Advice to Christian Apologists: Being Wise as Serpents and Innocent as Doves

Jesus exhorted us to love God with all our minds (Matthew 22:37-39). Explaining, commending, and defending the Christian worldview is not limited to experts; it is the call of every Christian (1 Peter 3:15-16). Arguing that Christianity is objectively true, compellingly rational, and existentially engaging over the whole of life is essential to Christian witness. Our salt and light must not be hidden, Jesus teaches. Since all Christians should be witnesses to the reality of the Gospel, every Christian is an apologist. Some excel at this task and others do not. All Christ-followers are called to worship God. We do not single out a group called “worshippers,” as a subset of all Christians. However, some are much more genuine, clear-eyed, and whole-hearted in their worship than others.

“Since all Christians should be witnesses to the reality of the Gospel, every Christian is an apologist.”

We are sent out as sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16). Because of this danger, Jesus instructed his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Jesus also instructed his followers to be witnesses who are wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Wise words matter for our mission. We do not want to mislead or muddle the Gospel. The word apologist aptly describes one who makes a case for Christianity. However, this word often connotes a biased presentation given for vested interests. The apologist is taken as a huckster, a propagandist, a shady salesman. Woe to the Christian who fits this description.

Since the word apologistis redundant for the Christian and because it carries unneeded opprobrium, I suggest we use it sparingly, if at all. Once a week, I am introduced as a “Christian philosopher,” on a secular radio program. I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy and teach the subject full-time. I am also a Christian. Yes, I have written much on apologetics, and this term designates a particular field of study. But none of my degrees are in apologetics. All them of are in philosophy. Thus, I do not advertise myself as an apologistper se.

Whether or not one has degrees in philosophy, it is wiser to explain and defend the Christian worldview without using the word apologeticsor apologist—if possible. Of course, some have received graduate degrees in apologetics. Good for them! My school offers one, and I direct the program. There is no reason to hide this. The church does not recoil from this term, by and large. But the non-Christian world is suspicious of it. Argue for Christian truth, by all means, but avoid being stereotyped. Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. What does this mean, besides not stereotyping yourself as an apologist?

Apologists should be wise as serpentsby being cunning and clever, but without sin. You can wisely insinuate Christian truth into unlikely places if you are enterprising and ethical. This was Paul’s aim: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20;NIV).

Deception, however, must be avoided. Just as Christ-followers must avoid being deceived, so must they shun deceiving others. As Paul writes;

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8; see also 1 John 4:1-6).

When writing to the Thessalonians, Paul assures them that “our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive” (1 Thessalonians 2:3, ESV). For example, public lectures on apologetic themes should not use the bait and switchmethod found in advertising. A customer is lured in by one product only to find that selling another product was the real purpose of the advertisement. If this is morally questionable in business, how much more should apologist shun this technique which borders on lying?

I was once guilty of this myself, if only indirectly. In 2009, I gave a talk at a local college called, “The Deniable Darwin,” in which I challenged the sufficiency of natural selection to explain the bacterial flagellum, a molecular machine. The ministry that sponsored the event told me they wanted a woman in their group to give a short testimony after my talk about her Christian conversion. I did not suggest the idea, but agreed to it. Not long after the event, I realized that her testimony had little to do with my talk, which was limited to an apologetic against Darwinism and an argument for a Designer. In other words, it was a piece of natural theology, not a defense of the gospel per se. After all, not every apologetic event needs to be evangelistic; it can be pre-evangelistic, as the masterful apologist, Francis Schaeffer, put it. Some in the packed room may have felt that my talk was simply a set up for the testimony. This was untrue, but it may have seemed that way. But if being “wise as a serpent” precludes deception, what does in it include?

“Not every apologetic event needs to be evangelistic; it can be pre-evangelistic, as the masterful apologist, Francis Schaeffer, put it.”

In the early 1980’s, a friend and I taught a class at the University of Oregon in a program that allowed non-faculty to teach for-credit courses if they were approved by a professor. We knew the head of the sociology department, who signed on for us. Our subject was comparative worldviews. We used James W. Sire’s classic, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue(originally published in 1976 and now its fifth, and last, edition.) Each term, I would create a flyer advertising the course and put it up all over campus, staple gun at the ready. My copy said that “evangelical and orthodox Christianity” would be compared with other worldviews, such as naturalism, deism, pantheism, and more. My elder brother in teaching said, “Take out evangelical and orthodox” and just put ‘Christian.’ It will attract more people.” He was “wise as a serpent.” I was not as wise at that point. Today, I have grown in that grace.

How might apologists be “innocent as doves”? The contrast between serpents and doves seems unbridgeable. The cunning are not innocent, are they? Jesus thinks otherwise. The Messageparaphrase renders it, “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” Defenders of the faith should never be con men or operators. We should seek no advantage for our cause outside of what is virtuous. Paul knows that even those with bad motives may still proclaim the true gospel, but he does not commend that.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18).

