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

Jesus’ Cure to the Racial Divide

On July 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Pellew on the Bellator Christi Podcast.1 We addressed the racial divide that has plagued our nation. During our conversation, I was reminded of the lesson I shared with the kids at a local church. The children were diverse in their ethnicities ranging from white, black, to Latino. I shared with them the story found in John chapter 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

In that encounter, Jesus broke several barriers. One, Jesus broke a racial barrier that existed between Samaritans and Jews. Two, Jesus broke a gender barrier as Jewish rabbis normally did not speak to women. Three, Jesus broke the barriers of tradition. Fourth and most importantly, Jesus broke the sin barrier as He forgave the woman of her sins. But as we look at the issues of our time, we also see that Jesus’ encounter offers a cure to the divisions that ail us. Jesus’ approach serves as an excellent model to provide healing and reconciliation.

jacobs well.jpg
Actual Jacob’s well in Samaria.

Listen to the concerns of the person.

Jesus practiced good listening skills. While He was God and knew fully the situation at hand, Jesus still allowed the woman to speak. He heard her concerns and did not dismiss her. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He listened as she timidly asked, “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).2 Jesus also listened to the woman as she exclaimed “Our fathers worship on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20). Listening is an activity that has greatly been lost. To provide healing, we must first listen to the problems that are on the table. Those issues may be sensitive. Those issues may make us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when we listen to another person, even if we vehemently disagree with that person, we demonstrate respect to that person.

Create a relationship with the person.

Christianity is relationship-based. Melissa and I discussed on the podcast that people often segregate and divide because of the lack of knowledge of those who may differ from them. Melissa noted that a person should not simply befriend someone to proudly say, “I have a black friend” or “I have a white friend.” Rather, a person should desire to befriend others for the sake of the person, not for selfish pride. Jesus demonstrated such behavior with the Samaritan woman. The woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9). The disciples were equally surprised that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan (John 4:27). Jesus did not think to Himself, “This person is a Samaritan. I will befriend her so that I can tell the folks back home that I have a Samaritan friend.” No! Rather, Jesus saw her for who she really was. She was a person who needed salvation, a person who had been excluded from her community. She was a woman who had a horrid past and a displeasurable present condition.

Forgive the failures of the past and present.

The Samaritan woman had a past. She was a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with a man (John 4:16-19). Coming to the well when she did demonstrates that she was an outcast as “women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water.”3 Jesus could have easily condemned her, saying, “You have a past, so I don’t want you in my kingdom.” Rather, Jesus forgave her past and transformed her present.

As a Caucasian Christian, I do not know the struggles that black Christians have faced. When I drove a school bus, I remember the friendship I had with a black Christian man. We spoke about different issues. I remember him telling me about his return from war in Vietnam only to be disallowed entrance to a restaurant in the South because of his skin color. From what he and other black Christians have told me, the struggle is real. It also must be noted that racism comes in all forms and fashions. Thus, discrimination against all whites because of what a few white people have done is just as racist as discrimination against a black person, Latino, or otherwise for what a few in the particular group has done. The same logic applies to police officers. A few bad cops do not mean that all cops are bad. By the way, such accusations are not only morally wrong, they also represent a logical fallacy–the fallacy of composition/division, i.e., judging the whole by the part.

While I have never been in the situations that my black Christian friends have faced, I do know what it is like to be hurt. I know what it is like to feel demeaned and unwanted. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. From those experiences, I know firsthand the choice all of us face: forgiveness or bitterness. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but for the Christian it is commanded. Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the end, a person can find healing in Christ’s forgiveness or can continue down the path of hate-driven bitterness. This is true for a person regardless of the amount of pigment one’s skin carries.

Acknowledge the present problems.

Jesus did not cower and did not waver. Jesus acknowledged the problems that the woman faced and the differences in the traditions that Samaritans and Jews held. For many, it is easier to pretend that the current problems are not real. While I did not agree with the caller on our latest show on all points that he made, I would concede that we cannot pretend that there are no current race-related problems. Like Jesus, we must not cower and waver. We must stand firm, choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves (a pretty important commandment in Matthew 22:39). As Melissa stated on our podcast, “It is time for the church to take the lead on racial matters and provide reconciliation.”4

Provide biblical answers.

Lastly, Jesus did not avoid the problems. Instead, Jesus confronted the issues that the Samaritan woman presented and provided biblical answers to those problems. As Christians we have the answers to the problems our nation faces. We know that God is sovereign and will provide justice in due time. God created all of us in His image, thus illustrating that the life of every human being matters regardless of race. The biblical worldview also incorporates the understanding that heaven will consist of all nationalities and ethnicities. John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9-10)!

Conclusion

For the Christian, there is no reason for us to commit to violence. Christianity’s sole message is about love and peace. We must remember that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Satan is the one who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Therefore, the primary message of this article is found in Paul’s great word of encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Let us pray for peace, love, and understanding.

© July 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Revelation 79 [widescreen]

Sources Cited

1 Melissa Pellew, interviewed by Brian Chilton, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew),” The Bellator Christi Podcast (July 18, 2016), http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/07/18/healing-the-racial-divide-with-melissa-pellew.

