Should We Cancel Ravi Zacharias?

I did not know Ravi Zacharias, but I esteemed his worldwide ministry and have been impressed by the organization he founded and led. He was a winsome and eloquent advocate for Christianity, especially in public lectures. My appreciation only grew when I recently read a chapter about his life and ministry in a reference work called The History of Apologetics. Ravi was a consummate evangelist who employed apologetics to trouble “happy pagans” with truth and to bring Christianity to cultural influencers around the world. He said that “Apologetics is the seasoning; evangelism is the meal.” I agree. I prayed for his recovery from cancer and was saddened by his passing. Now I am concerned about his legacy.

I fear that Evangelicals may follow unwise cultural trends in light of the new allegations of serious sexual impropriety made against both apologist and evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, and allegations about how Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) may have handled these and other financial matters. If these are substantiated (or even if they aren’t), some may be tempted to cancel Ravi and his ministry. Many today want to cancel—meaning destroy or dismiss—aspects of American history they reject. Yes, there is much about America that needs to be repented of and replaced by something better. But the cancelation spirit is dangerous when its zeal for absolute purity leads it to ignore the good that is so often mixed with the bad in a fallen world. We don’t burn down the house to disinfect the shower, and we should not cancel Ravi. Nor should we cancel or ignore any women whom he may have hurt. If there are victims, they need love, support, and perhaps compensation. Nothing I will write minimizes the significance of the charges made or the consequences that might follow if the charges are substantiated against Ravi or against RZIM.

However, we should not make irresponsible accusations, as seems to have been done by some in the #MeToo movement. We should not commit false witness against Ravi or anyone else (Exodus 20:16). It is better to apply Paul’s counsel about evaluating prophecies to this scandal: “Test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NIV). Or as Jesus commanded, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24. NIV).

Canceling Ravi Zacharias could mean that publishers take his books out of print, that readers no longer read them, that contributors withdraw their support from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and that Christians generally disparage or disregard his half century of apologetics and evangelistic ministry. Before going that far, let’s think things through.

I am not taking sides or casting stones. I hope and pray the truth will emerge and that right actions be taken by the right people at the right time. But however things shake down, prurient interests should not be satisfied, since it “is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12, NIV). RZIM is investigating the charges against their founder through a law firm. Zacharias’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, is looking into matters as well. I have no association with these investigations and no relationship to RZIM. Rather, as a journeyman Christian philosopher and apologist, I write to issue a warning. Before that, we should review biblical ethics concerning ministry, since any scandal is a cautionary tale.

Paul admonished Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV). True doctrine and godly living are equally necessary for ministry. Paul further stipulated that an overseer must be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6-7, ESV). That applies to all Christian leaders.

Those with high callings need high standards, lest the messenger discredit the message and the messenger lose integrity. Christians continue to sin, but no Christian should be controlled by sin (1 John 1:8-10; 3:6). High profile leaders fall hard when they fall and often drag down many others with them. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, KJV).

Since we are vulnerable to immorality, we should heed Jesus’ words: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV). Paul paid close attention to his own integrity. “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NIV). Christian ministers should fear being disqualified and take radical measures to defend themselves against it. We do so by guarding our hearts and being accountable to wise friends, counselors, and leaders (Proverbs 1:7; 4:23-27; 27:17; Matthew 5:27-32).

When Christian leaders fall and are exposed, they can repent and be restored—or they can run or dissemble. This scandal has surfaced after Ravi’s death, so that is impossible. He has faced his Master, who knows all things and judges righteously. We only know in part and often judge wrongly. How might we discern the matter as it stands?

First, whatever the verdict on Ravi, nothing should discredit the value of his apologetics or the fruit of his ministry, which brought many thousands to Christ and encouraged many others to do apologetics (1 Peter 3:15). Paul rejoiced when the true Gospel was preached even out of false motives, since the gospel will have its effect (Philippians 1:15-18; see also Romans 1:16-17). I have no evidence that Ravi had bad motives in ministry. However, Paul’s point stands: Irrespective of the faults of the preacher (or apologist or evangelist), the gospel will do its work, and for that we should rejoice. Ravi’s ethos may be tarnished, but his logosshould not be. 