Being innocent also pertains to what should not be known. Paul tells the Romans that, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). There are some things that apologists should not know, in some cases even about the worldviews and practices they attempt to refute. Jesus says to the church, “Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, I will not impose any other burden on you” (Revelation 2:24).

Earlier in my career, I wrote much about the New Age movement. My research was extensive over several years, and I read some unsavory stuff. However, I tried to never read anything not necessary to my apologetic against the New Age worldview (pantheism, monism, reincarnation) and for Christianity. When I studied particularly dark subjects, I prayed for protection and read the bare minimum necessary. Further, I have studied very little about Satanism, since I had my hands full with my other research and discerned no call to minister in that area. I take seriously Paul’s admonition: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

Having been an apologist for the last forty years, I could give much more advice. I have only highlighted the need for defenders of the faith to be wise, but innocent, witnesses to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Without these values, apologetic arguments, no matter how powerful, will sit unused and be ineffective. But when we pay heed to Jesus, our arguments will find their home in the hearts and minds of those who need his saving grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Providence on the Cheap

The Bible’s teaching on providence is that an infinite-personal and triune being governs the cosmos. This being, God, is never outwitted or surprised. He is Lord of heaven and earth. His purposes will be achieved, despite the turpitude of humans east of Eden.
Providence on the cheap appeals to a historically-ungrounded and perverse notion of “karma.” The teaching of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism claims that an impersonal mechanism punishes and rewards humans according to their actions. But karmic effects on only obtain between one’s lifetimes (reincarnation), not within one. That is, everything one experiences in one incarnation is the result of previous incarnations. What one does in this incarnation will have its effects in the next lifetime. Further, this system is impersonal; it functions automatically and without moral evaluation or moral agency. (This itself is a philosophically problematic idea, which I have addressed in Christian Apologetics, chapter 25.)
However, Americans apply karma to one’s lifetime. One author even writes of “instant karma,” to explain a good circumstance following a good deed of his. This is nonsense and contradictory, given the rigors of karma and reincarnation in the Eastern systems of thought. Worse yet, Americans, by combining loosely Christian ideas with Eastern doctrines, imagine that karma is administered by some personal and knowing being. But this is alien to Hinduism and Buddhism. Moreover, Christianity denies karma and reincarnation, but affirms the resurrection of the dead–for punishment or redemption (Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15).
God’s providential governance of all history and eternity is that of a moral administration, judge, and savior, through Jesus Christ. No one can build up good karma to merit anything before God. God demands perfection. There is only one life available to get right with a holy God (Hebrews 9:27). It was only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ that makes atonement and brings reconciliation between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Whatever good works are wrought by the Christian are not the basis of salvation, but rather the fruit of salvation.
Let us give up providence on the cheap, which is an illicit blending of Eastern doctrines and the one true Gospel of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Herein is truth, peace, and meaning.

Kierkegaard on Sin

When I read the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in the spring of 1976, it opened the doors of myself that eventually lead to Jesus and his Gospel. In this excerpt from Philosophy in Seven Sentences, I explain Kierkegaard’s understanding of sin—a concept that showed me to myself for the first time. 


Kierkegaard on Sin

Kierkegaard is now ready to spring the trap. He says that “despair is sin.” It takes two forms.

Sin is: before God, or with the conception of God, in despair not to will to be oneself, or in despair to be oneself. Thus sin is intensified weakness or intensified defiance: sin is the intensification of despair. The emphasis is on before God, or with a conception of God; it is the conception of God that makes sin dialectically, ethically, and religiously what lawyers call “aggravated” despair.

The self is divided against itself in two ways, which are two sides of the same self. The first state of sin is to give up willing to be oneself. This is “intensified weakness,” which may sound odd but is not. One may shrink back from any task at hand (inward or outward) by hiding in excuses, such as “To err is human” or “Nobody is perfect.” These statements are true, but not the kind of truth the self should be satisfied with. The self is a movement and is not static. We know what an error is, and we do not praise it. We know what imperfection is, and we do not praise it. We embody both error and imperfection regarding moral intensions and actions. Kierkegaard will not let us rest in the popular phrase “mistakes were made.” We wonder how all these mistakes occur by themselves and without agents making them. Weakness is intensified when we play the victim when we are not the victim. I once accidently hurt a young playmate of mine. It was not traumatic to him, until his mother appeared. He then threw a fit over the egregious injury I had so unjustly caused him. His weakness was intensified.

