Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Message of the Christmas Event


22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.


How wonderfully odd that God would choose a humble family with little means to raise the Savior of the world! This passage shows how God chose such a family to raise Jesus, our Lord. We know their economic plight because the aforementioned passage states that when they went to honor the purification rites, which are required by the Law of Moses, they presented a pair of doves as their sacrifice. For those who couldn’t afford a lamb, a pair of doves could be substituted in its place. They took their small means to honor God the best they could.

There were some other humble people who were waiting for years to see the Messiah. Hanna and Simeon waited faithfully and were finally rewarded with seeing Christ. Both affirmed who he was and the prophecy about him. For both of them, to see Jesus was to see God’s salvation. Simeon revealed a key truth regarding God’s plan for man through Christ. He stated, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

People now would be divided into two categories – saved and lost – predicated on whether they had received Christ’s provision of salvation or not. The Bible says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Because of sin, man was separated from God. Jesus now had come to bridge that separation by being born into the world, and then dying on the cross for our sins. At the cross economic power and status mean nothing to God. He only wants to know your standing with Jesus Christ.

As JJ Packer says, “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.” This is the true meaning of Christmas and the message we all must share!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mary's Longing for the Christmas Event

Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

The earlier verses in this chapter show Mary welcoming Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. John is the yet to be born child who moves inside Elizabeth's womb when she hears Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth responds by praising Mary for her faith telling her, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Mary reacts to this response by singing a delightful song that many may know as the Magnificat, which is the Scripture that has already been recited. This song teaches us many things about Mary, but most important is that it teaches that she spoke of a Savior and that she rejoiced in Him. Young Mary would be the channel that God would use to bring the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

Mary knew intuitively, because of her great calling that was revealed to her earlier, that she would be used greatly of God. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she had found favor in the eyes of God, and she would conceive and give birth to a son and name Him Jesus. Gabriel went on to tell her that her son would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Indeed, he still resigns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords today and will for eternity. He was God in the flesh.

Because of Jesus Christ, Christianity is separated from all other religions. You see you can have Confucianism without Confucius. You can have Islam without Muhammad. You can have Buddhism without Buddha. What sets Christianity apart from the other religions is that you cannot have Christianity without Jesus. The other religions falsely offer a way. Jesus said that he was the way. In Christianity, one enters into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mary's Great Expectation

Luke 1:39-44

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.


After Mary received the news from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the Mother of God she departed from Nazareth and began a four day journey towards the hill country of Judea. With this news freshly in her mind, I’m sure that new revelation went from simple anticipation of the fulfillment of her new found role, to an ever increasing feeling of excitement.

Given that the journey to Judea would have been a dangerous one, she was probably accompanied by others in a caravan. However, it is certain that she would need to keep this news to herself. No one was to know. How would she explain her pregnancy given that she was not married? She could never tell them what Gabriel told her, that the Holy Spirit had caused her to be pregnant! This news was too wonderful and amazing to share!

By the time that she arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Mary must have been bubbling with excitement. Yet, before she was able to tell Elizabeth the good news something happened which served as a prophetic first. John the Baptist, who we later find out is the forerunner of Jesus, fulfills that calling even while in his mother’s womb by leaping with joy confirming that Jesus was the Messiah to come. This experience confirmed the message that was given by Gabriel to Mary.

While the aforementioned story tells about Mary’s excitement regarding the first coming of the Messiah, believers today should also have a similar anticipation and excitement for Jesus’ second coming. Many times in the New Testament, Scripture exhorts us to look for His coming. This coming will be sudden and unexpected, but when it happens it will be most glorious. However, it is important to understand that the second coming will be much different than the first. In His first coming He came as a poor person unknown to many people. But when Jesus comes back he will be "coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This should fill our hearts with anticipation and excitement that Christ is coming back soon.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How a Church can Help their people Cultivate a Biblical Worldview Part #2

This is the second part of a two part series on cultivating biblical worldviews in the church. Below are five suggestions on how to do just that.

The first way to assist people in establishing biblical worldview is for a church to fast and pray for faithfulness of God’s Word among the people. The discipline of fasting is commanded by God. To be sure, the Bible has a lot to say about fasting. For instance, on one occasion someone posed the question to Jesus as to why he and his disciples didn’t fast. After all, fasting was done in the Old Testament so shouldn’t Jesus and his disciples do the same? Jesus replied to that question stating, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (Matt. 9:15). This statement by Jesus seems to suggest that the time for fasting wasn’t to be done during his earthly ministry, but the time for fasting is now. Therefore, to fast on behalf of the people to honor God with a biblical worldview is in fact honoring that command.

If this is true, and the time for fasting is now, what then is the rationale for fasting? To answer this question, one has to go no farther than the Book of Isaiah. In this book Isaiah outlines, according to Elmer Towns, nine different kinds of fasting. They are (1) to loose the chains of injustice, (2) untie the cords of the yoke, (3) set the oppressed free, (4) break every yoke (5) share your food with the hungry, (6) provide the poor wanderer with shelter, (7) [allow] light to break forth like the dawn, bring healing quickly, (8) allow righteousness go before you, (9) and allow the glory of the LORD be your rear guard. Towns takes the points that are mentioned in the aforementioned passage and correlates them with other passages in the Bible that coincides with each of the nine themes.

The type of fast that Towns mentions that applies to this type of situation is what he calls the Ezra fast. The Ezra fast correlates with the proposition mentioned in Isaiah that fasting unties the cords of the yoke. Thus, the purpose of this fast is “to solve problems, inviting the Holy Spirit’s aid in lifting loads and overcoming barriers that keep [one’s] self and [one’s] loved ones from walking joyfully with the Lord.” Of course, the reason for the absence of joyfulness in our context is the absence of a Christian worldview. After all, thinking like Jesus leads to all the blessings of a Christ centered life. Therefore, divine intervention is no doubt needed. So the battle to establish a Christian worldview is at its core is not an intellectual one but a spiritual one. This is why Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). This battle must also be fought in prayer, and when fasting is also done, it makes our prayers that much more effective because our hearts are much more apt to be righteous causing us to pray with great faith. When one prays in faith, mountains can be removed.

The reason Ezra proclaimed a fast was to entreat God for an answer to his prayer and God responded. Ezra was in charge of restoring the Law of Moses after the exile. Because of Israel’s rebellion they were eventually driven into exile by the Lord. After a period of seventy years, God allowed a remnant to return and reestablish their homeland. They were to rebuild the city by permission from Artaxerxes. However, despite the permission to do so by the King, Israel still received opposition from other nations. “Burdened with embarrassment about having to ask the Persian king for an army to protect them, Ezra fasted and prayed for an answer.” He needed divine intervention if he hoped to be victorious.

Each church is different and the reasons for people not having a biblical worldview are also different. Therefore, it would behoove a congregation to seek wisdom from above regarding how to handle the problem thereby bringing deliverance to the people. The goal of the Ezra fast is to solve problems, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance is needed to know what to do. Therefore, a congregation should seek to attain, says Towns, problem solving eyes. One must see the problem from the perspective of God if one hopes to bring about a solution. To carry out his mandate Towns calls for the development of three problem-solving eyes, and the first of which is to have eyes that sees the positive. It is important not to start with a problem centered focus. After all, it is the all-powerful God who created the heavens and the earth one is petitioning for an answer to prayer. Therefore, one should approach the situation confident that God can intervene in this situation. However, sometimes people are spiritually blinded and need to have their eyes opened, which fasting helps to accomplish.

