Thinking Out Loud

May 12, 2017

Apologetics: The Case for Making the Case

Probably the most disturbing thing about the newest title from J. Warner Wallace, Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith (David C. Cook) came in the preface where he noted that this is “the final installment in a trilogy.” Say it isn’t so!

Since arriving on the scene in 2013 with Cold Case Christianity and then 2015’s God’s Crime Scene, Wallace has rocked the world of evidential apologetics by applying his background as a cold case crime-solver to the issues of the death and resurrection of Christ and intelligent design respectively. (I recently combined both of my reviews into one at this link.)

Some might say that this book is guilty of repeating much material from the previous two volumes. Instead, I would argue that this is more like the director’s cut providing background information for hardcore followers. That said, I would suggest that you want to read Cold Case Christianity first to get maximum benefit from the new title.

The book is organized into four main chapters, each containing five sub-points. I found the first and fourth sections especially helpful. The first tracks a history of those who contended for the faith — a history of apologetics — starting with Christ himself, then The Commissioned, then the group he calls The Canonical, next The Continuing and last The Contemporary. (see illustration below)

The fourth section compares the way in which we communicate our message to the prosecutor in a trial. Opening statements, presentation of evidence and closing statements are important, but so is the selection of our audience — jurors in the analogy — and this is an area where we often expend much energy trying to convert those who are simply not prepared to hear what we have to offer.

But the best insights from the book are encountered along the reading journey, and these will probably be different for each reader. Example: Ever heard someone suggest that the Jesus narrative is a copy of earlier mythology? I have. But Wallace points out that the similarities between Jesus and Mithras, an ancient Persian mythological figure were “actually due to the borrowing on the part of Mithraic followers after they were exposed to Christianity.” (p. 90) (see video below)

He again in this books speaks of cumulative evidence, but later in the book suggests something different, “incremental decision making” on the part of the not-yet converted. He compares this to baseball; the idea is that we don’t necessarily know which base (1st, 2nd, 3rd) the person is standing on. We don’t have to hit a home run; if the person is standing on 3rd, we can hit a single and that might be enough to bring the person to home plate. (p. 197)

The groundwork for this book, and the thing I believe distinguishes it from the other two titles, is laid early on when he suggests that many are what he calls “California Christians.” We’re in the right place, but “accidentally” so. “Now, more than ever, Christians must shift from accidental belief to evidential trust. It’s time to know why you believe what you believe. Christians must embrace a forensic faith.” (p. 23)

The real high point for me however was a smaller section in the third chapter. Wallace quotes from ancient authors who were actually antagonistic toward Christians and Christianity. But in each of these there are little kernels of historical information about Jesus himself. After several pages of this, he finally combines all of these into a single summary paragraph that tells the Jesus story using the words of writers hostile to Christianity noting that it’s “a lot of information from ancient non-Christian sources, and it happens to agree with what the Bible says about Jesus.” (pp 136-7)

I could go on. There is much here, both in the text, the boxed sidebars and the two appendices. Also, in case you are wondering, Wallace also comes through with his signature diagrams.

As with the first two books, this is one that needs to be kept close by to refer to often.

Note: This time around there is also an 8-week, DVD-driven curriculum kit available with participant guides. 

For more information on J. Warner Wallace visit ColdCaseChristianity.com


A review copy of Forensic Faith was provided to Thinking Out Loud by David C. Cook Publishing. All three books are in paperback at $18.99 US retail each.

March 9, 2017

Evangelism Hesitation: Scared Wit-ness-less

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:18 am

On Sunday the pastor asked people to name the first words which came into their heads when they hear the word evangelism. There were more than a dozen responses, which he wrote in two columns, positive and negative. The negatives were:

  • It’s scary
  • I don’t have enough knowledge
  • I don’t want to appear pushy
  • I have zero confidence
  • I’m afraid of rejection
  • It’s become politically incorrect
  • It involves crossing personal boundaries

But then he went on to explain that in past months he’s been on a new diet and he’s lost a lot of weight, and as a diabetic, he has not needed insulin (which is very rare to say the least) and how easy it was to share that story with four people last week, while at the same time we struggle with finding ways to introduce Jesus in to a conversation.

Six of the seven concerns listed have to do with fear. Afraid to be politically incorrect, to cross boundaries, or just plain scared. Only one, knowledge, is something a person could resolve easily if they were motivated. But even on that score we’re told, “freely you have received, now freely give.” The man Jesus healed of blindness says, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Perhaps we make it harder for ourselves when we know what we don’t know.

