Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Apologetics 315 interviews Dr. Phil Fernandes on apologetic preaching

On SermonAudio.com, I found some excellent lectures from Dr. Phil Fernandes. I find it it very easy to listen to this guy. And here’s Brian Auten to interview him on apologetic preaching – the inclusion of apologetics in regular Sunday preaching.

The MP3 file is here.

Description:

Today’s interview is with Phil Fernandes, president of the Institute of Biblical Defense, and the pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship in Silverdale, Washington. He talks about apologetic preaching, how to incorporate apologetics training into the local church, evangelism, common objections to apologetics, encouragement and advice to pastors, audio/video resources, and more.

Phil’s books include:

This interview is awesome, especially in the second half. Here’s a sample: “It’s not my job as a pastor to meet people’s felt needs”. Awesomeness.

I like this Dr. Phil. He’s very very practical and his preaching is informed by encounters with people who disagree with him. Sometimes I get the idea that pastors aren’t really talking to people outside their church, but not this guy. He’s grounded.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace’s experience as a youth pastor

If you are a regular listener to Wallace’s podcast, as I am, you’ll have heard him talk about his experience as a youth pastor before. But if not, give this article a read.

Excerpt:

My first year as a youth pastor was a challenging year of self-evaluation. When I was initially offered the job, I wasn’t sure I could lead or teach high-schoolers; I’d been working with younger students and my own children were not yet teenagers. But I was ambitious and eager, so I accepted the position. I spent several months trying to decide what the teaching focus should be for my group. I surveyed some of the key seniors who had been in the ministry to see what they thought. We ended up doing a series on James and Ecclesiastes, and most of my energy that first year was expended on designing the Sunday service. I was concerned about “relevance” and spent a lot of time trying to understand how to communicate to this age group. I thought experience was as important as content. Actually, I thought experience was more important than content. My students got their money’s worth every Sunday. It was a musical, visual smorgasbord of video, images, interactive eclecticism and burning candles. It was ridiculous.

At the end of the first school year I could tell something was amiss. Most of my key seniors seemed disconnected and disinterested. I got through that first summer and the first semester of the next school year, striving continually to capture the imagination and attention of my student congregation. At Christmas break that year I had an epiphany. One of my key seniors from the prior year returned from Sonoma State where she had been attending her first year as a College freshman and announced to her parents that she was no longer a Christian. I got the call from her mother. I met with this student and she told me about her new life as an atheist. While I was frustrated and didn’t seem to be able to persuade her otherwise, I also wondered if she was the exception or the rule. I did some research on my other graduating seniors from the prior year. All but one had left Christianity, and they were only in their first semester as freshmen!

Don’t worry – the post has a happy ending. I wish more Christian leaders would allow themselves to accept that what they are doing now – avoiding apologetics because it is “divisive” and “prideful” – would learn from J. Warner Wallace. We need this. It works. What we are doing with young people now is not working.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , ,

William Lane Craig: churches should focus on apologetics to attract more men

I saw that Triablogue quoted this passage from William Lane Craig’s April 2013 newsletter, which made me very excited and happy.

Here it is:

One overwhelming impression of these engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! I wondered if the girls are just shy. But then I remembered a lengthy clip Jan and I watched of cast members of Downton Abbey doing a Q&A with an audience in New York. Almost every person who came to the microphone at that event was a woman! It wasn’t until late into the evening that a man finally asked a question, which was remarked by all the cast members. Why the difference between that session and the ones I experienced?—simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.

Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ. By presenting rational arguments and historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to the mind as well as the heart, we can bring a great influx of men into the Kingdom. I’m so pleased that the church in Canada seems to be awakening to this challenge! I’m convinced that we have the opportunity to revolutionize Western Christianity by reclaiming our intellectual heritage.

I could tell you many, many stories of what it was like for me being shut down by churches who were overly sensitive to the desires of women. In college, I and the other male students had every attempt to bring in scholars to lecture or debate shut down by female leadership. Every single week it was prayer walks, testimonies, hymn sings… over and over. Eventually, the more manly Christians just quit going. Later on, I witnessed apologetics being shut down in the church from the top down and from the bottom up, as well.