One also needs to eyes to see the people. After all, it is the people and their situations for which one is fasting. One is able, as one fasts, to be led by the Spirit regarding how to pray. This means one should pray for specific people and their specific situations, and divine help is needed to do that. Luckily, the Spirit of God grants us wisdom in regards to how to pray. The Apostle Paul affirms this idea when he says, “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Being led by the Spirit leads to answered prayer, and fasting makes being led much easier.

A Church Library
The second way to assist people to cultivate a biblical worldview is to have a church library. God calls His people to love him with not just all of their heart, but their mind as well, and reading is part of loving God with one’s minds. Furthermore, the discipline of reading helps to discipline the mind to think biblically, if one reads the right books. Virtues such as “wisdom, prudence, foresight, understanding, discernment, truthfulness, and studiousness, among others” are cultivated. As one ponders truths that are in the book, one learns the habit of thinking virtuously. One builds character and becomes the kind of person that God intended.

By reading, one cultivates the intellectual life, and, as W. Jay Wood correctly points out, “careful oversight over our intellectual lives is imperative of we are to think well, and thinking well is indispensible to living well.” The plea to cultivate the intellectual life may receive opposition from many in the congregation because some might say that the Christian faith is not about the head, it’s about the heart. This idea must be refuted. Such nonsensical thinking must be overcome if one hopes to cultivate a biblical worldview in the people. “Though not all are called to an intellectual vocation, all are called to pursue intellectual virtues.” Intangibles such as discernment and the wisdom one acquires from reading good books help parishioners to go a long way in developing a biblical worldview.

The goal in getting a congregation to read by having a church library is to get people seek wisdom. The Bible has a lot to say, particularly in Proverbs, about acquiring wisdom. For instance, Proverbs exhorts people to find wisdom because they will be blessed when they do (Prov. 3:13). Not only will wisdom bless it also helps to protect. It helps to save people from the ways of wicked men and women who are driven by perverse ways (Prov. 3:13). This is why Solomon urges the reader not to forsake wisdom because she will protect and watch over the person who seeks godly wisdom. Solomon sums up the pursuit of wisdom stating, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). This is because “wise persons see the world from God’s perspective and are thus able to make the right judgments about matters of eternal significance.” As people seek godly wisdom they will not only acquire a biblical worldview, but will behave biblically as well.

Easy to Remember Slogans
A third way a church can help parishioners cultivate a biblical worldview is to offer an easy to remember framework for people in the congregation to use. In her book “Nancy Pearcey suggests that believers return to the book of Genesis to construct a Biblical worldview. She believes that a return to the Creation account in particular is essential because that’s where one finds out God’s original purpose for mankind. Here one finds a three part theme that becomes the biblical toolbox to construct a biblical worldview. The theme consists of Creation, The Fall, and Redemption. Ascertaining a proper view of Creation, the initial theme of Pearcey’s biblical toolbox, is vital because the answer to this question determines one’s entire worldview. By using this tool, it helps people see that God has an ideal in mind, but the Fall of man ruined this because of the Fall the mind is in rebellion toward God. “Theologians call this the ‘noetic effect’ of the Fall (the effect on the mind), and it subverts our ability to understand the world apart from God’s regenerating grace.” Sin erodes mankind’s ability to see things as God sees them so mankind needs redemption, which is the final phase of the three pronged approach to achieving a Christian worldview. This redemption is meant not just to function as simply salvation “only [for] our souls, while leaving our minds to function on their own. He redeems the whole person. Conversion is meant to give new direction to [ones] thoughts, emotions, will, and habits.” As one repents of sin, turns toward God, and diligently seeks to renew his mind, a biblical worldview will be cultivated.

To communicate the three pronged worldview to the church, it must be done creatively. One way to communicate this is to preach a series on these three topics and then do a six-week follow up study during small groups. This will ensure that the message will not just be heard, but by doing a six-week follow up study, the likelihood that this message will be internalized by church members will be much greater. It is one thing to hear these ideas in a sermon, but it is quite another thing to study the subject in depth in a small group format. By studying this subject in a venue that allows questions and discussion, the likelihood that the material will be learned is much greater.

A fourth way to is to have discipleship times such as Sunday school, small groups, men’s fellowships and women’s fellowship that are geared towards aggressively discipling people. This can only take place if the leader of each group assumes a shepherding role that focuses on serving as an under shepherd. This role assists the pastoral leadership in overseeing the people they have been entrusted into their care. This means they would be charged to spiritually nurture people in their groups as well as train, feed, and teach them the things of God, and even rebuke if absolutely necessary. To do this requires certain kinds of people to fulfill these roles. Consequently, it is absolutely imperative that these leaders “seek to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3).

Faithfulness to the Process
A fifth and final way to help one’s congregation cultivate a Christian worldview is to simply be faithful to the process one chooses. The mindset for real change should be to think long term because real, lasting change will be a gradual process. Chances are, nine out of ten people in a given congregation don’t have a Christian worldview so one’s goals must be realistic. Consistency is the key here. There are no quick fixes. There are no groundbreaking programs that will bring about instant success. This is a war and it must be fought diligently under a carefully crafted strategy and stick with it. A congregation will become weary if the strategy changes often. This is not to say an occasional tweaking may be in order, buy constant change eventually becomes a detriment to success.

Advent Part #1 - The Anticipation of the Event

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

It is so exciting to begin the season of year we call Advent! At this time of year we begin to sense an expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration that we know as Christmas. Not only do we experience anticipation, excitement, and preparation, but also a distinct longing for the Messiah. In this is the message that Jesus Christ was born to die for the sins of the whole world as our long awaited Messiah.

The story of the Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament which generated much expectation for God’s people over the centuries. Every Israelite from antiquity dreamt of the day when the Messiah would come and emancipate His people. This anticipation fostered an eagerness for a king who would one day rule and reign. He would be One who would salvation to the world.

You can imagine the shock of Mary, when she found out that she would be the one who would be the Mother of the Messiah. The angel Gabriel came to her and explained that she had found favor with God, and she would conceive and give birth to a son. Young Mary was to call him Jesus. She was told that he would be great and would be the Son of the Most High. God would give him the throne of his father David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom would never end (Luke 1:31-33).

Generally mothers dream about what their sons would grow up to be like, but Mary already knew. This fact alone would generate tremendous anticipation. Several questions were probably racing through her mind. What would he look like? Would he be tall? What gifts would he have that would allow him to fulfill His great calling? Such questions would fuel the fires of anticipation. Her role as the mother of God was a privileged position. Honor and joy must have filled her heart.
Just as Mary, we anticipate the coming of our Messiah – His second coming! We are privileged to know Him and Joyful in our expectancy of His return!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How a Church can Help its People Cultivate a Biblical Worldview

People have to make choices every day, whether it be what they watch on television, what they listen to on the radio, who to vote for, or what to wear as they are getting ready for work. They also make choices regarding how to raise their kids, what constitutes a happy marriage, and what church to attend. All of these decisions will be based upon what is truly believed. Consequently, beliefs are important, and having the correct beliefs are vital if one is to make the right decisions. Also, how one thinks and how one views the world deeply matters to God. As a matter of fact, one’s transformation is partly predicated on how one thinks. This is why Paul commissioned the Church at Rome not to conform to the thinking of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Later on, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a similar plea, except this time he likens the exercise to engaging in warfare. He states, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5-6, NIV). Making choices are indeed something everyone has to do.

