiled this list, I placed this as the 3rd most pressing challenge. However, the more I delved into the issues before us, the more I realized that most of the problems on this list emerge from this problem: the problem of biblical and theological illiteracy.

Earlier this year, I attended a pastor’s conference at a local Baptist association. I recall one pastor (who will remain anonymous) who was concerned with the lack of basic biblical knowledge by many in his church. He is not alone. Unfortunately, many individuals sit on the pews each Sunday without knowing the core essentials of the faith. To some, an epistle is the wife of an apostle…a joke, yes, but unfortunately true in some cases. Many youth do not know the Ten Commandments or the Two Great Commandments.

Why is it that the youth don’t know these truths? It’s probably because many of the adults don’t know them either!

We as church leaders are failing our congregations. More importantly, we are failing our Lord. After giving the Greatest Commandment in all the Bible in Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses wrote that the law of God was to be “on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6) and that one was to “teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). We must ask an ever important question…

 How can we expect people to defend the faith if they first do not know what it is they are to be defending???

 How to combat:          Theology and apologetics are two squads on the same team. Theology is the offensive squad and apologetics is the defensive squad. Both go hand in hand. I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating yet again…WE MUST TEACH BIBLICAL AND SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY!!! Chicken nuggets and pizza pies are not going to cut it anymore. Yes, we should build relationships. Yes, we should build fellowship. But, we must get back to the meat and potatoes of the faith.

I dare say that if we would just fix this one area, many of the other areas would fix themselves.

Happy New Year everyone! Keep contending for the faith!

 

© January 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser, 2009. Logos Bible Software.

 Stocker, Abby. “The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About in North American Missions.” ChristianityToday.com (August 19, 2013). Accessed December 31, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/non-christians-who-dont-know-christians.html.

 

[1] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009), Logos Bible Software.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] That is, a nation that appreciates the Judeo-Christian ethic.

[4] Abby Stocker, “The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About in North American Missions,” ChristianityToday.com (August 19, 2013), accessed December 31, 2015.

The Art of Appreciation

Have you ever went out of your way for someone only to have your efforts rejected? Perhaps you helped someone financially. Then, the person squandered the funds you provided on worthless trinkets and toys. Perhaps your gift was by physical efforts. Maybe you worked extra hard on some task for the person. Then, instead of being grateful, the person complained that you were not doing more, or perhaps the task was inadequate to their standards.

Picture a time when this occurred to you…

Do you have it in your mind yet?

Now, before you get angry at the person, ask yourself, “Why did that bother me so much?”

The answer is simple: a lack of appreciation.

We want our efforts to be appreciated. When I worked at a factory, I noticed that many workers would go out of their way to do a good job if they felt that they were appreciated. The contrast is also true. Now, I want to stretch your thinking.

How often are we guilty of being ungrateful to God???

I am seeing a trend. People get angry with God and leave the church when things do not go their way. With a proverbial I’ll show you attitude, we throw temper tantrums and act like spoiled brats when God does not answer a prayer in the manner we think God should. Now, I understand that it is more difficult when the unanswered prayers concern a person who is sick. But most of these attitudes stem from a job that was not received, extra money that did not come, trouble with a neighbor or friend, or a gift that was not given.

Recently on a podcast of Reasonable Faith, a person named Malcolm posed a conundrum for the skeptic. We ask the question, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ But if God made a world with no suffering, then could someone not ask the same at the slightest example of discomfort? Malcolm writes that “it could be converted to the proposition that a loving God would always ensure that his creatures are happy. In such a situation, the Christian would be defending the proposition that a loving God would permit his creatures to suffer unhappiness.[1]

