Lecrae, Sadie Robertson, and the Devil Went Down to Georgia

“Behold, the sower went out to sow;  and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus, the Son of God

Lecrae rapped.  Sadie Robertson spoke.  Nine hundred twenty-five unchurched young people committed to Christ.  I wept.

So goes the story in Meansville, Georgia as reported by the Christian Post.  According to Marc Pritchett, founder of RUSH Ministries, these commitments took place during a ministry event put on by his organization on May 9th, 2015.  Pritchett claims that “10,000 souls” have been reached through Rush Ministries since its founding over a decade ago.  Pritchett estimated that approximately 7,000 young people attended his May 9th event in Meansville.  By the numbers, Pritchett is claiming that 13.21% of attendees were saved.  This figure is quite the coincidence given that Georgia Baptist Evangelist Tony Nolan spoke at the event.  Last October, Nolan spoke at a Chapel Service at Brewton-Parker College in which 108 at salvations were recorded.  This amounted to 13.88% of that school’s student body.  13 seems to be the magic number for vaunted evangelist Tony Nolan.

According to eye-witness accounts that have been relayed to me, a typical Tony Nolan sermon consists of manipulative appeals to walk the aisle. Nolan encourages his hearers to imagine things such as having their face burned off in a car accident in order to get an idea of the eternal hell to which they are headed.  After such scare tactics, compounded by raise-your-hand type peer pressure decision counting methods, Nolan records numerous salvations which are then gleefully reported to the public.

The discipleship statistics of Nolan’s converts are not widely, if at all, publicized.

Burning in Sun and Choking in the Weeds

Nolan’s seemingly inflated conversion numbers are troubling in and of themselves.  However, something Marc Pritchett said to the Christian post disturbed me to my core.  Given that I often write about apologetic and discernment concerns, a lot of troubling stories come across my desk.  I usually address them from a coldly logical and intellectual perspective; that’s my nature.  There’s so much charismania, corruption, hero-worship, and capitulation to worldliness in the visible church that it’s almost easy for me to become simply used to it in the same way that a police officer becomes used being around the corpses of murder victims.  Yet, last night, in the midst of these tragedies that have become so common place, I reacted viscerally to something that Marc Pritchett, told the Christian Post:

“The nature of [the] event, whether it be concerts, celebrities, games, or other things that we do, are all aimed at getting those kids in the community, or in the world if you will, not in the church necessarily, but to get the church friends to bring the students that may never walk into a church…They realize not only is being a Christian fun, not only is it cool, but also, eternal hope is sandwiched within all that stuff.”

Pritchett and his companions, in the midst of a concert atmosphere told unchurched young people that being a Christian is “fun and cool”.  Then, they invited them to become one.  After reading Pritchett’s words, I turned in my Bible to Matthew 13:3 and read, “Behold a sower went out to sow.”   I didn’t read the rest of the pericope.  I knew it already.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus told of people (I have always imagined them to be young) who received the gospel message with joy but later burned up like a parched plant in the sun when persecution and affliction arose.  Others received the gospel with joy and yet worldly worries and the deceitfulness of wealth choked them out like a plant among the thorns.

I thought of nine hundred twenty-five young people, in the company of wealthy celebrity Christians like Sadie Robertson and Lecrae, being sold the outright lie, along with their purchased tickets, that Christianity is fun and cool.  The sadness I felt in the midst of this thought was a deep one.  From my reading of the Bible, I do not take Paul to have communicated that being shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, thirsty, in hardship, and in danger as fun and cool.  Tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded.  The book of Acts tells us James the brother of John was beheaded.  Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified.  Thousands of Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith.  The one Apostle, John, who was not killed for his faith (merely exiled to a lonely island) wrote of having a vision of “all the souls who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.

Rap music is cool.  Duck Dynasty is cool.  Being persecuted and beheaded is not.  I’ve never been beheaded but I have been through times when living out my Christian convictions was not fun.

I’ve gone to professional and social events where I was the only one not drinking.  I did not feel cool.  I’ve lost my job (at a former employer) after challenging the ethics of a practice.  I did not feel cool.  I’ve been escorted out of my (former) church for protesting the choice of a charlatan evangelist.  I did not feel cool.

Jesus said:

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Marc Pritchett is a liar and, I believe, he is helping the devil sow tares among the wheat.  There is a very real devil out there, seeking whom he may devour.  He is a terrible and ancient foe who comes to steal kill and destroy.   He’s done since the time of the Garden of Eden and will so until Christ returns.  Lecrae sells records.  Sadie Robertson sells her clothing line.  Nolan sells tickets.  The devil sows tares.  They help.

Satansowing

Here Am I Send Me

“There’s a retired businessman named Red
Cast down from heaven and he’s out of his head
He feeds off of everyone that he can touch
He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash
He’s not somebody that you play around with much”
Bob Dylan

Christian reader, you and I can’t stop the Tony Nolans and Marc Pritchetts of the world from trying to sell tickets to their festivals and then claiming victory after recording emotionally charged and very likely disingenuous salvations.  What you can do is stop patronizing their business and farming out your evangelism to them and their elite group of professional evangelists.

If you have been saved through the repentance of sin and belief in the risen Christ’s Lordship, then you have the Holy Spirit.  You are empowered, by God Himself, to successfully evangelize the lost and successfully disciple new Christians.   You do not need Christian rap.  You do not need Duck Dynasty.  You need the Bible and the Holy Spirit.  You have both.

I want you to look long and hard at the picture of the devil and the picture of that crowd.  Then read the words of Christ as posted above.  Take it all in.  What are you going to do about it?  That devil is really out there, really sewing.  Are you going to keep giving your children or friends tickets to the Tony Nolan Show?  Are you going to keep sending your youth groups to Winter Jam?  May I suggest something novel to you brothers and sisters?