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

3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 217.

4 Pellew, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew), Bellator Christi Podcast.

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.

Resurrecting Classical Theology

Recently my family and I returned from our vacation at the beach. We stayed on a local island. Instead of staying at the coastal section of the island, we chose rather to stay at the side where the waterway was found. My wife noticed that many of the houses on the coastal side were in much worse shape than those on the waterway side. The waves of the ocean and the salt-enveloped wind had beaten the coastal homes. In stark contrast, the homes at the waterway were protected by the numerous trees in the area.

I used to live in the area for awhile. A friend of mine, who had lived at the coast for most of his life, told me that storms had previously not affected homes as much as they do now. Why? Many of the sand dunes and trees found on these islands were removed to allow for more residential and commercial areas. Thus, homes, even on the mainland, were more prone to the waves and the wind. In a similar fashion, the Christian Church has been subjected to great flaws due to the erosion of classical understandings of the faith.

Attacks on the Christian church from the outside have gathered a lot of attention. Persecution and financial pressures from outside groups often concern Christian leaders and laity alike. Yet, another threat ominously endangers the Church.[1] No, it is not a threat from any government, world religion, or terrorist organization. This threat comes from the Church itself. “What is this danger?” you may ask. It is the danger of losing classical theology. By classical theology, I do not mean any particular view found in a non-Calvinist or Calvinist tradition. Classical theology, as it is used here, refers to the core fundamentals of apostolic Christianity, or the teachings of the New Testament apostles.

Unfortunately, the fundamentals of Classical theology are eroding in many Western churches. Why? Theological liberalism along with secularism, New Age ideologies, and the desire for relevancy have begun to chip away at the underpinnings of Classical theology. Richard Howe made it clear in a session at Southern Evangelical Seminary’s “National Conference on Christian Apologetics” in 2015 that the Church must reclaim Classical theology. I wholeheartedly concur. But how do we resurrect Classical theology? I feel that focusing on four core fundamentals will help.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omniscience.

Divine omniscience is one particular attribute under attack. By divine omniscience, I mean, as Wayne Grudem defines, the ability of God to “fully know himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.”[2] Worded another way, Ryrie states that “Omniscience means that God knows everything, things actual and possible, effortlessly and equally well.”[3]

Classical theology affirms that God knows all that there is to know. However, omniscience has been assaulted by New Age Christianity.[4] New Age Christianity often seeks to excuse God from the problem of evil by claiming that God did not know that a particular bad thing was about to occur.

Such reckoning wreaks havoc on the Church’s understanding of God. Why? If God cannot be trusted to know the future, then how can we trust God in His prophetic utterances? How can we know that history will be unfolded as the Book of Revelation proclaims?[5] How do we know that God will really hold the victory in the end? In reality, a person could not trust that God would, or even could, deliver in all that He has promised. Thus, the New Age Christian lacks the trust in God’s knowledge that the Classic Christian holds. As bad as the New Age Christian attacks God’s omniscience, it is even worse when one considers the assault on God’s omnipotence.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omnipotence.

Theologically, omnipotence has been understood by classical theology as God’s ability “to do whatever is possible to do.”[6] That is to say, God can do anything that power can do. God has all-power to do all things that are logically possible. God’s omnipotence is a clear teaching of the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8, and etc.). Early Christian teachers accepted divine omnipotence. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “We call Him omnipotent, even though He is unable to die or be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer.”[7] So why does New Age Christianity seek to dismiss the omnipotence of God?

New Age Christianity, as it does with the omniscience of God, dismisses divine omnipotence in an effort to explain away the presence of evil. If one could say, “God would like to rid the world of evil, but He just can’t quite do it,” then the New Age Christian feels that God’s omnibenevolence (or all-loving nature) is spared. Some may seek to compromise divine omnipotence in an effort to explain the existence of unbelievers.

The New Age answer causes greater problems with it addresses. If God is incapable of doing all things, then is God truly God? God, properly understood, is the highest being in existence. If God were not all-powerful, then God would really not be God. If God were not all-powerful, then what assures the believer that God will ultimately triumph over evil?

Luckily, better answers are found in Classic Christianity. If one acknowledges human responsibility and the impartation of the human will,[8] then a person can find the answer to these conundrums without sacrificing God’s attributes. Here again, the Classic Christian answer provides a better basis than newer alternatives. In a similar sense, the Triune nature of God is diluted.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine trinitarianism.

One of the earliest heresies to face the Church dealt with the issue of the Triune nature of God. Christians since the days of the inception of the Church have accepted that God was One God, but in three persons. While most Christians accepted this truth, it was through a process that the doctrine known as the Trinity would be properly understood.

Let me say from the outset that the Trinity was not an invention of Constantine as some have claimed. The Scriptures demonstrate the divine nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One of the clearest examples of the Triune nature of God is found in Christ’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). In the particular passage, one will find Jesus who “went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16);[9] the “Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matt. 3:16); and the Father speaking out from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Why is it that modern versions of Christianity seek to demote the doctrine of God’s Triune nature?