Dr. Craig responds by saying,

“This is a point that has occurred to me, and I think Malcolm has expressed it very well. Not only is it the fact that even if pain were eliminated you could still have things to complain about, but pain could be a lot worse than it is. As Richard Swinburne has pointed out, there is a kind of upper threshold to the pain that the human organism can experience and then we just blackout. It is not as though there is an infinite scale of pain that we might go through, as awful as it is. Pain could be a lot worse than it is. But then as Malcolm says if you eliminate pain there would still be grounds for complaint – discomfort. If you eliminate discomfort then there is inconvenience. In one sense, no matter where on the scale you are, the atheist could always have something to complain about and indict God for. I think that he is quite right in saying that it would be very difficult for the atheist to prove that if a loving God exists that he would always ensure that his creatures are happy. That would be to treat the creatures not as serious moral agents but as spoiled immature brats.”[2]

I think that Malcolm and Craig are on to something. Many quote Philippians 4:13. You find the verse on mugs, shirts, pens, and even on Bible covers. It says that a person can do all things through Christ. However, few read the preceding verses. Paul writes,

 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).[3]

The congregants where I pastor have heard me say several times that God is not a genie in a bottle. God does not pop out and grant us wishes. Rather, God is our Heavenly Father. God is building people of integrity. Paul writes that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Conclusion

We may become frustrated when people act in unappreciative ways. However, it may be that we are guilty of being unappreciative to God. As we begin a new year, let us resolve to possess a spirit of thankfulness. Sure, things may have not gone the way you planned. Even still, you can be appreciative to God. God is building integrity in you. We really should thank God even for his answers of “no” and “wait.” As the popular country song states, we can even “thank God for unanswered prayers.”

God is loving and just. Obviously, God is far more mature than any of us could ever be. But consider how we must appear to God. God blesses us every day in ways that we will never know. Instead of being appreciative, many act like spoiled brats. Claiming, “God, I’ll show you.”

 But understand this from one who has learned this principle firsthand: if you refuse to be used by God, God will use someone else.

God is going to continue his work with or without you. This is true of individuals, churches, communities, denominations, and even nations.

 Become appreciative. Thank God for the blessings that God has bestowed upon you. Be open to the moving of God’s Spirit. May we all learn the art of appreciation in the New Year!

 

© December 30, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Source Cited

 Craig, William Lane. Interviewed by Kevin Harris. “Questions on Pain, Numbers, and Knowledge.” Reasonable Faith.org (November 8, 2015). Accessed December 30, 2015. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/questions-on-pain-numbers-and-knowledge#ixzz3vvWUPEx0.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, interviewed by Kevin Harris, “Questions on Pain, Numbers, and Knowledge,” ReasonableFaith.org (November 8, 2015), accessed December 30, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Top 10 Challenges Facing the Church in 2016 (Part 1)

Since starting Bellator Christi three-years-ago, I have made it a practice to end each year with a glimpse of the challenges facing the church in the year ahead. The top-10 articles have become some of the more popular articles on the website. This year is no different.

It must be noted that I am writing simply as a pastor actively involved in church ministry. These lists are evaluations from what I see in the overall church, particularly in North America. These lists do not necessarily reflect any one particular church, or churches, to which I have served. Rather, this list reflects trends and issues that the church must address in the year ahead. While these issues reflect those facing the global church at large, the issues particularly relate to the church of North America.

 

This article will provide numbers 10 through 6. Next Tuesday’s article will provide the final five.

CHRISTIANS-GUNS

  1. The Christian’s Right to Bear Arms: To Bear or Not to Bear?

Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr. recently supported the Christian’s right to arm themselves. Falwell’s statement seemed to ignite a firestorm not only in secular media outlets, but also in the church. Many leaders supported Falwell’s claim that Christians had the right and responsibility to defend oneself and one’s home. However, others such as John Piper condemned Falwell’s comments. That we are even having this conversation demonstrates the great cultural changes that have taken place since the days of the American Revolution. Nevertheless, the right to arm oneself, particularly that of the Christian, is not one that will be disarmed in 2016 (pun intended). With 2016 being a Presidential election year, anticipate this topic to find itself even greater ammunition (again, pun intended).[1]

How to combat:          Leaders will need to stress their views and explain why they feel the way that they do. Warning: it has been my experience that this issue can bring out great hostility by those on both sides. A spirit of comradery and openness will be necessary for advocates on both sides to allow for proper discourse and dialogue.

