Absolutes and Exceptions

I ran across a brilliant observation by Ravi Zacharias.

I’ve never seen it quite this way, before.

You know, I find the atheist very clever in what they do. For example, why do they discount miracles? According to David Hume, because the natural law functions routinely—so why do you look for miracles, an oddity in the midst of natural law? So they did away with the miraculous because they were going with what was normative and what was routine. But then when it came to ethics, they very cleverly switched the terms. If you started talking about an absolute, which was normative, they would interject an exception like, “What happens if you walk into your home and your family member is being assaulted? Are you telling me you will not fight or take a baseball bat or something?” Very fascinating. When it came to natural law in the realm of the sun and the planets, they did not allow for the exceptions. But when it came to ethics, it was the exception that debunked the absolute.

So what do those two reactions have in common? They both want to get rid of God—because if you bring in the miraculous in natural law, you have to accommodate the presence of God. If you take the normative and the absolute in ethics, you have to invoke upon the very person of God. So it is more the atheist that is anti-reason and anti-rational, but the accusation that is made against the Christian is leveraged to their advantage now.

—Ravi Zacharias, “Learning to Think Critically” (12/11/12)

Brilliant. Wow.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that I already knew this. Zacharias just said it in such a concise and memorable way.

I have known this previously as the “upper story” and “lower story.” As Nancy Pearcey has pointed out in her books,

As Schaeffer explains, the concept of truth itself has been divided—a process he illustrates with the imagery of a two-story building: In the lower story are science and reason, which are considered public truth, binding on every-one. Over against it is an upper story of noncognitive experience, which is the locus of personal meaning. This is the realm of private truth, where we hear people say, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me.”

The two-realm theory of truth:

UPPER STORY
Nonrational, Noncognitive

______________________

LOWER STORY
Rational, Verifiable

When Schaeffer was writing, the term postmodernism had not yet been coined, but clearly that is what he was talking about. Today we might say that in the lower story is modernism, which still claims to have universal, objective truth—while in the upper story is postmodernism.

Today’s two-story truth:

POSTMODERNISM
Subjective, Relative to Particular Groups

________________________

MODERNISM
Objective, Universally Valid

—Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth pg. 21

It’s a common thing to say that we live in a “postmodern” time. But, that statement really needs to be qualified. Ask the atheist physicist (you know who) about morality, ethics, religion, and he’ll give you some postmodern, relativistic answer. But, ask the physicist about physics, and what will you get? Absolutes. Inflexibility.

Modernism, as it turns out, is alive and well. Snuggly settled in on the lower story. The attitude of the Enlightenment has not been banished, as we were led to believe. Absolute truth, perhaps modestly held, has it’s place.

But what of values, ethics, and religion? Are they absolute? By no means! Romanticism (or at least the descendent of it) is still around. Relativism is the order of the day when it comes to these things. Irrationality. Keep them personal and private, please. Meaning, don’t expect them to be universal truths. Hence, the upper story is where postmodernism lives.

Ravi Zacharias said it another way, a way that is very easy to whip out in a conversation.

“You don’t allow for exceptions from the absolute in natural law, but you demand exceptions to override absolutes in ethics? Fascinating.”

An important note: Ravi Zacharias is not a presuppositionalist. If you read the rest of that article, that becomes most obvious. Be that as it may, insights like the one above may be found and placed within the proper framework. If someone truly gets presuppositional apologetics, they’ll be the first to say that all tools are ours, and so we can learn and benefit from everyone’s work regardless of their methodology. We just use it within the proper covenantal context.

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Massive Apologetics Track

Take up and read. A lot.
Take up and read. A lot.

A collection of books and courses to get you well on your way in developing and practicing a biblical apologetic. (Also see: How to use the Apologetics Track)

Is this all necessary, for every Christian? No. For the average believer, this length and depth of study is not required. I am in no way implying there are “levels” of Christians. Every Christian is required to be an apologist. Every believer therefore needs to undergo some preparation to ensure that they are always ready to give an answer to anyone. But, not every believer is going to make apologetics their living, or be debating apologists of other religions, or teaching apologetics at a seminary, or specially serve the church in apologetics. There’s no office of apologist. Yet, all believers are responsible, and some believers have been designed by God to have more aptitude for it. Not everyone is a Greg Bahnsen or James White, but some are. Pastors, I think, should give extra attention to it than the layperson, since ministers are specially reminded of it in Titus 1:9.

The bottom line is, all believers are responsible before the Lord Jesus to always be ready to answer anyone, and ministers especially are responsible. And since Jesus commanded that discipleship includes teaching everything, then all of us must be able to teach apologetics to others (though again, we won’t all be professors of apologetics).

If your first thought is, “Oh my… there’s so many resources,” then take my word when I say there could have been more. Much more. I have practiced restraint, in fact, and tried to narrow it down, and limit redundancy between the resources. There will be repetition, but that serves as reinforcement. But many books and resources have not made the cut simply because whatever they cover is dealt with by what has made the list.