Second, arguments are good or bad apart from the character of the arguer. To think otherwise, is to commit the ad hominem fallacy. Ravi’s apologetic method, called “The 3.4.5 Grid,” was sound. In a nutshell, this grid tests a worldview logically (Is it consistent?), factually (Is it empirically adequate?), and existentially (Is it livable and meaningful for life and death?). This agrees with my apologetic method I articulate in Christian Apologetics. Ravi used the 3.4.5 grid to great and global effect. We dare not discount that.

Third, without excusing sin, we might remember “the weakness of God’s servants,” as Francis Schaeffer wrote in No Little People. Moses, “the man of God,” murdered an Egyptian. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba’s and had her husband killed. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times. No one is sinless except Jesus. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV).

Fourth, when a high-profile leader is accused of wrongdoing, it raises concerns about ministry culture. Is every ministry leader held accountable to his or her organization? Will the organization fairly investigate charges? Are prestigious leaders held to a lower standard because of their significance in an organization? If wrongdoing is found, will organizations repent and clean house? It’s time to examine ourselves and our ministries. “The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).

In 1983, Ravi Zacharias prayed for $50,000 to start a ministry aimed at the thinking skeptic. He told no one. Not long after, a stranger gave the $50,000 that marked the beginning of RZIM. When Ravi asked the man what he would like in return, he said, “All I want is your integrity.” That is what God wanted from Ravi and is what God wants from us.

Jesus and Logic

In On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003), I argue that Jesus was not an irrational mystic, but was a kind of philosopher who valued reason and who had an well thought out worldview. Moreover, he engaged in rational arguments with his interlocutors. Here is a section of that book from chapter five, “Jesus’ Epistemology.” May it encourage us to highly value truth and rationality.

Noncontradiction as a Test for Truth

Jesus reasons from the Scriptures and he reasons against his critics. When presented with an apparently irresolvable dilemma concerning the resurrected state or political allegiance (Matthew 22:15-22), he finds a tertium quid that avoids either horn of the dilemma. In this, and in all his other use of argument, Jesus implicitly endorses the law of noncontradiction as a necessary test for truth. A statement and its negation cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. Jesus never accepts a proposition and its negation as both true; nor does he revel in irreconcilable paradoxes as a way to disarm rational thought and make room for faith. Jesus at no time invokes an irresolvable paradox when pressed into a logical corner—although he will often employ a paradox to give a memorable ending to a pertinent teaching. When accused of holding contradictory teachings or of opposing the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus argues in order to resolve the apparent contradiction and vindicate his teaching.

Nevertheless, some interpreters attempt to make Jesus into a Jewish Zen-Master or guru by claiming that he employed mind-stopping contradictions. They compare several paradoxical sayings of Jesus to Zen koans. A koan is a riddle having to do with a logical impossibility; it is given to a Zen student in order to induce the student to transcend normal logical analysis and rational processes. Zen epistemology involves transcending all dualities and antitheses through various practices, such as contemplating koans and sat-zen (meditating on a blank wall for hours) in order to attain the state of “no-mind.” A famous Zen koan is, “What is the sound of one hand [clapping]?” This question has no resolution, because one hand cannot clap (in any standard sense of clapping). 

Jesus utters statements that are prima facie similar to koans, such as, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30). But Jesus’ use of paradox is pedagogical, not illogical. It has nothing to do with Zen or any other kind of mystical practice that abandons rational categories as a means to enlightenment. Jesus’ paradoxes are given not as epigrams, but as memorable conclusions to his teachings. They have an intellectual context and communicate propositional knowledge. The statement, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” is not affirming that “first equals last” (a contradiction), as would a Zen koan. Rather,  Jesus is speaking of the final reward of those who give up much in this life to follow him. This reward more than compensates for the losses they experience. Therefore, many who are “first” (or fortunate in this life) will be “last” (or unfortunate in the next), and vice versa. Jesus’ phrasing is paradoxical, and, therefore, pedagogically provocative; but it has a determinative and intelligible meaning (see Matthew 19:16-30).