Many New Age versions of Christianity have been influenced by heretical groups. Worldviews found outside of the classical Christian understanding[10] have promoted an idea of God that is antithetical to the classical view. Unfortunately, a severe lack of biblical training complemented with a woeful disregard for intellectual understandings of the faith have led to the inclusion of heresies that have been condemned since the 300s. The disregard for the Triune nature of God has also led to a weak view of Christ.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine incarnation.

Finally, the person of Christ has been chipped away by modern ideologies. Some have taken the Gnostic understanding of Jesus. In this understanding, Jesus is seen as a mystical and spiritual person. Jesus’ humanity is ignored. Jesus is thus turned into a Marvel comic character. The opposite is also true. Others have sought to demonstrate Jesus’ humanity while neglecting and dismissing the divine nature of Christ. Individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann have sought to “de-mythologize” Christ. Therefore, any miraculous claim given by the Gospel narratives are bypassed as mere myth.

In either case, the Church is (to use a cliché) standing on thin ice when accepting either of the previous alternatives. Paul records an ancient confession saying that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). As Lord, one acknowledges the divine status of Christ.[11] The apostle John also notes that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). The Classic Christian view is that Jesus is both God and man in one person.

Conclusion

This article has been somewhat longer than most posts that I write. But it is longer for good reason. The church is at a crossroads in the Western world. Globally, Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. The Western church, however, has faced many problems. The problems of the Western church originate from increased secularization, decreased biblical knowledge, and an explosion of possible distractions—from technology to careers. The church in the Western world has sought to combat this decline by catering to the culture, all-the-while seeking to become relevant.

While I fully acknowledge that methodologies must change, it is a grave mistake to tamper with the fundamental doctrines that uphold the Christian worldview. By “watering-down” particular doctrines, the church essentially commits the same problem that many coastal areas have done. They take down the very things that buffer them from the storms of life. Houses can be rebuilt. But undermined theology can lead to erroneous doctrines which may hold eternal consequences. Let’s fix this problem by resurrecting and maintaining classical Christian theology.

 

© June 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] I use the capitalized term “Church” to reference the global community of Christ.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 190.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 47.

[4] In this article, I use the term “New Age Christianity” to denote a modern form of Christianity that is found to disassemble the fundamental core of Classical Christianity.

[5] I hold to a futurist understanding of the Book of Revelation.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, City of God 5.10.

[8] In varying degrees depending upon one’s view of salvation (soteriology).

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

[10] Such as the Jehovah Witness movement and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

[11] Also noted by Thomas in his response to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

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).

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.

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.

What Part of “No One Knows” Do We Not Understand?

Well here we go again—another occasion with another failed end-time prediction. The latest in the emergent amorphous collection of failed end-time predictions relates to what is popularly termed “the Four Blood Moons.” Some of the proponents of the Four Blood Moons prophecy suggested that Sukkot in September of 2015, following the lunar eclipse of the supermoon, would roll forth the end of the world as we know it. This follows a vast array of similar predictions, repackaged of course, which suggest the ultimate end of the world as we know it. Yet here we are. You are reading an article written by the author in a time that has come as a postscript to yet another failed “prophecy.”[1] Unfortunately, the Four Blood Moons has joined a growing list of failed prophecies including, but not limited to: Grigori Rasputin’s claim that the would end on August 23, 2013; the Mayan Apocalypse of December 21, 2012; Ronald Weinland’s prediction of May 27, 2012; Harold Camping’s prediction of October 21, 2011; and even a suggestion by famed televangelist Pat Robertson that the Lord would return on April 29, 2007 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events).[2] This leaves me with one thought…

WHAT PART OF “NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR” DO WE NOT UNDERSTAND???

 Subscribers of this website know that I had great concerns pertaining to this recent Four Blood Moons hype. You can read my comments at https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/does-the-four-blood-moon-prophecy-biblically-remain-in-orbit/. Yet, this fiasco brings me back to a pertinent message given by Jesus.

Jesus said in his famed message titled by scholars the “Olivet Discourse,”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:35-38).[3]

In this article, I would like to approach two concurrent issues as it pertains to such failed eschatological claims: 1) truths found in Jesus’ teaching, and 2) the problems behind eschatological date-setting.

Certain Truths of the End Found in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse.

From Matthew 24:35-38, one will note four important truths as it relates to the end-times paradigm. These four truths represent information that is knowable concerning the end-times.

1. God’s Word will endure. Despite what takes place, God’s word will remain true regardless. Instead of buying into the speculation of would-be prophets, why not rely on the sure and certain Word of God?

2. Only God the Father Almighty knows when the end will come. This is an important truth to grasp. One must wonder if Jesus’ professesed ignorance pertaining to the end-time was only limited in his human ministry?[4] That discussion is beyond the parameters of this article. Nevertheless, what should be especially noted is that ONLY the FATHER knows the time when such an event will occur. This truth presents a tremendous problem for date-setters, a problem that is addressed in the second section of this article.

