Summaries__CHAPTER 1: APOLOGETICS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT    [Pgs.1-21] 

 

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Apologetics and specifically apologists have had a bad rap among modern Christians for various reasons.  Some have been known to be arrogant, pushy, snobbish, graceless, prayer-less people who ironically have diluted the gospel message. But a few bad apples “don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  There have been many who have been faithful to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God and have paid the price for it as a result.

The church has been graced with many apologists since the inception of the primitive church who were marked by: prayer, erudition, genius, talent, and true piety.  In this book Avery Dulles aims to reveal how the heroes from the past understood and lived out what it meant to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15.

Although nothing “new” can be said, recurring issues from the past resurface with “new” garb, which at the core are the same old problems.  Dulles gives special attention to both Catholic and Protestant contributors.  This text is a historical must read for those would learn from those who have gone before us.          

APOLOGETIC MOTIFS IN THE EARLY TRADITION

Christianity was a message before being an apologetic.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified, buried, and Risen from the dead was at the story’s core [pp.2-3].  The Earliest Preaching focused on Christ’s Lordship (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26); backed up the claims of his Messiahship through fulfilled prophecy (Ps.2:7-8; 110:1; Acts 2:26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5); emphasized his resurrection as the core of the apostolic proclamation (Dan.7:13; acts 2:25-28); and Jesus’ passion was seen as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s account (Is.53):

Who has believed our message?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But he Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

APOLOGETIC DEVELOPMENT:  [Pgs.3-9]

The early believers confronted and answered their objectors with amazing precision, penetration and practicality.  One objection was explaining: “the Ascension of Christ—where is He now?”  He’s presently in heaven (Ps.16: 11; 110:1); he will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 3:21); and his dominion is presently exercised through the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2:16-21).

When it came to the Passion of Christ, Jesus was seen to be cursed by God through the crucifixion (Dt.21:23), but this humiliation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Is. 52-53, see 53:5) in order to justify many from the curse of the Law through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:10-14).  Moreover, the blindness of the Jews was predicted by the prophet (Is.9-10; Acts 28:26-27); and was caused by God even though God has not forgotten them (Rom.9-11).

Another issue that had to be addressed was the betrayal of Judas.  How could Jesus have miscalculated the treachery of this disciple?  This betrayal was also predicted in scripture (Jn.13:18; cf., Ps.41:9) and points to the sovereignty of God in all things even when our choices are significant and we’re culpable.

Then there’s the issue of Jesus’ Origin being from Nazareth.  He’s in the line of David (Ps.89:3-4; Jn.1:45-46; Mic.5:1; Mt.2:5; Jn.7:42) seen by his birthplace to be in Bethlehem.

Again, there’s the issue of Jesus’ Public Life: where he never claimed to be the Messiah.  Nevertheless, God pointed to Jesus as his beloved Son (Ps.2: 7; Is.42:1; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Acts 10:38; 2 Pet.1:17); the writers of the New Testament later understood that Jesus’ Messiahship was to be secret (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:42) perhaps because the Jews could not conceive of the type of Messiah Jesus was, or maybe because of Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward the messianic appellations, or possibly because their hearts were hardened (Mk.6:52; 8:17; Jer.5:21).

When it came to the Miracles of Jesus they had a specific purpose.  Miracles were aids to faith, evoking wonder and amazement; they are seen (especially in the casting out of demons) as Satan being overthrown by the inauguration of the Kingdom of God; and they authenticate Jesus’ message because they blend in with the Good news of salvation.

CHANGING CONTEXTS: ACTS, PAUL, AND HEBREWS [Pgs.9-13]

In The Book Acts [pp. 9-11] we see Stephens defense of Christ and the gospel (Acts 7) by pointing to Old Testament redemptive history, where God is to be sought through the prophets, who ultimately point to the exclusivity of Jesus as the only means of salvation (Is.6:9-10).  Then there’s Peter’s address to the uncircumcised (Acts 10) where he undergoes a major paradigm shift of who can be saved and explains that Jesus is the healer, wonder worker, and risen Lord from the dead.