The second state of sin is when we will to be ourselves in despair. We continue in a pattern of life that is less than ideal, with no hope of reform or renewal. People may say, “I’m just a big eater [meaning: glutton]” or “I will never get organized,” but they will to be this way—and without hope. Yet the conscience is not clean; it is not satisfied with chronic tension and disappointment. It is resigned to its condition but still feels guilt. Think of Friedrich Nietzsche’s defiant boast in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where he speaks of a life considered well-lived. This is a life so well-lived that one could bear repeating it eternally. Of the whole life one can affirm “Thus, I willed it.” Nietzsche said yes to the overcoming self, the self which is free from excuses but also free from scrutiny outside the self. For Kierkegaard the Nietzschean self is no self at all. This is because the essential dynamic of despair has been dissipated in the pure, untrammeled will. (The apostle Paul calls this “will worship,” and it is thus a form of idolatry.) But surely the will can go wrong. If so, then the will in itself cannot correct the will.

Nietzsche deftly illustrates Kierkegaard’s idea of “defiance.” To ignore or to repress is not to defy. Defiance pits itself against something. Nietzsche, in the voice of “the Ugliest Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, says,

But he had to die: he saw with eyes that saw everything; he saw man’s depths and ultimate grounds, all his concealed disgrace and ugliness. His pity knew no shame: he crawled into my dirtiest nooks. This most curious, over-obtrusive one had to die. He always saw me: on such a witness I wanted to have my revenge or not live myself. The god who saw everything, even man—this god had to die! Man cannot bear it that such a witness should live.

This defiant despair is not just found in Nietzsche and a few others. I know it from the inside out. As I mentioned, I was assigned The Sickness Unto Death in a history of modern philosophy class. When I began to read that book I found that it was exposing the deepest dynamics of my soul. Through my study of atheists—such as Nietzsche, Freud and Marx—I thought I had dispensed with God. However, I could not fully suppress my awareness of God (see Romans 1:18-21). Yet I did not want to submit to this God. Rather, I would will to be myself in my despair. As a rebel against God, I wanted to be a witness against him. Kierkegaard made me distressingly clear to myself, which was the reason for his book. This literary, philosophical, spiritual experience opened a tightly shut door that a few weeks hence led to my confessing myself as a sinner and Christ as Lord (see Romans 10:9; John 1:12-13).

We still hear the word sin quite a bit, and most of the lingo is not very compelling. Augustine has already deepened our understanding, but we will face a daunting challenge to conceive this concept aright. Most references to hell today are glib and unthinking. Some years ago a cartoonist drew a strip called Life in Hell, which had nothing to do with the place Jesus Christ warned about. Why this flippancy? This old, grave word was evicted from its home and is now acting as a vagabond, casting about for some shelter far from its native country. The ghost word sin now alights on notions such as mistake, miscue, false guilt, and needless shame. It finds no grounding in gravitas. According to the oracle of Google, there is a group named “The Sinners” and another called “Sinner.” But Kierkegaard does not discuss it in the way that Billy Graham or Rick Warren does, although all three hold to the historic Christian doctrine of sin. Nor does Kierkegaard resemble the approach of Jonathan Edwards’s much-excerpted (and much-misunderstood) sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Kierkegaard labors to explain and treat sin in existential-psychological categories, but without denying or compromising the church’s historic confession of humans as sinners. (He deals with original sin in The Concept of Anxiety, which is a companion to The Sickness Unto Death.) Kierkegaard sought to look inside the human condition to sound out its often obscured depths: its desires, its despair, and its possibilities. He feared that people could easily lose their selves in a labyrinth of popular dead ends but still receive the applause of the crowds and the money of investors and customers.

Groothuis, Douglas. Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic (p. 136-139). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

A Christian Apologetics Manifesto (19 Ways to Ignite Apologetic Passion)

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it—Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:9).

This is a manifesto to ignite the holy fire of apologetic passion and action. As did Jeremiah, we should have “fire in our bones” to communicate and commend Christian truth today (Jeremiah 20:9). This manifesto is not a sustained argument or a detailed development of themes. Rather, as a manifesto, it proclaims a short series of interrelated propositions crying out for both immediate and protracted reflection, prayer, and action. These challenges issue from convictions formed through my nearly thirty years of apologetic teaching, preaching, debating, writing, and Christian witness.