I hope that the fruits of my study may benefit you. A primary reason why I read so much is so that others won’t have to. It takes a lot of time, and we don’t all have that kind of time. There is so much out there today, as never before, and it can be so overwhelming that some bother to even attempt to begin study. Or, we despair that we won’t know which resources are reliable, and which are not. If for nothing more, having all these links in one place should save a lot of work as far as looking for presuppositional material, which does not get as much publicity as other apologetic approaches.

That’s why I present, for your edification, this apologetics learning track. Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a proposal. And it is more than just a start.

Theology

Now, it is necessary that you build your apologetic from a sound theology. Theology determines apologetic methodology. If you need help getting started with that, read:

Your Bible! Internalize as much of it as you can. Dedicate time to reading for scope, and also dedicate time to read in detail. For help in your Bible reading, read Let the Reader Understand.

Most essentially for theology:

The Westminster Standards: The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), The Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), and The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC). Available FREE in PDF and Kindle here.
The Forgotten Trinity by James White. Trinitarianism is what we are defending, so we had better know it.
Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton. An easy-to-read systematic.
Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper (FREE). This will show that sound theology is actually a worldview.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin (for a shorter reading, go for the 1541 edition published by Banner of Truth)
I would recommend nailing all, but not necessarily the Institutes, before diving into apologetics.

Now, on to apologetics.

The Apologetics Track

Perhaps it would be helpful to lay it out in stages. I know that for some, seeing a huge, unbroken list of books and classes is overwhelming (while others see a candy shop). So, I’ll break the track into sections, explaining what each will provide.

Stage One — Foundations

The point of stage one is to ingrain the biblical foundation. It may seem repetitive, but repetition is good. We need reminding. If we didn’t, then we would only need to read the Bible one time. But we don’t. There’s a thing called sin, and sin is the spoiler of understanding. Hence, we need the Gospel repeated weekly. We need to hear the teaching of God’s Word over and over and over again. As Spurgeon said, pound it into our heads. So, when learning apologetics, we need to be reminded constantly what the Bible says, until it becomes second nature.

Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, edited by Gary DeMar

Simply the best and most concise introduction to apologetics that I have found. The arrangement of the book is very helpful as well, making a great teaching tool. It has the best practical applications after each chapter.

Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, by Greg Bahnsen

The perfect pairing with Pushing the Antithesis. The positive presentation of the apologetic is excellent, strewn throughout with Scripture. However, the second part of the book is worth the price. Bahnsen evaluates others who have also been labeled as “presuppositionalists.” The most helpful critique is of Francis Schaeffer, which is spot on.

Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen

This one makes for quick reading. The appendix about Paul’s apologetic in Athens is brilliant, and clears up several common misconceptions about that engagement.

Basic Training for Defending the Faith, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Taught to high schoolers heading into college. So you can handle it. Or, you will realize how far our standards have fallen. I know I did.

Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Hands down the best series of lectures on apologetics.

Defending the Faith, taught by Dr. Michael J. Kruger (also here, for lecture 9).

One reason I appreciate Kruger so much is that his specialty is the New Testament canon. Knowing the current state of apologetics, you would expect someone with all that knowledge of manuscripts, history of transmission, etc. to be an evidentialist (since it’s so common). But he’s not. So he approaches the canon (as well as other issues) from a presuppositional perspective. His treatment of the problem of evil is brilliant, though simple.

Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, by Joel McDurmon

Logic is a necessity. Understanding logic from the Christian perspective is a necessity. This book is very approachable, with very good contemporary examples of fallacies. We need to be equipped to detect errors in reasoning always, and especially in apologetics. Conversation with an unbelieving perspective can be simplified when one has been trained to detect simple fallacies. Also, it’s best the Christian not commit those same fallacies, and thereby discredit his claims for Christianity.

Stage Two — Engagement

This is divided into two, overlapping parts. Apologetics is not merely arguments and answering every question. The “open hand” (persuasoria) is the positive side of apologetics. The “closed fist” (dissuasoria) is the negative side of apologetics. I agree with Os Guinness that the one we most need to recover is the “open hand.” So I’ve placed those helps before the others, so that character gets developed early.

The Open Hand – Persuasoria

Apologetics is not less than intellectual and philosophical, but it is also more. As you will soon here from Bill Edgar, abstract philosophy is not where people live and move and have there being. They live in a psychological and sociological context. Education, occupation, upbringing, etc. Hence, there is a cultural element in apologetics, if we are in fact to reach people as they are.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl
Even though Koukl’s apologetic methodology is completely different, I haven’t found as valuable a resource as this for learning how to have a conversation. There’s just nothing like it. Within a presuppositional framework, this will help you think and talk better about anything, including apologetics. A friend of mine has called this book “logic for dummies” (logically, it follows Biblical Logic). Adopt these tactics, make them second nature. I personally read this ever year. It is that good.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress

This is my “handout book” to people who have difficulties with the Bible. Vern Poythress has provided this book for FREE in PDF format (linked above). See my short review and recommendation.