3. Society will become greatly depraved towards the end. Jesus notes that the end days will be much like the early days of human history—greatly depraved. Society will morally continue down a path of depravity leading to Christ’s return. The level of depravity that resonated in Noah’s day would return before the end.

4. Life will continue as normal up until the end. Jesus teaches that the end will not necessarily include any dramatic event before his return. In fact, things appear to be a “business as usual” type of affair. People continue to marry. People continue with their daily affairs. Just as there were not indicators to the populace that a flood was coming in Noah’s day, there will likewise be no special indicators that the end will occur when it transpires–give my regards to Hollywood. The return of the Son of Man takes everyone by surprise…everyone.

Problems Found in Eschatological Date-Setting.

From the truths known by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, one will find at least three major problems behind eschatological date-setting.

1. Eschatological date-setting is blasphemous as it claims knowledge known only to God. It seems that this truth eludes many of the speculative end-times date-setters. If Jesus says that only God the Father knows the coming of the Son of Man, then it is blasphemous to claim that a person has knowledge attributed only to God. Certain truths have been revealed to humanity. God has revealed much of his character to us, as well as the pathway to salvation. However, humanity must acknowledge that much about God remains a mystery. Humanity must also acknowledge that God knows much more than we ever could. Certain things will only be known to God. Date-setters will claim, “God is giving us signs.” However, do you think that God would go against his word when he says that “no one knows save the Father alone?” Date-setting makes God to be a liar in this regard. It is due to this that I feel that date-setting comes close to, if not dives right into, the realm of blasphemy.

2. Eschatological date-setting causes an unnecessary “black-eye” to the Church. The second problem with date-setting is that failed so-called “prophecies” cause undo and unnecessary cynicism towards the Church. Many hold a resistance towards the Christian faith. Unfortunately, every failed date (as each predicted date will fail due to the truthfulness of God’s word) set by those who purport Christianity adds one more notch against Christianity for the skeptic. There is a simple solution. Stop setting dates and start focusing on the ministry of the church.

3. Eschatological date-setting redirects the known mission of the Church towards unknowable speculation. The third problem for date-setting is that such speculation unnecessarily redirects the known ministry of the church towards the speculative fascination found in eschatology. Eschatology is important, extremely important. The Church needs to know that Christ is going to return and that God is going to bring salvation and judgment in the end. However, the Church cannot forget the mission it has been given…to preach Jesus to a lost, dying world until he does return.

Conclusion

From the truths found in the Olivet Discourse to the problems found in end-times date-setting, one should see that the Christian should stay focused on what really matters. Focus on the ministry that has been given to us, while awaiting in glad trust and anticipation for the day that Christ will return. A person must ask oneself, will I place my trust in what God says about the end-times or will I trust the uncertain dramatization from the propagators of speculation? Along with John, we can say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)! But until he does, let us focus on the calling given to us by God, so that when he comes, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

© September 26, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] I am using “prophecy” to refer to the suggestions of end-times date-setters, not the actual fulfilled prophecies provided in the text of the Bible, many of which have been fulfilled in startling detail.

[2] Found in the 1990 book The New Millennium: What You and Your Family Can Expect in the Year 2000.

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

[4] This does not impede upon the divinity of Jesus. Even among the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) there appear to be certain roles while all three still hold to their divine status.

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).

A Theology of Missions

When the term “missions” is used, great missionaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and/or William Carey come to mind. For others, missions may bring the thought of a Christian sitting amongst tribal peoples in a jungle. Yet, the term “missions” is understood to be, as Moreau and his colleagues describe it, the “specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries.”[1] Yet, one must inquire, what theological foundation exists for one to engage in missions? This paper will argue that missions is built upon biblical and systematic theological understandings about God. The paper will first examine two Old and New Testament texts that support missions. Next, the paper will examine the nature of God as he relates to missions work. In addition, the paper will examine two theological attributes of God and how they relate to missions endeavors. Then, two motifs pertaining to mission theology will be evaluated. Finally, the paper will demonstrate that missions should be part of the lives of missionaries, clergy, and the laity alike. In the first section, the paper will provide two Old and New Testament texts that support the field of missions.

Old and New Testament Texts that Support Missions

Strewn throughout the Bible, one will find evidence that God has been involved in missions endeavors since the fall of humanity. The first evidence of God’s mission work is found in Genesis 3:15. Moreau and his fellow authors call Genesis 3:15 the “protoevangelium…the promise that Jesus will come for all people.”[2]

In the so-called protoevangelium, God makes the promise to Adam and Eve, as well as to Satan—the instigator of the fall—that God would “put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, brackets mine).[3] Thus, the passage ensures that God would save humanity from the fall and the separation that exists between God and humanity. This solution would materialize in the Messiah who “takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Yet, within the Old Testament there exists another example of God’s mission mindset.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abraham, then known as Abram, to leave his homeland. God promises Abram that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). While God concerned himself with the so-called chosen people, known as the Israelites, God’s mission mindset was demonstrated as he sought to use the Israelites to reach other nations for his glory. As the psalmist recalled, “All of the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27). Whereas the mission-mindedness of God is acknowledged in the Old Testament, the mission-minded nature of God is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament.

Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus meets eleven disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). Jesus tells them that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Particular individuals who hold to extreme forms of cessationalism view the commands of Christ as applicable to only the eleven apostles at the time. Yet, William Carey, the patriarch of the modern missions movement, argued that “if the command of Christ to teach all nations be restricted to the apostles…, then that of baptizing should be so, too…then ordinary ministers who have endeavored to carry the Gospel to the heathens, have acted without warrant…[and] the promise of the divine presence in this work must so be limited.”[4] That is to say, if Christ’s command to evangelize all nations was only given to the apostles, then the promises offered by Christ were only given to the apostles. In addition, one must ponder the following: if the commands of Christ given in the Great Commission only applied to the apostles, then why was Matthew compelled to document Christ’s teaching in the first place?

Before the ascension of Christ, Jesus provides a model by which the apostles were to perform their missions work. Jesus instructed the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). From the instructions given by Jesus, the apostles were to begin where they were located—“in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). From there, the apostles were to reach outlying areas—“Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8). In the end, the apostles were to reach the world with the gospel message—“to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ command not only provides an example for the great emphasis that God places on missions, he also provides a model by which mission work can be accomplished.

The Nature of God and Missions

God’s attributes are so complex that not even the most brilliant of scholars could traverse the width and breadth of the canyon of his being. Notwithstanding, God has revealed to humanity certain elements of his nature and character. This paper affirms John S. Feinberg’s notion that the “simplest division of the attributes distinguishes those that reflect moral qualities of God and those that refer to non-moral qualities.”[5] The non-moral aspects of God’s character are far more complicated than the moral aspects, as the moral aspects are related to God’s dealings with humanity. Of the moral attributes as it relates to missions, God’s omnibenevolence stands supreme. Omnibenevolence refers to God’s all-loving nature. Geisler denotes that John refers love to God in such a way in 1 John 4:16 as if “applying the term to His essence.”[6] Thus, God’s essence is that of love. It is important to note that God’s love coexists with God’s holiness, thereby discrediting any universalistic methodological interpretations to salvation. Nevertheless, as it pertains to missions, God’s love is central. God does not desire that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, one would expect a loving God to be involved in missions activities. One must also query; do the non-moral attributes of God anticipate God’s involvement in missions?

How Mission Relates to God’s Aseity and God’s Omniscience

Two non-moral attributes of God, among many others, relate to God’s involvement in missions. The first attribute may sound bizarre to some readers; nevertheless it is the so-called “aseity of God.” J. I. Packer states that “The word aseity, meaning that he has life in himself and draws his unending energy from himself (a se in Latin means “from himself”), was coined by theologians to express this truth.”[7] Isaiah demonstrates this truth in proclaiming that “The LORD is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). God’s aseity also includes the acknowledgement that “there are not properties independent of God upon which he depends in order to have the constitutional attributes he possesses”[8] as well as acknowledging that God is “totally immune to external influences so that nothing that happens in our world fazes him.”[9] So how does God’s aseity relate to missions?

God’s aseity impacts missions when one understands the concept that God’s salvific emphasis did not stem from something that God was forced to do. No higher authority pressed upon God the necessity to save souls because there is no higher authority than God. Rather, God chose to offer salvation to individuals not for the need or desire that God had in and of himself, but rather due to God’s good pleasure and loving nature. This demonstrates John Pipers’ point vividly in that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”[10] Therefore, missions is performed for the good of humanity not because of some deficiency in God. Missions work brings people to a saving relationship with the God of aseity. Due to this, one should consider it an honor that God would choose not only to save anyone, but to also use his people to do missions work. God relies upon nothing; therefore God does not need human help to reach others, but chooses to allow people the opportunity to reach others as part of his kingdom work.

Another missional aspect of God’s character is God’s omniscience. Timothy George defines God’s omniscience as God’s “comprehensive knowledge of all that was, is, and ever shall be.”[11] George also notes that God’s omniscience is a “corollary of his eternity.”[12] God’s omniscience indicates that God knows all events in the past, present, and future. God knows all contingencies. Therefore, God knows what a person would do, would not do, and would do under certain circumstances.[13] In correlation with God’s omniscience, God is also omnisapient. Geisler defines omnisapience as God’s “unerring ability choose the best means to accomplish the best ends.”[14] Since God is all-knowledgeable and all-wise, then God knows who would be saved, who would not be saved, and what it would take to reach those who would be saved. In combination with God’s power and love, one can clearly note that God’s plan to reach others will always be effective one way or another. God’s choice to use those in missions is an example of the person’s worth to God. Therefore, missions is a high calling for anyone and should never be taken lightly.

Two Key Motifs of Mission Theology: Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Scott Moreau and his colleagues provide six motifs that are fundamental to mission theology—“1) the kingdom of God, 2) Jesus, 3) the Holy Spirit, 4) the church, 5) shalom, 6) the return of Jesus.”[15] While all six motifs are important, two are critical for mission theology.