Because of (1) the waning influence of the Christian worldview in public and private life in America today, (2) the pandemic of anti-intellectualism in the contemporary church, and (3) the very command of God himself to declare, explain, and defend divine truth, I strongly advise that the following statements be wrestled with and responded to by all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Christian apologetics involves the presentation and defense of Christianity as an integrated worldview that is objectively, universally, and absolutely true, reasonable, knowable, and existentially pertinent to both individuals and entire cultures. Apologetics involves rebutting unbelieving accusations against Christianity (2 Corinthian 10:3-5; Jude 3) as well as giving a constructive and persuasive case for Christian theism (Philippians 1:7; 1 Peter 3:15).
  2. Any intellectual discipline, church practice, or teaching that minimizes or denigrates the importance of apologetics is unbiblical and must be repented of (Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:16-34; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). The degradation of apologetics can only lead to the further vitiation of the life of the church. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
  3. The fundamental issue for apologetics is not how many apologists one has read, or what apologetic method one embraces (although that must be worked out carefully). Rather, the essential issue is whether or not one has a passion for God’s transforming truth—reasonably pursued and courageously communicated—and a passion for the lost because of the love of God resident and active in one’s life (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Like the Apostle Paul at Athens, we should both be “greatly disturbed” because of the rampant unbelief in our day. We, like that great apologist, should also be intellectually equipped and spiritually prepared to enter the marketplace of ideas for the cause of Christ (Acts 17:16-34).
  4. The apologist must be convinced of the truth, rationality, pertinence, and knowability of the Christian worldview, which is derived from Holy Scripture as it is logically systematized and rightly harmonized with general revelation (truth knowable outside of Scripture). This is an intellectual goal for a lifetime as the disciple of Christ seeks to love God with one’s mind and take more and more thoughts captive to obey Christ (Matthew 22:37-40; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The apologist should never rest content with an ad hoc or piecemeal worldview, as is so typical of those afflicted with postmodernist pastiche sensibilities.
  5. In light of (1), (2), (3), and (4), fideism—the claim that Christian faith finds no positive warrant from reason or evidence—should be rejected as unbiblical and harmful to the great cause of biblical truth (Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 12:1-2). Fideistic confessions such as “I just know that I know in my knower,” do little to challenge unbelief or induce unbelievers to consider the saving truth of the gospel. Moreover, members of other religions can use the same technique to attempt to support their false beliefs. This is especially true for Mormons, who rely so heavily on subjective feelings to verify objective claims. Fideism strips Christianity of its rational witness to the reality of God’s holy revelation to humanity.
  6. Any theology, apologetics, ethics, evangelism or church practice that minimizes or denigrates the concept of objective, absolute, universal and knowable truth is both irrational and unbiblical. As such it must be rejected and repented of. Thus, the postmodernist view of truth as socially constructed, contingent, and relative must be rejected by Christian apologists. Anything that might be true in postmodernism can be found elsewhere in better philosophical systems. What is false in postmodernism (the vast majority of it) is fatal to Christian witness. Without a strong, biblical view of truth apologetics is impossible.
  7. The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to saving faith should not be artificially separated from faithful apologetic engagement. Many Christians wrongly think that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is exclusively non-rational or even irrational. The Spirit is free to win and woe unbelievers in a host of ways—including dreams, angelic visitations, healings, visions, meaningful coincidences, and so on—but we must remember that He is “the Spirit of truth,” as Jesus said (John 16:13). There is no reason to separate the work of the Holy Spirit from rigorous and skillful argumentation for Christian truth. The Holy Spirit can set the redeemed mind free to argue logically and winsomely; he also reaches into the unbeliever’s soul through the force of arguments. Apologists should earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit will make them as intelligent and knowledgeable as possible.
  8. All apologetic endeavors should manifest the virtues of both humility and courage through the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Galatians 5:16-26). If we have been bestowed by Almighty God with truth to defend rationally, this is because of God’s grace, not our own goodness (Ephesians 2:1-8; Titus 3:5-6). There is no room for pride, which goes before a fall. If Almighty God has bestowed us with saving truth to defend rationally, we should take it to the streets and not shrink back from appropriate encounters with unbelief. There is no room for cowardice. As Paul counseled Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
    Humility should not be confused with uncertainty or timidity. One may be confident in one’s worldview and defend it publicly without being arrogant. The grand apologist, G.K. Chesterton explains this perfectly and memorably.
    But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason.
  9. Apologetics must be carried out with the utmost intellectual integrity (Titus 2:7-8; James 3:1-2). All propaganda, cheap answers, caricatures of non-Christian views, hectoring, and fallacious reasoning must be avoided. Sadly, some apologetic materials are too cavalier for serious use. One should develop competent answers to searching questions about the truth and rationality of Christian faith. This demands excellence in scholarship at all intellectual levels, even the most popular. This cognitive orientation takes time, money, and sustained effort. It will not happen by watching television or by otherwise wasting our limited time. Christians must thus cultivate the virtue of studiousness in order to grow deep in their knowledge of God, the Christian worldview, and how to bring the Christian message to bear on unbelief.