Please Don’t Say or Think This: “Let’s Take Back America”

While watching a political documentary I shall not name, one Christian said that if enough evangelicals would register and vote, we could “take back the nation.” I started expostulating so loudly to my wife that my dog Sunny went over to her and climbed into her lap. He was even shaking. 

Now, I wasn’t angry at my wife or at my dog. I was angry with the rank idiocy of this statement. Here’s why:

First, evangelicals are not in agreement on the significance of issues or on who best represents their views. For example, black, Hispanic, and white evangelicals tend to vote differently. 

Second, this is America, not a theocracy. If you are a Christian and a citizen of the United States, you have the religious liberty (for now) to organize, contribute, and vote your conscience under God and before man. But so do other religious believers and those of no religious beliefs. So, we don’t “take back” the country from anyone. We never had it to begin with, despite the Christian influence on the country. If we mean that we want Judeo-Christian values to have more influence, then good. But skip the “take back” language, please. 

Third, the language of “taking back America” may concern non-Christians who think that Christians who get their way politically will put others in jeopardy in one way or another. But if we support the Constitution and the rule of law, that will not happen.

Fourth, there is a lot more to reforming and renewing America than winning political battles. In many races, both major candidates are debauched and it turns out (again) to be the lesser of two evils, which is also the evil of two lessers. Further, even good laws only go so far to improve society. Much must be done in the pre-political or non-political realms. As a Washington insider once told me, “There are a lot of dead bodies floating downstream by the time they get to Washington, DC.” He meant elected officials!

There is nothing wrong with educating and mobilizing Christians in politics. There is plenty wrong with “taking back America.”

Tom Gilson, Too Good to be False?

I asked Tom Gilson, author and editor at The Stream, to answer several questions about his intriguing book, Too Good to be False (DeWard Publishing, 2020) which takes a unique approach to the character and teachings of Jesus. I have found the book to be insightful and apologetically helpful. It has been endorsed by Lee Strobel and J. P. Moreland.

Click here can purchase Tom Gilson’s Too Good to Be False?

1. What is the central thesis of Too Good to be False?

It’s a two-part thesis with a coda. The first part stands alone, and occupies about the first half of the book: Jesus is greater than you knew. I’m hearing from many Christian readers, from everyday bloggers to seminary professors, that this portion of the book has genuinely surprised them with new insights into Jesus’ extraordinary character.

The second part builds on the first: Jesus’ character as portrayed in the accounts, is too unique, too consistent, too unexpected, and too good to have been produced the way skeptics think the story was developed, through legendary processes.

It’s not only that he’s “too good to be false,” though that’s part of it. The skeptics theorize legendary processes as the source of the Jesus story, but I say these processes are inherently story-scramblers, and Jesus’ character is manifestly not scrambled. He is very recognizably the same Jesus from beginning to end, in all four accounts, maintaining a stunning, detailed level consistency in a long list of traits.

The coda? He’s worth following no matter what. That’s part three of the book. I think we’re heading toward a stage in history where Western Christians will have to face the “no matter what” question like never before. But he is extraordinarily good no matter what, his truth is certain no matter what, and we must keep following him no matter what.

2. What most surprised you in your research?

Many things. I took an approach to Jesus that may never have been published before. (If it has, I’d be very happy to hear about it.) Instead of focusing on what Jesus did and said, I looked for what he didn’t do and didn’t say. 

For example, I was astonished to find out there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to Jesus having faith. Silence on a given topic isn’t always significant, but this one is, in my studied opinion. He taught faith even more often than he taught love. His love is mentioned often, but his faith? Never. There has to be an explanation for it. The best I’ve found has been in connection with Jesus’ deity. I won’t go into details on that here, though. 

Even more stunning was the discover Jesus never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit. Satan was right about one thing: Jesus could have turned the stones into bread. The mockers at the cross were right: He could have come down from there. If power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then by that rule Jesus should have been a tyrant. Instead he was the model of love. I try to imagine being that good, having even an infinitesimal fraction of his power, and I crumble, knowing I could never be that perfectly other-centered. It brings me to my knees in absolute worship.

