Giants in the Land

When I was a new believer, the church Joy and I attended was very concerned about sound doctrine. I am still thankful today for the foundation they gave me in the Scriptures, and I draw on that regularly. I grew up as an atheist and many if not most of our friends and acquaintances at that time were non-believers. Early on, our ministry was largely outside the church, where non-believers are generally to be found. The area we lived in seemed ripe for evangelism and this little doctrinally sound church was right in the heart of it! I found, however, that I often met with resistance when I raised the issue of reaching the surrounding neighborhood with the gospel of Christ. It wasn’t that they did not careabout reaching the lost, and would happily welcome any lost people into the church, but they seemed to have plenty of ready excuses for not taking the message “out there.” It struck me that they were much like the 10 spies in Numbers 13:32-33:

So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and (E)we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.

There was of course a modification that went something like, “There are lots of people and the area is growing, but they are giants and they are all Catholic!” Their evangelism, like so many churches of the time, was largely dependent on getting non-believers to come to the church and hear the gospel. We were too young and inexperienced to really address this issue adequately, but we saw ourselves as missionaries in that “land” and over time we saw many Catholics come to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

That was also a time when our culture still had a large amount of a Christian “hang over.” By that I mean there was a general acceptance that God exists, that the Bible is fundamentally reliable, and most Americans regarded themselves as Christian, at least culturally so. It was a time when tracts like the Four Spiritual Laws and Steps to Peace with God could be used fairly easily. Apologetics was not a high priority (I did not even hear of apologetics until much later). Little did we, or the little church we attended, realize that there was a cultural tsunami on the horizon that would sweep much of our future generations out of the churches and that, over a very short time, the flood of Eastern mysticism would rock the entire Western world off of its Christian foundation. The cry-baby boomer generation, of which I am a member, challenged everything they had been raised to believe. Many abandoned the church and Christian culture and took the “Magical Mystery Tour” with the Beatles, Maharishi Mehesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. Over the past 30 years, the culture has shifted into a full blown pagan society more like the First Century Roman Empire than any other time in history between then and now. The giants have grown much bigger! If we once doubted our ability to reach Catholics with the gospel, how on Earth shall we be able to reach people who believe in moral relativism, reject the Bible, reject the exclusive claims of Christ, and in fact often do not accept that God is a personal being, rather than an impersonal force? And time marches on, pulling our culture ever further off its bearings. How do you even make a cogent argument to people who very often reject rationality, as Post-modernists do. Unfortunately, many churches have clung to the idea that evangelism happens primarily inside the church. Rather then train their people to challenge the culture, churches have too often tried to accommodate the culture in the hope that non-believers will come and accept the gospel if it is presented in a more “worldly” and inoffensive way. In these settings, the recommendation for churches with multiple staff, is that the second staff person hired should be the worship director, who can plan out a catchy theatrical service. As Bill Hybels said in his recent response to Christianity Today’s article Willow Creek’s ‘Huge Shift': Influential megachurch moves away from seeker-sensitive services Willow Creek’s services were designed to “reach seekers” and “thrill believers.” According to Bill:

You have to thrill believers in order to move them to a place where they see people far from God the way Jesus sees them.

The one constant that continues today is the idea that we somehow have to get non-believers into the doors of the church in order for the professional staff to get the gospel to them. Smaller local churches are in difficult straits as compared to the professional megachurch. The pastor is hard pressed to carry out his duties of study and sermon preparation, pre-marital and other forms of counseling, hospital visits, over seeing other teaching duties – much less put together a “professional” program that might impress a non-believer and convince him of his need for a savior. In addition to which, culture has changed to the point that a “professional program” doesn’t really have the same attraction it once did. People are now seeking something more “real” that the seeker services which Mega churches offer, so they are now turning to Emergent Churches which offer plenty of candles and mystery and social conscience with little gospel truth at all. These churches, which are attracting hordes of former Evangelicals, are effectually “emerging” out of Christianity altogether! Biblical illiteracy is at an all time high. Atheism has experienced a powerful resurgence, led by some very prolific atheistic evangelists for the faith in nothing at all. To sum up, believers find themselves ill-equipped for effective evangelism, yet the mission field is as it was in Jesus’ day, “white unto harvest” (John 4:35). But how do we reach non-believers with the gospel in this anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-truth, anti-gospel environment that we find ourselves in? We would do well to look back to the First Century church and take some lessons about being missionaries in a pagan culture.