The fear factor seems to be something that shouldn’t be there. We have the promise, “I will never leave you…” so we’re not alone. We have the promise that “God is our strength…” so we can summon the courage. We have the promise, “Open your mouth and I will fill it;” and “God will give you the words…” so we need to be anxious over the content of our verbal witness.

I remember years ago Randy Stonehill said, “We got the hottest news on the rack.” If people are drowning, we can throw them a lifebuoy. If people are dying, we have the medicine. When friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers hand us a clear opening, why do we hesitate to jump in?

We need to embellish the concept that we are qualified to help people get through whatever situation they find themselves in. Let others be afraid to cross boundaries, or not want to appear pushy. Like a trained emergency responder, we can arrive on the scene and tell people, “I am here to help you.”

October 28, 2016

The Four Gospels; Not the Four You Think

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

king-jesus-gospelFor years I’ve enjoyed reading Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog online, but only recently did I consider the possibility that I’ve been depriving myself by not reading more of his works in print, at least the less academic ones. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited is a book that recently underwent what the industry terms a “trade paper conversion” as did another title we’ll consider later in the season, A Fellowship of Differents. (Both titles Zondervan.)

McKnight begins with the thesis that when ask, “Have you heard the gospel?” we could be basically referencing up to four things:

  1. The Method of Persuasion
  2. The Plan of Salvation
  3. The Story of Jesus
  4. The Story of Israel / Story Arc of the Bible

He would say that the first two tend to overshadow the second two. He then launches into an extended consideration of the gospel

  1. as preached by Paul (there are reasons he begins there)
  2. as recorded or emphasized by the gospel writers (the synoptics plus John)
  3. as taught by Jesus
  4. as preached by Peter (representing the book of Acts, overlapping with Paul)

Throughout the book, McKnight uses the verb gospeling to describe the process of proclamation as well as the idea of gospeling the gospel.  You also encounter the word soterians, people who equate the gospel to a means of salvation. (Not the aliens in a Star Trek episode, as some of you were thinking.) 

With so many different emphases reflecting so many different doctrinal patterns, the book leaves some unanswered questions — this is, after all, a condensation of much longer scholarly writing — but Chapter 9 – Gospeling Today, is particularly helpful in our present context and builds toward the conclusion in Chapter 10 – Creating a Gospel Culture, where in five pages, McKnight presents his own summary statement of the gospel. The whole book is really a stacking of premise upon premise leading to this encapsulation.

For him, the gospel as the account of Israel’s redemption is paramount to any other consideration. Several appendices record the Bible’s summary statements of its gospel and analysis of the sermons in the Book of Acts.

I am richer for having read this book as it helps me to clarify what it is I need to be saying — and not saying — when opportunity arises to share the good news.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to read this title, now in paperback from Zondervan.


Related: 2009 review of The Blue Parakeet by the same author.

May 22, 2016

A Non-Christian Looks at My Faith

We had lost contact over the last decade, but I had been thinking about her just a few days ago. And then, in the grocery store parking lot, there she was.

The Christian bookstore was next door to a store where she worked part time. I would drop in periodically. My own context for being there created instant discussion.

Oh, did I mention that she is Wiccan?

I didn’t have a lot of experience with that particular religion, but I decided to just be myself and we got along well. See… Christians can have non-Christian friends.

So after catching up — sadly, I’d forgotten her first name — we started right back where we left off all those years ago; talking about faith. She has a lot of objections to Christianity of course, and I’ve never been afraid to tell her that I think she’s just looking for an out.

But the one she sprang on me Friday was a new one. Are you sitting down?

blank calendarThe changing date of Easter.

So of course the first thing I did was take the objection at face value. The date of Easter isn’t a theological problem. We remember Christ’s death and resurrection every time we have a Communion service. Catholics do this every time they attend Mass.

I then seized the opportunity to reminder her that Christianity is rooted in an historical fact, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

And she was willing to admit that Christmas was not the day that Jesus was born; at least probably not.

I also was willing to meet her half way when I mentioned there is a movement in Europe to standardize the dates of Good Friday and Easter.

Even then she kept coming at this date thing from different angles. “Usually it’s in April, but sometimes it’s in March;” she reminded me. Followed by, “How many times did this guy die and come back to life?” (Not sure I saw that one coming, either; nor do I get the logic.)

I simply used it as an opportunity to continue rhyming off why we can trust the Gospels’ record of Christ’s life and ministry.

And she agreed to track me down at some future date.