First, Jesus (i.e. Christology) is essential for missions. Moreau notes that “Jesus is central not only to the Christian faith, but also to the mission that is integrated into the faith.”[16] Jesus is the means by which individuals are saved. Peter and John made it clear before the Jewish council that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Without Jesus, no mission work would be necessary. All would be lost and there would be no plan of salvation. However, because Jesus came, salvation is available to all who would receive the salvation afforded to them by the invitation and revelation of the Holy Spirit. Piper states that “A new day has come with Jesus Christ. The people of God are being rebuilt in such a way that they will no longer fail in the task of reaching the nations.”[17] Jesus is the reason that mission work is possible. Therefore, a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ is of utmost importance as it relates to missions.

In addition, the Holy Spirit is essential for missions to work in the first place. It is impossible for anyone to come to faith without the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit of God. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus noted that “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It is impossible to convince someone to come to faith unless the Holy Spirit is drawing that person. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood to missions. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no success in any mission effort.

How Missions Relates to the Church

The previous sections have discussed the nature and attributes of God as God relates to missions. Yet, a person may inquire how mission work applies to the individual Christian. The universal church consists of all regenerate believers across the world and is comprised of various individuals in heaven and on earth. The universal church also consists of congregations which themselves contain individual believers. Without the work of each person, missions work would not be accomplished. Geisler is correct in noting that “whereas the universal church contains the whole body of Christ, the local church has only part of it. Christ, the Head of the church, is visible to members of the universal church who are in heaven, but He is the invisible Head of the local churches on earth.”[18] Thus, under the leadership of Christ, church leaders cast the vision for missions to the laity. The laity, responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, provides means for local and global mission work. Missionaries, who are called by the leadership of Christ, use the means afforded to them to spread the gospel message to particular areas. Great things can be accomplished when Christians heed and respond to the leadership of Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

This paper has demonstrated that the concept of missions is rooted in a proper biblical and theological understanding of God. It is clear that both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God has a global purpose to his salvific plan. God’s loving nature demonstrates his desire for people to join him for eternity, while God’s aseity and omniscience provides exemplifies the free choice God made to save the lost. The work of the incarnate Savior provided the means to salvation, thus allowing for missions; while the Holy Spirit is the imparter of grace. Thus, God is the agent who saves and illuminates, yet God chose to use his children to partake of the blessings of the kingdom. Missions is a critical aspect of Christian ministry. When one fails to understand one’s role in missions, one fails to understand the God who made missions possible.

The preceding consists of the academic work of its author. This paper has been scanned and submitted through SafeAssign. Any efforts to plagiarize the content of this paper will be detected by one’s institution of learning.

Bibliography

Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Fourth Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009.

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

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

George, Timothy. “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts.” In A Theology for the Church. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.

Moreau, A. Scott, et. al. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993. Logos Bible Software.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Kindle Edition.

Copyright July 20th, 2015. Brian Chilton

—–Footnotes—————————-

[1] A. Scott Moreau, et. al., Introduction World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.

[2] Ibid., 30.

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

[4] William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 314

[5] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 237.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.

[7] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), Logos Bible Software.

[8] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 240.

[9] Ibid., 241.

[10] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle Edition.

[11] Timothy George, “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts,” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed (Nashville: B&H, 2014), 197.

[12] Ibid.

[13] This is also known as Scientia Media, or Middle Knowledge, as popularized by Luis de Molina and philosopher William Lane Craig, a concept that this writer accepts.

[14] Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One, 515.

[15] Moreau, et. al., Introducing World Missions, 80.

[16] Ibid., 81.

[17] Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, Kindle Edition.

[18] Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume, 1146.

Christians in American Exile

This article is written after a weekend of turbulence in the United States of America. Last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalized same-sex marriage across the nation. This website does not normally engage in more controversial social issues as this site seeks to build unity rather than division. However, in this case, it seems that a response is necessary. Yet, the response I was led to provide in our church service is the same response I feel led to provide on the website. The response will not engage the issue of same-sex marriage nor will it address the issue of marriage (Lord knows that the blogosphere and social media have exploded with comments pertaining to those issues). This response deals with the ever-increasing reality that Christians—by Christians here, I mean those who take the Bible seriously in its morality as well as its theology—find themselves in exile in their own land. Bizarre as it may seem, especially heading into the Fourth of July, many Christians feel that this land of the free does not provide them with as much free expression as it once did, thus leading to the feeling that Christians are in exile in America. But, one should know that this is not the first time that the faithful have found themselves in the minority. It is not the first time that the faithful have found themselves strangers in their own land. In fact, God has allowed such times to occur to bring forth several realities. Such realities can be seen as the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after having been exiled in Babylon for several years. When Ezra, Nehemiah, and others came back to rebuild the Temple, they discovered these realities. This article will deal with three.

Exiles Acknowledge the Faithful Have Always Been a Minority

God may allow exiles to occur in order to remind the faithful that they have always been in the minority. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).[1] The fact is—the people of God have always been in the minority. But this brings the church to another reality.