In light of this fact, it is important for churches to help their parishioners make choices that are based on a biblical worldview, which is the basis for cultural apologetics. To do this, churches must first lay the foundation for a biblical worldview by establishing itself as a church that exhibits five essential characteristics. The church must be biblical, epistemologically correct, counter cultural, apologetical, and relational. Each one of the aforementioned characteristics is essential if a church hopes to produce people who have a biblical worldview. After the foundation is laid, the paper will then move to outline practical ways a church can engage church members with worldview concerns, keeping cultural apologetics at the forefront of the church’s ministry.

The Church must be Biblical
How one views the Bible directly effects how one views the world or if one embraces a biblical worldview. Research shows that a majority of Americans do not hold an accurate view of the Bible. According to the Barna Group, “the “highest” view of the Bible – that it is “the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word” – is embraced by one-quarter of Mosaics (27%), Busters (27%), and Boomers (23%), and one-third of Elders (34%).” This means that (73%) of Mosaics and (66%) of Elders reject the idea of a high view of Scripture. Given such a cultural climate, and the deception and peer pressure that exists in rejecting such a proposition, the Church must see that it continually proclaims an inerrant view of Scripture. Paul affirms this idea when he says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NIV). It is God’s inerrant Word that assists in equipping the Christian to cultivate a distinct Christian worldview.

Yet, a creedal commitment to inerrancy, and thus a high view of Scripture, it is not enough. There must be an equal commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. Inerrancy of Scripture is simply a foundation for the sufficiency of Scripture. One must believe it is absolutely true before faith in acting on those principles can be worked out in a person’s life. Thus, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture must be both affirmed and proclaimed by a church who hopes to cultivate a biblical worldview among its people. A firm commitment among the pastoral staff and lay leadership must be cultivated for this to take place. Churches from denominations where the inerrancy of Scripture is a hot topic will experience added conflict when trying to honor this idea because one’s denomination gives credence to those who assume the unbiblical, errant position.

The Church must be Epistemologically Correct
Second, the church that cultivates a biblical worldview among its people has to be epistemologically correct. Epistemology is basically how one comes to know something. For instance, a person’s epistemological presuppositions directly affect how one views truth. Can two contradictory ideas both be true, or are they automatically deemed to be false? The answer to this question is rooted in one’s epistemology. Jay Wood is right when he says that “parents, folks at church, neighbors and laborers of every sort require prudence and understanding in sizing up the problems they face, … in determining the most appropriate response to a given problem.” The foundation of one’s epistemology is very important so how truth is to be arrived at because it is such a vital component to the Christian faith.

If one hopes to cultivate a biblical worldview one must believe that absolute truth exists and that truth is for everyone from time and eternity. It is vital to understand that Christianity is rooted in truth, and, therefore, is an essential component of Christianity. For instance, it is rooted in the truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, Jesus declared himself to be “The Truth.” Since truth is so important to the Christian faith, certain parameters must be established regarding the nature of truth. Parishioners must understand what truth is not, before they can comprehend what truth is. Truth is not what simply works, or something when proclaimed is done with good intentions or has the most data or is existentially relevant. It is not what feels good, which is one of the hallmark ethical positions of our time. A proper understanding of truth has two elements. Truth must correspond to reality and truth must be coherent meaning there are no contradictions. The latter point emphasizes the necessity of embracing the law of non-contradiction, which states that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Thus, a congregation must be taught these principles if it hopes to survive the onslaught of relativism that permeates our culture.

As a congregation is attuned to the aforementioned principles, they are the equipped to move on to the two essential ingredients of setting forth an adequate epistemology – undeniability and unaffirmability. Norman Geisler proposes “that undeniability is the test for truth of a worldview and unaffirmability is a test for falsehood of a worldview.” When Geisler speaks of undeniability, he means that anything that is undeniable is true. In other words, it must be factually conclusive, and in a biblical worldview all of the facts must derive from God’s word. Thus facts find their genesis from God’s perspective, and if God said it, it is true. Conversely, when Geisler speaks of unaffirmability he means “when a statement itself provides the information to defeat itself.” For instance, if someone says there is no such thing as truth, this statement is nonsensical because it is a self-defeating statement. The mere utterance of this statement assumes that what the speaker says is true, therefore the statement is self-negating. As a correct paradigm for truth is established, the congregation can be equipped to withstand the wiles of deception.

The Church must have a Counter-cultural Mindset
Third, the church must establish a counter-cultural mindset. James affirms this mandate warning that “a friend of the world is an enemy of God.” God expects his children to be sanctified unto Him. A non-Christian worldview is rooted in an idolatrous attempt to erect either an idol or some idea that militates against the knowledge of God. Therefore, one must resist the temptation to be enamored by the allurement of this world, and seek to incline one’s heart to God and not acquiesce to the culture.

The story of the Aaron and the golden calf, and Moses’ subsequent reaction, provides an example for how the Church is to handle the demands of culture. When Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai to receive a Word from God, the children of Israel were clamoring that Moses was taking too long and demanded that Aaron make for them foreign gods. Unfortunately Aaron succumbs to their demands and has the Children of Israel take off their gold jewelry and proceeds to construct for them a golden calf to worship. The golden calf was not to replace the Lord but was to be worshipped alongside him. After doing this, God becomes indignant and commands Moses to go back down the mountain to deal with the situation. Upon coming down from the mountain Moses sees what had happened and immediately throws down the tablets in disgust. He confronts their unfaithfulness and tells them that they have committed a great sin that was highly offensive to God. Aaron chose to ride the cultural wave and acquiesce to its demands, whereas Moses refuses to do so and chooses to counter the culture with obedience to God’s truth.

This story provides a great juxtaposition of two people who responded to the demands of culture quite differently. Aaron allowed the people to walk in stride with the culture while Moses commanded the people to reject the demands of culture and embrace God’s commands. A church would be wise to follow the advice of Moses. In the battle for the Church to embrace a Christian worldview, a church must take a counter-cultural stance because this world is governed by a completely different view of the world.

The Church must Apologetical
Fourth, if a church hopes to instill a biblical worldview in its members, it must be apologetical. In a world where skepticism of Christianity reigns in American culture, the church must be equipped to have Christian answers to effectively counter the world’s system. The pastor, with his pulpit responsibility, is afforded a tremendous opportunity to assist his congregation and equip them with a Christian worldview. This can be done by apologetical preaching. What apologetic preaching seeks to do is relate truth to the issues of everyday life. This is done by doing an exegesis of culture coupled with an exegesis of the biblical text. Thus, with this approach, “the preacher comes with an understanding of the Word with an understanding of the world to which it is addressed”. Since this is the world in which we find ourselves, the burden that preachers carry to minister the gospel effectively has changed. Now, “the burden of the preacher, then, is not just to understand the nuances of Scripture through the study of language, context, and history, but also the nuances of the culture in which we live by observing advertising, news, fashion , music, entertainment, and decisions in law or government”. Thus, churches should offer the Christian response to these of issues. Given the problem of religious pluralism alone, there are many situations the pastor has been called by God to address.