I hope it’s not ten years…


People will invent all types of excuses to dismiss the core tenets of the Christian faith. The problem of evil. Noah’s ark. The global flood. Talking donkeys. I have to admit that if I were writing the script, I would have left Balaam’s donkey out of the final draft.

But as excuses go, I thought the whole changing date of Easter thing was rather lame; but I think it’s an example of how people will use anything to avoid admitting the obvious: One man claimed to be equal with God, lived and taught in such a way that changed the world then and now, and kicked off a movement that shows no signs of slowing down. (Just to mention a few things.)

“…a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 (The Voice)

 

April 16, 2016

Rethinking Church Growth Metrics

Whenever Saturday rolls around, I always check out who the guests are going to be on Canada’s sometimes controversial Drew Marshall Show, which airs 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST and can be heard at this link.

Today I came across the name Luke Cawley who has written a new book for IVP titled The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians, and the Spiritual but not Religious and decided to check out his blog. In the process, I came across this 2014 article. His ministry context is probably different from yours: University Campuses. But there are some broader ideas contained here. You need to click the title below to read this in full:

Accountability for Evangelistic Fruit

…Lots of people feel caught in a similar dilemma. They want to hold themselves and their communities accountable for their evangelistic practice and fruitfulness. But it’s difficult to figure out quite how you do that without falling into the twin traps of either reducing evangelism to pure human effort or overlooking our role completely. It’s no wonder that senior leaders in several major Christian organizations have told me that they stall on implementing any kind of internal accountability regarding evangelism. If we don’t control the outcomes, they reason, then how can we make any meaningful judgment in this area?

Accountability and Evangelistic FruitMaybe you’ve had similar thoughts. If so, then I have some bad news for you: I’m not really going to resolve the tension for you. Assessing our individual and corporate evangelistic performance is tricky. There’s no simple way to do so. Yet we still need to try. One reason it’s so important is the consistent New Testament theme that when we regularly invite people to follow Jesus there will be some positive responses. Paul describes “the gospel” as “bearing fruit and growing throughout the world” (Colossians 1:6), and urges his readers to speak to others about Jesus in the expectation that these conversations will trigger more of the same. He asks:

“How can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?” (Romans 10:14-17 MSG)

For Paul, the very point of telling others about Jesus is that they decide to follow him for themselves. If such individual decisions are not taking place—and if the gospel is not “bearing fruit and growing” in our local context—then we need to stop and ask why. Is there something we are doing wrong which needs to change?

He then goes on to give three possible directions:

1. Count Conversations, Not Just Conversions.

 
People trust in Jesus because they have heard about him. How many people on your campus are actually getting to hear—and talk—about him? Keep some stats on how many people stop and chat at Proxe Stations, how long they stay for, how many people attend invitational events, and how many are in GIGs. Figure out ways to increase all these numbers.
 

2. Conduct an Internal Survey.

 
Find out how frequently chapter members have an opportunity to speak about Jesus. Then, work out how you can help them develop those conversations into something more. A few years ago, I interviewed 20 students from our chapter and discovered that they each have a meaningful conversation about Jesus at least once every couple of weeks. They all felt that many of those conversations offered natural opportunities to invite their friends to read the Bible with them or join a GIG. They never offered this invitation, though, because they weren’t confident in leading GIGs themselves. This simple discovery helped me shift my focus to training the students in leading seeker small groups. As a result, a number of GiGs were launched within months.

It may be worthwhile for you to conduct a similar internal survey (face-to-face) with a sampling of students from your chapter. It could help you identify key areas for change.
 

3. Create a Story-Swapping Culture.

 
Make it a natural feature of chapter life that you tell one another when you’ve had a great conversation about Jesus. Swap stories about what happened. Then, pray for the person with whom you spoke. You could create a regular space to swap such stories during small-group meetings.

Each one of these can be equally implemented in a local church context and this subject needs to be top of agenda.

 

November 5, 2015

Answers to Tuesday’s Challenge

If you haven’t already, you need to read what was posted here 2 days ago: Here’s the link.

So let’s begin.

The Bible says Jesus is coming back.

There are a couple of problematic things here. First, Jesus said he’s coming back. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Andy Stanley, but I have to agree with him that it’s much better to say, “The author of Proverbs says…” or “The gospel writers believed…” or “The Apostle Paul taught…” so that we’re focusing on real flesh-and-blood people and not a generic “This is what the Bible says.”

But what does it mean that Jesus is coming back. Has he been down in the polls and he’s making a comeback? The language so familiar to those of us inside the church may be meaningless to those outside. Perhaps this is a good news return like the time Uncle Raymond returned from his year in India. He’ll toss the kids on his knees and tell stories and everything will be like it was before.