Take hold of the young people in your church and in your community and you give them something to eat.  Use the money otherwise spent on a concert festival ticket and buy some bible commentaries and systematic theology texts.  Then, you sit down with someone one on one and disciple him.

To the 925

Dear young person, if you were at this festival and are reading this, then I want you to know what it really takes to become a part of the family of God.  You need to genuinely repent of your sins and believe in the Lordship of the risen Jesus.  After that, according to scripture, you are expected to live a life in keeping with the tenets of the Christian faith.  You are expected to live Holy and set apart from the world.  You will be persecuted for it.

Do you know the reason that the headline of the Christian Post article says that you made a “commitment” to Christ instead of saying that you were “saved”?  For one thing, Sadie Robertson’s Church of Christ teaches that you aren’t truly saved until you are baptized.  You’ve made a commitment on her view, but you aren’t saved.  Did she, Lecrae, or Tony Nolan tell you that?  Did they tell you that the Christian life is not easy and that it’s not going to get any easier in our country as our culture becomes more hostile to biblical faithfulness.

If you still want to take up a cross, an instrument of torture and shame, then take it up and follow Christ.  I’ll be glad to call you a brother or sister.  Know this:  When you come to genuine faith in Christ, it’s not just your commitment, it’s His.  You can never uncommit.   Thousands of people have made a decision for Christ of some kind at the kind of festival you attended.  Many of them uncommitted when the sun burned and the weeds choked.  If you made or if you make a genuine commitment, you will not be burned or choked.

Sit back and think about that.  Pray about it.  Consider it.  If you want to discuss it, one on one, contact me.

It’s not about cool, it’s about Christ…and He’s the Lord and judge of all creation.  If you come to Him, He will not forsake you.  In all these years, I can tell you, He’s never forsaken me.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Turn in Your Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:5 – The Economics of a Mother’s Day Sermon

“I never really thought that I was lost, ‘til I heard my dying mother sing Old Rugged Cross. Lee Thomas Miller

Many a pew-sitter heard a Sunday sermon preached from 2 Timothy 1:5 on this Mother’s Day 2015.  For many of them, it was the same as or similar to the sermon they heard on Mother’s Day last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on.[1]  Even independent churches that belong to congregational denominations which do not preach from a lectionary seem to turn in unison to 2 Timothy 1:15 on Mother’s Day.   Some pastors who make a practice of preaching expository sermons, verse-by-verse, through a given book of the Bible will stop their current sermon series on Mother’s Day, and turn to 2 Timothy 1:15 to undergird a topical sermon on Motherhood.  2 Timothy itself is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy.[2]  In the opening chapter of this epistle, Paul reminds Timothy of the sincere faith within him that is also shared by his grandmother and mother.   Although the chapter mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother, it is absolutely unrelated to the modern holiday known as “Mother’s Day” and is not meant as an admonition to mothers to act in a certain way.  It could not have been meant as such given that Paul is writing a letter to a man and not a mother.  In fact, no biblical writer would have had any knowledge or understanding of the modern holiday called “Mother’s Day.”   So why is 2 Timothy 1:5 the most popular passage of scripture preached in evangelical churches on Mother’s Day?  The answer is simple and two-fold.


(Warning, the clip above contains what some would consider mild profanity, a word used to describe a male child of unknown siring)

  1. Mother’s Day is the perhaps single Sunday when the most wayward and even lost sons of Christian mothers are in the audience.

Mother’s Day rivals Christmas and Easter as the day when the most people attend church.  Even the most worldly son of a church-going mother will make every attempt to be at his mother’s side at church on Mother’s Day.[3]  Given that such sons aren’t in church regularly, it is safe to assume that these young men are lost in their sin and dead in their trespasses.   Knowing that a high number of lost people are in attendance, preachers attempt to preach a highly evangelistic sermon.  The message of a 2 Timothy 1:15 Mother’s Day Sermon is usually something like “Your salvation is dependent upon your own repentance of sin, not that of your parents.  If you haven’t repented, do so now. ” A respond to such a call to repentance would answer the prayers of many a Christian mother.  Find a Christian mother who does not pray daily for her children, especially for the salvation of any lost children, and you will likely find a woman who is in a coma or otherwise mentally incapacitated.  Thus, especially evangelistic emotional sermons tend to be preached on Mother’s Day.  Many lost people are there to hear them.  It is not uncommon for churches to bring in a guest-preaching evangelist on Mother’s Day who specializes in such messages.   Preachers know that thinking about the love and dedication of one’s mother can cause even the most hard-hearted man to well up with tears.  Many hope these emotions will spill over into a profession of faith (decision for Christ).  Unfortunately, it can be the case that these emotions spread over into a walk-the-aisle profession but not true repentance.  While salvation is an emotional experience, preachers should be careful lest they manipulate emotions to a false conversion.  Preachers should also remember that a Sunday sermon should never be catered specifically to lost people.  The purpose of a Sunday worship service to worship God and edify the body of Christ.  Lost people cannot worship a God whom they reject and are not a part of the Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, a preacher who did not give an expressly evangelist message may have a hard time explaining that to the mother who only manages to get her lost child to church three of four times a year.  This one of the reasons that churches leaders should do everything within their power to break the “invest and invite” model of baby boomer evangelicals.  Rank and file Christians should, in light of the great commission, see themselves as evangelizers.   Pastors are not hired-gun evangelists.   They are shepherds of the saved.