We can begin to answer many of our difficulties in a number of areas if we make ourselves aware of the assumptions that we tend to bring along when we study the Bible. (pg. 16)

The Last Christian on Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church by Os Guinness

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness

Os Guinness provides a much neglected component of apologetics. The tendency in all apologetic disciplines, I think, is to forget the sociological and cultural environment that people actually live in, so we forget about plausibility.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

A stellar example of how to dialogue with the postmodern person, in their language (and not Christian code language).

A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, by Douglas Wilson

Creativity is a characteristic of persuasoria, and this includes irony and humor. Doug Wilson uses both according to biblical example. His setting out of biblical norms for writing and speech is a helpful corrective to the “neutral” way of dialogue promoted today (which silences truth). The world doesn’t set the norms for discourse, the Bible does.

L’Abri (New Expanded Edition) by Edith Schaeffer

An example of the compassionate and hospitable manner in which apologetics should take place. We must never forget that every human being we encounter is also made in the image of God, and therefore we must listen, respect their honest questions, and give honest answers.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Meuther

Apologetics is not isolated, and must not be practiced or even studied in isolation. Meuther is right to observe that when it comes to Van Til, we only look at his apologetic, and totally neglect the rest of him. But the rest was connected, indeed, resulted in his apologetic. And as James White has communicated, apologetics cannot be divorced from the church. Cornelius Van Til was the embodiment of that principle. Van Til lived an absolutely amazing life. This is my favorite biography.

Apologetics 101 taught by William Edgar, and read Christian Apologetics (2nd edition, edited by William Edgar) by Cornelius Van Til. Edgar’s little book Reasons of the Heart is also a textbook for the class.

Bill Edgar ties it all together in this class. He takes the intellectual rigor and biblical faithfulness of Van Til, the persuasive emphasis and sociological insights of Os Guinness, the compassionate and personal approach of Francis Schaeffer, and his own experience at L’Abri, and delivers it all as one. This is my favorite seminary course on apologetics. Christian Apologetics by Van Til is one of his assigned texts for the class, and an easy introduction to Van Til’s apologetic from the man himself.

The Closed Fist – Dissuasoria

Now, why is this section larger than the first, and in fact the largest chunk of the learning track? First, apologetic offense just gets more attention. And, there’s so many forms of unbelief. By God’s grace, we have unprecedented access to examples of faithful engagement with them. So instead of reinventing the wheel, we learn from those who have engaged before us.

Christian Theistic Evidences (2nd edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

By now you’re able to get more Van Til, and this new edition includes explanatory notes by K. Scott Oliphint. This book is a thorough critique of the traditional apologetic approach. Van Til weighs, measures, and finds it wanting. Here you will see clearly that what distinguishes “evidential” apologetics from presuppositional apologetics is not that one uses evidence and the other does not. Look at that title: Evidences. Evidence and facts are only such within a philosophy of fact, which is what Van Til presents here. This book will put out of your mind forever the straw-man criticism that there’s no place for evidences in presuppositional apologetics. Actually, this was originally the syllabus for Van Til’s “Christian Evidences” class at Westminster Seminary. Oliphint quotes Machen saying to Van Til: “I wish I could take your course on Evidences. I need it and am sure it will benefit the Seminary.”

Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan

The Bahnsen/Sproul Debate Over Apologetic Method (Full Audio) (Full Transcript)

James White – Apologetic Methodology: Part 1Part 2Part 3

These first four resources are each an apologetic for an apologetic approach, and critique of other approaches. Why the critiquing of other approaches to Christian apologetics? As Os Guinness said, “The apologist’s brief covers false teaching and false behavior wherever it is found, whether inside the church or outside in the wider culture” (Fool’s Talk, pg. 212). Wherever it is found. Unfortunately, there is much error inside the church when it comes to apologetic methodology. There is much undermining of the faith being defended by the very philosophy of defense. The very authority and teaching of Scripture, that is often the object of defense, is easily contradicted by the apologetic methodology. Therefore, it’s helpful to look at presuppositionalism compared to other apologetic approaches.

How To Answer The Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith (film of Sye Ten Bruggencate). Watch online.

Movie time! Look at this as a refreshing reward from all the reading so far. Taking presuppositional apologetics to the campus, Sye Ten deftly reduces arguments to absurdity. A fun watch. Grab a snack and enjoy the show.

Greg Bahnsen versus Gordon Stein debate, “Does God Exist?”

Yes, the great debate.

Worldview Apologetics taught by James Anderson

Helpful in teaching some basics about other worldviews. Did you know Mormonism is a materialistic worldview? I didn’t.

Classes, all FREE, taught by Timothy Tennent. This will give you material. So that we do not spout false testimony about our neighbor, we always need to be familiar with what others believe. Learn the world religions, and because of your apologetic foundations, you’ll be able to detect points of tension and begin to develop ways to approach each one. You’ll be prepared should you encounter any adherents.

