Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: apologetics

Give them reasons to believe

I just read a sentence from a children’s lesson about the Bible that leaves me bewildered. I don’t want to reveal the source, but here is the sentence: “Through the past centuries many ungodly men have determined and tried to destroy the Bible, the Word of God, but have not been able to accomplish it.”

Folks, this is whistling past the graveyard. The writer is saying:“I have this uneasy feeling that there might be something scary out there, so I’ll make a happy noise and pretend that I’m not scared.”

That just won’t do. Children who are old enough to read something at this level, with its bombastic writing style, already know that confidence in the Bible has been destroyed for the majority of the people in our country. Even among those who say they are Christians and go to church, many don’t believe the first few chapters of the Bible can be considered to be fact.

Our children deserve something more than “don’t worry, just believe.” We need to endow them with a solid foundation of why the Bible can be trusted. If it’s not being done, someone needs to write a new series of lessons for children who are coming into that age where they are beginning to question the meaning of life and the validity of faith. Let’s give them solid information, not platitudes.

I think I may have just talked myself into doing some writing.

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Book Review: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

At the ripe old age of 17 I believed I had outgrown any need for the Bible. It was almost ten years before I opened the book again. I was sceptical, but I thought there might be something worthwhile somewhere in this collection of writings. I guess I was looking for answers, but didn’t really expect to find any.

After a few months the connectedness of this “collection of writings” became harder and harder to ignore. There was no way I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe of its content, every part of it was connected to all the other parts. This was one book and I ether had to reject the whole thing, or believe the whole thing. This conviction was a major step leading up to my conversion a year later.

It is difficult for me to understand why so many Christians don’t seem to have caught on to this fact. Perhaps it is because they read here and there without ever reading through a whole book of the Bible. Perhaps it is because of outside helps that purport to explain the Bible. Reference books can be helpful, but one should never put too much confidence in them.

The Bible explains itself. There are symbols that have the same meaning whenever they appear. The more you read, the clearer the meaning becomes. There are threads of meaning that can be followed through the whole Bible. Many Bible stories are impressive and meaningful to a small child, yet there are depths to those stories that can never be fully plumbed in a lifetime of Bible study.

One of the workshop leaders at the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference recommended the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. The editors of this book attempt to trace the continuity of images and themes throughout the Bible. I like the approach of this book, yet I’m not going to say that they got everything just right – none of us ever do. This is a good book for the serious student of the Bible, and for those who have never caught on to the idea of how the themes and images of the book are woven together so tightly from beginning to end.

This is a big book, over 1,000 pages. Beware of shipping costs if you try to buy it online. I ordered mine from Kennedy’s Parable in Saskatoon. The price was higher than buying it online, but there were no shipping costs.

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors: Leland Ryken, James C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III.  © 1998 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Learning the craft of writing

The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.

Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter on writing for children, © 1976 Mollie Hunter, published by Harper & Row

I’ve always been writing – school assignments, letters, business reports, historical articles. I’ve always aspired to become a serious writer. I’m 73 now, I don’t suppose I have that many years left to attain that level. I’ve belonged to a writing group, attended writers’ conferences, read all kinds of books for writers. When do I stop learning and start doing? The reality is that they are not mutually exclusive, one learns more  by doing than by studying.

I’ve always known what I want to write, but it’s taken me a long time to see how to write in a way that will capture the interest of other people and not be combative or abrasive. I think I am finding my way to do that.  Part of that is what Mollie Hunter describes as hammering our a philosophy, shaping the mind and tempering the spirit.

Still, for the last while I’ve been in kind of a fog, perhaps afraid to step out and take the risk. Or perhaps confused because there are so many things I want to write. I have come to a conclusion now – I want to concentrate on two projects, one a book for children and the other a book that could be classed as Biblical apologetics. You will be seeing parts of that book in this blog in coming weeks and months.

I will do a review of Mollie Hunter’s book in the next few days, too.

The community of believers

The New Testament depicts the church as a building which has Christ as its foundation, and as a body of which Christ is the head. In both of these illustrations it is evident that the church is much more than the sum of its members. The reputation of the church should be based upon the reputation of Jesus Christ, not on the reputation of its members or its pastors.

If the church is a building (a temple), then all the elements of the building must be linked to the foundation and joined together in such a way that each part helps to hold the building up. A ramshackle building with pieces falling off and holes in the walls would not give one much confidence that this is the church of the Living God.