  1. The American church tends to contextualize American Culture into the life of the Church, often to the neglect of God’s glory.

mother's day
Fourth of July church services tend to honor American along with or instead of God.  Memorial Day church services tend honor the military along with or instead of God.  This should not be.  Each Sunday, each Lord’s Day, is a celebration and remembrance of the first Easter Sunday.  Unfortunately, American holiday observances and themes are often syncretistically mixed in with the worship of God.[4]  Mother’s Day is no exception.  It’s certainly true that the Bible gives specific admonitions to the family.  Children are to respect parents and parents are to raise children in the nature and admonition of the Lord.  Yet, the Bible doesn’t give certain days on which Christians should especially remember and obey certain commandments better.  Furthermore, scripture does not advocate that a certain group of Christians be given more honor on a certain day than another.  On Mother’s Day, mothers in the congregation are often asked to stand so that the congregation can recognize them with applause.  This is not fitting (especially for women who have had trouble conceiving or have lost children to death, their attention may be turned away from God by ill feelings).  God alone should be the object of adoration in the worship service.  A church that has a stand and clap tradition will have a rough go if it tries to end it.  Mothers who are used to their day of honor may bristle against such change.  Such a bristling would be sinful but it may manifest itself nonetheless.[5]  It’s best to be cognizant of the primacy of God in the worship service with which to begin.  Christians are to be holy, set apart from the world.  This does not mean they cannot celebrate holidays within their culture.  However, it does mean that culture should not inappropriately encroach on God’s church

A Christian Response and Reaction

Christians who feel that their church inappropriately gives priority to holidays should approach their church leaders with their concerns in a respectful way.  They should keep in mind that church leaders likely mean well when engaging in themed services.  The church is the family of God, so to speak, and the local church is essentially comprised of families.  Church life edifies Christian families and it is not surprising that church leaders would want to recognized family-oriented holidays.  However, church activity should always be done for the right reasons.  Those reasons must always be the same: to glorify God and edify the body.  Holidays should not be used as opportunities for Finneyistic church growth schemes and filling for the pews and plates. Each Sunday is a special day in and of itself and should be used by those in pew to pay homage to their Savior.

If you were one children in the the pew with your Christian mother on this Lord’s Day and you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I pray that you follow her example and come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by repenting of your sins.  Contact me, if you like, and I will tell you more about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

**I dedicate this blog to my own mother, who always demonstrated a sincere faith and raised me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I know she prays for me each and every day.

***I also dedicate this blog to my wife, Laura, the mother of my children who prays for and raises them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord every day.  Darling, there is no flaw in you.

family

[1] Occasionally, a sermon from 1st Samuel will find its way into the Mother’s Day mix

[2] Liberal churches who deny the Pauline authorship of Timothy surely have to find other ways to recognize Mother’s with topical sermons on this particular holiday.

[3] I recall that most of the last few occasions when I found my own wayward brother in church either happened upon a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

[4] This is to commit the same error that the early Roman Catholic Church committed, by associated pagan feast days with Christian Saints instead of pagan gods in an obvious attempt to conform to worldly culture.

[5] My pastor’s wife relayed the story to me of standing up on Mother’s Day to be recognized while pregnant with her first child.  Other women (who obviously weren’t thinking about when life begins) in the church later complained that a woman without a child stood.  My church, unsurprisingly, does not participate in this activity.

40 harmful effects of Christianity – #18

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:17

This post is the eighteenth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list

Harmful Effect #18: Children spending the period of their lives when the brain is most receptive to learning new information reading, rereading, and even memorizing religious texts.

If this “harmful effect” of Christianity were factual, one would expect to see those cultures which are historically Christian lagging behind those that are not in the areas of education and child development.  This is not seen; quite the opposite is observed.  During the heyday of Communist Russia, eastern bloc countries where Christianity was outlawed failed to produce the same level of innovation and economic prosperity that western nations where Christianity flourished were able to produce.  Third world countries where animistic and polytheistic religions dominate are mired in poverty and produce almost no innovation.  Where Christian missionaries have opened schools in such places, the educational environment has improved substantially.  Islamic cultures fare somewhat better educationally than those countries which embrace polytheism; however, the education of little girls is given almost no priority.  It’s hard to believe that the Christian-influenced west, where both boys and girls are given substantial opportunities to study, outpaced the rest of the world in the areas of innovation and economic prosperity while educationally retarding its own children.

Education has long been a concern of the Christian church.  Sunday Schools were originally instituted by churches to teach working-class children fundamental reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as the Bible.  On the whole, the Christian church has encouraged educational pursuits and Christian schools, which teach much more than theology, are innumerable.  Of course the vast success Christian educational endeavors does not negate the argument that Christian children could spend the time they take learning scripture to study other subjects.  However, the case has not been made that reading the Bible is not the highest and best use of a certain portion of a child’s educational time.  The atheist author(s) of this list just presupposes that the Bible is harmful.

The venerable nature of Christian wisdom literature (such as the book of Proverbs) proves otherwise.  Biblical wisdom literature is replete with advice which, if followed, leads to a successful life.  In addition to wisdom literature, the rest of the Bible teaches that all people are created in the image of God, are inherently valuable, and are deserving of respect.  If these teachings are followed, society is a more livable place and more conducive to child development.  It does little good to educate a child if he is not provided a just culture in which he can thrive and put his education to use.  Christian influence has provided just that with western culture.  The natural rights philosophy of John Locke, which undergirds the western idea of property rights, is grounded in Christian thought.  Economist Hernando De Soto has argued that capitalist economies thrive in the west because of the formalized nature of western property systems.  Economist Max Weber argued that the Protestant Ethic, especially Calvinistic Protestantism, nurtured and promoted economic development in the west.[1]  Where scripture memorization is concerned, it should be noted, Calvinistic Protestants have long been proponents of the catechism of children.

Harmful Effect #18 is clearly preposterous.

In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:

Harmful Effect #19: People who believe the world is about to end neglect their education, are not financially responsible, and in extreme cases take part in mass suicides.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] For more on the thought of these two economists, see “Hernando Desoto and Property in a Market Economy” by D. Benjamin Barros.