World Religions,

Introduction to Islam,

Introduction to Buddhism,

Introduction to Hinduism.

Tennent’s classes are absolutely indispensable. To this day I fall back on what I learned in them.

What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson

A truly original apologetic book. It will help you narrow down and identify what people believe. Well paired with his class.

Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes by Nancy Pearcey

Though not presuppositional (following Schaeffer), no one quite handles worldviews like Nancy Pearcey, and I know few others who are so easy and enjoyable to read. She makes seeing the weakness of false worldviews easy.

Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity by James White

An excellent presuppositional approach to Scripture. We had better understand our ultimate authority. The dialogues are especially helpful.

*Justification by Faith – James White vs Mitch Pacwa (Roman Catholicism)

*The Sola Scriptura Debate – James White vs Mitch Pacwa 1999 (Roman Catholicism)

*Dr. James White Full Interview ‘NWO Bible Versions’ (King James Onlyism)

*The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White

*Mary—Another Redeemer? by James White

*James White versus Robert Wilkin debate (Anti-Lordship, no-repentance “gospel”)

*Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

“What is that doing here?” The refutation that MacArthur presents is Scriptural (he and the Master’s Seminary are presuppositional, anyway). To summarize, this book is a critique of false teaching and a defense of the biblical, orthodox doctrine of God the Holy Spirit. It just might seem odd to classify this book as “apologetic” because we are used to defending the deity of Christ, or the Trinity, not so much the 3rd Person. But he is God, and what we believe concerning him must be founded on the Word he inspired.

*A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism, (4th Edition — Revised, Updated, and Expanded) by Edward Dalcour

Oneness theology is deadly heresy. To deny the Trinity is to deny God himself, who is Triune, one God in three distinct persons. To deny the Trinity is to deny the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son (co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit) incarnate, the only mediator between God and men. To lose the Trinity is to lose the plan of redemption revealed to us in Scripture. Oneness theology is a very present false teaching and every Christian must be prepared to engage it and refute it. This book is the place to go to help you do that. At the same time, you will be personally edified as you understand the Triune God’s self-revelation better. (Available in PDF)

*Trinity vs. Modalism Debate: James White vs. Roger Perkins (Oneness, Unitarian)

*The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality by James White and Jeff Niell

The Gay Christian Movement: A Response Part 1 and Part 2 by James White

Few things are more relevant today. Learn how to deal with this issue in a way faithful to Christ’s Lordship.

*What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James White

*Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl

They’re obviously not of the same apologetic methodology, but by now you’re grounded enough to see what’s lacking. However, all things are weapons in the presuppositionalist’s hands. To my knowledge, no one has written such a beautiful demolition of relativism, and it’s excellent. A delightful read.

*Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (FREE) (and FEE audio)

Liberalism is still alive and well. That’s why this book is included, though not from a presuppositional perspective.

*Debate: Is the Bible True? (White vs Crossan) (The Jesus Seminar, Liberalism)

James White is explicitly presuppositional in this particular debate. He’s presuppositional in every debate, but doesn’t necessarily explain it every time. He states what he’s doing very clearly in this particular debate. A nice pairing with Machen’s work.

*All these with the asterisk can either be blended with Stage Three, or completed afterwards.

Stage Three — Reinforcement

“Reinforcement” is pretty self-explanatory. These resources will top off, refine, and clarify the foundations and engagement. The first three books continue to develop apologetics. Van Til’s Apologetic serves the useful purpose of systematizing Van Til’s thought. K. Scott Oliphint assigns that book for students to really “get” Van Til, in Westminster’s second required apologetics course.

The Schaeffer classes and the memoir paired with them will give a more comprehensive view of how apologetics can be done; a larger look at the human side of the apologetic enterprise.

The Defense of the Faith (4th edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

This edition includes the complete text of the original, 1955 edition. Scott Oliphint’s footnotes help immensely.

Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton

Offering more exegetical support to Van Til’s apologetic. Lane Tipton’s two essays are worth the price of the book.

The Apologetic Implications of Self-Deception by Greg Bahnsen, the last chapter (FREE)

You can read all of it if you want. It’s Bahnsen’s dissertation, so much of it is repetitive, recounting various views on self-deception through history. He offers many helpful scenarios. The last chapter is the summary, that gets down to it. Self-deception is crucial in our understanding of apologetics. The title is odd, because there’s in fact no apologetic implications drawn out.

Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis by Greg Bahnsen

I consider this work to be the capstone of apologetic study. It’s slow reading. Because you have to keep stopping to write down something great every 2 minutes.

Francis Schaeffer – The Early Years (iTunes U) and Francis Schaeffer – The Later Years (iTunes U) taught by Jerram Barrs, and read The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, by Edith Schaeffer

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Place and Time

Welcome the stranger, people with nowhere else to go.