If we view the church as a body, then to see this body with arms and legs flailing about because of a dysfunction in the nervous system that does not allow them to receive coordinated direction from the head would give a similarly dismaying picture.

Yet isn’t this pretty much the picture that is given by the so-called “invisible church”? It seems that every joint and sinew has a different doctrine of how the body should function. The result is frenetic activity, but very little forward movement. The world looks on bemusedly and wonders where God is in all this confusion, or if there even is a God.

Yet God is at work. Many good and wonderful things are happening through men and women who are earnestly serving God and their fellow men. May God be praised for His goodness and mercy.

There are others who have become sidetracked by the love of acclaim and financial rewards. Sometimes there are spectacular flame-outs that bring the whole Christian enterprise into disrepute. There are others zealously promoting man-made doctrines that cause confusion, discord and ridicule.

The New Testament pattern is of a close-knit community of true believers, where each one seeks the well-being of the others and none are motivated by a desire for praise or gain. The spiritual leaders are servants, not lords. Decisions are made by unitedly seeking direction from the Holy Spirit.

There are times when such a body may seem to have almost fallen asleep as it considers the circumstances before it and examines all angles and possibilities. When direction comes, the body can move quickly and God will bless and uphold the steps that are taken.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The Logos

Why do we have four gospels? Wouldn’t it be enough to tell the story once? Evidently Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn’t think so and the early church agreed that they all merited a place in the Holy Scriptures. Some skeptics have claimed to find discrepancies and disagreements in the accounts, but these all disappear when one understands what each writer was trying to do.

The Gospel of Mark was the first, a bare bones gospel, simply a recording of the memories of an eye witness of Jesus’ life. It is generally understood that the eye witness was Peter and that Mark merely wrote down Peter’s recollections.

Matthew’s gospel was written for the benefit of Jewish believers and seekers. He takes great care to show how Jesus was the true fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies.

Luke wrote as a Greek historian. His gospel provides a coherent and well documented account of Jesus’ life for the Greeks, who put no stock in Jewish prophecies but just wanted to know the facts.

John’s gospel is something else again. It was the last one written and begins by identifying Jesus as the Logos and has a much greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit than the other gospels.

Psalm 33:6 tells us ” By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” The Book of Proverbs personifies the wisdom of God and in one place tells us: ” The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19).

In the time of Jesus and the disciples, the Old Testament Scriptures were being read in a Greek translation (the Septuagint) where word in Psalm 33 read logos. The Greek understanding of logos would have included all the meaning of word, wisdom and understanding. To the Stoics, the Logos was the divine force that pervaded and upheld the universe.

John began his gospel by stating “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . And the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

These words affirm the Old Testament teachings, then show how they are embodied in Jesus Christ and make the bold statement that the one writing this saw the Logos with his own eyes. These same words tell the Greeks that the Logos, which their philosophers have endeavoured to understand, has a genuine historical existence and has come to earth and walked among men.

From this divinely inspired beginning, John goes on to tell the story of Jesus. As he is the last of the gospel writers, writing some years after the others, he takes great pains to include the fullness of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit, as the power, grace and leading of the Holy Spirit were essential for the church in continuing the work begun by Jesus.

Each of the gospel writers was reaching out to engage their surrounding culture in a transformative manner. They were not  trying to make the gospel less offensive. They were showing how the gospel was the answer to the aspirations of all people for a relationship with their Creator. The gospel was a direct challenge to all other religious and philosophical claims to provide a meaningful life, and thus aroused much opposition. At the same time it was the answer that fit the lock and opened the door that nothing else could open.

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

Reality

  1. This is my Father’s world. I did not ask to be here. I cannot choose to be in another world. This is it and I may as well make the best of it.
  2.  I am made in my Father’s image. Even though I am earthly, like the animals, with all the capacity for savagery that entails, I am also a spiritual being, able to know and communicate with my Father, with all the wonderful possibilities that provides.
  3.  This world, this life, is not all there is. Voices are coming to me from beyond this world, alluring me to discontent, envy, anger, rebellion. Other voices, softer voices, urge me to love and be loved. My destination after this life depends on which voices I choose to listen to and obey.