I remember one week an excited male friend invited me to his church because his male pastor was giving sermons using Hugh Ross and Gerald Shroeder books. He was trying to tie in the existence of God to cosmology. Well, I showed up the next Sunday to hear, and was disappointed. I could tell that the pastor wanted to go back to that subject, but he never really did. Later on, we found out that a female parishioner had complained that too much science and evidence had ruined her experience of feeling good and being comforted.

I could go on and on and on telling stories like this. To this day, I cannot stand being in a church unless that church has organized things like apologetic training classes, public lectures, public debates or public conferences. But that’s the minority of churches. The fact is that churches are attended far more by women than by men, and pastors are catering to women more than men. Not only will apologetics not be mentioned, but elements of feminism will creep into doctrine (egalitarianism) and all political issues will be avoided. Church has become a place to have good feelings, and it is far divorced from anything like evidence or politics which might be viewed as judgmental and divisive.

Commenters on Triablogue think that Dr. Craig will draw flak for his comment, but he’s not going to draw flak from mature Christians. What he said is correct. Mature Christians are right behind him on this point. Christian men who have tried to act to defend God’s reputation in public know that there is something wrong in the churches. And eventually, men just tune out of church because we know that there is nothing there for us. If women want men to come back to church, then they have to change the church away from what it is now.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My disagreements with a trendy, hip pastor on missions and witnessing

So I am visiting my parents and my pet bird today in the city I grew up in, and I went to church as usual. The church in my hometown just got a new senior pastor who is one of those hip, trendy pastors. So far, my friends and I who attend this church have some concerns about him.

So the pastor two points in this sermon today: 1) we should be concerned with world missions and 2) we should be “witnessing” in non-cognitive ways. You’ll see what he means by these in a minute.

Missions

Now to be fair to the pastor, I don’t really know his full philosophy on missions. He was giving a sermon, and he had time for one example. His example of missions was that “wealthy” Christians in the West should give money to groups like World Vision that provide for the immediate physical needs of poor people in other countries. So his target for evangelism is not a wealthy Western professional who lives next door to him and isn’t impressed with food. His target for evangelism is someone who is starving in another country, who is at a disadvantage when it comes to education and poverty. And his preferred missionary is not someone who has studied to know how to persuade using knowledge, it’s someone nice and kind who is bringing food to starving people and then presenting the gospel to them through an interpreter as they eat the food.

Witnessing

The example the pastor gave for witnessing to non-Christians was to pray with them. He said that there would be less room for “hate” (his actual word) if Christians spent more time praying with non-Christians. The first thing I thought of when he said this was Mormon missionaries establishing the truth of their religion with people by praying for a “burning in the bosom”. Regarding his mention of “hate”, he didn’t mention gay marriage specifically, but I think that is the most reasonable context for the word “hate” in this culture. If we prayed with people and started caring for them and being nice to them (no mention of sin and repentance, note), then our “hate” for them would decrease.

So I want to make some basic points about what was said and what was left out.

Truth

At no point in this sermon or any any other sermon I have seen delivered by this pastor has the issue of how we know truth, or how we demonstrate that something is true, ever been addressed. I have not ever heard this pastor give a sermon on how he knows that God exists, how he knows that the Bible is reliable, and how he knows who Jesus is.

Persuasion

I was very careful today to pay attention to how the pastor was getting the audience on board with what he is saying. And I think I’ve hit on his method of persuading. It’s not to make arguments and to supply evidence, or even to quote the Bible in context. He relied a lot on hipness and emotional resonance with his audience. I think he expects us to accept what he is saying because he is able to 1) share illustrations from his life experiences (farming, this time), or 2) name rock bands like “Cold Play”. So his approach is more like “I’m just like you, so you should believe what I’m telling you”.