These people may be religious, or irreligious. Wanderers, bouncing from worldview to worldview, or stuck in agnosticism and skepticism. Churched, or unchurched. Either way, they have no place of refuge where they can get help. They have tried to find a place where they can ask questions and get answers, and have not found one.

And when they meet you or I, they may feel that it is their last chance to get answers. Last stop. It’s probably true.

Safe Place

People want a place to talk, to vent what they think, and be heard and taken seriously. They want to be treated with respect, in that way. They desire a place in which to have that open communication, real and substantial conversation. I heard Denis Haack say in a lecture that one thing his “wife and I pray for more than anything else is that our living room would be the safest place in [the] city.”

We, Christians, need to provide the safest places for honest questions and real conversation.

Some of us take safety for granted. Some believers were raised in an excellent Christian community where they were shown respect as created in God’s image, and their questions taken seriously, rather than dismissed. Their family of believers were not intimidated by serious questions, or wrestling through doubts. They were not anti-intellectual, having a “just believe” attitude.

Most people I know, however, have never had that. I know it’s not here, that’s for sure.

I’ve looked.

Many others have looked.

We’ve come up empty.

Jerram Barrs speaks from experience at L’Abri,

This is tremendously important. In most of our churches and in most people’s Christian experience, discussion is not possible. Yet that is not the New Testament pattern. In the New Testament, it says that when Paul was in Ephesus he had discussions daily in the hall of Tyrannus for more than two years. It was very clear, as you read through the book of Acts, that Paul was constantly discussing things and reasoning with people. He was asking and answering questions. As you read through the Gospels, that was clearly the way Jesus taught. He taught much of the time by discussion, by asking questions and answering questions. I think that has disappeared in many of our churches.

Working in L’Abri, we repeatedly had people who were from Christian backgrounds who never had the opportunity to ask a question of their parents or of anyone else. I remember one girl whose father was a professor at a Christian college. She was sitting at our table—this was just two years ago—and she was asking her first questions extremely hesitantly. She had just graduated from a Christian college herself. She asked if it was all right to ask questions. She had always been told it was liberal to ask questions. I remember another girl from a German home whose father was a pastor. When her parents read her diary and saw that she had questions about her faith, they decided she was reprobate and they would have nothing to do with her. She was 16 years old at the time. She had expressed some of her doubts and problems with Christianity in her secret diary, which her mother had read one day when she was out at school. They basically put her out of their family completely at that point. That may sound horrendous, and it is horrendous. Yet that is a kind of caricature of what is often normal, which is that questions are not allowed to be asked, doubts are not allowed to be expressed, and problems are not allowed to be raised. There is no opportunity for discussion.

I remember speaking at a Christian university in Britain, and a girl came up to me afterward and said that was the first time in the three years she had been a student there that a speaker had encouraged them to ask questions. She said that normally they were preached at and then the person leaves. That has become the pattern of much of our Christian work today. The preaching is regarded as almost the only means of communicating the Gospel. People very rarely have the opportunity to come back and say, “I have problems. I do not agree. I have questions. I have doubts. Can I let them out?” It is tremendously important that we do that. We do not need to be afraid of people’s questions, because Christianity is true.

–Jerram Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: The Early Years” (Covenant Seminary, 1989), Lecture 23: The Ministry of L’Abri

Unhurried Time

Denis Haack said that one thing he appreciated most about Francis Schaeffer was his giving the gift of “unhurried time.” Unhurried. Not rushed, but taking questions and conversation seriously. Giving adequate time to the big questions, the serious issues of life. Not giving canned or dismissive answers, but respecting the person made in God’s image.

Time was (and is) limited, as no one has unlimited time, but the time that was given was unhurried time, to talk about what is important. Matters of life and death.

Are we, Christians, offering the gift of unhurried time? Again, think of Jesus with his disciples. The priority was not running around counting as many raised hands as possible, then moving on. Christ prioritized twelve. For three years. Paul had discussions daily in the hall of Tyrannus for more than two years. His mission was to bring people into full maturity, not mere professions of faith.

The New Testament way is to give time.

Only in the Christian faith do people truly matter. We have been commissioned to give the best news there is, the only answer to man’s need. We had better demonstrate this in how we use our place and our time for other people.

Like the Schaeffers with L’Abri (which is French for shelter, by the way) and the Haack’s with Ransom Fellowship, my prayer is that our home would be the safest place in our city.

Is that your prayer and desire as well, Christian?

Are you willing to provide a place where people feel safe enough to say, “I have problems. I do not agree. I have questions. I have doubts. Can I let them out?” Are you willing to offer unhurried time?

Are you prepared to take steps and make the necessary sacrifices in order to bring that into reality?