Is that what it means? We believe that the second coming of Christ means that this time He is returning in judgment. If your life is yield to Him, then I suppose you approach this with joy, and it really isn’t unlike Uncle Ray’s return after all. But if you’re not sure, or definitely not ready, then I suppose you approach this with apprehension or even dread.

I believe he’s coming very soon.

I think we can present the imperative of responding to Christ without quantifying it in terms of the calendar. Personally, I think there are number of prophetic markers in place that have to happen first before the return of Christ. However, I believe some of these are stacked like dominoes, and that many of these markers could fall in quick succession.

Of greater concern however is that our days are numbered. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring, hence the reminder to “choose this day who you will serve,” and that “now is the appropriate time to respond, today is the day for salvation.”

However, by reminding us of our mortality, we can introduce fear into the equation, and the experts say that guilt and fear are great motivators for making short-term decisions, but not long-term disciples.

I think that simply saying, “We need to be ready,” places the onus of responsibility back into the hands of the person listening. It’s a call to action, “If Christ is returning, what do you need to do about it?”

I don’t think I will ever die.

It was the memory of this part of the presentation that got the ball rolling for what was posted on Tuesday. It occurred to me that years later, this person is now aware of the possibility that the second coming of Christ may not happen in his lifetime, especially as the clock keeps ticking and more years pass.

Of course, the overtones of pre-tribulation rapture theology are also implicit in this, and that viewpoint is, in my perception, losing supporters even among Evangelicals. I’m not saying there will not come a day when “some will never die,” but I’m not sure that a presentation of this nature is the right place to introduce that.

I think what is more important to signal is that the return of Christ will signal a dramatic paradigm shift. In the incarnation, Christ came as one of us, and while the world changed — recognized every time you write the date — I think it was nothing compared to what it means when he returns as king.

In the first coming, Jesus rode a donkey, and while his followers went on to found a kingdom without end, in many respects the world went on as it did. In the second coming, Jesus rides a white horse, and whether supernaturally, or through already present technology, “every eye will see him.”

That said, I believe a closing statement — if one were limited by this three-point format — is to say something instead about responding to God’s love, God’s grace or some basic statement of the implications of the atonement. I suppose how deep a person wants to get at this stage depends largely on the type of people who constitute their audience, but whether or not the speaker will ever die is at best immaterial to the responsibility of the hearer to respond to the offer God is putting forward in sending Christ.


So what’s the point?

Keep in mind, the speaker in this case — again click back to Tuesday for the backstory — was in his early 20s when he made the original presentation. But often our words are tossed out without preparation, and perhaps this type of music group or youth group approach needs to be written out, and even crafted with the help of someone with greater spiritual wisdom.

I know that I had similar days I wish I could live over. I wasn’t the speaker in this example, but I probably used similar words and phrases when I did itinerant youth ministry.

If nothing else, I hope this gives you something to think about.

March 24, 2015

To the Person With an Un-Churched Friend

img 032415Dear _________,

Your friend dropped by the Christian bookstore last week when I happened to be there. Every once in awhile, I get into a conversation with someone who really opens up; who really wants to share something, and this was one of those times.

Your friend has a lot going on inside her. There’s a battle raging between the more conservative values she was raised with, and her desire to be a more progressive, rational humanist, liberal wife and mom. She gets nothing out of church, but she goes to please her husband. She thinks it’s good that her kids are getting some type of faith focus in their Sunday School, but bristles at the absolute exclusivity of Christianity and worries that perhaps they are getting brainwashed.

And then, she has you.

You probably don’t see yourself as such, but you are her one spiritual anchor in a sea of confusion and questions. You are the person she talks about as a Christian influence in her life, more than her husband or any author or TV personality. You are the only Bible she reads.

And you are part of the problem.

First, you leave no room for her questions. Your faith and personal theology are so neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow that you seem to have trouble seeing life from her perspective. This is how it was, is, and ever more shall be would be a statement describing your intransigence. Don’t get me wrong, the scriptures are clear, God is unchanging, and if the buck is going to stop somewhere, solo scriptura is not a bad place to land the plane.

But you need to meet her in the middle if you’re going to bring her back to your starting place. You have to have the conversation. She wants to have the conversation with you. If you don’t have empathy for her situation, you need to at least pretend to have some sympathy for whatever has brought her to her present spiritual state.

She needs to see compassion. She needs to see that God is a God of grace, and that grace extends toward her.

