Some fun for today: Bernard Howard has imagined a conspiracy-creating conversation based on Dawkins’s assertion that “The Gospels are ancient fiction.” I love it. Here are a few lines to get you started. Then you must head over to the Gospel Coalition to read the rest of “If Richard Dawkins Is Right.”
Luke: Well, to make a conspiracy credible you need precise details. So we’ll invent stories where Jesus interacts with people in specific locations.
Matthew: Won’t people just disprove the stories by visiting those places and asking around?
Luke: There’s no need to worry about that. We could invent a story about a synagogue ruler’s terminally ill daughter being healed, give the synagogue ruler a name, set it all in a particular place, and still no one—absolutely no one, not even the people living in that place—would trouble to fact-check. Everyone would simply swallow the story whole!
Mark: It sounds like we’re on safe ground there. But if we want people to follow Jesus, he’ll need a message. People have been waiting for the Messiah for centuries. He’s got to be worth listening to when he finally appears.
Hi Brett, I have a theological dilemma that I need your advice on. A friend, who is married and has 3 young kids and a wife that isn’t working, has guilt about not being able to tithe.
I have tried all the usual tactics about being under the New Covenant and tithing isn’t required anymore, but that you should give as much as you can. Then he brought up the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, saying that it is excellent in Jesus’ eyes to give to the point that it hurts. I think that’s a valid point. But then I think it’s also a valid argument that God expects him to take care of his family – right? If he takes away from his family to give alms, isn’t that also wrong?
(1) It doesn’t seem Jesus’ point is that on a normative basis we should give until it hurts. Particularly given the immediate context, it seems like the larger point is a comparison between the outward righteousness of the religious authorities not being a true demonstration of love for God and what true love for God does actually look like. So I don’t think we’re obligated to take that passage as a command to give until it hurts, even though there is occasion to do so.
(2) Secondly, your friend is not in a parallel situation to the widow, who does not seem to have family to care for, so you cannot simply draw a direct comparison between the two. Your friend has a wife and kids, so he has to balance giving with his obligations to feed, clothe, and shelter them. The Bible does offer clear guidance on taking care of one’s family.
(3) Giving isn’t just about giving money. When one isn’t in a position to give monetarily, it doesn’t mean he or she has nothing to give. We can give of our time, our service, our current resources like a car, home, etc. So maybe during this season of financial struggle, giving to the Lord’s work looks different from just putting money in the offering plate. Maybe it’s taking a skill he has and offering it to someone else in need.
(4) Lastly, sometimes there is a time and place to give when it hurts. Maybe this is one of those times. But I think this has to be done in harmony with his wife so that they are of one mind. If she doesn’t agree, I would say don’t do it. And they must take into consideration whether or not giving puts their own family in jeopardy. If so, don’t do it.
Stephen Nichols explains how our worldview affects our gratefulness and expression of thanks, and what this means for an increasingly-secular society:
In his scientific study of gratitude, Emmons came to the realization that gratitude raises a singular and significant question: When we say thank you, to whom are we grateful?
The interesting thing here is that if we trace this “to whom” line of questioning back, like pulling on the threads of some tapestry, we find a singular answer at the end of each and every thread. The answer is God.
To whom are we grateful? We are grateful in an ultimate sense to God….
When we consider God as the “to whom” we are thankful, we may well be seeing both the necessity of thanksgiving and the eclipse of thanksgiving. As culture veers more and more towards a secular state it shrinks back from gratitude. So vainly we think we did this all ourselves. So wrongly we think we deserve, or even have a fundamental right to, all of this. We also know what is at the end of the string if we pull on it long enough. We know that we will be confronted with a Creator. We know we will be accountable to a Creator. Saying thank you means we are dependent, not independent. We would rather be ungrateful. Paul says we know God from all the evidence He has left of Himself, but we don’t want to “honor him or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:21). Then the downward spiral begins. A culture of ingratitude careens ever downward into decline….
Today is your opportunity to do something radical and beautiful—give thanks to God openly and publicly, amidst your family and friends, in front of Christians and atheists alike. May your public glorifying of God today bring some light to our nation.
Make Jesus Central to Your Conversations with Muslims by Alan Shlemon: “The great thing about making Jesus the focus of your conversation is that you already know Him and His message. You don’t need to take a course on Islam. You’re already prepared to talk to Muslims. Sure, you can always learn more about Islam in the future, but for now the Gospel is what Muslims need to hear.... I don’t recommend bringing up jihad, denigrating Mohammed, or discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. These topics simply raise defenses and make the Muslim less receptive to more important issues. Instead, when talking to Muslims, make Jesus central to your conversation. Here are three reasons why.” (Read more.)