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Abortion: a Worldview Approach

My guest post for the The Domain for Truth

baby

Abortion is arguably the religious and social issue of our day. Since it became legal in the United States, around 56 million children have been killed. To ignore such an issue, as a Christian, would be unfaithful to God who made man in His image. We as believers must be equipped to discuss and offer a defense. Also, the devaluation of human beings in the womb is not a view held in isolation. Many fail to realize that the fundamental beliefs behind modern bioethics don’t merely affect the unborn, but human beings at all stages of life. If these basic assumptions continue on, unchallenged by Christians who stand unapologetically upon God’s Word, we will continue to see the devaluation of all people.

Read the full post HERE.

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Art

I didn’t really know how art related to Christianity. I already despised “Christian” movies, and had no problem appreciating skillful music produced by non-Christians, but beyond that I hadn’t thought about it much. I could say that art should abide by some sort of biblical norms, but could not get much more specific than that. Then I read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible, and it helped me think better about it. Much of what Schaeffer taught about art resonated with me.

Schaeffer believed that poor aesthetic quality diminishes the message being delivered. One only has to watch a “Christian” film or listen to most contemporary “Christian” music to know that’s the truth.

Schaeffer also recognized that art was not merely a means to an end. Beauty is itself valuable, it’s not valuable because it communicates something. An artistic medium adds to the message. As Schaeffer would say to Christian artists, “You’re not trying to produce a tract!” As a believer, do not paint a picture or compose music or write a poem merely to make a tract for Christianity. If (and when) Christians do that, the work of art is minimized or lost. Anyone who produces art merely to be a tract for their philosophy destroys art. Beauty is important in this world. You’re going to have rotten art if you start out to give a message.

Rather, consciously make a work of art and remember that it communicates our worldview. There should be continuity between medium and message.

Critiquing Art

I especially appreciated Schaeffer’s emphasis that “art is not sacred.” Meaning, just because someone has made art, it doesn’t make it right or true. Art is not above criticism, contrary to popular opinion. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “it’s art” used to get immunity from criticism or disagreement. In this day and age, Schaeffer’s words are a breath of fresh air. To that end, Schaeffer had three areas of critique for art:

1. Technical excellency

2. Validity

3. Message.

Technical Excellence

Technical excellency means the technique or quality of the work. Was a painting done well? Or was the script written well? Can the actor act?? I use this category the most when I think about art, especially film and music. I have the same criticism of contemporary music produced by Christians as that produced by non-Christians: it’s cheap. Same beat in every song. There’s rarely any complexity. The words make no sense and ideas are disjointed. It’s effortless, lazy music.

Validity

By “validity” Schaeffer was looking at whether the art was honest to the maker’s worldview, or was it produced merely for profit or acceptance. Is their art this way because of what they believe in, or are they making it a certain way because that’s what sells? For example, today, so many shows and books are smut because that’s what sells and it’s what everybody else is producing. That art is therefore invalid. It would be valid if the writer or director actually thought his message would save the world. Today, I think more and more of the culture prioritizes the validity aspect of art. The postmodern type person can smell insincerity, and knows when art is disingenuous. Nobody likes ghostwritten literature for this reason. They know if you’re a hireling out to make a buck and not being true to yourself. Of course, this idea is drawn out to mean that if art is done in sincerity, then you cannot disagree with it. I think Schaeffer’s term, “validity”, should be updated for our time: authenticity. Being authentic is the ultimate virtue right now. Ultimate validation is in “this is what I feel,” or “this is me,” or “I can’t deny who I am.” Much art today is authentic. People are expressing themselves everywhere. I have no doubt that most films produced by Christians are in fact authentic. And with that, it is possible for art to be good in the authentic aspect, and at the same time garbage, technically speaking.

Message

The third way to critique art is by the message it delivers. This is where evangelicalism gets all tied up, and ironically has much inconsistency. It is not fair to dismiss the art because of its message. For example, you watch a movie. The production quality is good, the script was well done, and the actors can actually act. Yet, the message was blatantly anti-Christian. What’s your conclusion about it? Do you say that work of art was bad art, because the message it delivers was false?  At the same time, evangelicals get really sensitive and protective of “Christian” movies. Don’t you dare criticize those. If you call that movie garbage, and complain about the lack of acting skill, the mundane plot, the fantasy-like ending,  and how it was overall a technical wreck, they hear that as you disagreeing with the Gospel message (assuming it was even in the movie). Many equate critiquing the technical aspect as disagreeing with the message. You obviously don’t like Jesus or evangelism, because you don’t like this “Christian” movie. Ironically, what they’re communicating is that this art is sacred (which is exactly what the unbelieving world does). Don’t touch it! It’s ridiculous what lengths some will go to defend a “Christian” film, purely because they agree with the message. All questions of technical excellency are rejected.

These three criteria that Schaeffer has introduced should provoke thought, and self-examination about how we think of art. Is it fair to dismiss art merely because we don’t like the form it takes? Evangelicals sometimes do this with rap and hip-hop. We reject a very authentic work of art because we don’t like the technical aspect (or we’re just prejudiced, and don’t even consider the skill involved). Are we immediately dismissive of very skillful and technically excellent art because we disagree with the message it communicates? Are we uncritically accepting of art merely because it is popular and is at the top of the charts or box office, without even questioning its authenticity? Do we refuse to think critically about works of art purely because a professing believer produced them?