  10. The artificial separation of evangelism from apologetics must end. Many evangelistic methods die when those evangelized ask questions related to apologetics. Therefore, all evangelistic training should include basic apologetic training as well. The Apostle Paul serves as a model for us in that he both proclaimed and defended the Gospel in the Book of Acts (Acts 17:16-34; 19:8-10). Jesus also rationally defended his views as well as propounding them.
  11. Apologetics is meant just as much for believers with doubts and questions as it is directed toward unbelievers. Therefore, Christians with doubts should not be shunned or shamed, but given good apologetic arguments (as well as pastoral care) in dealing with their intellectual struggles. When follows of John the Baptist came to Jesus with John’s questions about Jesus’ messianic identity, Jesus did not rebuke them, but provided evidence for why John should believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 11:1-11). Jude also counsels us to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22). One way to show mercy to the doubter is to build him or her by giving reasons for Christian faith. The apologetic witness of the church is strengthened tremendously when Christians gain rational assurance that their faith is indeed true and cogent.
  12. Since all Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. The commonly heard canard, “No one comes to Christ through arguments” is patently false. Many people, such as the apologists C.S. Lewis and John Warwick Montgomery, were drawn to the gospel through apologetic arguments. By God’s grace, I have been able to help unbelievers see the truth and rationality of Christianity through apologetic arguments. Well-respected Christian philosophers and apologists, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland concur. Not all Christian teachers are equally gifted in apologetics, and some will emphasize this discipline more than others; but none should minimize the necessity of apologetics or preach around it when the biblical text requires otherwise.
  13. Those outside of the leadership positions mentioned in (12) should humbly but boldly request that apologetics be made a constitutive part of these institutions if this is not already the case and pray to that end. We must stimulate each other to love and good deed in his area (Hebrews 10:24).
  14. In light of (12) and (13), Christian colleges, seminaries, and churches should incorporate apologetics into their institutional/educational life, mission, and vision. Specifically, every Christian high school, college, university, and seminary should require at least one class in apologetics for every degree in their curriculum. Sadly, this is not now the case for most institutions of Christian learning. Moreover, every discipline should be taught from a Christian worldview, since all truth is God’s truth. This has significant apologetic value in and of itself. Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, has written very insightfully on this practice with respect to the Christian college.
    Christian education within the church, especially the junior high level and above, should become more intellectually serious and thus more apologetically oriented. Classes should be taught by thoughtful teachers who engage students to outthink the world for Christ. These settings should become more like prayerful classrooms and less like chattering religious coffee and donut centers. Along these lines, churches should invest significantly in church library that is well stocked with books on apologetics and other topics.
  15. Mission agencies should insure that their missionaries are adequately trained in the apologetic issues and strategies required for their place of service. The Great Commission requires that Christ’s followers disciple the nations by teaching them everything Jesus taught his original disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Since Jesus prized the life of the mind and defended this theology and ethics rationally, Christians should bring the best arguments for Christianity and against non-Christian religions to bear on the mission field. The nations cannot be discipled apart from the full orbed teaching and defense of the Christian worldview as it relates to all of life.
  16. Because apologetics is meant to be the presentation and defense of Christianity as true, reasonable, pertinent, and knowable, competent apologists should attempt to offer their arguments in as many public venues as possible. Therefore, qualified Christian apologists should learn to become public intellectuals: thinkers who have mastered their material and are willing and able to enter public discourse and debate in a way that challenges and engages the non-Christian mind as well as galvanizes other Christians to hone their apologetic skills. Areas of apologetic engagement include the following:
  • Writing letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines.
  • Writing op-ed pieces for newspapers.
  • Calling talk radio programs.
  • Engaging in public debates and dialogues on religious and ethical issues, particularly in university campuses, where young minds are being forged for a lifetime.
  • Making apologetic contributions to interactive web pages.
  • Writing books oriented to those outside the typical evangelical market, published by secular publishers if possible.
  • Creating apologetics tracts for specific events.
  • Any other creative outreach—drama, poetry, cinema, and more.
  1. Christians should also labor to present reasons for faith in as many private settings as possible. Many who are not gifted as public speakers or writers can shine in their interpersonal Christian witness. This can include apologetic encounters such as:
  • Inviting people into one’s home for apologetic messages and discussions.
  • Giving apologetic literature to friends, family, and coworkers.
  • Writing letters to friends, family, and coworkers explaining and defending Christianity.
  1. Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). As the Dutch statesman, theologian, and journalist, Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine!'” One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness.
  2. All apologetics ventures—whether in writing, speaking, or dialogue—should be backed by personal prayer by the apologist and supporting prayer of the church (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Certain apologetic ventures—especially those that deal with the occult and false religions—may require fasting in addition to prayer (Matthew 6:18-20; Acts 13:1-3).