3. Why do you think some aspects of your argument have not been used in recent decades in apologetics?

I wish I knew. It’s a complete mystery to me. What I do know is that the argument is stronger now than it was when Paley or Schaff used it, because skeptics have hardened into a position that’s more vulnerable to it.

I don’t know exactly what led me to it, though I wonder if it has something to do with not being a specialist in New Testament studies, which may have allowed my mind to wander more freely into new territory. 

For example, I used to do organizational assessment work for a major mission organization. Seeing what’s there in a team’s operations is easy, my partner and I quickly learned. The hard part — the skill we kept working to develop — is seeing what’s not there. It’s possible that might have helped me along in this study. 

4. How does your argument challenge the skeptical view that Jesus never existed?

I take the story seriously as a story. Every story has a backstory, a place, person or group that produces the story within its culture, and related in some way to that culture’s norms, expectations, restrictions, and so on. But the backstory has to fit; that is, if you view the story as the effect and the backstory as the cause, the backstory has to be the kind of cause that could produce that story as an effect. And I don’t think the skeptics’ legend theory is the right kind of cause to produce a story with a main character as unique, consistent, unexpected, and good as Jesus. 

Take away that skeptical backstory, and for now at least it leaves one live option: The Gospel accounts are true. Maybe skeptics will offer a new and better-fitting skeptical backstory. It’s hard to imagine what that would be, though. 

5. What has been the response to your book so far?

I keep hearing words like “surprising,” “refreshing,” “fascinating,” “compelling,” and even (from Gary Habermas) “a fun read.” Many are saying it’s helped them fall in love with Jesus all over again. One reader said she’d been sliding into spiritual apathy, but this view of Jesus, “totally shook me up.” It’s been so gratifying to hear of readers seeing Jesus in a new light through it. I’ll tell you, the same thing happened to me as I was studying for it. 

Meanwhile those who are more familiar with apologetics have expressed similar surprise at the originality of the argument. It’s new to our generation, at least. 

6. Have skeptics responded to it?

Some think they have, but they’re only responding to interviews I’ve done, though. So far I haven’t heard from any who have taken the trouble to read the book. 

From those who’ve tried to respond, the most common response has been, “Jesus isn’t actually that good. Just look how Christians have practiced slavery in his name!” But Jesus completely knocked the legs out from under slavery through his strong version of the Golden Rule, by teaching love for neighbor, and by condemning greed, pride, and self-centeredness. He demonstrated love for all, at every level of society. Christians (self-styled or otherwise) have failed horribly at living up to his example, but the book is about Christ, not about Christians.

Besides that, a couple of YouTubers have mounted massive takedowns of arguments I don’t make. Sometimes I wonder what’s so entertaining about that. You’d think it would be more interesting to engage with what people actually say instead.

Just today I heard one going on and on about a comment I’d made in an interview about Jesus being perfect from beginning to end in the accounts. “That’s bad literature!” he repeated in a half-dozen different ways. “Perfect characters are the worst characters. They’re boring!” 

It was sad and hilarious, both at the same time. He doesn’t know I made precisely the same point in my book! Except I also noted what this skeptic, too, should have seen: Billions of people in thousands of cultures across thousands of years would tell you Jesus is the single most compelling character they’ve ever encountered, in life or in literature. So if the rule is that perfect characters are boring characters, then Jesus breaks that rule into a billion tiny shreds. 

And that makes his character incredibly extraordinary on that one count alone. Still the skeptics think his kind of story is so easy to write, any old legendary process could have come up with a man like him. Funny thing: It’s never happened anywhere else. Not even close. Not in legend, not even flowing from the pens of the greatest poets, playwrights, or novelists, from Homer to Sophocles, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky to Dickens and beyond. Jesus, I say, is just too good to be false.

Your Jesus, My Jesus?

Shock, anger, sadness, and fear came over me as I watched a clip of a group of protesters curse “your Jesus” in unison with the F-word. Has it come to this? And what is this? Who is Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth does not belong to anyone, so there is no “my Jesus” or “your Jesus,” there is only the genuine Jesus—the Lord of history and eternity, the man who walked the earth in ancient Palestine, who died on a cross and who rose from the dead. Whoever we are, we must not take God’s name in vain or paint the one true Messiah in false colors that represent us more than him.