UnPhiltered Moral Philosophy: Phil Robertson Speaks Out Again


About 15 months ago, Duck Dynasty star, Christian media mogul, entrepreneur, and popular preaching circuit speaker Phil Robertson took some flack in the press for his candid and biblical description of homosexual behavior as recorded in an interview with GQ.  In the midst of a controversy over his comments, Robertson was suspended from his own A&E Network Reality show.  The outcry over his comments, as well as his suspension, was short.   In little time, Phil’s legions of supportive, evangelical Christian fans demanded that he be returned to A&E’s airwaves.  He was.  Consumers demanded and the market supplied.  This week, Robertson has once again come under fire for candid and graphic comments.  In a recent speaking engagement at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast Robertson said:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them, they probably would say ‘something about this just ain’t right.’”

There is no shortage of outrage over Robertson’s latest candid comments.  Even in the Christian community, some have complained that Robertson’s comments were too graphic.  Others have complained that Roberston’s comments did not fairly represent the atheistic worldview.  Dustin Chalker of the Mobile (Alabama) Atheist Community reacted to Robertson’s comments by saying, “Robertson has made a mistake so old and so worn out that it can only be a deliberate lie or a result of sheer ignorance.  Atheism is not, and never has been, a synonym for moral nihilism… Rather than obedience to a mystical authority that probably doesn’t exist, atheist morality is based on things that we can prove: other humans exist and behavioral self-regulation is necessary for peaceful coexistence.”  Is Chalker correct?[1]

Notice that Robertson did not argue that atheists can’t act morally.  It’s a misunderstanding of his argument (a common one) to state otherwise.  Rather Robertson’s argument was that atheists have no objective justification to declare actions moral or immoral.  As Chalker noted, Robertson’s argument is an “old” one, but it’s hardly “worn out”.  As Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig has noted, z moral argument like the one used by Robertson is perhaps the most powerful argument against the atheistic worldview.  It’s not hard to image that Robertson, who has a master’s degree in education, knows that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s wrote through his character Ivan Karamazov that “everything is permitted” in a world without God.  There is hardly any outrage to be had over the classic writing of Dostoevsky.  Yet, Robertson is roundly condemned. Robertson, in his straightforward manner, has put forth a classic argument that Christian theists commonly level against atheism.

  1. If God does not exist, Objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Atheists and theists alike generally agree on premise 1.  Where they differ is on premise #2.  Robertson’s comments were clearly meant to engender an emotional and intellectual reaction that would cause his hearers to affirm premise #2.  Using rape an example of an objective moral evil is a common tactic, not just of for frank country boys like Robertson, but for intellectuals and academics.   The following story was republished in Jeremy Evans’ The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs in order to demonstrate the moral evil of rape:

“[Consider] a little girl in Flint, Michigan who was severely beaten, raped, and then strangled by her mother’s boyfriend on New Year’s Day of 1986. The girl’s mother was living with her boyfriend, another man who was unemployed, her two children, and her nine-month old infant fathered by the boyfriend. On New Year’s Eve all three adults were drinking at a bar near the woman’s home. The boyfriend had been taking drugs and drinking heavily. He was asked to leave the bar at 8: 00 p.m. After several reappearances he finally stayed away for good about 9: 30 p.m. The woman and the unemployed man remained at the bar until 2: 00 a.m. at which time the woman went home and the man to a party at a neighbor’s home. Perhaps out of jealousy, the boyfriend attacked the woman when she walked in the house. Her brother was there and broke up the fight by hitting the boyfriend who was passed out and slumped over a table when the brother left. Later the boyfriend attacked the woman again, and this time she knocked him unconscious. After checking the children, she went to bed. Later the woman’s five-year-old girl went downstairs to go to the bathroom. The unemployed man returned from the party at 3: 45 a.m. and found the five-year-old girl dead. She had been raped, severely beaten over most of her body, and strangled to death by the boyfriend.”[2]

The graphic story above is about the brutal rape of a little girl and it was printed in a philosophy book published by an academic press.  No one is criticizing Professor Jeremy Evans in the Huffington Post. Robertson’s words are hardly shocking to Christians apologists regularly engaged in defense of a Christian worldview.  The question, “Is it always wrong to murder a child for fun?” is the stock question asked by Christian apologists to atheists to support premise 2 of the moral argument.

Despite to the rhetoric of Dustin Chalker, atheists cannot prove that is objectively wrong to rape and murder children…even though they know it is.  Phil Robertson is right.  Evangelical Christians should support these statements rather than decry them.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] Atheist Philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche would almost certainly disagree with Chalker.

[2] Evans, Jeremy A. (2013-03-01). The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs (NONE) (p. 24). B&H Academic. Kindle Edition.

DISMANTLING THE JETHRO PRINCIPAL

Overlaying the Jethro Principle

For those who believe in the inerrancy of scripture, the essential questions of Christian theology were settled long ago by the church fathers and their answers reiterated by the reformers.  Except for the finer points of eschatology and soteriology, evangelical theologians have all but settled upon a systematic theology of Christianity.  For those in the publishing business, this poses a peculiar conundrum.  There is nothing new under the sun about which to write, but books must be printed to keep the presses, academic and popular, in business.  This is perhaps why the top-selling Christian books of 2014 included superficially biblical titles about dieting, money-management, relationships, signals of the end-times, heaven tourism, (montanist) devotional reflection, prosperity-gospel motivation, and Christian celebrities.[1]  One of the top-selling books of 2014 was I am a Church Member by Christian leadership guru Thom Rainer.  Church Leadership has become a very popular subject in Christian circles.  Since the theological question of what the church is is long-settled, some authors have take to writing about the contemporary question of how the church should be administered and marketed; they search the scriptures to support their findings.  In so doing these authors run the risk of advocating for “scriptural” leadership principals that aren’t really prescribed in the bible.  The “Jethro Principle,” purportedly gleaned from the book of Exodus, is one such principle.  Christian leadership teacher Robert Welch has identified and written-about common-sense business management principles regularly taught in secular business schools,[2] which are potentially helpful in administering churches, and overlaid an eisigetical biblical foundation over top of them.  While these business principles are good, useful common grace insights and sometimes proper to use in a church context, they are not scriptural and should not be considered as such.