Schaeffer helped me understand that art is not sacred as such. There can be great art, while bearing a false message, that has authenticity.

A fun example to critique through this grid is The Expendables series of movies. Technical excellence? Great effects and explosions. Great, beloved actors who have been around for quite a while (which is half the fun, since they are so old). The lines are hilarious. I myself spend half the movies laughing (and I don’t laugh at brainless humor). So whoever does the script has done their job well. Plot? Eh, far-fetched, which I think is the point, and not very complex. Not a lot of brain work involved. What about message? I’m not sure there is one, besides team-work and loyalty. Authenticity is where it’s foggy, in my opinion. The films don’t deal with any deep issues of life, as far as I can tell. I like these movies because it’s like a buffet with all your favorite things. Big tough guys, big guns, big explosions, big fights, and big villain. And I just sit back and watch the fun. What more could you ask for in a movie? It’s pure entertainment. It’s everything un-smutty that sells. The jokes between the characters are funny, the shooting and action is ridiculous, the fight scenes are amazing, and you know the bad guy is going to get what he deserves. Oh yes. It’s definitely a feel good movie. So, is it inauthentic art, made the way it is because it’s what’s popular and will make it big in the box office? Perhaps, at some level. But I suspect that the movie makers actually, genuinely, want to entertain people. On that level, I think it’s authentic. I would not be surprised if the writers and directors want to give us a super fun, testosterone-pumped, action film to get our minds off of life’s problems for a couple hours.

Any Message

Another very important truth that Schaeffer emphasized was that any form can express anything (see the lecture below). Meaning, any art form can communicate any message. Truth or heresy. Prose can deliver truth. Poetry can deliver heresy. The ugly can communicate the truth. A very eloquent speech can spread blasphemy. A technically horrible sermon can deliver the Gospel.

Schaeffer warned that the most dangerous is a beautiful work of art that delivers a lie. Zen poetry was an example Schaeffer used. The beautiful can communicate the immoral, and even the blasphemous.

The movie V for Vendetta, one of my favorite films, is an example I thought of as beautifully done yet exalting much immorality (the film having more aesthetic power than the original graphic novel). The movie Avatar blatantly preached pantheism, yet is considered a technical masterpiece. I think of film like a five-finger punch. It hits you with visuals, music, the emotions of the actors, the plot, and at all levels, intellect and affections, and affects you in ways you are not even aware of. I appreciate Jerram Barrs’ advice about critiquing film that he gave while teaching the class on the life of the Schaeffers. He said that if you are going to view a film that communicated an unbiblical worldview (he was specifically thinking of nihilism) and are going to think through it biblically, do not go alone, and do not put off talking about it. Watch it with close believing friends. And after it is over, deal with it right away, because it already has affected you. The film The Grey is a good current example. I don’t recall ever having watched a more depressing and hopeless film in my life. It’s message was nihilism, and it delivered it splendidly.

Thus, when we watch movies, we should be conscious that any art form, even a beautiful and gripping film, is delivering a message, even a lie or blasphemy. If we are not conscious while we watch, we will uncritically absorb the message.

For more Christian perspective on art:

Listen to Francis Schaeffer’s lecture, Art Norms & Thoughts for the Christian Life
Read Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer (64 pages)
Read parts 2 and 3 of Gray Matters: Navigating The Space Between Legalism And Liberty, by Brett McCracken
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Death is the Enemy

When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved. “Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.” Jesus wept.
. . .Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
-John 11:33-35, 38