Jesus was not a man of means and social standing, for he stood outside the religious establishment. He was a traveling teacher, preacher, prophet, and healer, and he had nowhere to lay his head. He was accused of being possessed by demons—this one who cast out demons as no other ever did or will do. He knew what was in the heart of people, and he had no need for their acclaim to fulfill this mission, which was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus was no nationalist. He warned that his own nation, his own beloved people, would be judged once again for their refusal to recognize their day of visitation, their rejection of the Messiah. He claimed to have authority over every nation, calling them repent and have faith in him (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus was no racist. His ministry focused on his Jewish people, but encompassed others; and he commissioned his followers to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He spoke with and revealed his identity to a Samaritan women, a racial and social outcast to most Jews (John 4). Jesus is the man for others, all others. 

Jesus was no violent revolutionary (a zealot), otherwise his followers would have taken up the sword and stumped for political power over Rome. He said to render to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:18-23). The state is not God, and neither are his followers anarchists who want to burn it all down. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The way of Jesus is the the way of Cross—self-sacrifice, daring hope, and bold love. It does not burn down; it builds up. It does not hate, but makes the necessary sacrifices of love. It is not content with injustice; it works for justice, but justice with knowledge and wisdom. It eschews the irrational reflexes of unreflective rage for fits of rage are the work of the sinful fallen nature. (Galatians 5:20). 

There is no “your Jesus” or “my Jesus.” We must content with the real Jesus—now and at the gateway to Eternity. We can get Jesus wrong, and he warned of those who claimed to follow him who would be exposed as frauds at the Last Day. Listen to Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

We can only speak of “my Jesus” when we have made him Lord of our lives, when we have accepted his death on our behalf to forgive our sins and give us a new start on justice, wisdom, and love. Is “my Jesus” the real Jesus? Is “your Jesus” the real Jesus?

13 Principles for Addressing the Present Social Unrest

1. Pray for wisdom, safety, courage, and virtue–as a way of life.

2. Study the issues, such as a biblical view of justice, race, the state, and rights. For starters, read Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto. Then, Os Guinness, Last Call for Liberty.

3. Don’t speak about what you don’t know. Be different.

4. Don’t follow a multitude in doing evil–or being stupid.

5. Do not destroy anyone else’s property or threaten their person for your cause. 

“Civil war is the worst of all kinds of war”–Blaise Pascal. 

The end does not justify the means.

6. Don’t put your final hope in politics.

7. Don’t deny the importance of politics.

8. Politics is downstream from culture.

9. Work on strengthening the good, the true, and the beautiful in culture–in the home, in the school, in voluntary organizations.

10. Build up the church.

11. Never sacrifice personal virtue for the sake of supposedly common good.

12. Choose 1776 (American Revolution) over 1787 (French Revolution).

13. Chose Martin (Luther King, Jr.) over Malcolm (X). 

14. Don’t swallow non-Christian ideologies whole. Study the roots of ideas. For starters, see Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live (history of ideas). Then, James Sire, The Universe Next Door(worldviews).

Joni Mitchell

Kathleen and I have been watching specials about and interviews with Joni Mitchell. I have been listening to her music, especially from her jazz period: “Shadows and Light” and “Mingus.” On the former, her band is Pat Metheny, guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keys, Don Alias on drums and percussion, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Let that sink in your consciousness. Better: let the music itself sink in. She has also recorded with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

One inept interviewer pivoted any time Joni said something philosophical, which was often. He was more concerned with her relationship to fame (which she hates) and her creative process. She is a painter and a poet and a songstress. As an artist, she had the courage to never rest on her laurels, which are considerable. Like John Coltrane, she restlessly seeks more.

As far as I can tell, she has a Buddhist worldview mixed with astrology and with an appreciation for Nietzsche, who she quotes from memory.. She said, “I’m doomed by astrology to be a deep thinker.” What a sad viewpoint. Astrology dooms no one, since God is the “lord of the star fields, Ancient of Days” (Bruce Cockburn). She is seething with words and images and music. Who knows, but I imagine her words-to-length-of-songs ratio is very high (at least in one period of her career) when compared to other singers. She says a lot about many matters, and always poetically.