entitled-kid-494x328

  1. Entitlement: Ask Not What I Can Do for God, but what God can Do for Me.

The issue of entitlement is one that is beyond the scope of race or gender. Entitlement has become a phenomena for many individuals in modern culture. By entitlement, I mean the person’s belief that they are owed something. Perhaps the issue of entitlement stems from individualism gone wrong. While I am a capitalist, Socrates warned that extreme capitalism could lead to an individualized society where every person becomes his/her own island.[2] The Christian worldview is one that stresses the value and importance of community. Thus, this issue can become problematic, especially since the entitlement philosophy inherently opposes charitable endeavors. The philosophy of entitlement is focused on the self and not the needs of others.

How to combat:          Involving youth in missions work is a great way to demonstrate the impoverishment of the poor and afflicted. Charity and love for others must be emphasized.

Apathy-I-dont-care

  1. Apathy for the Lost.

Apathy has found its way on the top-ten list before. It is no stranger. By apathy, I stress the lack of concern that many Christians hold for the lost and downtrodden…particularly the lost. Other issues noted in the top five may hold a key in understanding the lack of enthusiasm that some hold. I am a congruist[3] and have many Calvinist friends. However, I do believe extreme Calvinism, especially that which espouses antinomianism, allows for such apathy regarding evangelism. This is certainly not true of all Calvinists. Many of my Calvinist friends are among some of the greatest of evangelists that I know. However, one must avoid views that negate the importance of the Great Commission regardless of one’s soteriological viewpoints.

How to combat:          Stress the Great Commission and the responsibility that Christians hold. Forgiveness does not excuse laziness and unholy living.

racism

  1. Race relations.

2015 has demonstrated just how problematic and deep the racial divide still remains. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Let us be clear. Racism and Christianity are incompatible. Racism and Christianity are oil and water. They do not mix. Unfortunately, fears and anxieties tend to diminish unity found in Christ. Instead, fears and anxieties elevate such tendencies.

How to combat:          Stress God’s impartiality[4] and that heaven will be full of various nationalities. Make an effort to befriend individuals of different ethnicities. See the value in all people. Dr. Derwin Gray is doing a great job in this area with his church Transformation Church in South Carolina.

unwavering-faith

  1. Trusting in God despite chaos.

With the increased “craziness” of the world, people—even believers—can succumb to negative thinking, conspiracy paranoia,[5] and alarmism. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Nonetheless, we must all remember that God is in control. In the midst of the chaos there exists a grand weaver orchestrating an elaborate tapestry that will in the end be for the best for the children of God.[6] While studies and surveys are useful. It is more important to trust in the sovereignty of Almighty God.

How to Combat:         WE MUST STUDY AND TEACH BIBLICAL and SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY!!! I keep coming back to the wise words of Dr. Daniel Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell is the Professor of Theology at Liberty University School of Divinity. Dr. Mitchell said, “The more I study God, the bigger God becomes.”[7] When we study the attributes of God, we come to realize just how mighty our God really is. So, to Dr. Mitchell I say, “Amen!”

Next week, I will provide the top five challenges facing the church in 2016.*

 

*Click here to read the second installment.

 

© December 29, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] In full disclosure, I must acknowledge that I support the Christian’s right to bear arms as I feel it is part of a person’s responsibility to protect one’s home. I do, however, readily admit that background checks should evaluate a person’s mental and emotional stability, as well as one’s ties to known terrorist agencies.

[2] See Plato’s Republic.

[3] Meaning that I believe both in the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity. For a good explanation of this view, see Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010) and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 356.

[4] Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34-35.

[5] That is, seeing every minute thing as a conspiracy. For instance, “the weather is especially rainy. The government must not want the sun to shine!” Such a mindset provides governmental institutions a god-like status. Whether or not conspiracies exist is moot in this regard. Paranoia is antagonistic to faith.

[6] See Romans 8:28.

[7] Daniel Mitchell, Video Lecture, Liberty University.