It’s not right. It’s unnatural. It’s abnormal. It should not happen. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. Death makes me angry.
It made Christ angry as well. When Lazarus died and Jesus was at the tomb, we read that Jesus wept. What we forget often is that Jesus was angry. Half of you right now are probably wondering, “Wait, is it right for Jesus to be angry?” It is not the only occurrence (like when he tossed tables in the temple) and we read elsewhere “be angry and do not sin.” Indeed, God is angry with the wicked. Anger alone is not wrong. The only human being who was ever angry without sinning was Jesus Christ. As I like to put it, Jesus was perfectly angry.
Why was the Son of God angry as he stood outside the tomb of his friend? Because he was facing his enemy. Death. Death who had ruled since sin entered through Adam. Death. The consequence of sin. This decay, this stain that is a reality for all sinful human beings.
We, as forgetful sinners, need to be careful with how we think about death. Sometimes we view death as welcome. Liberating. Freedom. We think of physicality as bondage. The body as a prison. Death is seen to release us from this, and the worries and struggles of life. And we back up this view with “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” or “to die is gain.” This is Platonic thinking, not biblical thinking. Death is not our friend. Death is the enemy.
It is such a present darkness that we have a tendency to get used to it. It is all around us. No one on this planet is unaffected by death in some relation, even before they experience it themself. It happens everyday on a massive scale. So what happens as a result of this saturation of death? We fall into thinking that it is normal. Because it’s always around. We fall into thinking that it is the natural order of things.
But it is not. The reality revealed to us in the Bible says otherwise. Death is an invader. It is not normal. It is not natural. It is an enemy laying constant siege. I myself didn’t fully grasp this until Francis Schaeffer pointed it out to me (posthumously, ironically) in The God Who Is There (pg. 117 in the single volume Schaeffer trilogy), which he also mentions in a letter he wrote:
In the midst of a fallen world things are abnormal; they have been changed from that which God made them originally.  Christ could be angry at the tomb of Lazarus as He faced the abnormality of death; and we have a right to be angry too.
Schaeffer referenced this very same text, noting Jesus’ anger. Christ was angry at death and the abnormality. Schaeffer noticed a point about the scene: Jesus was about to bring Lazarus back to life! So why was he angry? Doesn’t that make it all better? Why is he angry, and weeping, when he’s about to raise him? Because the enemy is still here. And the battle is not yet. The final defeat of death is yet to come. Recall how it was, in the beginning? Death entered after our first parents rebelled against our Creator. Paul reminds us of this, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. . . Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression” (Romans 5:12, 14).
I was recently provoked to thinking about this again by how sadness and anger are curiously mingled when someone dies. We grieve. Yet we are angry, like we have been robbed. The death of someone is upsetting, to put it mildly. Infuriating is more like it. This is not right. It should not be happening. They should not have died. It’s wrong. There’s barely words. We scream, “Why?!” We know why. Sin. We are thoroughly corrupt with sin. That’s why. Brought to our senses by Christ, we see more clearly the hatefulness of death. I hate it. And so does Christ.
See him standing there, outside the tomb. Martha and Mary near by, crying. Weeping. They say things could have been different. They’re about to be. In a greater way than they can imagine. Martha believes in the resurrection. She confessed Christ. She knows death is not permanent.
The victory comes in an unexpected, paradoxical way. What a reversal. Christ suffered death, himself. The sinless one suffered the consequence of sin. As painful and hurtful and agonizing as the death of our friends and loved ones in Christ is, the death of Jesus Christ was infinitely worse. Not only was he sinless, but he was righteous; having lived according to God’s law perfectly. Adam and his descendent deserve death because of sin. But the second Adam earned eternal life. Yet, he paid the penalty for our sin. It is in dying that death is defeated. Jesus’ heel was struck by the deadly snake as he crushed its head.
But, death could not hold him. Jesus Christ resurrected, never to die again. It was different than other “resurrections” in Scripture, where a person was raised up, yet unchanged, still to die. Those are more appropriately termed “resuscitations.”  What happened to Jesus was different. Jesus resurrected, was glorified. And the same is promised to us. This is our hope. Death where is your sting?
In our anger, remember the coming resurrection. As we witness death, close for far away, remember the resurrection. While we are angry at the death of those we know in the Lord, remember that it’s not the end. Remember that those in Christ are wholly saved, body and soul. The consolation of the Gospel is not that our loved ones in Christ are mere souls in heaven. It’s ironic how neglected the resurrection of the body is in evangelicalism. What’s the comfort offered at a Christian funeral? All that is typically mentioned is the salvation of souls and the soul leaving the body to go to heaven and be with Jesus. Yet Paul says that physical resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity itself.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
-1 Corinthians 15:12-17
We are without hope if the dead are not raised bodily. What a half-salvation that would be.
But thank God that is not the reality. We await the redemption of our bodies. We will see them again. It will be made right. Those who have died in the Lord will be more glorious than they were in this life. Those who have died in Christ, are not gone. Yes, they are truly absent from us, but they are not lost. It’s not wrong to mourn. Indeed, weep, be angry and deeply moved. Jesus Christ was, and he was the righteous one. Because, death is an invading enemy. But do not despair. This enemy’s end has been decided. Jesus beat it. Death’s days are numbered. Death itself will not live forever. Death itself will be killed. Christ delivered it a mortal wound. The enemy has been fatally struck. Jesus Christ has won the victory, and we await that day when the last enemy, death itself, will be thrown out.
We do not have a high priest that was unaffected by the abnormality of death. He had loved ones die. He suffered death himself. And he has done what it takes to overcome death. He triumphed over it. And we will dwell with Christ, bodily, for eternity. Imagine the joy of seeing everyone in the Lord, resurrected and glorified. Imagine the greater joy of seeing our Victor, the One who executed death itself for us, bodily. We will see him face to face. This is our hope. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Jesus lives! I know full well nought from Him my heart can sever,
Life nor death nor pow’rs of hell, joy nor grief, henceforth forever.
None of all His saints is lost; Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus lives and death is now but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul for thou has a crown of life before thee;
Thou shalt find thy hopes were just; Jesus is the Christian’s trust.
-Jesus Lives and So Shall I
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