Oh, Joni Mitchell! Your songs are our companions. Your voice is unparalleled. Your sorrows run deep. She said her basic message was “You’re on your own. And that’s OK.” But we aren’t, and thinking otherwise is not OK. One of her songs has the lyric, “We’re gonna raise up Jesus from the dead.” What an odd idea. Too late! He has been raised and he will come again, bringing his own with him in great glory, a glory that makes the majesty of Joni Mitchell’s voice seem as almost nothing.

I wish I had an hour–at least–to listen to and talk with Joni Mitchell–and not because she is famous or talented or beautiful. Of all her words, some have spoken of God or the church. In the 1980’s she was angry about “snake bite evangelists.” So was I. Of all her words, I cannot think of any that recognized, let alone worshiped, the God who gave her the gift of being “a deep thinker” and the gift of being a singer extraordinaire. But I don’t know here entire oeuvre—so many words, moods, textures, voices.

Perhaps, I really don’t know Joni Mitchell at all.

Spiritual Warfare and the Christian

No matter how dark the times, we should remember and celebrate that Jesus has indeed defeated Satan and the demonic hordes John declares that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8) Christ triumphed over sin, death and the devil by his crucifixion and resurrection (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:14–15). It is in his power that Christians wage their spiritual war as loyal soldiers of the risen King. Any other allegiance is to no avail. Our real enemy is invisible, but real.

Paul should inspire us in this. When opposed by false teachers seducing the Corinthian church, Paul wrote:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every prevention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5; emphasis added; see also Colossians 2:8-10).

Paul takes on false teaching, not in his own strength, but by wielding God’s weaponry. He is on the offensive. Confrontation with dark forces requires the same empowerment.

Because of Christ’s victory over Satan, James can say to Christians, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7–8). As we submit to Christ’s lordship we are given authority to scuttle Satan. Christians are no longer under “the dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). God alone has ultimate cosmic authority, and he teaches citizens of his kingdom to pray that his “kingdom [may] come . . on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). After his resurrection, Jesus charged the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” because he had “all authority in heaven and on earth” to make it happen (Matthew 28:18–20). He still does.

Jesus is Victor, but the victory is being progressively executed through his people. The outcome is sure, but the battle rages on. The German theologian Oscar Cullman likened Jesus’ crucifixion-resurrection victory to D-Day, the turning point of World War II when the victory of the Allied forces was assured. Yet from this decisive point until the actual end of the war in Europe (called V-E Day) the combat continued. The soldiers still fought, but with a renewed vision for victory. Such is the Christian’s position: all will be completed at Judgment Day, and so we should fight the good fight of faith today.

Paul gives us the essentials for Christian combat in Ephesians 6. He reiterates that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12). Therefore, he urges us to “stand [our] ground” by putting on “the full armor of God,” which includes (1) “the belt of truth”—a deep knowledge of God’s character and will as applied to our lives; (2) “the breastplate of righteousness”—a godly character; (3) “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”—a willingness to proclaim the gospel; (4) “the shield of faith”—the protection of complete trust in the Commander-in-Chief that “extinguish[es] all the flaming arrows of the evil one”; (5) “the helmet of salvation”—the assurance of a right relationship with God through faith in Christ; (6) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”—the offensive weapon of scriptural truth applied to all situations (See Hebrews 4:12). Paul also adds that we should “pray in the Spirit” that our spiritual suit of armor might not slip off due to lack of closeness to God.

Psalm 91 also offers rich assurance of the protection of the believer in the “shelter of the Most High” and in the “shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1). The psalmist later declares the believer’s power over evil: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (v 13; see also Romans 16:20).

The armor clad Christian is ready for encounters with the enemy, and there will be encounters any time the gospel is brought to bear on a Satanic stronghold such as the New Age movement Many involved in the New Age may not believe in Satan or may not consciously contact spirit guides or may have no overtly ill intentions, but inasmuch as they reject the gospel of Christ for a counterfeit gospel they are of their “father the devil” (John 8:44).