The Pastor-Scholar: Contemplations on the Possibility

Almost anyone who has been convicted of the great theological problems influencing the modern American church would confess that now, perhaps more than in the past century, the church needs trained Christian leaders to diagnose and confront current issues. I have been under the persuasion that the church needs pastor-scholars—pastors who are scholarly in their endeavors. However, recently my perception of that notion was challenged by a piece written by Andrew Wilson in Christianity Today. Wilson argues that while it is possible that a few may become pastor-scholars, most who try to combine the endeavors will do neither. Wilson approaches the term “scholar” as one who is highly trained in one specific area.

At first, I highly disagreed with Wilson. However, the more I have read his article, the more I have felt that there is a need to revise the term “pastor-scholar.” I would like to argue that we need highly trained pastors to engage the church and the community around them, that it is possible to have pastor-scholars. However, I would like to suggest that we qualify the term towards another direction. First, let us look at the challenges facing one who pursues the tag “pastor-scholar.”

The Challenges of a Pastor-Scholar.

Wilson writes,

“But how feasible is it to be both a scholar and a pastor? I suspect many of us know individuals who, by aiming to be both a pastor and a scholar, have ended up being neither. More commonly, some aspire to be both equally, but indicate by their speech and actions—let alone by their weekly timetables—that they major in one and minor in the other” (Wilson 2015, CT.com).

I understand fully where Wilson is coming from. I am currently a pastor of a small, rural church and a full-time seminary student.[1] Luckily, our church only has one service on Sunday and a Wednesday night Bible study each week. I say luckily because I normally spend a minimum of 6 hours in preparation for each service. With the incredible workload from school as well as the pastoral responsibilities of visitation and the like, in addition to caring for my family; my time is stretched. Thus, there are specific challenges if one seeks the term “pastor-scholar.”

Time. As noted earlier, scholarship and pastoral leadership both require an exorbitant amount of time. While there are some who can manage the task (i.e. N.T. Wright, John Piper, etc.), most will find this to become a taxing challenge.

Generalist-Specialist. Scholars are deemed specialists in one particular field. Wilson understands scholarship to be “about mastering an area of research in a way that advances human knowledge…For scholars, praxis is the tail, research is the dog, and the former is not meant to wag the latter” (Wilson 2015, CT.com). Pastors, in contrast, must become generalists, concentrating on broad topics and being studied in several areas. As you may even note about this website, we deal with a variety of topics. Such is a generalist approach.

University-Church. In addition, as noted by Wilson, the scholar will need to spend a great deal of time at the university in research. The pastor will need to spend a great deal of time with the congregation. Thus, one may find oneself stretched when accomplishing both.

Despite the difficulties, the modern church screams forth, “We need pastors who are equipped to face the challenges from theological and political liberalism, secularism, and the like.” So why should one even consider being an academic pastor?

The Need for Scholarly Pastors.

There are at least two reasons that trained, scholarly pastors are needed in the modern climate. Think of these reasons like the two-sided squads of a football team. A football team needs a good offensive squad and a good defensive squad. Likewise, trained pastors are essential to offer the same.

Theological Offense.

A good, grounded theology offers a great offense for modern Christians. The Christian needs to know what it is that Christianity purports. Bob Dill, a member of our congregation, said just this week, “Our great failure in the church is the lack of training that we offer new Christians” (Bob Dill, conversation). It seems as if the modern church accepts new converts and then allows them to fly off on their own without the least bit of help before pushing them out of the nest. This demonstrates the great need for theology in the church. Bruce Riley Ashford and Keith Whitefield provide two observations pertaining to theology,

“First, Scripture anticipates theology because it reveals truth about God and furthermore provides the true story of the whole world…Second, Scripture anticipates theology because it invites humanity into the drama of redemption by provoking change in the people of God and calling them to know and love him” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 4-5).

Does it not seem like an integral responsibility to provide a solid theological foundation for the church? Jesus himself when meeting with the two men on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection took time to explain the theological reasons behind his own life, death, and resurrection. Luke records that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).[2] In order to provide theological training, the pastor will need to be trained himself.

Apologetic Defense.