This is reality. I may wish it wasn’t like that; I may choose to believe that it is not like that. But in the end, I cannot escape reality. Denying reality will not make me happy, now or ever. Happiness is only to be found in living in this world as it really is, not as it may appear to be or as I would wish it to be. Happiness is to be found in living to make others happy, not just in looking out for myself.

There are people around me who do not accept reality. Many people, probably most of the people I meet. This is shown by their attitudes, the way they choose to live their lives. Yet underneath the mask and armour there is still a person made in the image of the Father. A person who is sometimes capable of great acts of kindness, a person who might be touched by the kindness of others.

It is not up to me to unmask them, or tear off their anti-God armour, only the Father Himself can do that. Words and acts of love and kindness will do more good than cutting words of criticism. They are receiving altogether enough criticism already. And underneath that hard shell there is still the image of the Father and the realization that their rebellion against Him is not working out as they thought it would.

To show love and kindness is not to accept their rebellion against the Father. It is to show them that genuine happiness is found when we are ready to live the life that the Father made us for.

The need for Christian apologetics

According to Nancy Pearsey, when young people who have abandoned the Christian faith are asked why, the most common answer is that they could not get answers to their questions about the faith. Thus they assumed that there were no answers and that the stories hey had been taught were just so many fairy tales.

This brings us right up against Peter’s command: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). “Give an answer” is the English translation of apologia, the Greek word that Peter used. Thus apologetics simply means always being ready to give an answer when questions arise about our faith.

This does not mean that we need to be prepared with arguments that will overwhelm and overpower the skeptics — notice that Peter says “with meekness and fear.” But we should never avoid an honest question, even if we don’t know the answer. We simply need the confidence that answers do exist and to be willing to help the questioner search for those answers. If we are afraid to even do that, what hope is there for the future of Christianity?

Christian persuasion is an art for lovers

Christian persuasion is for those  who love God, who wish to make the best possible case for the one they know and love, and who appreciate that love is an essential part of the knowledge that stems from the seeking and finding. Persuasion is for followers of Jesus who love him because they know him, and therefore need no convincing of  their unspeakable privilege of knowing him and making him known. . . . The Christian persuasion we are exploring here is not for salesmen, propagandists, proselytizers, PR consultants, lobbyists, press officers, spin doctors, damage control experts and the like. It is not enough to share our faith out of guilt or social pressure or a desire to compete with rivals for cultural influence in today’s world. There are more than enough consultants to cater to those with such motives. This book is for those who desire to share the way of Jesus because of their love for Jesus, and who know that love is a key part of any human being’s search for knowledge and truth.

-Os Guinness, from his new book Fool’s Talk, Recovering the art of Christian persuasion. © 2015 by Os Guinness, published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL

Loving God

It is important to have an assurance that God loves me just the way I am. But is that the most important factor in Christian life?

The Law and the Gospels tell us that: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. ” This quote is from Luke 10:27, but the same instructions are found in Deuteronomy, Matthew and Mark.

Now, since love is the gift of God, part of the fruit of the Spirit, we really don’t have to be concerned about whether we love God – right? I wish. In a way, it really is that simple, but we humans have a talent for making simple things complicated.

First off, I start by thinking God and I see things the same way and what He wants for me is exactly the same as what I want for me. You’ve got to love a God like that. Then things start to go awry, things don’t happen the way I thought I had a right to expect — and my relationship with God starts to get a little sour. Why wasn’t God listening to me?

Eventually a little wisdom begins to develop — God knew all along that the things I wanted would not be good for me, wouldn’t turn out like I expected. He tried to warn me — I was the one who wasn’t listening. A hard lesson.

For a time I go on in a constant state of agitation and tension between the things I want and the things God wants for me. This is not a good place to be, the problems get bigger and bigger — to the point that it becomes almost impossible to believe that there is a way out.

How many years does it take before the light dawns that my problems are big because I haven’t allowed God to be God in my life? Oh, I have always wanted to serve Him and I have not wandered away from Him. But I never really comprehended how big He is. I have relegated Him to a small corner of my life and tried to conquer my problems alone, with just a bit of advice from Him from time to time.

Why don’t I just let Him take charge of the whole big mess? Things aren’t going to turn out as I had anticipated, they are going to turn out far better, because now I am allowing God to show me what is truly valuable.

When I learn to let God be God, and love Him with every fibre of my being, my problems don’t go away. But now they are dwarfed by this great big wonderful God who has control of my life.

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