We also observe the Gentile world addressed through the agency of Natural Theology employed by Paul (Acts11…).  This apostle is seen contradicting polytheism (14:15-17); on the Areopagus address to the Athenians (17:23) Paul confronts their worship, explains God’s necessity and his transcendence.  Moreover, because Paul knew their authorities he could speak more forcefully to the gospel truth of coming judgment and Christ’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul [Pgs.11-13]

This converted Pharisee who once persecuted the church was now its most influential spokesmen especially to the Gentile world.  When Paul addressed the Corinthian church he tackled the issue of Faith and Reason; refused to capitulate to their love of human wisdom (1 Cor.3: 6); would not ground his preaching on the hot philosophic views of the age, but instead rested his proclamation on the Spirit’s power so that their faith (the Corinthians) be not based on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

When Paul addressed the Romans, he focused on the hindrance to worship (Rom. 1).  This was the classic case against idolatry (vv18-23) that’s inexcusable, self-delusional, self-exalting, self-destructive, and is the reason for why God’s judgment obtains.

The Book of Hebrews [Pg.13]

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews but it’s the first apology to the Hebrew Christian Community where Christianity is seen as the perfect religion which eclipses the religion of Israel because of who Jesus of Nazareth is.  Here, the Old Covenant is compared to the New Covenant, Moses is compared to Jesus, the Levites are compared to Jesus’ Priesthood, the constant sacrifices are compared to Christ’s final sacrifice and Christ’s supremacy is placarded throughout the letter.

THE FOUR EVANGELISTS AS APOLOGISTS [Pgs.13-19]

The gospel accounts come from four different perspectives concerning the life and teachings of Christ.  At the core their message is identical, yet due to their audience, each biography has a different emphasis.   For example, Mark’s Gospel focuses on [p.14]; the edification of converts, the explanation for why Christianity began, the supply of preaching material for missionary preachers, an armory of apologetic arguments for Jewish and heathen opposition, with the view always to remember that Christ is risen indeed.

Matthew’s Gospel intentions [p.15] focused more on the believing community where apologetically the writer was concerned with fulfilled prophecy—as a summary of Jesus’ career (Is.14:1-4), with ecclesiastical hierarchy (Mt.16:19), with combating Rabbinic thought (Mt.23), and finally with unfolding the Passion narrative (Mt.27-28).

Luke-Acts intentions [Pgs.16-17] focused on demonstrating the accurate historical account of the life of Jesus (to know the truth of all Theophilus had heard (Lk.1:1-4), it was geared toward the Roman ruler it was focused on redemptive history, and the need to establish a harmonious relationship between the Church and the supreme secular powers.

John’s Gospel intentions [Pgs.17-19] are for people to come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the goal of which is eternal life.  This would be realized through; the Signs of the miracles, emphasis on Jesus as the Light of the world to a Hellenistic audience.  John’s aim in all of this is to sustain and intensify the life of believers.  As such, it has apologetic affinities.

CONCLUSION

The Resurrection of Jesus was indubitably the centerpiece of early Christian apostolic preaching.  Since the majority of audiences held the OT Scriptures as authoritative, it was the sacred text used apologetically to demonstrate Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and Redeemer of all mankind.  However, when ignorance of such literature obtained, preachers like Paul would employ natural theology to proclaim the Gospel.

This brief outline is packed with Gospel truth that you believer would do well to meditate on, understand and impart to those God has called you to disciple.

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Summaries Now Available!

310D727a2fL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Now available in summary form is Politics for Christians.  This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.  Take up and read friends.

Summary From Chapter#5: GOD, NATURAL RIGHTS AND THE NATURAL MORAL LAW (Pgs.145-163)

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Beckwith here explores whether or not it is reasonable to hold, as the founding fathers did, that natural moral law requires God’s existence.  He considers the atheistic, theistic and Biblical view as to its origins (Hobbes, Locke, and Aquinas were major contributors to our understanding and disputes).  Beckwith explains that it’s reasonable to believe in natural law being grounded in God’s existence and since the existence of God is a philosophically defensible position, one may legitimately claim it as an item of knowledge.  Thus, those who reject said position, aren’t unreasonable for doing so, yet neither are those who accept it.

Beckwith considers contemporary atheism and some of its key players (E.g., Hitchens and Dawkins) and sees an inconsistency with their worldview and natural rights.  That is, atheism essentially affirms that we are accidental, purposeless, pieces of meat who when we die we’re done.  Humans have no intrinsic value in and of themselves and yet when moral dilemmas arise who cares if there’s agreement or disagreement because there’s no purpose or meaning to life.  But people like atheists deeply care about their views and thus betray their worldview unwittingly.  That’s an oversimplification of what Beckwith considers [pgs.148-152].

Beckwith then considers why moral natural law suggests God.  He holds that God’s existence best accounts for said laws and are most at home in a theistic universe for these objective moral values are grounded in God, the Designer, the Supreme Being (even if Christendom is rejected, some ultimate being grounds natural law).  There are really only two options to buttress the origins of Human dignity and rights; (a) its either accidental, a chance result, or (b) its the result of intelligence.

If it’s accidental then why obey a mindless principle?  Beckwith then considers evolutionary arguments for said position that are merely descriptive, not prescriptive and there’s the rub [pgs.152-157], for that worldview only explains what is not why it is and that is precisely the realm of morals (e.g., what we ought and ought not do).

If it’s the result of intelligence, then we have an explanation that fits most consistently with human experience.  For we obey “beings” not “principles”, we fulfill our duties toward those whom are owed, the objects of which are persons, not accidents.  Beckwith continues and considers examples that have been used to ground these laws in Scripture [pgs.158-162].

He concludes the book with a wise reminder that while politics is not everything, it is not “nothing”.  It is often messy and filled with conflict, but so is much of life (e.g., family, work, school and church).  Thus he ends with words from Ecclesiastes that are often quoted, but not often reflected on:

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—

A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
”  (Ecc.3:1-8 NASB)

           

Summaries of POLITICS FOR CHRISTIANS: Statecraft as Soulcraft

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PERSONAL NOTE

This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.

 SERIES PREFACE (Pgs.9-27)

            This book is written for the busy student or parent in mind.  The goal of integration is both conceptual and personal.  The former blends its’ theological beliefs with one’s profession of faith into a coherent Christian worldview, where  the latter seeks to publically and privately live out the implications of what it means to be “Christ’s disciple”.  Moreland/Beckwith (series editors) argue that the reason integration is vital (among other things) is because the Bible is true in its teachings and our vocations and discipleship demand it.

One of the ways we love God is with our minds, thus to neglect it fosters a secular/sacred divide which works against the spiritual warfare in which believers are already engaged.  Our battle as Christians involves ideas that oppose Christ’s Lordship.  Grappling with epistemological ideas (i.e., ideas of what we know and how we know them) are part of that battle.

Moreland therefore emphasizes the need to bring back into culture Christian truth claims as part of the plausibility structure.  If they are not part of it, then our ideas won’t even be considered.  These are ideas, or set off ideas a person either is or is not willing to entertain as true.  To accomplish the aforesaid, Moreland explains that it is therefore necessary to employ the three integrative tasks.

First, is direct defense; here the goal is to show that the Christian worldview is rationally justified.  Second, is polemics; which involves criticizing rival worldviews to Christianity, and third, are theistic explanations; which are used to explain phenomenon in one’s profession.

The approach Moreland and Beckwith take of integration has its critics (Pgs.24-26), but one thing however is certain, for Christians not to engage in discipline (x) with their worldview, has actually aided in the secularization of our western culture.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Pgs.29-31)

Beckwith starts off by stating that to learn this “state craft” as “soul craft” one must take many years to hone these skills and contemplate these truths.  For me these years have become increasingly lessened because of my age (53).  Yet, there’s no time like the present to learn any subject and consider how it relates to my personal discipleship to Christ.  A grown man with grown children I thought it appropriate to gather as much knowledge as I possibly can from this source.  And thus I commend it to you for your careful scrutiny.

Reflections From ROMANS 11:13-36 “THE GENTILES ARE TO WALK IN HUMILITY BEFORE THE JEWS LEST THEY TOO BE CUT OFF”

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            Paul goes from explaining the Jewish hardening of heart to warning the Gentile Christians he’s been called to reach to walk humbly before the Jews and God:

13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

             Here, the apostle seems to continue explaining the hardness of Israel’s heart with the goal to achieve Gentile salvation.  He now glory’s in his ministry to the Gentiles wanting to magnify or placard its’ preciousness so that some Jews may be stirred by jealousy and come to salvation in Christ.  The reason Paul thinks in this manner is because if their rejection (the Jews) or stupor lead to gentile salvation, which is glorious, then their acceptance (i.e., reconciliation to God) is gloriously being raised from the dead (metaphor for salvation).

That’s my understanding but now verse 16 is a bit tricky.  The metaphor of bread and trees that follow seems to explain that the fruit or result of good bread is holy dough, and the reason that branches are holy is because the root also is.  Paul seems to be telling his Gentile converts that they owe their relationship to Christ in large measure to what God did in and through Israel.  He continues this argument:

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

It seems that the apostle is arguing for the respect that is rightly due to Jews because of God’s choice to use them as a light to the nations through which Messiah would arrive.   Moreover, Paul here also appears to be accentuating that salvation is of the Jews (e.g., Jesus and the woman at the well) and as such a proper appreciation for them should in their lives.

Unfortunately, church history is riddled and loaded with Jews being mistreated by the Christian (Gentile) Church and much of it is based on the arrogance Paul here denounces.  This arrogance as is often the case is based on ignorance, not knowledge.  Why this attitude towards Jews?  Human nature is such that often when one is privileged and another is not, the fortunate person brags and “rubs into another’s nose” that fact.  Ill feelings often arise and alienation between people takes place.  But such an attitude has no place in the lives of God’s redeemed people.  Undoubtedly Gentiles must have been made to feel inferior to Jews who kept kosher food laws and celebrated the festivals.

Now Gentiles (and Paul knows it) are in a similar place being in Christ to think of themselves as better than their Jewish counterparts who are apparently “not chosen” which utterly misses Paul’s point.  He continues and says:

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.”              

Unbelief, broken off, faith and conceited are terms that refer to what Paul has already explained in Romans.  It’s because of unbelief that both Jew and Gentile alike are under God’s just wrath.  Broken off seems to metaphorically refer to those relying on law keeping to attain righteousness.  Faith contrarily is trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone to secure our peace before God.  Conceited  are those who boast in anything other than in Christ’s cross.

Paul is warning the Gentile believers to consider Israel’s past (the good and the bad) and walk humbly before God for if they don’t, God will deal with them as he did with the Jews.  Contextually it seems that arrogance and conceit mark the Gentile believer (a bad sign) and may indeed prove they are not in fact part of the remnant (chosen by God) even as so many Jews proved not to be.

The reason I say this and don’t believe it’s talking about one losing their salvation is in light of God’s kindness and choice—which is utterly up to Him, never up to us.  Paul continues:

22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

There’s no letting up in Paul, we demonstrate with our living whether or not we trust God in Christ.  To continue in His kindness I take to mean that we trust in Christ’s work alone to secure our salvation, while unbelief is to rely on law-keeping to secure salvation—it’s the means to attain a righteousness that’s acceptable before God.  Yet, recall that the purpose of the Law was to utterly show how sinful sin is by shining its’ light on it.  The Law can never make anyone righteous before God because that’s not its’ design.  Only Christ can make the unrighteous righteous.

I want to briefly mention the idea of bread and the root from this chapter.  According to Jesus, the things written in the Old Testament were in one way or another pointing to Him.  We know first that the manna God fed Israel in the wilderness was from heaven.  Jesus said that he was the true bread which comes down from heaven, “I am the bread of life”.  In this chapter I can see Paul playing off this Hebraic motif of bread and holiness, both of which bring life, both of which point to the resurrected Christ.

Another popular Old Testament motif is that of the “root”. The root sustains the “Tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, and the root is also used to speak of the coming Messiah’s Davidic lineage originating from the “root of Jesse”.  The idea of root is tied to that which brings “life” originating from the Holy One Israel.  The Holy One sent Messiah to rescue dead sinners from wrath.  Both lump and root are holy for they come from the Holy One of and this holiness is required to see the LORD according to the Hebrews account.  What’s the fruit of this holiness?  Not pride, arrogance, or conceit (which is Paul’s warning to the Gentile believer) but humility and gratitude for God’s kindness.  Paul proceeds:

24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?      25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”         28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

            I want to work backwards here with Paul’s argument to see if I can get at his point.  First, I take “gifts” and “calling” of God here to mean those God has sovereignly chosen to rescue in accordance to His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of faith for a multitude (that’s a lot of souls).  God has kept His word to Abraham through Christ’s redemptive work.

Second, the sad reality in Paul’s day was that Jews who rejected Christ as Messiah were enemies of the gospel, but why for “your sake”?  Perhaps to make it clear to the Gentiles the kindness and severity of God, moreover to highlight God’s mercy toward them which should and does work holiness, humility and gratitude in the recipient of said favor, not pride, conceit or arrogance in the soul.

Third, Paul wants the Gentiles to see this in light of Israel’s partial hardening of heart.  That is, this partial hardening has a purpose in God’s salvific design which is to bring into the fold every Gentile whom God has chosen from eternity past.  The point seems to be so that Gentiles don’t think themselves more “special” than Israel and thus fall into conceit and pride.  God has allotted a time to everything under heaven—this includes the time of Israel’s rescue for his names sake.  I want to note here when the text says, “all Israel will be saved” contextually means those whom God has chosen, the remnant.

Fourth, Paul argues from the lesser to the greater.  The lesser here is the “wild olive branch” which is the Gentile grafted into the greater “cultivated tree” which is Israel.  The point here is that if Gentiles can be rescued while being strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, the fathers and the covenant, how much more does the same mercy obtain for the Jews?  Paul continues emphasizing God’s mercy:

30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

             Paul here hearkens back to Romans 1:18-20 where all are justly condemned for the purpose of showing His mercy to all.  The “all” again contextually I take to mean the called, the chosen, the elect both Jew and Gentile alike, not every human being that’s ever lived (which is universalism: a view of salvation fraught with contradictions).  And the jealousy motif earlier in verse (14) is connected to a means God uses in order to save both Jew and Gentile.  This motif of jealousy is clear in the book of Acts where Paul after repeatedly being rejected by the Jews with his message determines only to minister to the Gentiles.

Paul buttons off this long argument with a doxology.  Overwhelmed with God’s knowledge, power and wisdom, he declares what Job came to understand when confronted by the living God Himself:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

             God’s election, choice and mercy are grounded in His being which the creature can barely began figure out, only perhaps to scratch the surface.  Because of this Paul can only declare the utter greatness of God comparable to nothing created, and as such, His ways supersede our abilities to understand.  What God has however revealed, has made known to us, is that this Gospel is the fulfillment of what Isaiah 40:11 said: Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Paul has argued for and laid out the Gospel indicatives (facts) that in Christ alone both Jew and Gentile alike are rescued from God’s just wrath through the righteousness of Jesus which is imputed to the believer (it’s an alien righteousness which is from God and never ourselves).  Now while this rescue is real it is nevertheless accompanied by a battle with sin which remains.  And lest anyone think they are something when they are nothing, Paul finishes accentuating God’s mercy with the emphasis on His being and attributes of knowledge and wisdom perhaps to aid the reader from pride and conceit.

The remainder of Romans will now focus on the Gospel imperatives (commands) which is the obedience of faith Paul mentioned in (1:5-6).

Book Summary Now Available!

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Available now is my summary of The Universe Next Door by James Sire.  This worldview catalog is part of the arsenal needed  for believers to understand the major beliefs held by both their neighbors and also themselves.

The value of this study is akin to a baseball scout taking the necessary time to understand the opposing team’s ball player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.  After such due diligence is accomplished, the odds of “competing” and “beating” the “opposition” are enhanced.  Too often Christians are bested in the classroom, boardroom, or family room because we have not done our due diligence regarding other worldviews when compared to Christendom.  This book is a remedy for such maladies as Sire notes:

“For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true” [Opening page]

Summary CHAPTER 8: QUESTIONS ABOUT FAITH—Developing Approaches (Pgs. 157-179)

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McGrath argues that the times in which we live must and will dictate the questions we are asked and the requisite answers we give.  A critical key is to never answer a question that’s not being asked.  This is a pit many have fallen into and must be avoided if we desire to effectively connect with skeptics or seekers.

Whether in an Islamic, rationalist, or postmodern context, the apologist must welcome challenging questions and not see them as threats but as part of the journey the questioner is on.  In other ways, these are doors to “faith” that require a person relative response, rather than a “cookie-cutter” approach.  It is one way we help people on their journey a step at a time.

McGrath thus encourages each apologist to develop their own responses to questions asked.  Under the heading Concerns and Questions he offers the following suggestions when interacting with skeptics or seekers: First, be gracious with people even though they may not be.  How powerful and foundational this is.  People don’t care about what we know, as the saying goes, unless they know how much we care.

Second, get to the real question being asked.  Often the introductory question has a motive or purpose for why it’s being asked.  Get clear on that and you’ll be more of a sniper with your responses instead of a greenhorn.

Third, be humble to learn from others.  You don’t know everything and it’s always easier to interact with one who’s not a “know-it-all”, than one who’s a peer on the learning journey.  This does not mean that what you do know is denied, but what you don’t know is admitted.

Fourth, don’t give ready-made answers.  It’s robotic, sterile, and does not humanly connect.  Instead, be a good listener where clarification of terms and ideas are reiterated to the questioner.

McGrath follows this section by providing a model of questions and answers that can be offered to the skeptics’ challenges (E.g., God’s goodness and suffering, God as a crutch, etc.) by pointing out the origins, presuppositions and problems that obtain with the objection and offers a solution.  With the “crutch” view he explains that the real issue here is truth and the nature of reality, rather than how it makes one look or feel.

He finally ends the chapter by posing several questions and offering the requisite homework for the apologist to form and re-write her own responses.  The goal here is to tighten and shorten responses so that we get to the point without losing the audience.

“Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion” Book Summaries Available Now

510E27T-g7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Now available in summary form is Os Guinness’ “Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion”   This book’s value is multifaceted but wins the day for instructing believers on how to winsomely engage the culture with the Gospel of Christ.

Especially helpful is Guinness’ insight into our age of acute self-promotion (E.g., media freaks) or hyper Narcissism.  To reach the indifferent, belligerent, enemies of the Gospel with the message, Guinness holds that we must consider four elements.  First, we must start by understanding the nature of unbelief.  Second, we must look at how God addresses unbelief.  Third, we must reach unbelievers where they’re at, not where we hoped they would be.  Fourth, we must go to the core problem—the heart!

Moreover, Scripture must inform our mode of communication to unbelievers and we must always consider the audience when aiming to persuade.  In order to guide the conversation and be persuasive we must keep in mind five “pillars” of the Faith in our message: creation, fall, incarnation, cross, the Spirit.  These properly focus a gospel centered apologetic.

If you haven’t read the book, the summaries are a helpful start but never a substitute.  Happy reading!

Fool’s Talk: CHAPTER 9: THE ART OF ALWAYS BEING RIGHT? (Pgs.169-185)

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This chapter confronts a real problem in many apologetic encounters and reminds me of difficult encounters with family and friends I’ve experienced where they always had to be right, at all costs.  I’m certain we all struggle with this to one degree or another but it’s contra the spirit of 1 Peter that commands believers to humility rather than pride in human interaction and Christian advocacy (1 Pet.3:15).

Guinness points out that in the early Christian century’s the great church orators understood the dangers of using words as power and thus balanced persuasion with grace and truth (E.g., Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, etc.).  He highlights that truth and persuasion should not be pitted against each other as the Greek Sophists often did by twisting words for their own gain regardless if its truth or falsity.  The goal was to win the argument at all costs—even at the expense of the truth.

This lead to a dilemma in debate: to be a failure or a fraud.  The former’s focus on truth and not persuasion often lead to defeat, while the latter’s focus on persuasion often lead to lies twisting the truth.  One was a failure, the other a fraud.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Guinness then writes the principles (virtues) some Greeks and Romans kept in mind when engaging debate so that the truth would not be distorted.  First, it was kept in mind that truth and virtue are more powerful than falsehood and vice.  Second, that the speaker must be one of character and virtue.  And third, that the speaker should always address the public good and not just his own interests.[i]  This is a good starting point, but for Christian advocates there’s more.

Christian’s as Christ’s ambassadors in their debating or apologetics must be God-centered not man-centered so as to guard against the “Sophist” spirit. This is accomplished by keeping in mind the effects of “The Fall” (I.e., people both suppress the truth and seek it), the Master’s manner of communication (E.g., human strength subverted by God’s weakness), and God’s truth requires God’s art to serve God’s end (I.e., His ways are not ours too often).

Guinness continues by warning believers if their manner of speech is rightly criticized, humility, not pride must obtain.  That is, if one is wrong, they must admit it, not cover it up which is far more attractive than the opposite.

Guinness then turns to the issue of persuasion which incorporates not only logic and argumentation but also drama and humor, for the latter disarms and invites the hearer to discover the truth in a way the former can’t.

He finally deals with the charge that persuasion while an art, seems to be manipulation in disguise and thus spends several pages answering that indictment.  Guinness finally concludes that the art of always being right is a trap for Christian advocates, and the art of persuasion is a privilege that needs to be exercised with humility and God’s grace.

 

Fool’s Talk: CHAPTER 8: SPRING LOADED DYNAMICS (Pgs.149-167)

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In this chapter, Guinness asks the question of how one chooses the proper worldview in the midst of Atheism, Hinduism and Christianity.  Everyone has a worldview and when one is exposed to another worldview it often forever changes the way they perceive their own worldview.

Add to this the issue of pluralization where the choices offered seem to be unending, and we find ourselves in an era where the propensity to change our worldview or paradigm is real.

Guinness explains that apologetically it’s crucial to know this for it points to what kind of unbelief (unbelief is always a rejection of God) we are dealing with, and it points to what kind of arguments we should employ.  When people are closed minded this is especially helpful knowledge.

Reaching the Closed-Minded Person  

Consider the account of the prophet Nathan exposing King David’s adultery and murder.  Instead of confronting the king with the facts, the prophet used a fictitious story to appeal to David as judge and lawgiver of Israel.  The end of that account reveals an infuriated David unwittingly condemning himself when Nathan says, “You are the man”, followed by heart break repentance and cries for forgiveness.  That’s powerful!  Lesson—keep the audience in mind in order to connect with them.

Another way to reach a closed-minded person is to keep the goal of the encounter clear.  That is, depending on their disposition, we must proceed with the truth in such a way that it will meet their need.  Some people don’t need a bunch of arguments to believe (E.g., the Philippian jailor) but others may (E.g., Doubting Thomas).  Regardless, we eventually want to get to the truth of the gospel if possible.

Sometimes there will be the need to reframe the truth properly when God is misrepresented and thus rejected on false premises.  Our duty is to clarify who God is and explain what entails rejecting Him.  After this is done, if one still rejects God, then at least the real has been snubbed, not a phantom caricature (E.g., the disciples on the road to Emmaus [Pgs.166-7]).

Still another way to pry open the closed mind is to ask questions.  When we learn to ask questions properly, we are help people live the examined life, perhaps see the way of their errors and thus enable them to pursue the truth.  Guinness reminds us that questions have the power to engage people because they are indirect and involving.  The greatest questioner in history was not Socrates, but God seen in Genesis 3 and blossomed in the life of Christ.

Yet another way to open the closed minded is through the use of parables, drama and ploys.  For example the Rechabites were used by Jeremiah the prophet to explain Israel’s disobedience through Jeremiah asking the Rechabites to drink wine with him.  He knew they didn’t drink (modern day equivalent to fundamentalists) because they obeyed the word of a man, but Israel refused to obey the word of the LORD God.

Postscript: Guinness ends the chapter by pointing out that in this age words suffer from inattention and inflation. When we speak people are not listening, and when words are used they distort reality so as to sell one’s product to a consumer.  As people of the word, who worship the WORD, words ought to matter to us.  Thus instead of championing technological marvels, Christians should grow deeper in their theology.  This is one way to combat the misuse of words—the suppressing of truth in unrighteousness.