Second, you need to embrace her in a spiritual sense. Instead, you regard her has some toxic influence in your life that should not be permitted. You shut her down when she starts saying things that you don’t approve of or using language you can’t condone in your house. At that point, all you offer her is your own self-righteousness.

You are afraid to listen. Your world is probably saturated with Christian books, Christian radio or podcasts, and Christian television. When your friend starts talking with you, her words are so totally foreign to your everyday experience that you are afraid of being polluted by them. You want to spend your entire Christian life at the conference; at the retreat; at the worship service.

Jesus got his hands dirty. He hung out with political zealots, tax collectors and prostitutes. There’s a lesson there, I think.

Third and finally, you need to invest in an intense study of Christian apologetics. You may be shutting her down at every turn because you have nothing to offer her. The idea of ‘always being ready to give a response’ is lost on you. It’s easier to put your hand in her face and tell her you don’t want to talk about it.

When the gang gets together for a social evening, you win every round of Bible Trivia, but when it comes to discussing your faith with seekers and skeptics, Atheists and Agnostics, you’ve got nothing.

You’ve preached to the choir for so long you haven’t noticed the audience behind your back.

Listen _________, your friend needs you. She needs you to be her link to a world of Christian belief that she is missing right now, but she needs your love and your time and your willingness to enter into her spiritual world.

The Bible can take her challenges. Our doctrine and theology can deflect her doubts. Christian resources can answer her questions.

But right now you are her contact point, and as a team, we’re all counting on you not to drive her away. Or you can continue to make a mess of it, and hopefully somebody else can pick up the pieces.

July 24, 2014

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

Filed under: books, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 am

I’m almost certain that if I lived in Hayward, Wisconsin, Mark O. Wilson would be my pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed his book Filled Up, Poured Out (reviewed here) and his newest, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus was a delight to read. Christian non-fiction (i.e. doctrinal) books are not expected to be this much fun.

Purple Fish - Mark O. WilsonHere’s the difference: Mark Wilson is not dealing in theoretical evangelism. He’s a practitioner, with anecdotal accounts of the principles he believes in bearing results. In fact, to be honest, this is more a book of very short (i.e. many are single paragraph) stories of life change taking place because ordinary people were willing to take risks.

Oh, no! How many opportunities might I have missed by not being more attuned to people all around me?

This is not an attempt to teach a rigid methodology. There aren’t 4 steps or 6 steps to memorize. If anything, results are often achieved by breaking the perceived rules of witnessing, the book is very anti-methodology. By arranging the book in a series of 33 very short chapters, readers can take hold of these ideas in bite-sized morsels.

It is said that in Evangelical circles, many people delay being baptized because they cringe at the idea of having to give a one minute testimony. And that’s just to their peers. How much more are some people terrified to share their faith with a stranger? This book provides the nudge they might need.

To repeat, this book is very accessible for the average churchgoer who is intimidated at the idea of making a public declaration of faith.

The title? Mark Wilson pastors in the Northwoods area of Wisconsin where fishing is ubiquitous. So fishing is a motif throughout the book, a metaphor (that Jesus used), and a means to make connection. And in a rapidly changing world, I much prefer the idea of evangelism as fishing than speaking of going on a crusade. (And yes, that makes this a good recommendation for men to read, even non-readers.)

But what about the purple fish? I won’t give away the spoiler; you’ll have to read the book! Suffice it to say that it reinforces the idea that lost souls really do matter to God.

Purple Fish is published in paperback at $14.99 US by Wesleyan Publishing House.  Read an excerpt here.

 

July 3, 2014

Learn to Respond to People Who Question Your Faith

Prepared - Andy Stanley

It might be a guy at the office, or it might be family members at Thanksgiving. Have you ever wished you had a good comeback for the barbs they toss at you because of your beliefs?

Andy Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta and recently concluded a 3-part sermon series, Prepared. These very simple message will empower your responses as well as transforming your attitude toward what you sometimes feel you have to say in those circumstances. What you feel it means to “always be ready to give an account” may not be what you think it is!

To watch,

  1. Go to PreparedSeries.org
  2. Then, choose week one, Hope on the Ropes (40 minutes)

June 12, 2014

Witnessing on the (Summer) Job

Filed under: evangelism, Humor — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Witnessing on the (Summer) Job

This is from InterVarsity’s TwentyOneHundred Productions. (Click the link to source.) Jon Acuff has a word for these, he calls it a Jesus Juke. You can read that definition in this 2010 blog post. Since he coined the term it’s been adopted far and wide, to the point where if you Google the phrase (in quotation marks) you get “About 8,620 results.”

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