The Church must be Relational
Last, if a church hopes to cultivate a biblical worldview in its members, the church must be relational in its approach. This means that to formulate spiritual growth in Christians there has to be both an individual and corporate dimension concerning spiritual growth. Growth is a process and the Church is to nurture this process for its parishioners. Encouraging people to nurture their own growth by encouraging people to pray, meditate and study their Bibles is very important. Believers are called not to just edify themselves but to edify one another as well. The church then is to supply opportunities for people to be able to edify one another. Through the spiritual gifts of others as well as the cultivation of relationships helps to nurture growth. Paul makes some important statements to reinforce the importance of the Body edifying one another by offering words that give instruction and bring insight and encouragement.

Also, with the context of biblical relationships, one learns how to think and act like Jesus. Learning to think like Jesus is much more than just addressing the cognitive dimension of spiritual growth. Larry O. Richards offers marvelous insight into this idea when he says, “… the making of disciples is an interpersonal and transactional process, involving teacher and learner in a wide range of real life experiences. The support and nurture of God’s life within seems to require a life context … a transactional relationship between persons.” To limit the cultivation of a biblical worldview to just hearing the preaching on Sunday morning or a discipleship class is to retard one’s ability to cultivate a biblical worldview. It also must be cultivated in the context of relationships through personal experiences. Thus, we learn to imitate those who are acting out a biblical worldview for us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cultural Apologetics part 2 - How Cultural Apologetics can be Carried Out

In my last blog I talked about how cultural apologetics is needed in our time. In this blog I will briefly summarize how cultural apologetics can be carried out.

There is, indeed, needed a grid by which believers can “combat the cultural and philosophical forces that challenge the truth claims of Christianity and equip them to respond intelligently and with compassion …” This is the essence of cultural apologetics, the refutation of ungodly beliefs, maintained by culture, that “exalts itself above the knowledge of God” (I Cor. 10:6). The beliefs need to be first understood and then challenged by believers. This requires a concerted effort by the Church to equip its parishioners with the tools to be culture makers and not cultural reflectors. By culture makers, I am referring to those believers who influence culture as opposed to those who are simply formed by it. John Mark Reynolds was right when he said, “apologists for our new generation must study culture to help find ways to make things better.” The Church is called to be salt and light upon the earth by living counter-culturally and making a difference for God’s Kingdom. To do this, Christians must first exegete the culture to see what it believes. “By understanding the ideological roots that form today’s social and moral consensus Christians can more effectively defend God’s truth and demonstrate the relevance to Christianity to everyday life.” If one wishes to combat popular culture, one must first understand it.

The most effective way to transform culture is overcome an unbiblical worldview and replace it with a biblical one. To equip believers to do just this, Nancy Pearcey suggests that believers return to the book of Genesis to construct a Biblical worldview. She believes that a return to the Creation account in particular is essential because that’s where one finds out God’s original purpose for mankind. Here one finds a three part theme that becomes the biblical toolbox to construct a biblical worldview. The theme consists of Creation, The Fall, and Redemption. Ascertaining a proper view of Creation, the initial theme of Pearcey’s biblical toolbox, is vital because the answer to this question determines one’s entire worldview. If one believes the Creation story as told in the Book of Genesis, one then embraces the idea that God, not a cosmic accident caused by mere chance, has created the universe. The Bible begins by stating that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The Gospel of John also affirms this idea when it states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” This means that God is both the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, actively involved in every detail of His creation. Since this is the case, one’s allegiance should go to Him given that He is the Lord of the universe. Believers are to use their talents and abilities to bring God glory if they agree with this biblical worldview.

The Creation story also explains what God’s creation was like prior to The Fall. Originally the earth was devoid of evil as God pronounced his creation to be very good (Gen. 1:31). It was in this environment that God gave Adam and Eve their first job description which was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” In the first part of the phrase God calls his creation to be fruitful and multiply, “which means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth,’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music.” The mandate is still enforced today. As a matter of fact, “this passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells that our original purpose is to create cultures, build civilizations – nothing less.” To do this requires the development of a biblical worldview.

The aforementioned mandate, according to Pearcey, carries with it a responsibility to carry our biblical worldview into our vocation. As she points out, “our vocation or professional work is not just a second class activity, something we do just to put food on the table. It is the high calling for which we were created.” God expects us to honor the original mandate that He has set forth for His creation, to subdue it and create a biblical culture. Together God’s people are called to bring God’s perspective on things, which include our personal lives, our families, our occupations, and on society as a whole.

However, this mandate has become severely hampered because of what theologians call The Fall. After Eve was tempted in the garden by Satan, she acquiesced to his temptation and took of the fruit that God had ordered not to partake of. She, in turn, enticed Adam to join her, which he did. As a result of their actions sin entered the world, leaving ramifications for everyone born after them. Now people were born into a sinful nature that was characterized by selfishness, sensuality, and a severed relationship with God. The human mind in particular was corrupted and needs to be renewed. Because of the Fall the mind is in rebellion toward God. “Theologians call this the ‘noetic effect’ of the Fall (the effect on the mind), and it subverts our ability to understand the world apart from God’s regenerating grace.” Sin erodes mankind’s ability to see things as God sees them. This is why Paul admonishes the Roman church to be transformed by the renewing of their minds by refusing to be conformed to the world’s system (Rom. 12:1-2).

Despite being fallen creatures, God has afforded mankind the opportunity to be redeemed from this predicament. This redemption is meant not just to function as simply salvation “only [for] our souls, while leaving our minds to function on their own. He redeems the whole person. Conversion is meant to give new direction to [ones] thoughts, emotions, will, and habits.” This is precisely what Paul had in mind when he told the church at Rome “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. …” (Rom. 12:2). Paul calls for the humble submission of one’s mind to God. Once born again, the believer becomes renewed in His Spirit, yet the renewing of the mind has not yet taken place. Redemption, then, “consists in primarily casting out our mental idols and turning back to the true God.” This is done, not by an instantaneous process immediately upon receiving Christ, but by an ongoing process of discipleship where the believer continually submits his mind to Christ. To do this requires daily exposure to God’s Word coupled with a daily commitment to engage in the spiritual battle. Commitment to renewal then becomes essential. Cultural apologetics helps to unveil the cultural lies that the believer needs to deal with so as to win the battle of the mind.

Thus, “to talk about a Christian worldview is simply another way of saying that when we are redeemed, our entire outlook on life is re-centered on God and rebuilt on His revealed truth.” This means that just as Jesus won our victory on the mountain called Golgatha, (A word that means the place of the skull), our current route to victory and spreading God’s perspective to a lost world is rooted in the place of the skull, our minds. The renewal of the mind where believers actively reject the philosophies of this world and eagerly embrace God’s truth is of paramount importance today. If Christ’s agenda is to be completed, the Church most refocus its efforts to do just that. Cultural apologetics then becomes a mandate for the Church to assist believers in becoming and thinking more like Christ.

