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.
I hear the rain outside and I smile. I think of the young student who prays each night that his old car will start and there is a deep affection for him as I remember my days of bad cars and much prayer. I walked by his car tonight after class and heard it laboring to start. I prayed, knowing he was praying to and with much joy I heard it start up. Small thing, yet God is in the small things if we would just ask. Then I think of the student who was missing today due to a kidney stone. I am sad for the pain I know he is in and pray for relief.
I think of the class tonight where we discussed a lot of somewhat boring issues but then we settled on the plagues of Egypt and the sobering reality that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. I reflected with the class how we can discuss the sovereignty of God in cold words but it actually intersects our lives in radical ways that are painful and shocking at times. I exhorted them to not shy from pursuing an understanding on the doctrine and to consider how it is revealed in our day-to-day lives.
Tomorrow Philemon and I will, Lord willing, go for a driving tour of Atibaia with my translator. At times I think he should be teaching the class rather than me, but he is a kind man who faithfully translates for me. I laugh when I think of the couple of times he asked if he might take over for a bit to teach since he is well versed on a specific key point of theology in the Pentateuch. I am able to stand to the side and let him help the students understand.
All of this to say, my God is sovereign and kind to me. I am tired and ready to go home. I am truly encouraged with what I see God doing with these young men and ask that you pray with me that God shall impress upon each of them to own the text of the Scripture. To exegete it carefully and faithfully. To embrace what they see and learn. And teach it to their people. May God continue to pour His grace upon this nation.
With that said, I think I shall sit and relax before starting it all up again tomorrow.
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Act 17:24-25)
This passage is part of the famous sermon Paul gave on Mars Hill in Athens. In it he confronts the philosophers and religious leaders of several key facts, such as their ignorance regarding the person of God, how God receives worship, and how we live under His gaze. All of that drives the message to the key declaration that the time of ignorance is over, they need to repent.
I want to focus on just those two verses above though and consider them from a slightly different angle. They are densely packed, theological sardines-in-a-can if you will. But if I could give a basic sense of the words I would say that God doesn’t need us, but we not only need Him, but we live and have because of Him.
That is an interesting point because we tend to not think about ourselves that way. I am a white male, born in the United States in the 20th century. I was not born in the 14th century in Europe while the plague ravaged the land. I was born into a home where Jesus was believed and loved, not to a prostitute in a Hindu temple of India. I was born with health and a sound mind. I was not twisted and deformed either inside or out. All sorts of things that define me about which I had nothing to do, they were thrust upon me.
My question is how long did it take me to realize that? And how long has it taken you?
One of the blogs I follow had a good little post on why God allows Satan to attack us. This is a good example of why holding to a high, extensive view of God’s sovereignty is so healthy for a Christian. It acknowledges that God is providentially working in our lives and in all of creation. So whether it is a sick child or a tsunami, we can see the hand of God. A wise Christian then begins to meditate on this and ask what God is doing in these acts. This meditation is not something you do fast, just slowly think about it, let it be part of your thoughts as you read the Scripture and as you listen to others. The result can be a much richer, humbler faith that learns to order itself under the mighty hand of God. Here are eight reasons God allows Satan to attack us:
- They drive us to take refuge in God
- They train the believer in the duties and exercises of the Christian warfare
- They are made a means of intensifying our hatred for sin
- They can be an aid to self knowledge as unsuspected germs of evil are brought to light
- They afford the occasion to grace to develop itself in forms which otherwise it could not assume
- They wean the heart from the love of this present world
- Having been bravely and successfully resisted, they shall heighten future glory
- They redound to the glory of God’s grace