Exiles Purify the Faithful by Identifying the True People of Faith

One may query, “But hasn’t the church been in the majority in American public life up until now?” Yes. But such an acknowledgment does not indicate that everyone who claimed to be a Christian really was a Christian. In a society where being a Christian is easy, it may be that some become “Christians” for reasons beyond that of true acceptance and surrender to the risen Christ. For instance, I knew a person who never acted like a Christian, yet everyone observed that he attended a local church every Sunday. Someone asked him, “I notice you go to church. Are you a Christian?” He said, “No, not really. I just attend church because it makes me look good to those in the community. It is job security.” When exiles occur, the people of God are reminded that this is not their home. This is a fallen world. When faith is tested, the people of faith will rise to the occasion. Those who are not will fall. When Ezra and the people of God returned from exile, they rebuilt the Temple. Yet, not everyone was excited about this endeavor. Ezra denotes that “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and he sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13). Some may claim that these tears were tears of joy. But the next chapter indicates that the people of faith encountered great opposition against the building campaign. All of this demonstrates that the people of faith will rise to any occasion because of the empowerment of God and the faith in which they hold (e.g. Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Others will fall. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to see what a person is truly like, put them in power.” The same could be said in that if one wants to see the one who truly has faith, put them in situations where the person’s faith is tested. Like separating wheat from chaff, the wheat will remain and the chaff will be blown away.

This does not mean that the church gives in or gives up. It means that the church must look up and reach out.

Exiles Strengthen the Faithful

Finally, one will note that the faithful are strengthened during times of exile. It is an odd thing that when the church faces its most pressing times, it is then that the church becomes the strongest. The darker the times, the brighter the light of God shines through the church. This does not indicate that bad times are good. It simply indicates that God uses dark days to strengthen his people. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The faithful will remain standing and in fact will be strengthened during what appears to be a Christian American exile. Looking back in history, great times of distress have accompanied great times of revival.

Conclusion

So how should a Christian respond in such difficult times? As one may have noticed, there will be some who become angry and filled with hate. Such should not be the response of the Christian. Yes, we become frustrated. Yes, we become irritated. However, a true believer will not respond in hate. Second, some will fall away. Some will become so frustrated with the drama that they discontinue their ministries and/or their work in the church. But such is not demonstrative of a true believer because the “one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). This is not to say that church attendance saves, but rather that one who continues to endure is the elect of God. Perhaps the best response is given by the apostle Paul who wrote that the church should “excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:7-8). Excel church and be excellent! Those are great words of wisdom. During this time of exile, let your light luminously shine while standing firm upon the foundation of faith. Stand for biblical convictions, but never stop loving those around you–including those with whom you disagree.

© June 29, 2015. Brian Chilton

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

When God Shouts Through His Silence

Have you ever needed God, prayed, and sincerely sought after God, only to receive silence? We read of passages where God promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:8).[1] However, often when one shouts to the heavens, nothing is heard. No marvelous miracle. No storming voice of thunder. Nothing.

Some have taken the route to believe that since they have not heard from God, then either God does not exist, or God does not communicate to humanity directly. Yet, the honest seeker for truth will acknowledge the wealth of evidence leading one to consider the necessity for God’s existence. Likewise, one must acknowledge the great amount of historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and the movement stemming from a literal resurrection. If one acknowledges the existence of God, then one must admit that God could communicate with humanity. If one acknowledges the revelation of the Bible, then one will concede that God has spoken to individuals in times past. For one who has entered a covenant relationship with Christ, such a one will admit that God moved in their life—in a since communicating with them.

Another Option

Another option that some have taken is to imagine that God is disinterested in their lives. However, the Bible demonstrates the great concern of God for human beings, as Peter denotes in saying that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In addition, God is demonstrated to be the Good Shepherd of his flock in the 23rd Psalm. Hence, another option must exist. That option is that just because God is silent, it does not mean that God is not actively working. As Krish Kandiah denoted in the June 2015 edition of Christianity Today, the book of Esther in the Bible describes the movement of God in a time when God seemed silent. Pertaining to Esther, Kandiah denotes “Esther is one of two women in the Bible to have a book named after her. Her story is strange. It’s full of sexual exploitation, personal vendettas, and a real threat of anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing…No one refers to the Scriptures, and no one explicitly prays…While murder is plotted, mass rape is legislated, and lives are ruined, God is on mute. Yet this book made it into Scripture, and despite his silence, God’s sovereignty rings out loud and clear” (Kandiah 2015, 52). Indeed, as Kandiah describes, Esther does provide some insights on the silence of God.

The Silence of God May be Used to Demonstrate Faith

Esther, a Jewess, married the Persian King Xerxes (otherwise known as Ahasuerus). Haman is the antagonist in the story of Esther as he seeks to exterminate the Jews because of the faith of a man named Mordecai, “the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away” (Esther 2:5-6). Haman had instructed everyone to bow down and pay homage to Haman. However, Mordecai, due to his great faith, refused for he only bowed to God and God alone. Nevertheless, Mordecai’s faith served as a catalyst which brought forth the antitheistic notions of Haman. It may have seemed as if God was silent. But, God was allowing the faith of Mordecai to speak for itself. Furthermore, God would use the faith of Mordecai as a means of bringing something far greater in the end.