Works Cited

John Mark Reynolds, “Christianity and Culture: Defending our Fathers and Mothers” in, Apologetics for a New Generation: A Biblical and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talking about God edited by Sean McDowell (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishing, 2009), 70

Pearcey, 47



Ibid. 45

Ibid. 46



Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Collapse of the Christian Worldview and the Need for Cultural Apologetics

Since the central idea of cultural apologetics is that it seeks to correct a person’s worldview, this begs the question as to how much this brand of apologetics is actually needed today in America. Research done by Barna seems to confirm the priority of cultivating biblical worldviews in today’s Church, which involves learning to think like Jesus because the biblical ideal is that followers of Christ would both act and think like Jesus. Thus thinking like Jesus is an integral component of the Christian life because “behavior stems from what we think - our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions.” According to Barna’s research, most people do not possess a Christian worldview as the following survey reveals:

"Only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications: Protestants (7%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (2%) and Catholics (less than one-half of 1%). The denominations that produced the highest proportions of adults with a biblical worldview were non-denominational Protestant churches (13%), Pentecostal churches (10%) and Baptist churches (8%)."

The survey also concluded that one’s worldview definitely impacts behavior. The survey found that

"upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%). In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview)."

As one reviews these alarming statics, one may wonder how pastors have allowed such a predicament to take hold. After all, they are the ones who are called to oversee, love, and protect the flock.

Yet, one major problem is that many Protestant pastors do not possess a biblical worldview either. In another study by the Barna Group, the researchers found that only 51% of protestant pastors possess a biblical worldview. What is most shocking about this data is the criteria that was used to define biblical worldview in the survey. The criteria included “the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize.” In light of these results, Barna concluded that the reason for the abysmal statistics regarding biblical worldview among the laity was directly related to the lack of a biblical worldview among the clergy. “’The most important point [of this study],’ Barna argued, ‘is that you can’t give people what you don’t have.” Thus, an important factor in the cultural demise of the church cannot be ignored: the absence of a biblical worldview among the laity lies at the feet of the clergy. This downfall of pastoral integrity is crippling the Church and must be addressed.

What brought about such a change, or, to be more precise, what cultural lies have been believed by the Church that brought about such demise? To be sure, there seems to be a complete inability within the body of professing believers to discern the prevailing philosophies that undercut the Christian faith. Some of those philosophies stem from modernism, while other prevailing philosophies find their genesis in postmodern thinking, and it is important to understand both. Modernism is a child of the Enlightenment where reason reigned supreme. It came to become a cultural movement that put man at the center of all things. It propagated the idea that man, through his own ingenuity and harnessing of nature, could bring about a utopian ideal, a perfect society of sorts. That is, if only people would shed their allegiance to religion, and triumph reason in its place. The American church has, by and large, committed their allegiance in many ways to this philosophy. Relying on management techniques, church growth techniques, and humanistic psychology that stem from an over reliance on man’s ingenuity rather on the power of God’s Spirit and His Word have created a serious problem. Such a commitment has caused many Christians in our day to “follow the modernistic impulse that compels them to trust first in technology, the ingenuity of man, human reason, and the false assumption that progress is perpetual and even upward.” In other words, what the church has produced is religious humanists rather than biblical disciples.

The central core of modernistic thinking is Enlightenment rationalism and evolutionary naturalistic materialism. During the period of the Enlightenment several thinkers converged to erect a new way of thinking about the world. It was understood that the primitive religious worldview that governed the thinking of the masses was deemed superstitious and antiquated. In its place, reason was established as the epistemological grid one used to attain knowledge. Gone was the thinking of the primordial Dark Ages and the dawn of progress had now arisen. Reason instead of religious revelation was the prime source of authority. Modernity had become critical of traditional institutions and systems of belief. Rationalism together with Empiricism was now what governed knowledge acquisition.

Enlightenment thinking continues to reveal itself in many forms in American culture, one of which is its distain for religion. Norman Malcolm’s statement characterizes this pretentious attitude regarding religion: “In our Western Academic philosophy, religious belief is commonly regarded as unreasonable and is viewed with condescension or even contempt. It is sad that religion is a refuge for those who, because of weakness of intellect and character, are unable to confront the stern realities of the world.” Such values are exemplified in many areas of influence in America such as the media, the halls of learning, politics, jurisprudence, and has filtered down to the home. The ramifications have been brutal. This thinking has led to an extrapolation of a moral law from society that is rooted in religion, and has been replaced with a politically correct moral framework. Such an ethos has made a tremendous effect on how people view sex, marriage, gender, as well as a whole host of other categories.

Evolutionary thinking, undergirded by naturalism, has also wielded tremendous power in our day. It is the starting point for defining reality. So entrenched is the philosophy that Senator Rick Santorum (Rep., PA), proposed an amendment to a Senate Bill that congress was considering. The amendment stated,

"(1)Good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

One would think that such a benign statement would not create any stir from science educators. Yet, this was not the case since “the amendment included no provisions for implementation or enforcement and hence would not require or fund educators to do anything in particular.” The scientists rejected the idea that there was a scientific controversy because they felt it would give credence to the Intelligent Design movement as a legitimate form of science. The scientists were so committed to a naturalistic philosophy that they did not wish to leave any room for debate about the subject. This is why Phillip Johnson has worked feverishly to reveal the philosophical presupposition of naturalism that is espoused by scientists, and has petitioned others to join the fight. The ramifications of naturalism and its promotion of a naturalistic ethic have been disastrous in that it completely undercuts the Christian worldview.

Another ramification of evolutionary thought is a loss of meaning. If evolution is correct, as Richard Dawkins points out in his book Out of Eden, this means that “in a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Dawkins reveals a worldview that perpetuates hopelessness and meaninglessness. However, a counter perspective, this one by Blaise Pascal, offers a different worldview; one that is rooted in the Christian faith.

"When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me?"

Postmodernity, on the other hand, has erected its own godless philosophies. In its reaction towards modernism, this movement sought to correct its abuses. When modernism asserted that one could have absolute assurance of knowledge, postmodernism countered with the idea that one could not be assured of anything. Modernism posited that man could perfect himself and bring about a grand utopian society, whereas postmodernism recognized the abysmal failure of such a proposition. Yet, despite its legitimate critique of modernism, the answers that it proposed have been damaging to the Church. What Postmodernism did was offer “a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self and other notions.” Among those lies that were concocted, a few have been particularly devastating to the cause of Christ.

One of the many lies offered by postmodernism was originally offered by Jacques Derrida in his advocacy of deconstruction which is currently used as a tool for analysis in the academy and elsewhere. He believed that all beliefs bring with them biases and a priori assumptions that need to be deconstructed. For instance, when an author writes a book, he brings with him biases that need to be unearthed. This, in turn, transfers the meaning of the text from the author to the writer. “Thus, according to Derrida, we are each left with our own interpretations, so there can never be any uniform understanding of the writer’s original intention.” Everyone constructs their own meaning resulting in an absence of absolute truth. Yet, Derrida “was never interested in destroying objective meaning, but reconstructing it.” However, Derrida’s commitment to conventionalism and prospectivism overrode his intentions. The results of the aforementioned philosophies resulted in the loss of meaning because these two philosophies adhere to the idea that “all meaning is relative to culture and situation. There is no meaning prior to language” as well as the idea that “all truth is conditioned by one’s perspective.” Therefore, though he may have not intended to destroy objective meaning, he certainly has played a large part in doing so. This way of thinking has had a direct impact in America and on the American church.