Are You a “Wet Blanket” Christian? by Brett Kunkle: “What’s your impression of apologetics? Do you see apologetic activity as overly serious, stodgy, stuffy, somber, or even angry? Many people do. I'm tired of apologetics being saddled with a reputation for being dry and merely academic. Yes, we want to be serious about God's truth and the contemporary challenges facing the church, but we also want to model a Christian life that is filled with joy, delight, and lots of laughter.... Are there serious concerns in today’s culture? Of course. But we need to pick our battles wisely and make sure we’re dying on the right hills, over the right issues. Not everything we say or do should be serious and somber. And even amidst our serious work, we should be playful, humorous, and even comical. This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into my work, and it has made a big difference.” (Read more.)
An Argument for Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus Is Jehovah by Tim Barnett: “Where do we start with the Jehovah’s Witness? Don’t get sidetracked with all the other issues that Jehovah’s Witnesses want to talk about, like soul sleep, Heaven, Hell, and the Holy Spirit. These are all important issues, but they are not the most important issue. Make the goal of your conversation about answering one question: Who is Jesus? How you answer this question changes everything. All other questions, although interesting and important, simply pale in comparison. Christianity stands or falls on its view of Jesus Christ. If it could be demonstrated that Jesus is identified as Jehovah, then the foundation of the Jehovah’s Witness's belief comes crashing down.... I want to offer you one persuasive argument that I have found very effective while talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It involves two straightforward passages of Scripture.” (Read more.)
When you're teaching, whether it's apologetics or any other topic, it's not just the information but also the presentation that counts. You may be able to dump theological knowledge on your audience, but that doesn't mean it will stick and have the impact you're hoping for, so you've got to work on your presentation skills too. This is especially important with youth audiences.
When I'm asked for advice on teaching youth, here are some of my suggestions:
Have a strong opener for your talk: Use stories, object lessons, and illustrations to draw them in, gain their attention, and earn their trust. And get into it quickly. Don't waste time with filler (e.g. "Glad to be here with all of you…").
Cut content to the most essential elements: Often you have such limited teaching time (30-40 minutes), so make sure you're focusing on the most essential material for each topic. Avoid an "information dump" where you regurgitate every single aspect you've studied. You may study hours upon hours for a single talk, but you'll need to boil it down to the key ideas and arguments for your audience.
Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: As you explain spiritual truths and abstract concepts, you will need to illustrate these for your audience. For example, we use the ice cream/medicine illustration to explain objective/subjective truth. In addition, I created a "Truth Test" years ago to further illustrate the distinction between the two.
Close your talks with ways that hit home: Show your audience how ideas have consequences. Illustrate how what you've taught plays out in real life. Use powerful stories to close. Help them see the relevance of your teaching to life. This will help give your talks a strong finish.
Hang out with your audience: If I'm speaking to a group I don't know, I will take the initiative to get to know my audience (as much as possible) beforehand. Greet people as they come in, walk around, introduce yourself, ask questions and mingle with them as they wait for the event to begin. If I'm at a camp or conference, I'll try to have meals with them and even participate in some of the camp activities with them. And afterwards, make yourself available for further questions and interactions. I typically try to be one of the last to leave the event. All of this will help the audience connect with you personally and, therefore, help them connect with your teaching at a deeper level.
If you do a lot of teaching, I suggest you get a copy of Timothy Koegel's book, The Exceptional Presenter. You'll benefit from it tremendously and so will your audience.
French ex-atheist Guillaume Bignon has an article in Premiere Christianity explaining why he thinks the evil perpetrated against his country last week points to the existence of God:
The only option for French atheists (among whose ranks I used to count myself), is to maintain that there isn’t really any such thing as evil. When one denies the existence of God as a transcendent creator of the universe who ordains how humans ought to live their lives, one is left only with conflicting opinions about what individuals like and dislike. If there is no God then there is no objective truth about the good and the bad….
[I]n reality, to be a consistent atheist one must affirm that the Islamic terrorists in Paris didn’t do anything 'wrong', as such. They only acted out of line with our personal preferences, (and in line with theirs). If there's no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, that's all we are left with.
Maybe that way of reasoning about good and evil strikes you as crazy. 'Of course the terrorists were wrong and their acts were evil' the atheist says. I agree, which is why I think the reality of the evil we just witnessed makes atheism so implausible….
But of course, maintaining the existence of God in the face of such evil isn’t without its difficulties. If he exists and is perfectly good, why didn’t God prevent this evil? …
Hearts are heavy, and thinking objectively is difficult when it hurts. But ultimately, as the French face this seemingly purposeless evil, one side must deny that it’s evil, and the other must deny that it’s purposeless.
As a former-atheist-turned-Christian-theologian there’s no hiding which option I favour.
Bignon fleshes out these arguments a bit more in the full article. Read the rest here. And if you’re interested in hearing how a French atheist became a Christian, Greg talks about it here (starting at 9:28), or you can read about it here. It’s a great story!