Evangelism

His two strategies for evangelism above seemed to be 1) giving money to Christian groups who can then travel to other countries to discuss Christianity with people who are receiving gifts from them and 2) offering to pray with non-Christians. I do not think that merely expressing theological opinions and then handing someone food or clothing is a good strategy for evangelism. I think it is permissible, it’s just not the way I see it being done in the Bible. I realize that there are going to be cases where someone accepts Jesus on the basis of this sort of evangelism, and in the best case, they might even go on to become a great Christian scholar who understands the truth of these matters so well that they can present it to non-Christians with authority. That would be the ideal case. But I think when I read the New Testament, the appeal to non-Christians in evangelism is an appeal to truth, based on the historical event of the resurrection, for example. I asked a friend of mine who knows the Bible well, about whether giving charity to people is ever a method of evangelism, and he said he couldn’t think of any. His preference for this evangelism-by-charity makes me wonder about people who have non-Christians living right next to them in the West, or even in secular Europe, who nevertheless choose to go to places where they can use the leverage of financial goods to get into conversations with people about spiritual things. It’s easy to go to a foreign country and talk to someone uneducated who can’t challenge you because they want the food you brought. It’s harder to evangelize your neighbor who is an atheist and a medical doctor – you would have to read books, and demonstrate the truth of things. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer the former to the latter – it’s easier.

His second method of evangelism (praying with non-Christians) seems to me to be impractical. It seems to me that it would work on people who do not have questions, and who are looking to decide theological / spiritual claims by their emotions. Prayer is not able to establish the historical fact of the resurrection in a debate situation, for example. You should pray before and after making a case for the resurrection, but you should at least know how to make the case for the resurrection to a non-Christian. Again, I am not familiar with a case in the New Testament in which a non-Christian, non-theist was ever approached with prayer alone. I know that Paul reasons from the Scriptures with people (Acts 16-17), and Peter appeals to the resurrection (Acts 2). His approach is more like what Mormons do, because they can’t demonstrate truth using arguments and facts. If this guy can only use Mormon techniques, that’s disturbing – like he has reduced Christianity to a flavor of ice cream that you either like or not, depending on your feelings or whether people are nice to you. Prayer is not used to demonstrate the truth of anything in any other context in real-life. Why is he trying to use it with Christianity? Is Christianity not the same as any other area of knowledge?

Economics

Now, I sense that this pastor has a concern for the poor, and I agree with him that charity is Biblical, and even that we can give money to big organizations like World Vision to help the poor in other countries, (although I don’t like World Vision). But I think where I get annoyed is that this is his only stated method of helping the poor. But I prefer a different method of helping the poor, namely the method that you see in countries like Hong Kong or Chile. That method is free market capitalism. And all you need to do to push that method is to sit with an economics book, learn what policies drive economic growth, and then push them in the public square. I’m being frank here. I think it can be demonstrated that foreign aid, for example, accomplishes little or nothing to help the poor, and often hurts the poor. What we need to do is to trade with these countries, promote economic growth in these countries, in the same sustainable, organic way that growth occurred in countries like Hong Kong and Chile. But what I get from this pastor is a kind of naive “Michael Moore” anti-corporation vibe. I think I can say without being proved wrong that we will never here any presentation from him that addresses the need to learn economics in order to promote the policies that will drive organic, sustainable economic growth in these counties, (e.g. – micro-loans, free trade, etc.). I do think it’s important to give to charity, though.

Advice for this pastor

If he read this post, then my advice to this pastor would be to take a two-pronged approach. If his concern is evangelism, then I recommend that he speak to some non-Christians in this country, and then when he sees that they have questions about God’s existence, gay marriage, the resurrection, abortion, sexual ethics, religious pluralism, miracles, evolution, creation, the reliability of the NT documents, etc., then he can do something different than Mormons do – he can embrace apologetics. Then he will be able to do missionary work right here in the West, with the educated professionals that God providentially placed right next door to him and right next door to his flock, too. Also, instead of worrying about how much we “hate” others, maybe he can offer Christians some advice on how to explain and defend religious liberty, which is under attack from the very groups he implies, in my opinion, that we are “hating” Also, it might be good for him to bash McDonald’s chicken nuggets less, and to defend the unborn more, in his sermons.