We must train and equip individual believers, not just Pastors and other Christian “professionals,” to accurately and effectively handle the word of God. (2 Timothy 2:15). We must teach our people to understand the worldviews of non-believers as Paul did (Acts 17:16-34). We need to disciple believers in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2). It isn’t possible for a pastor to do all of these things and carry out all of the other duties he is expected to perform. Added to that, the growth of false teaching outside and inside the church means he cannot do all of the necessary research to address the questions which are raised. In addition, there are many other areas of the faith and Christian walk which he needs to address for a healthy local body of believers.

Churches could really benefit form having a knowledgeable apologist on staff. Churches with multiple staff should certainly have one. Apologetics is the handmaid of evangelism, and someone trained in apologetics can spend the time equipping those in the church to share the gospel with those outside the church. How does a New Ager think? What does a Jehovah’s Witness believe? Can I share the faith with a Muslim and how might they react? Is there good evidence for the existence of God? We live in a pluralistic and polytheistic culture. As Dorothy said to Toto, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Smaller churches might object that they cannot afford another staff position. That may be true, but they could band together and support an area apologist as both a missionary and an “at large” staff member and consultant to the supporting churches. This would have to be done carefully, taking into account that churches differ on some minor denominational teachings, as well as secondary issues of church polity, but if done right could be of enormous benefit to the local church. Currently there are several institutions that have excellent apologetics programs producing well trained individuals to serve the church. Evangelism happens best where non-believers already are. Training believers as missionaries will go a long way to fulfilling our ambassadorship (2 Corinthians 5:20).


Comments

Giants in the Land — 9 Comments

  1. You say: Currently there are several institutions that have excellent apologetics programs producing well trained individuals to serve the church.” I am currently going to Harvest Bible Chapel. They have had some apologetics meetings, which I have not been able to make. I was a Jehovah’s Witness for over 20 years and am still married to a witness and have family still going. I would very much like to learn how to be a better apologetics person for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m interested in learning more to see if I could possibly do that. I’m still having a hard time being “nothing”. I am a Christian, but am just on the sidelines, afraid to get involved again, but missing the “doing” mentality!

    Can you recommend somewhere to go to learn to be an apologetic? I think JW’s have trained me well. (Now to get trained the right way!!)

    I wrote to you regarding divorcing my JW elder husband, and almost went through with it, but couldn’t. So, I’m feeling depressed, stuck and quite out of any loop whatsoever! Any suggestions?

    Always look forward to getting the blogs and read them right away enthusiastically ! Thanks, and keep them coming!

    Agape,
    Peggy

  2. I appreciate your statement, “I am a Christian, but am just on the sidelines, afraid to get involved again, but missing the “doing” mentality!” s a former JW you are aware how much time they devoted to training in defense of their beliefs and how to talk with non-JWs. My first suggestion is a book titled, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Geisler and Turek. It is apologetics 101 written on a popular level. Second, Southern Evangelical Seminary and Liberty University have distance learning that you can consider. There are likely others at Harvest who would love to start an apologetics group. It is very effective when you can meet with others, talk through the ideas and role play. I would start with I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and take each step one at a time.

  3. Don,

    You wrote, “The cry-baby boomer generation, of which I am a member, challenged everything they had been raised to believe. Many abandoned the church and Christian culture and took the “Magical Mystery Tour” with the Beatles, Maharishi Mehesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation.”

    This is certainly a true statement. However, one other factor that I think is not dicussed enough is the impact of the “Information Age” on the church. It seems that every sizeable town has at least one Christian radio station pumping sermons and Bible programs across the airwaves. Christian authors (and I use both terms rather loosely) are found in all kinds of stores with their mass-market paperbacks.

    These factors, combined with all the information freely available on the internet seems to have produced a generation of self-made theologians. We are for the most part a literate society capable of absorbing great amounts of information. Couple that with the increasingly independent attitude unleashed in the generation you referred to and we have a recipe for disaster.

