Avoiding the twin pitfalls of compromise and isolation

think and live apologetically

JP: Worthwhile read by Mark Farnham

Remembering Who the Enemy Is

Excerpts:

I sit every week in secular philosophy classes at a university in the Philadelphia area (to fulfill external course requirements at Westminster) and hear deadly error taught with the passion and sophistication one would expect to find in the madrassa schools of Iran or Saudi Arabia. I see the insidious doctrines of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Derrida being swallowed uncritically by the doctoral students around me. Error is so influential in academic circles and its proposals so sweeping in its social implications that I wonder what hope (apart from the sovereignty of God) Christians will have to freely worship and proclaim the gospel in the coming days. I think we are beginning to see the influence of radical philosophy behind the decisions and initiatives of our recently elected president.

The deleterious effects of worldviews that begin in the mountain streams of philosophy departments in colleges and universities trickle down to the literature, science, and history departments (among others). These streams join the flow of cultural tributaries and raging rivers of pop culture until they empty into the ocean of popular consciousness in the world itself. At times in these classes I wonder what hope Christians have to resist the powerful currents of thought that have swept our culture into the sea of unbelief. The cosmos, the system of this world that stands in opposition to the gospel and the redemptive work of God, is our true enemy. It is relentless in its work of suppressing the truth, blinding hearts and minds, promoting hopelessness, destroying lives, and securing souls for hell. Apart from the clarity and power of the gospel, there is no hope for humankind.

As one who is struggling to effectively contend with complex and intricate suppression of truth and opposition to God, I welcome the aid of others who share my commitment to the gospel, love for the truth, adherence to the Scriptures, and courage to contend for sound theology, even when they differ in some doctrinal issues. I have benefited immensely from apologetic and theological sources from outside Baptist circles. (A good argument could be made that the best apologetic and theological literature published in the last thirty years has been Calvinistic). This is not to minimize our differences, for they are real and have the potential (both directions) to weaken the effectiveness of our mission. I’m sure the Army has legitimate gripes with the way the Navy conducts its operations, and vice versa. However, the Army would be seriously hamstrung in its mission if it devoted the bulk of its effort to opposing or correcting the Navy instead of focusing on the true enemy.

I want to issue a call for fundamentalists to get out of the church building, get off campus, get out of the ivory tower, and engage in protracted spiritual battle by confronting unbelievers with the demands of the gospel. We will be wounded and energized at the same time. This will drive us to depend on others around us who are fighting the same battle. We will see the enemy up close in the suppression and rejection of the truth, and it will drive us to spend our efforts on casting down strongholds of unbelief. We will not see allies as enemies, but will appreciate the commonality of our mutual cause, even while maintaining our distinctions. We will balance our efforts between apologetics and polemics and in doing so will avoid the twin pitfalls of compromise for the sake of the gospel and isolation for the sake of purity.

Mark Farnham is Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He and his wife, Adrienne, grew up in Connecticut and were married after graduating from Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Watertown, WI). They have two daughters and a son, all teenagers. Mark served as director of youth ministries at Positive Action for Christ (Rocky Mount, NC) right out of seminary and pastored for seven years in New London, Connecticut. He holds an MDiv from Calvary and a ThM in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). He has also studied ancient manuscripts at Harvard Divinity School and philosophy at Villanova University. He is presently a doctoral student at Westminster Theological Seminary (Glenside, PA) in the field of Apologetics. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary or its faculty and administration.

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Confronting Humanism With God’s Love

JP: This was posted on SharperIron by my friend Pastor Joe Roof. The first link is to an guest editorial, People can be good for goodness’ sake, in The Greenville News. The second link is to a response by Bob Jones III, God offers love to all — including humanists. In encourage you to read both articles.

Brief excerpts from Mike Cubelo: People can be good for goodness’ sake:

Humanists have options during this holiday season because our social network is not based on a specific religion but on individual rapport.

A true friendship tends to break through religious filters.

These types of secular, seasonal options are examples of why the American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist. org) has a holiday message for all this year: “Why believe in God? Be good for goodness’ sake.”

In other words, you don’t need a spiritual or supernatural foundation to be kind, generous or to enjoy the company of each other, especially, during the holiday season. Religious tenets should not get in the way of human behavior or relationships. We cultivate our relationships personally with each other.

Our humanist holiday message serves as a simple reminder that religion is optional when it comes to being a moral person. We don’t need Santa to be checking his list twice for us to be good. Be responsible, treat people well, and it will not matter if it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or the winter solstice. You will be in the good company of good people. Be good for goodness’ sake!

Excerpts from Bob Jones III, God offers love to all — including humanists:

Mr. Cubelo concludes — along with his humanist fellows — that man can be good without God. The Bible says otherwise: “In me (… in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). “There is none that doeth good (makes moral goodness)” (Romans 3:12).