May we who are redeemed through the blood of the lamb and who yearn to proclaim, explain, and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ take as our charge the Apostle Paul’s rousing conclusion to his glorious exposition of the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

 

Death and the Fall

Nothing screams, “This world is fallen,”louder than death. We were not created to die, but to live with God and each other in natural harmony and to develop creation in God’s will.

We were not made to have our souls leave our bodies. But that happens at death. The run up to this departure is seldom peaceful. It is not natural. The body wants to live. It was created to live. But it must die. It may die piece by piece, ability by ability, word by word. Those who die slowly must take a long and unbidden passage into darkness.

The body wants to live. It was created to live. But it must die.

In dying slowly, not all parts or functions of the body fade or fail at once. The eyes may see, but the brain does not know what is seen. The legs may be strong, but there is no sense of balance and no where to go, since agency is gone. The mouth can chew, but there is no coordination to bring the spoon to the mouth. The vocal chords are in working order, but the brain cannot make them speak or sing. No, death is not like turning off a machine.

My wife will receive a rich welcome when her soul leaves her body. But the process of leaving that body behind–after years of glacial decline–is torture. One second with Jesus Christ will dwarf all her pain and fulfill all of her longings. When she is gone, I can think of this beatitude and thank God for it. But I cannot experience it with her. Only her lifeless body will be left in a dying world; it must be prepared for burial by people we do not even know, whose services I have already paid for.

Sacramental Theology Under the Sun

“How do you fit those two things together?” I paused before answering. I do this more as I age. She and I, along with another bright student (with her dog, Samson), were talking about theology, spiritual formation, and dogs—as we enjoyed craft beer at Living the Dream Brewery.  The two things needing fitting together were sacramental theology and the Ecclesiastes kind of life, which is so much of my life.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all (Ecclesiastes, 9:11; KJV).

Life is unfair and unpredictable for the most important matters. Understanding escapes us, even as we thirst for it.

Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it (Ecclesiastes 8:17-18; KJV).

Under the sun, we walk in the fear of God, committing much to mystery, trying to enjoy what God gives—and takes away.

Sacramental theology, as I tried to tease it out, affirms that the world is full of heaven; the natural speaks of the supernatural; life is rich with symbolic meaning; the finite mediates the infinite. God is with us, in us, and for us. We experience this most dramatically in the Eucharist and in the Spirit-led preaching of Holy Scripture. Consider Anglicanism’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion teaching on communion.

XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper.
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. . .

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

Sacramental theology speaks of Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist, but also of God’s presence in and through all areas of life. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Or, as the hymn sings, “This is my Father’s world. He shines in all that’s fare.” So, then, how can a theology of Ecclesiastes faith amidst the ruins of a wrecked world be squared with a sacramental faith that claims God’s good presence everywhere, but especially in the two sacraments (Eucharist and baptism)?

God does vouchsafe his presence and direction through nature, friendship, reading, and much else. He is always there, always here within us. But God sometimes hides himself (Isaiah 45:15) and keeps his own counsel, leaving us dry and dusty—and even desperate. Hence the many sad reflections of Ecclesiastes and elsewhere in the Bible. We should try “read the signs of the times,” while knowing that much of it is indecipherable.  This is our lot “under the sun,” our way in a fallen and groaning world that yet awaits its full redemption (Romans 8:16-23).

The sacraments, on the other hand, are not indecipherable. They ring out in sight, touch, and taste. Their meaning is biblically fixed (however much we wrangle about that) and durable. They are the substance of two thousand years of Christian practice. The elements of these practices—water, bread, wine—are common, not esoteric. We don’t need a French deconstructionist to interpret them for us (or anything else). These elements become symbols that mediate the sacred for us through the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth. They are God-ordained, not invented by mere mortals. Nor are they subject to revision. Their meaning is fixed, solid, and reliable—week after week, month after month, year after year. Of this, we can be certain. The sacraments of the church anchor us in the eternal. We may be tethered to eternity as we are blown around by a world that often makes little sense, the Ecclesiastes world “under the sun.”

The church’s sacraments remain true and holy, real no matter what assails us, even though,

 the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11; KJV).

And yet, the Gospel is true, no matter what. Christ is Lord, come what may. God has given us his symbols and practices to root us in him in a rootless world, to train us to remember what the world wants us to forget. The more forsaken I feel, the more I cling to the realities that the sacraments reveal to us. For now, that is how I combine Ecclesiastes and sacramental theology. Thank you for asking, my young student. Perhaps we will talk again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 Years of Classroom Stories

While hanging out with some students from Denver Seminary, I recounted some of the funniest and oddest experiences in my many years of teaching. I told them I would write an essay on this.

Good teachers want students to learn well. We earnestly endeavor to prepare well and create an atmosphere where knowledge happens. But things go wrong or surprise us.