Another key figure that has had a tremendous effect on postmodernism is Michel Foucault. Foucault reacted towards modernism’s assertion, first offered by Francis Bacon, that “knowledge is power” which spoke of man’s victory over nature. Foucault reacted to this idea by “by reversing the order.” He advocated the idea that “power creates forms of knowledge, and power ultimately explains the nature of supposed knowledge.” Thus any claims to truth are masks of power. Therefore, when the history of religion is presented, it must be done with the thought in mind that previous history was written by the victors and the oppressed societies and cultures were unfairly marginalized. Therefore, the job of the historian is to rewrite history so as to give a voice to the oppressed cultures that were marginalized by ignoring all their faults and, conversely, to vilify the imperialistic powers. Christianity, it is seen by most, is one of the sources of oppression. Therefore, when Christianity is presented in a high school or college textbook, it is presented in such a way that its faults are magnified, and it’s many accomplishments and benefits are ignored or distorted. Whereas other faiths such as Islam have their faults conveniently airbrushed away, and replaced with a carefully crafted Islamic apologetic. Truth is then distorted, and, in its place, is a secular progressive, adolescent idealism. Because of this idea’s success, any claims of truth are rejected out of hand by the person steeped in postmodern philosophy.

Works Cited

Barna update “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical effect on a Person’s Life” The Barna Group, December 1, 2003 (Accessed June 24, 2010).

Barna update “Only half of Protestant Pastors have Biblical Worldviews” The Barna Update, Barna Research Group, January 12, 2004, (Accessed June 24, 2010).

S. Michael Craven. Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming our Culturalized Christianity. (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 2009), 31

Jay W Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Madison: IVP Academic, 1998), 12

Philip Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate (Madison: InterVaristy Press, 2004), 31

Blaise Pascal, Pensees (Penguin Classics, 1995)

Geisler, Norman Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 1998),

Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism, (Grand Rapids: IVP Books, 2000), 30

Thursday, November 25, 2010

America Desperately Needs Revival

Several years ago, Os Guinness, the Evangelical social critic and prolific author, began to write about the impending demise of the Evangelical church. In his book, The Last Christian on Earth, he analyzes what exactly brought about this demise. To cryptically describe what happened to the church, he utilizes a fictional dialogue of one spy conveying to another spy how to undermine the American church. He calls it “Operation Grave Digger.” The goal of this operation was to trap the Church into becoming captive to the culture so that the Church would work with culture rather than against it. The spy concludes that “the more the church becomes one with the modern world, the more it becomes compromised, and the deeper the grave it digs for itself.” Guinness’ treatise is echoed in the analysis of Warren Cole Smith in his book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church. He concludes that the current state of the Evangelical church is much like the addict who has yet to discover that he is addicted. Through a series of mission experiences to other countries, Smith discovers the dysfunctional characteristics of the church such as its quest for power, money, and fame, something this segment of the church body tends to perpetuate. The conclusion these authors make shows that the Evangelical church in treading on dangerous ground in its flirtation with modern culture.

Evangelicals have experienced great successes in terms of numbers and popularity which have unwittingly created an illusion of effectiveness and growth. In his exposé of the Evangelical myth, Smith begins by pointing out that this apparent success is a myth. Despite the proliferation of mega churches, the emergence of parachurch organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, and the influence of the Religious Right and their value voters, the church has not, in fact, grown. Christians have simply been drawn from smaller churches which have proven to be feeder sources for the larger churches. He draws research from Glenmary Research Center, Baptist Church Planting magazine, and The Barna Research Group, which seems to negate the idea of massive growth and influence and actually shows a possible decrease.

Yet, not everyone has been blinded in the lack of Evangelical influence. Individuals in the middle to latter part of the 20th century such as Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and Chuck Colson were awakened to this reality to be sure. Yet, their analysis was maligned with a heavy dose of pessimism. According to an article that appeared in Evangelical Theological Society, James Patterson, the author of the article, believes that these three individuals “regularly lamented the moral and cultural decay of the West, which they regarded as an undeniable verity of life in the current age. [Therefore] … the pessimism of these three evangelical leaders cannot simply be dismissed as idiosyncratic or marginal.” They sought to galvanize the church into action by pointing out that the culture was heading towards a complete collapse. However, history has shown that such a pessimistic analysis, despite its accuracy, may have served to paralyze the Church’s effectiveness in confronting the culture. What was fostered was a preoccupation with the moral decline of American culture, which resulted in paralyzing the Church into thinking that making a genuine metamorphosis was hopeless. This too must be overcome if the Church is going to make a difference.

Despite whether the lack of Evangelical effectiveness has been realized or not, the Church has evidently failed its cultural mandate to create culture and has rather been excessively influenced by culture, thus the need for a real revival is essential. Everyday millions of Americans are going into eternity without God because of an ineffective church. My prayer is Lord, send us revival! I will close with a statement from J I Packer regarding revival.

"Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been
sleeping and restores a deep sense of God's near presence and holiness.Thence
springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance,
praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.

Each revival movement has its own distinctive features, but the pattern is the
same every time.

First God comes. On New Year's Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and
some of their friends held a "love feast" which became a watch night of prayer
to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, "the power of God came
mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to
the ground." Revival always begins with a restoration of the sense of the
closeness of the Holy One.

Second, the gospel is loved as never before. The sense of God's nearness creates an overwhelming awareness of one's own sins and sinfulness, and so the power of the cleansing blood of Christ is greatly appreciated.

Then repentance deepens. In the Ulster revival in the 1920s shipyard workers
brought back so many stolen tools that new sheds had to be built to house the
recovered property! Repentance results in restitution.

Finally, the Spirit works fast: godliness multiplies, Christians mature,
converts appear. Paul was at Thessalonica for less than three weeks, but God
worked quickly and Paul left a virile church behind him."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles Spurgeon: A Lover of Reading

As a fourteen year-old, with the help of his uncle, young Charles became an ardent reader. This love for reading would remain for the rest of his life as he would read six books per week throughout his adult life. However, his ability to read difficult books was evident early on as he first read the timeless classic Pilgrims Progress at the wee age of six-years-old. It was through the love of reading that Spurgeon was be impacted in a very precocious manner. He would be indebted to the Puritan thinkers that wrote over two centuries before him that he would glean much from. As a matter of fact in his biography Spurgeon wrote that he “was completely molded and fashioned by those spiritual giants of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Puritans. He stood in their noble tradition, in the direct line of their theology and outlook, and can be called the heir of the Puritans.” Furthermore, since the Puritans exemplified true revival and renewal, this was endemic to the ministry of Spurgeon.

J. I. Packer, in his book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life believes that there were certain characteristics that were present in Puritan thought that are characteristic of true revival. He states with magnificent clarity the following:

Taking the early chapters of Acts as a paradigm, and relating them to the rest of the New Testament, with is manifestly a product throughout of revival conditions, we may list as marks of revival an awesome sense of the presence of God and the truth of the gospel; a profound awareness of sin , leading to deep repentance and heart filled embrace of the glorified, loving, pardoning Christ; an uninhibited witness to the glory and power of Christ; with a mighty freedom of speech expressing a mighty freedom of spirit; joy in the Lord, love for his people, and fear of sinning; and from God’s side and intensifying and speedy-up of the work of grace so that men are struck down by the Word and transformed by the Spirit in short order, making it appropriate pastorally as well as theologically to baptize adult converts straight after they have professed faith.”