The book of Exodus is a historical narrative that “recounts the formative event in Israel’s history, ‘the departure from Egypt.’…The book centers on two crucial divine acts in Israel’s history; God mightily delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (1:1-18:26), and he entered into covenant with them at Mt. Sinai (19:1-40:38).”[3]  Within the eighteenth chapter of this powerful and dramatic account of God’s power and providence, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advises him to appoint judges to help administer the nation of Israel’s large population lest he wear himself out trying to do so all on his own.  It is within this chapter of Exodus that Robert Welch purports to have identified “A Biblical Foundation for Organization.”[4]  Welch is mistaken.  Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush made no mention of a mini-leadership academy put on by Jethro for the former prince of Egypt, Moses, in their comprehensive book Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament.  In considering the implications of Exodus 18, Venerated biblical commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “We have reason to value government as a very great mercy, and to thank God for laws and magistrates, so that we are not like the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less.”[5]  Henry made no mention of management principles in his commentary.  His assessment is very good in that the immediate audience of the book of Exodus, the ancient Israelites, could look back upon their own history and understand the way in which they came to be governed.

Robert Welch has claimed something more for this biblical text, however.  In Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry, Welch presents Exodus Chapter 18 as illustrating a “Moses Model”[6] of leadership.  Paraphrasing the text, Welch put the following words in the mouth of Jethro, “You’re crazy! If you keep this up you are going to experience burnout in ministry. What will become of my daughter if you go over the deep end? But worse yet, what will become of the people?”[7]  Chuck Smith, pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel, similarly paraphrased Jethro in his commentary in Exodus 18 as follows, “Hey Moses, hey you’re gonna kill yourself, man, trying to keep up that heavy schedule. You can’t do it. So it isn’t right that you just wear yourself out in doing it. So you need to get other men to help you with this thing.”[8]  Both Welch and Smith transform Jethro from an ancient Midianite priest giving advice to his son-in-law to a modern management consultant rapping with a client in a hip vernacular as he presents his “Jethro Principle” of leadership.  To do so stretches the historical narrative of Exodus beyond its exegetical limits.  There simply is no prescribed Jethro Principle in scripture.  Sam Storms communicated the matter well in his article The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster, writing that those who advocate the Moses Model “ground their authority in an unbiblical appeal to the example of OT figures.”[9]  Storms rightly concluded that the structures and spiritual authority operative in the Old Covenant aren’t necessarily applied to life of the church in the New Covenant.  This doesn’t mean that such structures are not useful and worthy of consideration.  Even where common-sense management principles are eisegesed, they can be useful.  There are eight key concepts of the Jethro-principled “Moses Model” which deserve the consideration, the careful consideration, of those in church leadership:

  1. One individual cannot do the work of ministry alone
  2. It will lead to burnout – of the leader and the people
  3. The leader is to do the primary task – represent to God, instruct and teach, etc.
  4. The leader is to select qualified persons to assist him
  5. The leader is to delegate to those individuals portions of the task
  6. These subordinates report back to the leader
  7. The load will be lightened; the leader will endure
  8. The people will be satisfied participants

 #1 – Going It Alone

It’s hard to imagine a CEO running a company all by himself, working noon and night everywhere from the factory floor to the penthouse boardroom.  It just can’t be done.  Similarly, Moses could not reasonably be expected to judge every contentious situation that arose around among millions of sojourning Israelites.  His father-in-law’s advice to appoint judges to help do so was good.  Moses was smart to take it.  A pastor who tries to take care of every facet of church business by his lonesome is almost certainly doomed to failure.  A pastor who is surrounded by a plurality of elders and servant-hearted deacons will find that many hands make light work.  However, it should be noted that the offices of CEO, Prophet, and Pastor are very different.  Though each is a leadership office, what works for one may not work for or be appropriate for another.  Moses was not a CEO and neither was he pastor.  The “Moses Model” seems to justify the existence of the highly-compensated mega-church CEO-model pastor who has no time to personally shepherd each member of his flock because there are far too many of them for him to do so.  The local church and the million-strong[10] Old-Covenant ancient political nation of Israel are simply not comparable on an apples to apples basis.  The best possible comparison to a Moses Model pastor of millions is the Pope of Rome, who no evangelical pastor should seek to emulate.  When a pastor becomes a “Moses” he gains his own cult of personality. While such a cult is workable for for-profit companies such as Apple and its visionary founder, Steve Jobs.  All too often a vision-casting pastor becomes as venerated as Moses when the only personality cult a church should subscribe to is that of Jesus Christ.  It’s His church.

#2 – Flaming Out

Ministry “burnout” was not an extant concept during the time of Moses.  Neither was the local church or seminary.  It’s true that “between one-third and one-half of a seminary’s graduates are not in church ministerial leadership positions a decade after graduation.”[11]  However, this statistic is completely irrelevant to the life of Moses, who was called by God out of the burning bush.  Moses’ call is indubitable since it is recorded in Holy Scripture.  The “calling” of individual seminary students is not a matter of biblical revelation but their own personal claims.  The droves of seminary graduates who do not last in vocational ministry may have just made poor career choices and gotten a professional degree not suited to themselves.  73% of protestant pastors work more than 50 hours a week.[12]  Such grueling workweeks are similar to the ones worked in other high-burnout professions such as law and accountancy.[13]  In an article posted at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants website entitled The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout, Ron Rael, a CPA and “leadership consultant”[14] recommended that CPAs combat burnout by “developing a personal mission statement.”[15]  This is the same advice given by church leadership consultant Aubrey Malphurs in Chapter 8 of his book, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership.  In The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout Rael cites career burnout causes that are very similar to the ministry burnout causes cited by Robert Welch in his book.  There is simply no “Jethro Principal” for how to avoid burnout.  Burnout is just a potential pitfall of any stressful career.  Though the idea of ministry burnout was unheard of in Moses day, people did know what it was like to get tired.  Moses was no exception.  He needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms while the Israelites battled Amalek[16] because his arms were tired.  Moses needed to appoint judges over the people to keep from wearing out both himself and the people awaiting his decisions.  Pastors don’t need examples from historical narrative to tell them not to try and do everything themselves.  Common grace provides that common sense insight.  Rael’s advice rings just as true as that of Welch and Malphurs without an artificial scriptural overlay.

