Tag Archives: Evangelism

Phillip Jensen on Apologetics & Evangelism

by J. Matthew Pinson

Recently I listened to a podcast by Phillip Jensen, the evangelical Anglican pastor from Sydney, Australia. Despite the obvious doctrinal differences between Free Will Baptists and Reformed Anglicans, Jensen and the Matthias Media folks down in Sydney are interesting people to watch. They demonstrate what it means to have aggressive, growing, evangelistic churches in the highly urban, post-Christian setting of Sydney. Yet at the same time they show how to do this by relying on the sufficiency of Scripture and not giving in to gimmicks and depending on attractional, market-driven, or seeker-driven approaches to get churches to grow.

Continue reading Phillip Jensen on Apologetics & Evangelism

The Gospel & Cultural Identity

by Jackson Watts

Recently I was perusing an older edition of Integrity, the theological journal which the Commission for Theological Integrity occasionally publishes (back issues available in PDF form here). I especially enjoyed reading an article written by Dr. Jeff Turnbough on culture as a missiological concept.

Turnbough remarks that in recent years he has given a lot of consideration to the biblical imagery of Christians as pilgrims, and the implications that has for our life in the world. As I was reading his discussion of this, simultaneously aware of his missionary background and the recent celebration of Memorial Day, I thought his piece provided a helpful caution about syncretism. Syncretism, from a religious perspective, is typically understood to be a problematic attempt to amalgamate different religious, cultures, or ideas, thus compromising the core substance of the original truth.

He warns,

While we must immerse ourselves in local cultures in order to communicate eternal truth effectively, we must be careful not to mix local wisdom with godly wisdom. This is probably most difficult when we stay in one culture all our lives, especially if the nation claims to be a Christian nation. We must pledge our allegiance first and foremost to God and heaven and treat our present location (as ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom) with diplomacy and respect, without betraying our loyalty to our eternal homeland. If we fall in love with a specific earthly and human sociocultural system, that love and allegiance will tend to distort and skew our perspective of eternal values. That is dangerous for the Christian pilgrim. Divided allegiances usually lead to varying forms of syncretism. Ultimately, in order to avoid this problem, we must follow the biblical exhortation to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18) [1].

Such words of caution have significant import for not only missionaries, but national church planters, pastors, and all Christians who are serious about communicating the Gospel wisely.

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[1] Jeff Turnbough, “Understanding Culture: From a Missiological Perspective,” in Integrity 3 (2006), 65-89.

Eschatology for the Now

by Kevin Hester

I was not the student to whom my fellow commission member, Rev. Randy Corn, referred in his recent post The First Word on Last Things, but I could have been. My attitude about eschatology was one that saw it only as an intramural Christian debate over the interpretation of a number of vague Biblical references in apocalyptic literature. The National Association of Free Will Baptists has wisely chosen to allow significant freedom on this theological doctrine, so I resolved not to make it an issue myself. In reality it may have been more of a copout. The theological openness on this point meant that I could remain open on it myself, and I therefore limped along with a malnourished, milquetoast panmillennialism. I have since repented.

This repentance was slow in coming. Jaded as I was by television preachers, Y2K, and the First (and then the Second) Gulf War, it was not until a class at Covenant Theological Seminary with Dr. Gerard Van Groningen that I first began to see that eschatology was more than dire predictions of the sky falling. Van Groningen was an Old Testament scholar who looked the part. Adorned with the most patriarchal beard I could imagine, he walked his students through the covenants of the Old Testament in a way that demonstrated the consistency of God’s progressive revelation in His program of redemption. It was in this class that I began to see that a truly biblical theology was a theology that refused to artificially separate the theological categories of creation, redemption, and consummation, but saw all three as summed up in the works of a personal God whose love overflowed in all His acts.

I began to realize that God’s work of redemption was cosmic in nature, and not confined to the internalized, individualistic experience of salvation bequeathed to me by the Protestant revivalism of my tradition. My experience of God in the present was an effect of God’s redemption in the past and was causally connected to God’s purposes in the future. As Paul demonstrates, my experience of salvation is the outgrowth of God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and Moses (Romans 10:4) and is itself a harbinger of the hope of a renewed creation (Romans 8:22-24).