These same principles were also found to be prominent in the ministry of Spurgeon. It is clear from his sermons that that he whole heartedly embraced those principles, especially the principle of prayer, which makes happen everything else. For instance, on one occasion Spurgeon lamented that the preacher should “never account prayer second to preaching. No doubt prayer in the Christian church is as precious as the utterance of the gospel. To speak to God for men is part of the Christian priesthood that should never be despised.” As a result of his prayer ministry, the presence of God was made manifest “leading to deep repentance and heart filled embrace of the glorified, loving, pardoning Christ; an uninhibited witness to the glory and power of Christ.”

His habit of reading also greatly impacted his preaching. We would read profusely throughout the week in preparation. Regarding his reading habits as it relates to his preaching, Lynn May Jr. writes, “The text and therefore the theme for the sermon on Sunday morning was not selected until Saturday evening. And his Sunday evening sermons were not outlined until Sunday afternoon. However, the week before was filled with extensive reading in biblical and theological materials.” His heart and mind would be so filled with Scripture and scriptural truth that it would flow freely from him when he was preparing his sermon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Charles Spurgeon: A Man of Prayer

As committed as he was to reading and study, Spurgeon was equally committed to prayer. On one occasion Spurgeon mused,

I am persuaded we only want more prayer, and there is no limit to the blessing. You may Christianize the world, if you but know how to pray. Prayer can get anything from God, prayer can get everything. God denies nothing to the man who knows how to ask. The Lord never shuts his storehouse till you shut your mouth. God will never stop his arm till you stop your tongue.”

What a representation of a vibrant faith in the living God. This level of vibrancy can only be cultivated in fervent and consistent prayer. Spurgeon’s level of fervency in prayer is exemplified in his ability to engage in prevailing prayer. He was a man who would spend hours weeping for saints and sinners alike on their behalf. Spurgeon once said, “No prayer ever prevailed with God more surely than a liquid petition, which, being distilled from the heart, trickles from the eye and waters the cheek. Then is God won when he hears the voice of your weeping.” This level of prayer is motivated by godly compassion, and is the result of spending much time with God. He, no doubt, honored the command that is extended to all men of God who are to lead God’s people; he gave himself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Spurgeon did things God’s way and reaped bountifully God’s results. When one touches heaven with ones prayers, one is touched by heaven. Spurgeon’s attests to this kind of a heart after God, which resulted in having a heart that was a mirror image of the heart of God.

His heart for God translated into a heart for the lost. Though he was a staunch Calvinist, he had a heart to see as many people saved as he could. He is famous for saying “God save your elect then save some more.” It was prayer that cultivated this attitude in Spurgeon. It was Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the German Pietist and Bishop of the Moravian Church, who said, “I have but one passion; it is He, He only.” Similarly Spurgeon had the same passion for God, and that translated into a passion for souls. Possibly, his longing for God was similar to that of Thomas Aquinas who said, "Bestow upon me, O Lord my God, understanding to know thee, diligence to seek thee, wisdom to find thee, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace thee." If Spurgeon prayed a similar, his prayer was indeed answered.

Spurgeon also understood that it was prayer that produced Spirit empowered ministry, and he felt that this was essential to success. He made several references to this fact throughout his ministry. He felt that Spirit empowered ministry was indispensable if one hoped to be effective as the following statements made by Spurgeon confirms.

If there were only one prayer which I might pray before I died, it should be this: “Lord, send thy church men filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like braches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. As an offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted.

It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Ghost than to preach seventy years of sermons without the Spirit.
All the hope our ministry lies in the Spirit of God operating on the spirits of men.

However, it is also important to understand that Spurgeon heavily emphasized that one should pray with perseverance, fervency, and much zeal. It was Bill Thrasher, in his book A Journey to Victorious Praying, who said “Perseverance in prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but rather laying hold of God’s willingness. Our sovereign God has purposed to sometimes require persevering prayer as the means to accomplish His will.” This is something that Spurgeon not only believed, but practiced and taught, as the following three statements reflect:

He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), if there is no fire in our prayers.
I know no better thermometer to your temperature than this, the measure of intensity of your prayers.

It is the beginning lava of the soul that has a furnace within – a very volcano of grief and sorrow – it is that burning lava of prayer that finds its way to God. No prayer ever reaches God’s heart which does not come from our hearts.
We must get rid of the icicles that hang about our lips. We must ask the Lord to thaw the ice caves of our soul and to make our hearts like a furnace of fire heated seven times hotter. If our hearts do not burn within us, we may well question whether Jesus is with us. Those who are neither cold nor hot, he has threatened to spew out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16). How can we expect his favor if we fall into a condition so obnoxious to him?

It is clear from the aforementioned quotes that Spurgeon recognized that it wasn’t man’s ingenuity, prowess, or sophistication that would produce salvations or changed lives. It wouldn’t be find sounding arguments done with fleshly effort that would convince the hard hearted jade their need for God. Rather, it is ministry done in the power of the Spirit that would change lives. Paul gave the prerequisite for effective ministry, a sentiment later echoed by Spurgeon, when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Ministry requires that one dies, and lets Christ minister through him. This requires embracing first the cross and then allowing the Resurrection power of God to minister through you.

In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter shows that it was the Holy Spirit that spoke through the prophets that wrote the Old Testament when he says, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The same is true for the New Testament writers. And the same is true for God’s spokesmen today, even though today’s preacher does not speak in an inerrant way since we now have a closed canon. Nevertheless, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Him working through the life of the believer, that God’s Word is to go forth with power. This can only take place as God’s spokesman spends time in God’s presence and in total and absolute dependence upon God.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A look at the Life and Ministry of Charles Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the pulpiteer par excellence, was born in the quaint city of Kelvedon, which is located in Essex, England on June 19, 1834. ‘When Charles was born, his father John was clerk in a coal yard but also found time to be an honorary pastor of an Independent (or Congregational) church at Tollesbury. There he preached with conviction Calvinistic doctrines as he understood them.” It would be this Calvinistic lineage that he would inherit and would be foundational to his ministry. These biblical truths would even be further reinforced by his mother who would guide and nurture young Charles, along with his other siblings, in the Christian faith.

However, it was approximately fourteen months after his birth that he would be taken to the home of his grandparents in a small village called Stambourne and would spend the next five years learning valuable truths that would shape his life forever. The reason for this sudden move was because of the dire financial situation of his parents. His mother, being just nineteen, had another child a year after young Charles was born, and wasn’t able to afford another mouth to feed. Consequently, they sent young Charles to his grandparents.

His Father
His father was a Congregationalist preacher as was his grandfather James Spurgeon, which was the grandparent he lived with until he was five years old. Through the lives of these two men, the gospel was lived out in front of young Charles, which made an indelible impact on him. Together these two homes provided the spiritual and intellectual climate that would nurture this soon to be minister. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon once mused about his five year stay at his grandparent’s house stating, “I could mount on wings as eagles after being fed such heavenly food.” Often times one’s family life provides the incubus for future success and Spurgeon’s home was no exception.