    It seems we live in a time when nearly everybody – Christians included – have fashioned a god according to their own fancies.

    Your thoughts?

  4. These factors, combined with all the information freely available on the internet seems to have produced a generation of self-made theologians. We are for the most part a literate society capable of absorbing great amounts of information. Couple that with the increasingly independent attitude unleashed in the generation you referred to and we have a recipe for disaster.

    It seems we live in a time when nearly everybody – Christians included – have fashioned a god according to their own fancies.

    This sounds like an insinuation people go wrong because they are independent thinkers, therefore there is all this confusion. If only we could get these straying sheep back under the authority of the church, all would be well.

    If that is the insinuation, I reject it. The example of the Bereans would be enough. They knew the Standard, and they looked to it as a plumbline to see if the APOSTLE PAUL said things to them straight. Because the APOSTLE PAUL was not the ultimate authority. The ultimate authority is the Word of God.

    Also remember that this confusion you and Don speak of came in the wake of Higher Criticism, Modernism, Neo-Orthodoxy, and Post-modernism. These were not some kind of collective bombshell against Sola Scriptura emanating from the “independent” masses of rugged individual thinkers. This was more like a poisoning which happened in the seminaries and filtered to the pulpits, inculcating doubt and unbelief in the sheep of God’s fold.

    What else would you expect in the wake of the church leaders teaching the net effect of “Yea, hath God said?” Everybody is then free to doubt it and reject it and go their own way.

    Don’t forget to factor that into your musings, man. That, and an “independent” mindset is not always a bad thing, and it is especially needed in order to be able to reject false messages preached on every side — including those from the pulpit, where the Word of God is no longer honored.

  5. PS – Don, I don’t take it as a necessarily negative thing that people challenge what they have been taught to believe. This is a necessary step to maturity, as long as the challenge comes from a desire to be certain for one’s self of the truth one has been taught.

  6. >> This sounds like an insinuation people go wrong because they are independent thinkers, therefore there is all this confusion.

    The problem is not that people are independent thinkers, it is that they think independent of sound hermeutical methods, independent of the 2000 year history of the Church, and independent of one another, refusing to hold themselves accountable for what they teach and believe.

    Knowledge is a good thing. Searching for truth is a good thing. However, Satan is a deceiver and the Father of lies. The highway to hell is littered with countless examples of men and women who come up with their own brand of theology because they somehow thought they were more enlightened and had a better way of interpreting or applying Scripture.

    >> If only we could get these straying sheep back under the authority of the church, all would be well.

    If by “church” you mean a particular church leader or demonination then I agree with you. If you mean the fellowship of the saints, the collection of those who name the name of Jesus, then I heartily disagree. We need each other for encouragement, support, AND accountability.

    Also, I am sure you will not deny that elders have a God-given role in this area as well. Certainly many have proven themselves to be unfit, but that does not nullify the Word of God.

    >> That, and an “independent” mindset is not always a bad thing, and it is especially needed in order to be able to reject false messages preached on every side — including those from the pulpit, where the Word of God is no longer honored.

    To me the key is this: People want to pursue knowledge but are unwilling to submit themselves to the process of learning how to properly handle the Word of God and how to become discerning.

    It is ironic that Peter, identified in Acts as an untrained man, wrote the following, “…speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which UNTAUGHT and UNSTABLE people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”

    My point is information is easy to get. The skills need to properly process it are comparatively much harder to come by.

  7. “To me the key is this: People want to pursue knowledge but are unwilling to submit themselves to the process of learning how to properly handle the Word of God and how to become discerning. . . .

    My point is information is easy to get. The skills need to properly process it are comparatively much harder to come by.”

    Oh, I agree completely, and understand where you are coming from better. This is why I studied (and continue to do so) logic, because it helps me with critical thinking — also hermeneutics. These two disciplines help put all that information in proper context, so that, aside from those difficult places where there will always be some wiggle room for varying interpretation, we are on the same page as far as the elemental, really important things go.

    Add to those two disciplines familiarity with what the Bible says, and you are armed with discernment skills to help filter out the distortions.