 #3 – Preaching and Teaching

Moses is not a type of pastor; Moses is a type of Christ.  In the New Testament church, Jesus has replaced Old Testament figures such as Moses as the mediator between God and man.[17]  The Jethro Principal idea that pastors somehow represent God before the people is a faulty one.  Each member of the New Testament church is a member of the priesthood of all believers and is in relationship with God Himself through Jesus.  A pastor does, like Moses, have a responsibility to preach and teach.  Being two thousand years removed from the writing of the last book of scripture, pastors need significant study time to determine how to communicate timeless truths recorded in ancient languages to contemporary people.  In his day, Moses talked to God to God “face-to-face”[18]; pastors have God’s word in old, written scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Reading the Bible is not exactly a face-to-face conversation and communicating it requires intense study. Without day-to-day shepherding assistance from fellow elders, a teaching pastor may not be able to adequately present an understandable sermon each Sunday.

#4 – Looking for Help

There are clear scriptural qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon.  No church should appoint individuals to these offices who do not meet those qualifications.  This is not a requirement gleaned from any secular management school and it’s certainly not a Jethro Principle.  It is a requirement plainly stated in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles.  The Pastoral Epistles do not speak to the hiring of janitors and secretaries (W-2 employees).  Neither does Exodus 18.  In Exodus 18, Moses is essentially appointing officials in the Israelite civil government.  This scripture simply does not apply to hiring paid church staff nor does it imply that such hires should be made at all.  If church leaders do choose to hire paid staff, they should use the same caution and business sense that secular business use.  Furthermore, they should stop and ask themselves the questions, “Are we employing hirelings like a secular business would do?  If so, Why?”

#5 – Sharing the Load

The larger a secular business organization becomes the more employees and more departments it needs to run: finance, operations, warehousing, shipping, legal, human resources, and administration.  Additional executives, middle managers, and shop-floor managers are needed to help operate these departments and carry out their business functions.  In the realm of secular business, no one would ever call such leaders “commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”[19] Even to many Christian businessmen, doing so would seem completely absurd.  Hiring such managers is simply how business…not church…is done.  To be certain such managers should, like Moses’ judges, be trustworthy men who abhor corruption.  Crooked managers are bad for the bottom-line.  As churches grow (perhaps into megachurches), more and more middle-managers are needed.  However, it sounds tacky at best to call church leaders “middle-managers.”  Thus, they become ministers of certain age groups and operations functions.  Under the “Moses Model” this is biblical.  On any other model, it’s simply business as usual.

#6 – Supervision

Advocates of the Jethro Principle believe that it demonstrates by biblical example that subordinates should report to their supervisors.  This is perhaps the biggest strain on credulity foisted by the Jethro Principle upon those who study church administration.  Even before Exodus 18, Joseph reported to Pharaoh, his jailer, Potipher, and his father.  His doing so doesn’t seem out of place to the biblical reader because that’s just what subordinates do…they report to their leaders.  The idea that Exodus 18 somehow draws this out for the church to see is ridiculous.  Of course subordinates, in any organization, should report to their leaders.  The better the relationship between subordinates and their leaders, the more efficient and effective their organizations will be.  Supervisors, whether they are shop-floor managers or sergeants, should be trained to manage people respectfully.  Church employment, paid or volunteered, is no exception.  No one needs Exodus 18 to understand this.  It doesn’t teach this.

#7 Enduring in Ministry

Some leaders will burn out no matter what their job is.  Leaders with a great support staff are less likely to burn out.  This is true of anyone from a football coach to a construction foreman.  If a top leader, such as a CEO, has a great supporting team from top-to-bottom, his company is bound to be successful.  Pastors are not CEOs. Pastors are also not Old Testament prophets.  Moses endured because it was simply the will of God that he do so.  He was called for a specific task by God and God’s plans do not fail.  It may be the case that a given pastor endures in ministry because it is God’s will for his life.  Endurance in the ministry is not a matter the financial bottom line, a support staff, or an organizational chart.  It is a matter of prayer and spiritual strength and the sweet and gentle mercy of a loving and forgiving God.  It’s not a Jethro Principle matter at all.

#8 Satisfied Sheep

It’s a commonly accepted tenet of business that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to win a new one.  There is a great danger of in the ministry of looking at church attendees as not served sheep but satisfied customers. In November of 2014, Thom Rainer wrote a blog post about the “Top 10 Ways to Drive Away” First Time Guests.  In his post, Rainer listed reasons why someone might visit a church once but never again.  Many of the reasons were the same reasons someone might not go back to a restaurant or tourist attraction after an unsatisfactory visit.  People don’t like to wait in long lines at the DMV, the theme park, or to be judged by a prophet.  Churches need to do a gut check when engaging in Jethro-Principle-style delegation.  Are they doing so to meet ministry needs or are they doing so to keep people from going to church somewhere else.  Hungry people are going to out to eat somewhere; saved people are going to go church somewhere.  Pastors should concern themselves with being available to their sheep themselves, not concerned simply with making someone available. If a church is as big an Old Testament Israel so that a few elders can’t handle everyone’s needs, maybe it’s just too big.