In about 1995, I was role playing as a Hindu philosopher in my apologetics class. I was making a case for non-dualism (or pantheistic monism) and the students were trying to refute me. It was quite philosophical. I had yet conceded nothing when a student asked, “Would you like to accept Jesus as your Savior?” I was incapacitated by hilarity, as was the class.

A few years ago, a student made a remark about me liking Kenny G (knowing my true feelings). I walked out of the class and then came in the back door. The student had panicked and was looking for me outside. The class was hysterical.

Many years ago, I suffered through being in class with a student who was both clueless and talkative. He or she waved her hand eagerly to make another long and inane comment. She then called out to me. I said, “I was trying to ignore you.” She then made her inane comment, nonetheless.

A student asked me a question that was obviously covered in the reading for that day. I asked, “Did you do the reading?” The student answered, “No.” I said, “Then I don’t have to answer your question.”

Before I banned laptops from the classroom about ten years ago, I passed out a piece of paper saying that students would not go on line while they used their computers to take notes. I asked them to sign this and turn it in to me. At this a student stood up and yelled, “You are treating us like high school students.” I replied, “You and I and the Dean will talk about this later.” Not being deterred the student said, “We don’t have to take this: Revolt!” I looked out at the horrified class and said, “If any of you want to revolt with this student, you can leave the class and we will all talk to the Dean later.” The student later apologized and the tension dissipated.

During a doctrinal oral examination, another professor and I probed a student about the present existence and location of Jesus after this resurrection. The student was flummoxed and did not have the categories to respond. He looked more panicked and frozen than a deer in headlights. My colleague said, “I feel like we are doing dental work here, trying to pull the answers out of you.” The student later retook part of the examination and passed. He now knows where Jesus is (besides in his heart).

I made many comments on a student’s thesis in philosophy. He responded to all of them, but neglected one. I gave back his thesis and told him to attend to what he omitted. I also said that as a penalty, he had to take me to a baseball game. He did.

At the break during a class, a student came up to me and said that my button-up shirt was buttoned unevenly. I corrected that in the men’s room.

In apologetics, I pretended to be a jazz saxophone player named Zoot. Zoot asked that the class give him an argument for the existence of God from the existence of a saxophone. They did, and Zoot was impressed.

I was teaching a very large and long class on apologetics on a week night. To keep people interested, I brought a Frisbee to class. When I wanted someone to answer a question, I threw it into the class. Whoever caught it had to answer the question.

One student turned in a paper in which he misspelled both my first and last name: Douglass Groothius.

I was reading a student paper on the philosophy of technology and thought, “This is quite good. This is me!” The hapless student copied two full pages from my book, The Soul in Cyberspace.

When teaching at Metro State College, I received the worst paper I had ever seen. It was terribly written, except where it plagiarized from an atheist web page. The student also wrote, “Because I am a Christian, I am a relativist.” I call this paper F cubed. F for writing. F for plagiarizing. F for logic.

In a history of philosophy class, I assigned a paper on Kant. One of the students turned in a paper on Descartes instead. Oops.

I saw a student looking down at the floor next to her desk and moving a piece of paper on the floor. “Marina, what are you doing?” She said, “There is a spider on the floor and I want to save him.” She then put the spider piece of paper and put him out in the hallway. I’m not sure how long he survived there, though.

I am sure more stories will come to me, but these may amuse you.

 

Movie Thoughts on “God’s Not Dead, 2”

God’s not Dead, 2 (2016)

A teacher is accused of proselytizing in the classroom simply because she answered a student’s question about whether Martin Luther King’s nonviolent protests were influenced by Jesus. The teacher affirmed it and quoted a verse from the Sermon on the Mount.

When word gets out, the teacher is vilified as preaching in the classroom and must take her case to court. She is assigned a young, inexperienced, but tenacious lawyer.

I won’t give away the plot. Rather, let’s consider some of the strengths of the film.

1. The lawyer decides that it is crucial to give historical arguments that Jesus existed and that the Gospels are credible. The plan is that the teacher could cite the saying of a teacher in history. Thus, we hear testimony from the real Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace at some length. Rice Brooks, the apologetic mind behind the film, and Gary Habermas gets to say a few things.

2. Like the first God’s not Dead, someone stands for Christ under pressure, this time the school teacher.

3. The lawyer representing the teacher destroys the claim that “the separation of church and state” has any bearing on the case, since it is not in The Constitution.

However, the plot and logic of the story have weaknesses.

1. The teacher is said to have broken a law by mentioning Jesus in class. That law is never stated or even paraphrased. Thus, we don’t know if she violated any law. I find it unlikely that an historical reference to Jesus as part of answering a student’s question could be construed (even by the ACLU) as illegal. Instead of legal specifics, it is set up as Christianity verses secularism, which is far too vague. US Courts don’t work that way.