Acts 13:6–12 gives us an example of a confrontation between opposing spiritual powers, which might be called a “power encounter.” We see Paul confront an occult deceiver, “a sorcerer and false prophet” known as Bar-Jesus or Elymas We should remember that at that time the gospel was spreading like wildfire over the known world, as Jesus’ resurrected power was being unleashed in preaching, healing, signs and wonders. The kingdom of darkness was being displaced by the kingdom of God. Conflict necessarily ensued. Paul and Barnabas had come to Cyprus to preach the gospel. At Paphos they met a sorcerer who was “an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus” (v. 6). It was then common for political leaders to enlist occult assistance; and this was part of the demonic design that Jesus came to destroy. The proconsul sent for Paul and Barnabas because he was interested in the Word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer “opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith” (v 8). Perhaps he figured that if his superior were converted he would be out of a job Paul, filled with the Spirit, sprang into spiritual action. Staring down the official “secretary of sorcery,” he condemned him as a “child of the devil” hell-bent on “perverting the right ways of the Lord” (v. 10). Paul then pronounced that he would be shut up by being blinded for a time. He was. At this, the proconsul “believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (v. 12).

This power encounter manifests several critical points. First, the gospel was opposed by the sorcerer; spiritual warfare erupted. Second, Paul rose to the occasion, not by an outburst of human anger, but as he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then, and only then, did he have the authority to bind the evil attacker. Third, both the message and the miracle convinced Sergius Paulus, and he was converted. God’s power through God’s minister overcame the power of the enemy.

As Christians do battle with dark spiritual influences throughout Western culture they dare not forget that they are dealing with power encounters, not just interacting with ideas, individuals and events. We triumph “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4.6)

Adapted from Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (pp. 39-43). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.

Race, Thought, and Action

What would happen if we stopped taking about “racism”–trading insults back and forth–and took up matters of the just and loving treatment of human beings, according to their different backgrounds, ethnicity, and abilities? Is there a perspective that unfairly assesses and treats people? Of course. Can social systems partake of this, consciously or even unconsciously, Yes.

But instead of hurling invective, how about thinking hard about our common life as citizens, whether we are poor, rich, politics, community organizers, teachers, politicians, “red and yellow, black and white (and brown)”? Instead of throwing stones and toppling statues (some need to be peaceably removed), pick up some books and build your knowledge unto justice and compassion. And if you don’t know what to think, don’t open your mouth. Ponder, then speak when ready, Then act when the time is right.

Here are some things I am doing.

  1. Talking to African American friends about what they think of what is going on and asking them if they have been discriminated against because of their race. I should also talk to Latinos and Latinas, etc.
  2. Reading on the subject, such as Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Dispossessed and “Deep River: The Negro Spiritual Speaks to Life and Death. (I am quoting the later in the 2nd. edition of Christian Apologetics).
  3. Changing my syllabus for Apologetics and Ethics to include a book called Urban Apologetics, written by a black evangelical named Christopher Brooks.
  4. Praying for justice, peace, and love to prevail.

 

Law, Love, and Justice

A politician recently said that racism will only be solved through conversion Christ. Since the problem starts within, in the heart, the heart needs to be radically changed through the supernatural regenerating power of Jesus Christ. He is both right and wrong in saying this, and the difference between what is right and what is wrong is no small matter when the world is blowing up around us.

Sin starts within and works itself out in myriad ways. As James wrote:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-4).

Fights, quarrels, murder and more are rooted in inner discontent and strife. Coveting disorders the soul and does not allow it to rest in God. The best way to change behavior is to change the man or the woman from the inside out, one by one. We need peace with God through Christ to demonstrate peace with others. As Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

If we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ, we can live in God’s grace, knowing his love for us. We than, therefore, live conscientiously before the face of God without self-deception. Being “born again” through faith in Christ gives us a new position before God. It also changes our motivations and desires. Thus, the ultimate answer to racial injustice and all strife is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change our attitudes and feelings about others, such that we truly love our neighbor as ourselves. James also speaks against favoritism concerning wealth. But the principle applies to race as well.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).