With this realization, Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God took on new meaning. The universal promise of God’s blessing to all the nations made to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) is fulfilled in the eternal worship of the heavenly state when those from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather in worship (Revelation 12:9). The means of this fulfillment is the Church’s present proclamation of Christ and his Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:19-20). The missional purpose of the Church, my own justification and ongoing sanctification, were a part of God’s eschatological plan. Eschatology was about the “now” just as much as it was about the “not yet.”

Eschatology, therefore, has a number of practical applications for the present. These applications touch on how we view the world and how we interact with it. The model of interaction gives us a plan for engagement.

Impact on the Present

Eschatology teaches us that at this moment we are living in the midst of God’s activity. God is sovereign over history and is working right now in our lives and in His church. This hope is not dependent upon our feelings or even the apparent general course of this world or our country.

               Sovereignty

God gave John a vision in Revelation that was meant for a small, persecuted group of believers in Asia Minor that is, by extension, also for us. The message was one of His presence and His promise. Christ is present among us in the midst of our difficulties (Revelation 1:13) and God rules in complete control from his throne (Revelation 4). God’s sovereignty means that He is working out His purposes in the world. God will manifest His lordship in time and space in this world. No heavenly or earthly powers will be able to ultimately frustrate His work (Revelation 6:15-17).

               History

Eschatology also tells us that history is significant; both individual and cosmic history. History is a record of God’s engagement with humanity. It is purposeful, having a telos or goal. History therefore gives meaning and purpose to our lives and our relationships. Even our trials and tribulations lie under His sovereignty and He works through them to accomplish His purposes (Romans 8:28). It is at the consummation of all things that we will come to understand and God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).

               Hope

Eschatology gives Christians a reason to hope. The divine rule of Christ has been inaugurated in the Church and in the lives of Christians. The kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21) and will come about through us. This gives us a foretaste of what God is going to do universally. In the midst of a highly technical eschatological discussion of the resurrection, Paul makes the following practical application of hope in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, “comfort one another with these words.” With this hope we are called to face any and all situations. We can be assured of God’s ultimate victory in this world.

Impetus to Action in the Present

               Evangelism

I realize that there are some millennial perspectives which raise questions about the imminence of Christ’s return. Scripture, however, couples the offer of the Gospel with the entrance of the kingdom. God’s truth is for the present. We often miss the eschatological link between the Great Commission passages and coming of the eschatological kingdom seen in references to Jesus’ authority (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). But the eschatological link is made especially clear in Jesus’ original commissioning of the twelve (Matthew 10:7 and 10:23).

Eschatology also promises that we can proclaim the Gospel in confidence. God’s Word and work is always accompanied by His power (Isaiah 55:11). Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmation of faith was that the Church would be built on this faith and that as it advanced Hell’s gates would not withstand the onslaught (Matthew 16:18).

              Courage

The eschatological promise means that we can have confidence in the success of the Gospel, but it also calls us to courage. We have a promise of victory, but that does not mean that the battle will be an easy one. Jesus reminded His disciples that they would be opposed as He had been opposed and prophesied tribulation (Matthew 10:16-25). The primary burden of Paul’s eschatological teaching in 2 Thessalonians was a call for the church to remain loyal regardless of persecution and trial (2 Thessalonians 2:13-7). Eschatology teaches us to keep our lamps trimmed and burning (Matthew 25:1-13).

              Holiness

Though Christians do not know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36) we are assured that Jesus is returning to judge the living and dead (Revelation 22:20). We too will be judged at His return. This truth encourages us to live lives of holiness and consecration to God. As Peter reminds us, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11).

              Justice

Eschatology invites the church to initiate the life of the kingdom in the world. We are called to redeem the world and take everything captive to the Gospel of Christ. The church exists as God’s hands and feet in the world. The doctrine of the keys of the kingdom means that what we do, God does (Matthew 16:19).[1] This includes evangelism, but it also includes living out the kingdom ethic in such a way that our light and salt promotes a world that is characterized, inasmuch as we are able, by righteousness and social justice.[2] We are to fight for and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This likely means that we will be forced to ask the kinds of questions and give the sorts of answers that are broader than our political parties. If James tells us anything he tells us that a true Christianity, and by definition, a true eschatology will be known by its works (James 2).

Eschatology refers to the future, but if we confine it to that sphere alone, we have missed its relevance for ministry today. The verses I have referenced above are all eschatological in nature, but they all speak to what the Church is doing and should be doing in the world right now. Eschatology isn’t for arguing about the future; it’s for living in the world today.