A Personal Perspective

Before I enrolled in seminary, I completed two business degrees at secular public universities.  I’ve worked in the business world as an accountant for almost 10 years.  I’ve had plenty of leadership training during my time in school and time at work.  The only difference between what I’ve been presented with in that training and what I’ve been presented with studying leadership in seminary is a facade of scripture.  Otherwise, it’s no different.  I think it should be.  Christian leaders err when they pretend that there are scriptural Jethro Principles of leadership in the bible that just happen to look like common-grace business ideas from the for-profit, government, or military world.  It’s said that Alexander the Great wept when there were no more world’s left for him to conquer.  Perhaps the academic theologian wept when he saw that Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley had already written all the theology left to write.  Christian orthodoxy was pretty much figured out except for two pedals on a tulip and millennium that may or may not have come.  Drying his tears, the academic theologian decided he could write on biblical leadership…and it came out looking a lot like John Bisagno’s recommendation to make the church look like Starbucks and Disney World.

Secular business ideas work; they are good….but they are not scripture and they are not meant for a profit-disinterested church.  I see no difference between the Ron Rael’s of the world and the Aubrey Malphur’s of the church.  Why does the church need a management consultant?  Didn’t God give it a Bible and His Holy Spirit?  Career ministers who have never worked in the secular world or been educated at a secular college may think they are receiving some unique Christian insight when studying Jethro-Principal-type material.  They are not.  I understand that it is the responsibility of a seminary to prepare pastors to work in churches.  I understand that modern churches are becoming more and more corporate as they struggle over attracting a dwindling attendance base.  Teaching leadership is a good thing.  Yet, somehow my most frustrating experience as a seminary student has been studying secular leadership and profit-making principles subtly disguised as biblical wisdom.  It shouldn’t be this way.  I love God and I love His word.  It’s so much greater than the wisdom of this world.  I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be able to study God’s word with fine brothers in seminary.  Christians should respect God’s word and be honest enough to not teach secular leadership, no matter how useful it seems and how good it sells, and say it comes from God’s Holy Word in Exodus 18.  It does not.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Bibliography

Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/ (accessed March 10, 2015).

Holdridge, Bill. “The Real Moses Model.” Calvarychapel.com. 2015. http://www.calvarychapel.com/resources/article/view/calvary-chapel-and-the-moses-model/ (accessed March 9, 2015).

LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. “Chuck Smith (pastor).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. February 20, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chuck_Smith_(pastor)&oldid=648007395 (accessed March 9, 2015).

[1] Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

[2] Welch has written about about Drucker and Taylor, both of whom I studied while earning my undergraduate business degree.

[3] LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996, p.63-65.

[4] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[5] Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024

[6] Welch does not use the term “Moses Model” in his book but this somewhat popular term accurately described what he presents.

[7] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[8] Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024

[9] Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

[10] Fighting men alone were 603,550 according to Number 1:46

[11] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, location 80 of 10184

[12] Ibid 165 of 10184

[13] I am an accountant.  I have personally witnessed and experienced high turnover and burnout in the public accounting profession from working long hours.

[14] High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/

[15] Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

[16] Exodus 17

[17] Hebrews 9:15

[18] Exodus 33:11

[19] Exodus 18:21

Situational Hitting: A Personal Perspective on Apologetic Method

If I didn’t believe that the gospel was true, I would have no incentive whatsoever to make a defense of it.  Since I do believe that the gospel is true, I do have an incentive, upon which I act, to defend it.  Thus, whenever I engage in apologetic activity, I do so presupposing that the gospel is true. I would not say, however, that this makes me a presuppositional apologist.  In fact, I would not say that my apologetic activity is grounded in any specifically identified apologetic method; it is grounded in scripture. Specifically, it is grounded in the prescription Peter gave to the church: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”[1]  In his prescription, Peter does not designate a specific method by which to make such a defense.  Classifications of apologetic methods as designated by contemporary Christian theologians, such as classical apologetics, evidentialism, presuppositionalism, reformed epistemology, and cumulative case apologetics[2], were unknown to Peter and the other biblical writers.  While there is a clear scriptural prescription to engage in apologetics, there is no scriptural prescription given to us by the biblical writers to use a specific apologetic method.  There are certainly examples of apologetic activity in scripture that the Christian can look to for guidance.  However, these examples are only descriptive.  This being so, the Christian is free to employ whatever apologetic method he deems appropriate for any given situation.  The only requirement is that he be ever-ready to do so with “gentleness and reverence.”  My personal preference is to engage in presuppositional apologetics because this method allows me to stick closely to scripture as I contend for the faith. However, my Christian duty is to utilize that method of apologetics which is most appropriate for a specific situation.  Thus, it is often the case that I engage in a variety of apologetic methods to provide a situationally appropriate defense for my hope in Christ.

I liken my personal apologetic method to my behavior at the plate when playing for my church-league softball team.  In any given at bat, my personal preference is to cut loose, swing-away, and see just how far I can hit the ball (hopefully over the fence).  This is a low-percentage proposition as compared to trying to hit the ball the other way, using speed and bat control to get on base, or simply working the count, not swinging at all, in order to try and earn a walk (thereby frustrating the psyche of the pitcher).  The game situation dictates my plate approach.  No matter my approach preference for any given at-bat, it is subordinate to my preference to win the game.  I cannot, in good faith, justify a swing-away plate approach to my coach and teammates when the game situation does not call for such an approach.  In the same way, I cannot justify using my preferred presuppositional apologetic approach to the church and to God when the given situation calls for a different apologetic method.  Therefore, the key to being justified in my choice of apologetic method lies in identifying the situationally appropriate apologetic method and utilizing it.