Second, if his other concern is to help the poor, then I recommend that he focus on promoting economic growth and individual charity. I think the big problem I have with this guy is that everything he says is so childish and simplistic. I agree we should want to help the poor, and that we should be charitable. But I think that when you are talking about poverty in other countries, then we should do everything possible. And everything possible certainly includes becoming educated about economics and the policies that are known to lift poor nations out of poverty. This is what people who are really interested in solving the problem would focus on. If you’re going to talk about poverty, then talk about it based on knowledge. Don’t leave it at a kindergarten level.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace’s surprising advice to stop apostasy among young Christians

J. Warner Wallace has posted his recommended plan to halt the exodus of young Christians from Christianity during college.

It’s all up at Cold Case Christianity.

Excerpt:

In my last post, I summarized the studies and publications that describe the flight of young people from the Church. A compelling cumulative circumstantial case can be made to support the fact that young college aged Christians are walking away from Christianity in record numbers. What can we do about it? What can be done? Whenever people ask me this question, I always say the same thing. STOP TEACHING YOUNG CHRISTIANS. Just stop it. Whatever Christendom is doing in its effort to teach it’s young, the effort appears to largely be a failure. In fact, Ken Ham (in his book, Already Gone:Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It) found that young Christians who faithfully attended Bible classes were actually more likely to question the authority of Scripture, more likely to defend the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex, and more likely to leave the church! What’s going on here? I think I know. It’s time to stop teaching our young people; it’s time to start training them.

There’s a difference between teaching and training. Training is teaching in preparation for a battle. Boxers train for upcoming fights. In fact, boxers are sometimes known to get fat and lazy until the next fight is scheduled. Once the date has been signed, fighters begin to train in earnest. Why? Because they know that they are going to eventually get in the ring and face an aggressive opponent. We train when we know we are about to encounter a battle. Imagine for a moment that you are enrolled in an algebra class. If the teacher assured you that you would never, ever be required to take a test, and that you would pass the class regardless of your level of understanding, how hard do you think you would study? How deeply do you think you would come to understand the material? How committed do you think you would be to the material?

[...]Years ago, as a youth pastor, I started taking annual trips to Salt Lake City and Berkeley. Why? I was scheduling theological and philosophical battles to help prepare my young Christians for the larger looming battle they would someday face on their own. If you want to teach your young people theology, there is no better method than to put them in direct contact with people who believe in a very sophisticated heresy. Mormons use the same terminology as Christians but deny the basic tenants of our faith. In order to dialogue with Mormons effectively, we first have to understand what we believe. When we train young people in preparation for an evangelism trip to Salt Lake City, we give meaning and purpose to the content of our teaching. In a similar way, our evangelistic trips to Berkeley (where we contact notable atheist speakers and atheist groups on campus) require us to prepare ourselves to answer the myriad of atheistic objections we will inevitably encounter. Once again, the content of our teaching in preparation for this trip takes on purpose and meaning when we know the level of our understanding will eventually be tested.

Read the whole thing. Wallace has experience working with young people, and lecturing on apologetics here at home and abroad. He understands young people because he has had to deal with them. Even if you don’t agree with them, it’s an interesting view. Would the church really turn away from being inward-focused and rooted in blind faith and emotional singing, and re-invent their approach so that it takes the other side seriously?

By the way, this is something I like to use in my mentoring of young people and in courting women as well. If I am trying to choose someone to work on, my first questions are always about what they do for a living, what they’ve studied, who in their lives is a non-Christian. I am always looking for people who have some opposition to Christianity in their lives, because it’s those people who have a motivation to learn. I am always surprised how naive pastors and worship leaders and youth pastors are about the opposition to Christianity in the world. They seem to be in their own little happy bubbles, never coming out to deal with people who disagree with them. I think the problem is that they often think that Christianity is not about truth but about feelings, and so no work needs to be done to defend any truth claims.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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