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[1] While the reference to the “keys of the kingdom” most directly applies to the proclamation of the Gospel which has been entrusted to the Church and the entrance to the kingdom through its acceptance, the overall meaning is broader. The link between the work of God and human participation is seen in the connection of “binding” and “loosing” in heaven and earth. These terms have primary reference in rabbinic tradition to what was permitted under the Law and what was forbidden thus speaking to the ethical ramifications and demands of the Gospel. This is why this passage is also paralleled in Jesus’ discussion of church discipline in Matthew 18:18. The parallel is also expressed by John in his gospel in a different way. John links the work of the Father, the work of the Son, and the work of the disciples (John 14:12-14). It is in light of this agreement which is led by the Holy Spirit that believers can ask and receive from God (c.f. John 16:23-24).

[2] This term has become a “buzzword” that is often associated with particular positions and programs. My use of the term here is not meant to advocate for such positions but to indicate its earlier (primary) usage of the application of justice to the social sphere of influence held by the Church. Aristotle defined “justice” as giving to people those things to which they have a right. The law of love discussed by James is to be broadly applied in the Church and as the kingdom of God continues to break forth it calls the Church to greater cultural engagement in its application.

Bumper Sticker Theology

by Randy Corn

Does the name Piotr Mledozeniec ring a bell?  If you are anything like me, it doesn’t, but I would bet you have seen some of his work.

Mr. Mledozeniec is a Polish graphic designer who came up with a design for a traveling exhibit from a museum based in Jerusalem back in 2001. It incorporated a Muslim crescent, a Jewish Star of David, and a Christian cross.  This eventually morphed into the bumper sticker we are all familiar with that proclaims a one-word worldview: Coexist.

Recently, I came across an editorial in The Daily Beast written by Michael Schulson about this ubiquitous bumper sticker.  He rightly observes that this is the bumper sticker equivalent of Rodney King’s statement, “Can’t we all just get along?” made while Los Angeles burned.  I assume that people with this bumper sticker mean well, but I wonder if they have seriously thought about what they are suggesting.

Isn’t it naïve to think there is a compromise to be found in any conflict, especially when you consider the blatant force some exercise? Shulson writes, “ISIS is marauding across the Middle East. China is squeezing Tibet in an anaconda grip of cultural homogenization. Buddhists are causing violence in Sri Lanka, far-right Islamophobic parties are on the rise in Scandinavia, and Muslims and Christians are slaughtering each other in the Central African Republic.” Perhaps the Coexist folks assume that religious-based conflicts are about things that don’t really matter.  From a secularist perspective that might be true, but what about those of us who are seriously committed to certain core beliefs?

Some Christians do seem to relish the idea of minimizing what those core beliefs are, but there is an irreducible core to the Christian faith. An earlier generation called these the fundamentals.  While I have not discussed this with a Muslim, I am sure the same is true of Islam. What is the sincere Christian (or the sincere Muslim for that matter), supposed to do when they are in direct conflict either with one another or with other forces that might ask them to deny the fundamentals of their faith?

One area where this conflict surfaces is in evangelism, or what might be more broadly called proselytism. The logic seems to be that if all religions are equally valid then what gives anyone the right to “impose” his faith on anyone else?  To be sure, there have been some who would spread their belief at the point of a sword.  Christianity is not exempt from this. The Inquisition and later the forced “conversion” of native populations in the New World is a dark page in the history of Christendom. It should be pointed out, though, that while forced conversion is an aberration to Christianity, it is a tenet of Islam. Among many other examples, Qur’an 8:39 states, “So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief, i.e. non-Muslims) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone.” The philosophy of our bumper sticker would certainly condemn forced conversion, but what about the free exchange of ideas?

Evangelism, in the Christian sense, is not about imposing our faith on anyone; it is human persuasion working in tandem with the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  To be sure, some Christians have been obnoxious about this, but the knowledgeable evangelical realizes he can’t argue someone into the Kingdom of God.

Are religious people simply supposed to keep their convictions to themselves?  Is it offensive for a committed Christian to tell an unbeliever that he is praying for the lost man’s conversion?  If advocating coexistence leads the Christian away from any concern for the Great Commission, then it must be rejected out of hand.