A clear biblical example of a presuppositional apologetic would be the speech of Stephen in Acts 6-7 (though, I wouldn’t wish for myself the results that Stephen got).  Stephen’s apologetic was appropriate to his audience because both he and his audience agreed that scripture was true and authoritative.  Such an apologetic method would be appropriate for me to use with a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Roman Catholic, a member of the Church of Christ, or even a Muslim.  Such an apologetic would also be appropriate to use with anyone, even someone with no religious belief, who challenged the Christian hope based upon a misunderstanding of (not a historical objection to) scripture.  Given that Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,”[3] it’s hard to imagine a time when a presuppositional approach is ever inappropriate. However, it should be remembered that Paul was writing Timothy in a pastoral context and not necessarily an apologetic one.  Quoting scripture to an unregenerate person, especially one who already suppress God’s general revelation in unrighteousness[4] may prove ineffective with and even aggravating to that person.  This has often been my personal experience, even when showing an unbeliever where her stated beliefs align with scripture.

When someone challenging the Christian faith is hostile to an apologetic that presupposes scripture, it is prudent to use a different method.  When the apologetic discussion concerns the nature and historicity of Jesus, as it so often does, an evidentialist approach is wise.  The evidential approach, especially Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach, is helpful in such a situation given that there is extra-biblical evidence about the life of Jesus with which to interact.  Building upon this evidence, one can develop a “poached-egg”[5] argument for the deity of Christ.  Furthermore, once the historicity of Jesus can be established, the gospel texts (scripture) can be employed as non-presuppositional apologetic tools. Since the gospel texts are historical accounts, the theological truths about Christ which they contain can be snuck in the back door of the historical discussion, as it were.  Establishing Jesus as the risen Jewish Messiah also serves to establish the Old Testament as reliable, given its Christological prophecies and Jesus’ references to it as authoritative.  (Jesus himself used a method quite like this on the Emmaus road in Luke 24.)  An advantage to this evidential approach is that there is popular and accessible literature that utilizes it.  The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace are two books to which skeptics can be referred.  Both Strobel and Wallace are former nonbelievers who were won to Christ in the midst of their investigations into the person of Jesus and provide widely known testimonies about Christian conversions.


Some skeptics are both hostile to scripture and to the possibility of supernatural occurrences.  Such individuals are likely to be unswayed by an evidential argument that points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  Their anti-supernatural bias will not accommodate such an explanation.  Thus, their anti-supernatural bias itself must be challenged before specific evidence for the Christian faith can be presented.  In such a case, the situation calls for classical apologetics.  The arguments of classical apologetics provide strong challenges to atheism and deism.  Ontological, teleological, moral, and cosmological arguments can all demonstrate that non-deistic theism is a more rational than alternative beliefs. In Romans 1, Paul, while not employing the names of the specific arguments listed above, makes it clear that the propositions and conclusions of such arguments are reasonable.  Not only do these arguments tie in with scripture (special revelation), they can be supported by scientific findings (general revelation).  The fine-tuning of the universe indicates that it was designed.  The standard cosmological model indicates that the universe began to exist.  These arguments also demonstrate the limits of scientific knowledge, which is often solely relied upon by skeptics.  Science cannot determine what actions and values are moral.  Nor can it prove or disprove the existence of immaterial persons (i.e. God and Angels).  Logic favors the Christian.  Once non-deistic theism is adopted as a rational belief system, anti-supernaturalism can be abandoned.  Once anti-supernaturalism is abandoned, arguments about God’s actions in the world can be accepted.  Once arguments about God’s actions in the world are accepted, scripture can be seriously considered.

Unfortunately, there are still those skeptics would will refuse to acquiesce to the classical arguments of theism.  These same individuals, however, may still be sympathetic to the views of those who are swayed by them.  They may also be sympathetic an apologetic from reformed epistemology.  The apologetic prescription given by Peter is to “make a defense.”  There is always a great-commission obligation to make disciples and teach what the Lord Jesus commanded, however, the apologetic obligation is to simply make a defense.  Therefore, a biblically faithful apologetic doesn’t necessitate that the skeptic or persecutor ends up believing exactly like the Christian apologist.  The skeptic may only end up believing that the Christian is reasonable in holding to the hope that is within him.  For a situation in which the skeptic may be completely reprobate and is hostile to all other apologetic methods, reformed epistemology is situationally appropriate.  Using reformed epistemology, the believer can demonstrate that his belief is properly basic.  While the apologist may not be able to show the skeptic that Christianity is true, he can reasonably justify that he knows Christianity to be true in his own heart.  The skeptic, having been shown that the Christian is rational to hold to hope in gospel of Christ, has shakier intellectual ground from which to attack the belief of the Christian.

No matter what apologetic method is called for, I think it is important to remember that human beings are created for relationships.  We are firstly created to have a loving relationship with God and secondly created to have a loving relationship with other humans.  This is where my softball analogy breaks down.  Sport is all about winning the game.  Apologetics, however, is not about winning the argument.  People do not need to be beaten over the head with argumentation but rather pricked by the Holy Spirit.  Christian apologetics is about winning the person.  To do so, a relationship must be developed.  When I develop relationships with non-believers, I know that, over time, I will be able to present every apologetic method to them.  In doing so, my life, can become a kind of a cumulative case apologetic.  Through living in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can demonstrate by my Christian walk that the Christian way of life is fruitful, livable, and consistent.  Through interacting with people on a regular basis, I can remember to pray for them, by name, that they might be saved.  To be a successful apologist once must present himself as a living sacrifice.  A living sacrifice sanctifies Christ in his heart and is always ready to gracefully make a defense for the hope that is within him.  Being a living sacrifice is situationally appropriate at all times for the Christian life.  Being a living sacrifice will make one ready to use situationally appropriate apologetic methods.   This grounds my preferred apologetic method.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] 1 Peter 3:15

[2] I took these specific names from the course textbook, Five Views on Apologetics.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:16

[4] Romans 1:18

[5] Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord