I recently returned from a trip to Brazil to teach a group of young seminarians the subject of apologetics. The first part of the curriculum is essentially an overview of the various systems of apologetics out there. For those who don’t know about what I am writing, apologetics is essentially the defending and declaring of the Christian faith to a non-Christian world. In many ways it is a subset of evangelism though in many ways it has become a way to gather a following and sell books.
The various schools of thought on this is not important to my article so I will spare you of a description of each. Frankly it can be very boring as you read and interact with many writers who argue their points and then you try to interact with them. The reason for it is simple, there is no basis for the average student to properly interact with the positions. Read that sentence again because it is very important. The men are being introduced to a huge subject and they usually do have sufficient knowledge to have a good, thoughtful opinion, much less a conviction.
The second part of the coursework is then a proposal for a specific type of apologetics that is borne from a sound exegesis of the key biblical texts related to the nature of man, especially due to the presence of sin, the ability of man to make a free decision unaffected by sin, and the nature of the way God converts a soul. These are not merely theological ideas that we should place on a table and all talk about like they are objects picked up off of the seashore. These are biblical statements and they mean something. And again this is where conviction comes into play.
As I taught the second half of the course I watched to see what types of reactions, comments and questions were raised in light of passage after passage being unfolded and laid before them. It is same thing I do when I preach. I labor to unfold the biblical passage before the people and I watch. Especially when it is on a subject over which I know there is dispute. When I say something like, “Notice the way Paul wrote this . . .” I want to see how many look down to examine the text. I can say that for the most part my church is eager to do so, making my job in preaching much easier than other pastors.
But I also see the one who will sit with their arms folded and are unmoved. They are convinced and nothing will change that. With my students in Brazil it was the same thing. I wanted them to raise questions but I wanted those questions to flow from the biblical text. Not some author and certainly not from their own thoughts. And this is where I now make my point of this post.
Convictions exist in every human. But for a Christian those convictions ought to flow from a willful submission to the biblical text. And if it doesn’t then those convictions come from something other that God’s Word. When you learn to submit yourself to the bible then you become a person in a consistent state of change. As you mature and as you learn you realize that certain texts were misunderstood by you. Others become more clear and certain and you see that your first thoughts were good but not as deep and full as they could have been. Regardless, a healthy Christian is one whose first question on anything is, “What does the bible say?”
I remember years ago finishing a sermon and a person came up to me visible angry. He told me that what I was teaching that night was not what the majority of the church believed. I looked at him and asked one question, “Did I properly deal with this passage or not?” He said that I did but that he did not like it nor approve of it. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that his problem wasn’t with me but with the Lord.
Convictions. Powerful things they are. Just make sure they flow from the Word of God and not anything of this age.