2. I am not a judge or a lawyer, but I find it hard to believe that the judge would have permitted some of the behavior in the courtroom. It strained belief.

3. The tables are turned dramatically near the end of the film, and was nothing less than rhetorical genius. The move was a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t say more. However, the maneuver seemed to have nothing to do with the legal issue at question (inasmuch as we can figure that out).

All told, “God’s not Dead, 2,” was more believable than the first installment. It was moving in places. The acting was believable. Since I don’t sink to the absurdity of giving stars (unless a magazine, which shall not be named, makes me), I simply recommend this movie for Christians, seekers, those hostile to Christianity, and for believers in other religions.

4 Reasons Why Leaders Should be Readers

Christian leaders need to direct and inspire through their knowledge and character. I here assume you are not reading romance novels or graphic novels. Leaders should be readers, among other things. Why?

1. Reading deepens your awareness of life. You can see things with other eyes and expand your awareness. God’s people need perspective.
2. Reading helps you not to be a sucker, to be sucked into superficial fads, bad ideas, and general stupidity.
3. Reading helps you love others better, because you have more meat to offer them.
4. You need to be an example of intellectual rectitude and studiousness.

How can this be done?

1. Limit time online. Kindle is good for some things, such as reading while traveling and for capturing text. However, the book affords its unique charms for understanding. See my chapter, “The Book, the Screen, and the Soul,” in “The Soul in Cyberspace.”
2. Find time alone and without distraction to read. Perhaps “a clean, well-lit place,” or in messiness (as I do).
3. Ask thoughtful friends what they are reading.
4. Haunt bookstores for books. Duh.
5. Check the New York Times Book Review.

What to Read

1. That which deepens your calling.
2. History: for perspective on today.
3. Philosophy: sharpen your critical thinking prowess and knowledge of worldviews and the history of ideas.
4. Psychology: better understand yourself and others.
5. Poetry: the kind you can understand.
6. Apologetics: learn to defend your faith wisely.
7. Ethics: for moral discernment.
8. Social commentary by smart people.
9. Everything related to the Bible.
10. Science, especially what is written from the Intelligent Design viewpoint.
11. Classic literature: Plato, Aristotle, Pascal, so much more.
12. Literature: enliven your imagination through story.
13. Spiritual writings: deepen your relationship with God.

That should keep you busy for some time, good time.

26 Tips to Writing Badly

Writing badly comes naturally to most, but these tips will help you become awesome in your epic badness.

  1. Don’t proofe read .
  2. Who cares what the difference is between a semicolon and a comma?
  3. Use common terms over and over, such as “great,” “nice,” “awesome.”
  4. End a paragraph whenever the mood strikes you.
  5. Ignore word limits. Express yourself as need be.
  6. Don’t read “gifted” or “classic” writers who have endured through history. It might rub off on you.
  7. Write with many distractions going on around you. It helps you be creative. (I hear that this helps people with ADD, though.)
  8. Only fulminating fussbudgets care about the difference between em-dashes and hyphens. Innovate – yeah…
  9. Never risk going over people’s heads when you write. Go for the lowest common denominator—or lower.
  10. Use worn out, cliché phrases. First and foremost, everybody is used to them, so it’s cool.
  11. Mix metaphors. Everybody does it.

    In “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” Bryan A. Garner offers this classic example of a mixed metaphor from a speech by Boyle Roche in the Irish Parliament:

    “Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat. I see him floating in the air. But mark me, sir, I will nip him in the bud.”

    Isn’t that cool?

  12. Capitalization is UP to You. Don’t fuss over any Rules in the matter.
  13. Never consult style or grammar guides. Why cramp your expressive style with stupid rules? Instead read cool books about the new uses of language, which have been marinated in the internet.
  14. creative. with. periods. W.h.y. n.o.t??!!…
  15. Use commas, or, not. Up to you.
  16. Being fussy over complete sentences is a sign of anal-retentive fascism. Keep your grammar out of my bedroom!
  17. Imho, use text talk in writing, lol. U r entitled to it. K?
  18. Always be breezy, never serious, cuz, like, why be inhibited?
  19. Instead of finding the right work combination to articulate an idea, use extra punctuation!!! Why not??
  20. Throw in quotation marks “randomly” to express a knowing skepticism for no reason.
  21. Read Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. Do everything he says not to do.
  22. Embrace obfuscation.
  23. For all intensive purposes, don’t fuss over getting sayings right. It will wreck havoc on your style and undermine the tenants of your writing.
  24. Never turn in a paper to Douglas Groothuis or any other curmudgeon who insists on obeying rules, developing an elegant style, or mastering documentation. These people are so 1970s!!! lol; omg.
  25. Any noun can be verbed. Example: The Governor smokescreened that issue.
  26. Boldface whenever you There are no, like, rules.