Man without God can do a good act, but he can’t be good any more than an ambulance, which does a good thing by rushing an injured patient safely to the hospital, can be called good in the sense of possessing the property of moral goodness.

Let the humanists grope like blind men for the meaning of human existence. It is their right to judge all things based upon mere human reason if they choose, but the Creator God waits at the end of their way. They can’t avoid their Judge forever. If they could only see how small and insignificant mankind is in comparison with the great and eternal God of Heaven, they would bow their hearts in reverence before him rather than lift their arm in defiance against him. The poet James Weldon Johnson said it well when he said, “Your arm’s too short to box with God.”

How great is this great God of love. The psalmist said it well: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest (cares for) him?” (Psalm 8:24).

How big is God? He challenges us to know something of that when he says, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power …” (Isaiah 40:2526).

Our Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across. The astronomers consider there to be at least 150 million galaxies. The Milky Way is our galaxy; the Earth is in it. Traveling at the speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second, they tell us it would take 100,000 years to traverse our galaxy. Traveling at 186,000 miles a second, we could cover more than 6 trillion miles per year, but it would still take 100,000 years just to traverse our own galaxy.

The Andromeda Nebula, another galaxy close by Earth in space distance, is about 10 quintillion (1 followed by 19 zeros) miles away and something like 600 quadrillion miles across.

But the cross of Jesus Christ shows the greatness of God more than all his creation does. His love reaches to humanists, rapists, baby killers, homosexuals — all who choose to embrace sin and thereby go astray. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

The great Creator God made himself known to us in the person of his Son, Who said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

God loves all people. From God’s perspective, that includes presidents, kings and queens, judges, and men on the street like the rest of us. It includes infidels, humanists, those who choose to destroy themselves through sexual immorality and those who exploit others for the sake of greed and all other forms of inhumanness that sinful hearts are capable of.

Any sinner who recognizes the folly of his sinful choices and the futility of succeeding by defying God and then humbles himself at the foot of the cross can be the recipient of the Savior’s loving pardon. No sin is too great, and no sinner is too hopeless to be beyond the reach of the great love of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

JP: Worthwhile read. The Apostles’ Creed’s central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator.

All Monotheisms Are Not Alike: How the Apostles’ Creed can sharpen our dialogue with Muslims.

Excerpts:

Despite undeniable similarities, all monotheisms are not alike. Love notes that many Muslims who later become followers of Christ say that they worshiped the true God all along, but only with partial knowledge. Certainly God can reveal himself to Muslims however he chooses, but Islam does not lead lost sinners to God. Only Jesus does.

Yes, we should speak gently and respectfully, but if we truly love Muslims, we must tell them the truth as God has revealed it. Scholar of Islam Kenneth Cragg noted, “As long as Christ is Christ, and the church knows both itself and him, there will be a mission to Islam.” I agree.

How can we engage in conversation and still stick to our theological guns? I propose employing the Apostles’ Creed—a time-tested and easily digestible template of basic Christianity—to remind ourselves how much our beliefs differ from Muslims’.

The text of the Apostles Creed is available here.

Traditional English Version

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

One man’s Reader’s Digest version of why I am a Christian

JP: I thought this was a good read (see caveat below the blockquote).

Answering the Atheists – A Reader’s Digest version of why I am a Christian

Excerpts:

Let’s face it: Atheism is in. Not since Nietzsche have disbelievers enjoyed such a ready public reception to their godless message—and such near-miraculous royalties. But even that hasn’t put them in a good mood. Snaps Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (although not, presumably, the pronouncements of atheists), “Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral.” A feuding Richard Dawkins suggests that believers “just shut up.” Apparently, they didn’t get the tolerance memo.

But remembering Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” here is a Reader’s Digest version of why I am.

  1. Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned … to support life on this planet.
  2. Beauty: Beethoven’s Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator.
  3. New Testament reliability: … Scholar F. F. Bruce said, “The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar.”
  4. Scripture: Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture’s message rings true.
  5. Jesus: Christ’s life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit. Napoleon reportedly said, “I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity.”
  6. The trilemma: C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ’s claim to divinity, said: “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
  7. Resurrection: After the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty. His formerly despondent disciples then turned the Roman world upside down with the message that Christ had conquered death. And they were willing to die for it. The best explanation, according to N. T. Wright and other scholars, is that Christ rose from the dead.
  8. Testimonies: While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson? A John Newton? A William Wilberforce? Then there are the innumerable soup kitchens, universities, hospitals, and orphanages founded to the glory of Christ.
  9. My experience: Finally, as a forgiven sinner, I testify to an imperfect yet growing sense of God’s peace, presence, and provision since receiving Christ more than a quarter-century ago. Despite occasional setbacks, my faith has deepened and strengthened, whatever life brings.

Caveat: I do not fully endorse every aspect of this article: for example, the author’s comment about the world being an “estimated 13.7 billion years” old. I personally am an young earth creationist.