    And I agree that no one should go so far in their independent mindset as to be a lone ranger. I do believe in accountability.

    There is a healthy, right balance to this, and you spelled out the other side very well.

  8. In musing over Jake’s and my comments, I was struck with this thought. There are authoritarian teachers out there who who warn against the danger of an “independent spirit.” Bill Gothard comes to mind.

    Then there are those who strike me as having very authoritarian leanings, such as Brian Abshire, who demanded to know who gave Don Veinot the “right” to declare a teaching false, as if objective truth can only be declared by those who have that special “right.”

    When I read Jake’s first comment, it was examples like this that came to mind, and so I said that it was many church leaders who turned people away from the Word of God, and it is OK to think independently enough to be able to counter their false claims.

    Jake responded that he meant people need to have proper thinking and exegetical skills to be able to take in all the varied, and much of it false, information out there, and that no one should think he can do it all on his own. In that sense, I think he meant that being a “self-made theologian” and an independent thinker is not a good thing, and I agree with him.

    The really ironic thing is, people like Gothard, all the while proclaiming the dangers of an “independent spirit,” are themselves the epitome of such. It becomes patently obvious when Gothard answers so much criticism from Christians who have tried to dialogue with him, by accusing them of having lower standards of moral conduct, or of bitterness.

    Now that’s the wrong kind of independence, and I think it was what Jake was referring to.

    And what Gothard (and Abshire, to Don Veinot on this very blog) actually condemns is the right kind of independence.

    And this kind of independence comes from the ability to reason logically, from understanding Scriptural teaching in context, from knowing that objective truth doesn’t require we have special “rights” (only good thinking skills) to recognize it and call it as such. All the above will give one discernment abilities so that one who is already a believer is not swayed by varying winds of false doctrine. For to be able to stand when one is being pushed in the wrong direction does require some kind of independence from the things that push.

    But at the same time, we are to be accountable to others. There is a great balance to be struck here, and it is a very important one.

  9. I was thinking about this topic a bit more and why people do not seem to be exercising Biblical discernment. In addition to being an information-centric society, we are also results-driven. In other words, what can this product, conference, teaching, etc. do for me NOW? The consequence of this attitude is that preaching has become too heavily application-oriented in an effort to satisfy this hunger, imho.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would not like to listen to a guy week after week give the equivalent of a PhD dissertation and see no tangible benefit to me, nor am I advocating that. However, I think preachers are under a lot of pressure to make their messages “relevant” and they unwittingly sacrifice good scholarship.

    I once heard John MacArthur talk about this problem. He said he could preach a wonderful sermon on Mary had a little lamb. The lamb could be explained to be Jesus. He followed His Master wherever the Master went. All who were His lambs would do likewise, and so on. A spiritual-sounding message if there ever was one, but with one small problem – it was absolutely unbiblical!

    From the pew-perspective, I think people are quick latch onto anything that “works”. We see ample evidence of this in the areas of child-raising, for example. Everybody wants to have well-behaved kids, and I hate to say it but they are suckers for whatever they perceive to give them the results they want. Of course, all of these programs claim to be “God’s way”.

    In addition, I once confronted a group of brothers who were talking about the merits of “testimonies” during the worship service. They were saying things like, “These testimonies really help to establish doctrine” and so forth. Now, I agree that hearing how God is working in the lives of my brothers and sisters can bring encouragement and hope, but I would never use their words to “establish” correct doctrine.

    I realize that there may be differing views on tithing on this forum, but I need to share this because it illustrates the point. I recently had a forum discussion with a guy who apparently having no other argument to offer as why he tithed, so he said (paraphrasing), “I have been tithing for so many years and God has blessed it. So I see no reason for change.” Whatever the Biblical reasons are that people have for tithing, this clearly was not one of them.

    Alas, I think we as a church are in a state where sound doctrine gets evaluated on its tangible benefits to the listener, rather than on its Biblical moorings.

    Don started this thread by asking if there was a need for a “missionary” to teach apologetics. I am tending to agree with him more and more. I am also seeing a tremendous need for people to learn how to study God’s Word.

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