It may be that I am overstating the implication of a one-word slogan, but at the very least Coexist is an appeal to minimize differences and be silent about any distinctions.

 

 

 

Why Do They Take the Bible Seriously?

by W. Jackson Watts

 

Recently our church baptized and welcomed into membership a couple who had been converted earlier this year. They had attended the church for well over a year, during which they developed a clearer understanding of the Gospel. Eventually they realized that their earlier professions of faith had been rooted in something besides the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, and finally they trusted in Him.

All Christians should be overwhelmed anytime a person ever responds positively to the Gospel of Christ. Additionally, it is humbling that God chooses the foolishness of preaching to elicit faith and repentance in people’s lives. However, it is equally humbling (and surprising) to see what sometimes transpires in the earliest stages of discipleship.

In the case of the aforementioned couple, and in many more instances, we often discover that new believers seem to eagerly latch on to what are sometimes seen as contested and controversial truths. Some of these Christian teachings include the complementarian view of gender roles in the church and home, the penal substitutionary view of atonement, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Such teachings separate Christians and entire denominations from others. Yet it often seems to be the case that new converts embrace the teachings of the church family in which they have been saved, even if they are doctrines which do not enjoy uniform support across confessional Christian groups.

Social scientists would simply refer to this as “socialization” in which we find individuals that are new to a group tend to adopt the beliefs and mores of the herd. Others may reduce it to a naïve willingness to entrust one’s mind to the faith community simply to be filled with whatever is thought to be true. There may be other explanations as well, or some combination of factors which contribute to new converts’ ability to adopt contested doctrines.

Admittedly, my own view is anecdotal and not driven by empirical research. However, I’d like to focus on one key doctrine—the inspiration and authority of Scripture—and offer two reasons why I think new converts often embrace a high view of the Bible. This subject is worth thinking about as we try to develop a strategy for catechesis. How much time do you spend on each doctrine in a new believers’ course, for instance? By considering how this doctrine is received by new believers, we may receive insight into how it might be further developed and taught to Christians in their initial stages of discipleship.

  1. When Jesus is taken seriously, the Bible is taken seriously.

A new convert recognizes that they have been saved not by a generic belief in God or confidence in self, but in a total surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how basic their understanding of the Gospel is, they will have been presented with a biblical understanding of human nature, sin, Christ, and salvation. Often the evangelist, regardless of the setting, will have either held a Bible or shared verses directly from it. In instances where people attended worship services for a lengthy period of time before trusting Christ, they will have heard numerous sermons, songs, and prayers populated with biblical truths. Because of this, it’s very likely that upon being saved they would possess at least some of the mental and spiritual architecture necessary to embrace a high view of Scripture.

Intentional instruction on the Christian view of Scripture should still take place despite the pieces already in place in the new believer’s heart and mind. In no time, unsaved friends, family members, or a History Channel documentary will undermine their budding conviction of God’s Word. So for apologetic and the purpose of spiritual formation, it is wise and necessary that we help new converts learn the Bible (what it says and how it applies) and learn about the Bible (how we got it). But thankfully, people often make the connection between the Jesus who saves and the words from Jesus you can rely upon.

  1. When the Spirit works, God’s Word is at work.

As I noted in a previous post, “without the Holy Spirit, no human being will be saved.” The faithful Christian must regularly pray, teach, think, and live with this truth in mind. But it is equally significant that we apply this to the nature of conversion.

First Corinthians 2:12 reminds us that “now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” Later in verse 14, Paul asserts, “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

We find a link established in these verses between the Holy Spirit and the understanding and acceptance of truth that comes through His work in a believer. In the larger context of this passage, Paul demonstrates how the Gospel confounds all forms of earthly wisdom and power as it comes to us in the form of the suffering Christ. Therefore, we can see that the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to accept this Christ is the same Spirit who regenerates us when we profess faith in Christ. It is the same Holy Spirit who “carried along” the prophets and apostles (cf. 2 Pt. 1:21). And since the Word of God is inspired (regardless of whether a hearer knows or accepts this), it seems to explain why a truly converted person gravitates toward a high view of Scripture: The Holy Spirit intends to move them in that direction.

Conclusion

These reasons certainly don’t exhaust or completely account for this pattern that I and others have observed over the years. However, it should offer us pause as we praise God for the unity between the Triune God’s work in salvation, and His involvement in developing our convictions about His Word.