In football, it is said that a good offense wins games, but a good defense wins championships. Likewise, the pastor will need to be able to defend the truths of Scripture to be able to make a great impact on the faith of those to whom he has been assigned. Again, this may require a generalized approach. The scholarly pastor will need to have the means to defend the faith historically, scientifically, and/or philosophically. Hopefully, one will note the great reason for a pastor to be at least “scholarly” in his approach. Despite all of this, one can still appreciate the challenges to be considered a “pastor-scholar.” Perhaps the entire difficulty is originated semantically. Could there not be a reason to establish a new category?

The Need for a New Category—“The Pastor Theologian?”

Michael Kruger offered in his piece “Should You Be a Pastor or a Professor? Thinking Through the Options” six categories of the pastor-scholar which are,

“1. The Pastor…the average…pastor who is theologically-trained…but not engaged in any meaningful study/research”…2. The Pastor-Scholar…individual [who] has an interest in theological and scholarly issues that goes beyond the average pastor mentioned above…3. The Pastor-Scholar who is active in the scholarly world…4. The Scholar-Pastor who is active in the church…a full-time professor/academic with a Ph.D., but still very much engaged with the local church and with pastoral ministry…5. The Scholar Pastor…a full-time professor and has a real heart for the church and for pastoral ministry, but is not as actively engaged in it himself…6. The Scholar…a pure scholar [who has] secondary interest in how it might impact or be used in the church” (Kruger 2015, MichaelJKruger.com).

I feel that Kruger offers a better assessment than does Wilson in this regard. Seeing as how Wilson’s primary issue was with the term scholar and what that entails, perhaps a better term for the “pastor-scholar” is the “pastor-theologian.” The “pastor-theologian” would fit in the second category of Kruger’s paradigm. However, I think it needs to be said that being a pastor-scholar is not as impossible as Wilson purports.

Conclusion

Andrew Wilson provides a great article on the issue of what is called the “pastor-scholar.” While being a pastor and a scholar is a great challenge, there are many individuals who fill the qualifications. For instance, I could name numerous scholars at Liberty University who engage in top-notch scholarship while also being involved in local pastoral ministry. Other pastors-scholars from other universities would also fit the bill such as Phil Fernandes. Others throughout history fit the bill as well, such as John Calvin, John Wesley, for a time B. B. Warfield, Martin Luther, and many others. Thus, while it may be a challenge to be a pastor-scholar, it is not an impossibility.

Perhaps for those of us who are striving to become scholars and are also engaged in pastoral ministry we would be better served by the title “pastor-theologian” since we are involved in academic work, but not yet qualified in one specific area (such as those who hold a Ph.D.). Perhaps the greatest problem with Wilson’s assessment is in his assumption that specialists cannot speak on generalist terms. It may well be said that scholars are even better to evaluate general areas of interest due to their training. Also, if one acknowledges the New Testament setup, the pastor is among many others in the church who do the task of ministry. Part of the problem may also be found in ministries that expect the pastor to be pastor, preacher, counselor, electrician, plumber, gardener, carpenter, financial guru, and so on (see Acts 6:2).

Regardless of which category a pastor finds oneself, may the pastor be found to continually deepen his knowledge through the study of Scripture and theological pursuits. As Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Sources Cited

Ashford, Bruce Riley, and Keith Whitfield. “Theological Method: An Introduction to the Task of Theology.” A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Dill, Bob. Conversation with author. September 30, 2015.

Kruger, Michael J. “Should You Be a Pastor or a Professor? Thinking Through the Options.” MichaelJKruger.com (July 6, 2015). Accessed October 3, 2015. http://michaeljkruger.com/should-you-be-a-pastor-or-a-professor-thinking-through-the-options/.

Wilson, Andrew. “Why Being a Pastor-Scholar is Nearly Impossible.” ChristianityToday.com (September 25, 2015). Accessed October 3, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/september-web-only/why-being-pastor-scholar-is-nearly-impossible.html?share=ZUx%2fdfTCxLFQYLDKaovhOwQN%2fyjvIjmX.

 [1] God-willing, I hope to graduate December 2015.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).