This brings to mind another occasion when God was silent. When Christ was on the cross, God may not have thunderously spoken from the heavens—however, God was there. God was on the cross. This brings to mind a particular story from the Holocaust. The Nazis were executing many Jews on one particular day. The Nazis had hung a young boy from the gallows. However, the young boy was too light to enable his neck to immediately break when being dropped. So he lingered there writhing in pain for several minutes before finally dying. Someone yelled out, “Where is God? Where is God?” A wise man proclaimed while pointing to the young boy, “There he is. He is there with that young boy.” God was in the gas chambers. He was on the shooting line. He was with every person who had suffered. He was not with those doing great acts of evil. He was with those who had been oppressed, who had suffered, and who had died.

If the Bible is correct and God provides a heaven for his faithful, then the glorious promise of God is that the best is yet to come. When Jesus was on the cross, the Father was silent. But, the faith of Jesus would shine forth as Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter Sunday. Just because God is silent, it does not mean that God does not care. It may be that God is allowing momentary suffering to allow for something far greater in the end. As the apostle Paul reminds us “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

When God is Silent, God is Still Working

One will notice in the book of Esther that Mordecai just so happened to be in particular places at particular times. Coincidences? I think not. Mordecai was led to be in the places where Haman’s plots were devised. God was in the details. As Kandiah denotes, “While God never makes an appearance, his role in the story is hard to miss. Haman rolled dice to determine the day on which his despicable plan for genocide would take place. But his plan backfired, and he was hanged on the oversized gallows that he built for Mordecai” (Kandiah 2015, 52-53). As it is written in Proverbs, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[2] This is an important truth for those who travel to Las Vegas to remember. Nevertheless, God was working in the details. When one understands the power and providence of God, one will refuse to believe in so-called “coincidences.”

Evil is Temporarily Allowed Only to Be Ultimately Judged

When one experiences the silence of God, evil may or may not be the reason for concern. Nonetheless, for those who experience evil and do not experience the immediate judgment brought forth by God, understand that God will judge in his own due time. In the story of Esther, it appeared that evil was unrestrained and left without judgment. For those experiencing the evils of the Nazi concentration camp, that sentiment must have flooded the minds of those in the camps. However, judgment would come. Haman experienced how the silence of God will lead to the shout of God. For as Haman was about to kill Mordecai, God providentially worked particular details to bring about another end. In Esther, we read that news had gotten to the king about the workings of Haman. Then, one reads the following, Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, ‘Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.’ ‘Then impale Haman on it!’ the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided” (Esther 7:9-10, NLT). The silence of God will eventually lead to the shouting of God. In times of God’s silence, the faithful must remember that God is still at work and that their faith must remain steadfast.

The Example of God Shouting through Silence at Huntsville Baptist Church

The silence of God leads to the shouts of God. The story of Huntsville Baptist Church certainly demonstrates this truth. Several years back, the church engaged in a building program that left quite a substantial debt. Unfortunately, after the building project was complete, the church experienced internal strive which led to a division. This division left the church with a substantial debt without the funds to accomplish payments as quickly as formerly hoped. The church encountered such hardship that many discussed whether it was time to close the doors, not knowing how such a debt could be paid. It would seem that the church which had been established in the 1800s was set to close down completely. Hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps many asked during the time of hardship, “Where is God?” However, God was there as the church experienced a ray of hope. An annual golf tournament was established to help pay off the debt. Various fundraisers were employed. The church united through this time of hardship. A man of God, named George Steelman, especially had a passion for the work of God in his church. As George was diagnosed with cancer, preparing to enter the kingdom of God, he left as part of his will a substantial donation which, in combination with other funds raised by countless individuals, allowed the debt to be paid in full. This past Sunday, Huntsville Baptist Church celebrated this payoff with a note-burning service. Where was God? God was there. God was there as he inspired individuals to begin these new programs. God was there as he inspired individuals to give unselfishly. God was there as he inspired people to see the vision that he had laid before them. While some may have felt that God was silent, God was actually shouting through his perceived silence.

Tips When Experiencing God’s Silence:

  1. Evaluate your life to ensure that nothing is standing between you and God. While many–including Job, Paul, and Joseph–experience God’s silence when all was well with their lives, it remains an important task to evaluate one’s life during times of spiritual drought. This will ensure that such times do not originate with an unacknowledged sin.
  2. Get in the Word! Be sure to have regular devotions, inviting God to speak to you through his Spirit and through his Word. This also requires one to listen to God instead of telling God what you need. God knows your needs better than you do.
  3. Pray, pray, pray!!! Make sure you spend adequate time with God each day in prayer.
  4. Remain faithful. Keep doing what God has called you to do until you hear otherwise.
  5. Remember the promises of God. Study more about God. Study, learn, and remember the attributes of God. God does not change.

Sources Cited:

Kandiah, Krish. “Trusting the Great Director: Though unseen and unheard, God orchestrates the details of our lives—even when we are falling apart.” Christianity Today 59, 5 (June 2015): 50-54.

The featured photograph was taken by Emily Shaw on June 7th, 2015. All rights reserved.

© June 8, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).