Charles’s father John Spurgeon (1810-1902) would carry on the family tradition laid down by the men of his family and accept the call to preach. John’s dad pastored an independent church in nearby Stambourne where the Spurgeon family had served as preachers since the 17th century, and he would carry on that tradition for twenty five years there. Yet, his tenure there was not without the extra burden of fulltime employment. This bi-vocational minister had to labor as a clerk at a coal yard, while balancing his family and ministry responsibilities. Such a commitment weighed heavy on John. On one occasion John set out to his church to preach one evening and a short time after he left decided to return home. The thought of not being there for his children began to burden his mind with worry. Yet, after returning he heard his young wife calling out to God on behalf of her children and he knew then that the children were in capable hands. He had nothing to fear. This ever so slight trepidation does show that John did struggle at times with his bi-vocational calling. The stress of spreading himself too thin was a lingering problem indeed.

His Mother
Spurgeon’s mother was a stall worth who was poised to be the one who would ground her children in the faith. She was a woman who had to bear many tragedies during her life that would test her faith. She would have seventeen kids in all, with nine of them dying in infancy. This would bore heavy on her, yet she would keep both hands on the plow as she would continue her undaunted walk with God. It was Mildred Witte Struven who once said, “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.” God indeed was her strength during these tumultuous times as she would remain steadfast.

His mother was a tremendous believer in prayer. Spurgeon recounts her impact on one occasion stating, “When my father was absent preaching the gospel, my mother always filled his place at the family altar. And in my own family, if I have been absent, and my dear wife has been ill, my sons, while yet boys, would not hesitate to read the Scriptures and pray. We could not have a house without prayer. That would be heathenish or atheistical.’ It is obvious from the aforementioned quotes that Spurgeon’s mother left a legacy for him to follow, which speaks to the power of a mother to shape her children. This is precisely what led James S. Hewett to offer the following illustration that demonstrates the impact of motherhood. He states,

When Robert Ingersoll, the notorious skeptic, was in his heyday, two college students went to hear him lecture. As they walked down the street after the lecture, one said to the other, “Well, I guess he knocked the props out from under Christianity, didn’t he?” The other said, “No, I don’t think he did. Ingersoll did not explain my mother’s life, and until he can explain my mother’s life I will stand by my mother’s God.”

It is hard to argue with a life well lived. It was the mother’s life and the faith that daily sustained her that convinced this young man of God’s existence.

His Conversion

Years later this spiritual upbringing would prove dividends as Spurgeon converted to Christianity on January 6, 1850. Though his conversion wasn’t the direct result of his father and grandfather’s ministry, it was certainly their prayers and well lived lives that sowed gospel seeds that would lead to this eventual harvest. However, it wasn’t a powerful pastor or well-known evangelist who God would choose to lead this great man to faith. Instead, God chose a man of much more humble circumstances to do his bidding that morning. At the Primitive Methodist church a laymen would assume the preaching responsibilities and proclaimed the Gospel to the congregation. God sovereignly used this man as the pastor was snowed in and wasn’t able to attend service. Spurgeon described him as “a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker or tailor or something of that sort… and was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. “ Yet, a simple phrase would change this man’s life. The lay preacher forcefully proclaimed, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” That morning Spurgeon answered that call and have his heart to Jesus Christ.

His Ministry
Soon after his conversion to Christianity, Spurgeon was installed as pastor of a small Baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire in 1850 at the age of sixteen. This would serve as a training ground to hone his skills both as a pastor and preacher. “It was here that he felt that God had unmistakably put his zeal upon his ministry, for in that English Hamlet he claimed his first convert to Christ.” From Waterbeach, Spurgeon moved on to fill the pulpit of the famed New Park Street Chapel at the age of 19, a place where great preachers such as Benjamin Keach and theologian John Gill, once made their home. However, by 1853 the weekly attendance of this great church and dwindled considerably to a little over 200 members. “On December 18, 1853, Spurgeon stood in the pulpit of the famous old church built to seat 1,200 to address a congregation that numbered only eighty.” The impact of this great preacher was immediately felt as the news about his divinely empowered preaching ability began to spread. That evening he would preach once again to a much larger audience. G. Holden Pike was in attendance that night and interviewed those who attended that night. He wrote:

The effect was amazing; impossible to describe the emotions of the congregation; nearly all were raised at last from despondency; after the service people too excited to leave the building gathered in groups talking about securing him as pastor; deacons came out of the vestry and promised to use their endeavors to secure him. Dear old Unity Olney (wife of the deacon, Thomas), a semi-invalid, attended that night and when she got home said to her husband with deep emotion and peculiar emphasis, ‘He will do’.”

The hand of God was obviously upon Spurgeon. After he visited New Park Street Chapel three more times he was installed as pastor. Spurgeon suggested to the congregation that the church appoint him on a probationary period. This was because that if it was discovered that this new found marriage was not a good match, it could be easily dissolved. At a special business meeting he was officially installed as pastor.

The Congregation’s decision proved undoubtedly to be the right one as the congregation grew, and within months was growing to the extent that the 1,200 seat edifice wasn’t able to hold the crows that Spurgeon had attracted. The congregation responded by renovating their current building so it could seat 3,000 people. Until the renovation was complete, the church rented the Exeter Hall, which seated 4,500, and in no time, it too was filled to capacity. After the renovation, the congregation moved back to their original building that had been remodeled, resulting in a hopeless quandary. After a year the decision was made that the church would rent out the largest auditorium in London, which was Surrey Music Hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens. This 10,000 seat auditorium would too be filled to capacity as eager onlookers sought to hear the brilliant orator expound God’s Word.

After holding services for four years at Surrey Music Hall, The New Park Street Chapel finally built the Metropolitan Tabernacle which “could seat 5,000 and could accommodate another 1,000 standing”. To reach the most people possible Spurgeon asked each member of his church to stay home once every three months. This would allow the church to reach more people given its limited seating capacity. How many people could have the churched reached if it has an unlimited seating capacity; a question that is obviously unanswerable. However, one can only wonder considering that he attracted almost 24,000 people while speaking at the National Humiliation Day.

Spurgeon not only touched the lives of his congregation with his dynamic preaching, he also his touched lives worldwide. “He published about four thousand sermons, sales of individual sermons totaled about 25,000 per week, and the sermons were translated into forty languages.” While he would preach a stenographer would take down what he way saying. Then the next day Spurgeon would correct and revise the copy in order to prepare it for publishing. A subsequent revision would be done on Thursday. The following week the sermon would be published in the London and New York newspapers. Consequently, people were able to be edified by his sermons like no other preacher during that era.

Spurgeon’s influence what not only felt in his own day, but is still felt even today as his sermons are available in print and the internet “They remain … the greatest body of evangelical literature by any one author in the English-speaking world and still out sales most others.” His anointing, oratory ability, and passions for souls touched tens of thousands if not millions of people. His enduring legacy continues to live in works that were penned during the heyday of his ministry. “At least 3 of Spurgeon's works, including the multi-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series, have sold more than 1,000,000 copies. One of these, All of Grace, was the first book ever published by Moody Press (formerly the Bible Institute Colportage Association) and is still its all-time bestseller.”