απολογία (apologia) is a Greek word that means defense. Christian apologetics, however, is not a defensive apology! It is a verbal defense that provides explanations or reasons for Christian belief. On this page I’ve grouped together the posts in my introductory apologetics series. This is not meant to be a formal, exhaustive presentation. This is how I give a reason for the hope that I have!
The Era of Six Impossible Things
Sometimes I think I have gone Through the Looking-
Glass with Alice, there are so many today who, like Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, are able to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. A few can handle more than six! It doesn’t matter if there is no basis for the truth of any of those things nor does it seem to matter if there is contradiction between them. The prevailing idea is “whatever works for you”—not, of course, actually meaning whatever really does work, but, rather, there are no problems with whatever you do decide to believe. The only impossible thing to believe is the idea that absolute truth exists. Welcome to the age of postmodernism.
Modernism scoffed at the idea that the supernatural was real, and the church spent much of the twentieth century battling those who wanted to rewrite Christianity into that image. C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were two of the ablest fighters in both defending and advancing the truth of Christianity. The decline of most large Protestant denominations tells the story of those who lost this war.
Today in the postmodern world, the baby has truly been thrown out with the bathwater. As John MacArthur writes,
Post-modernists have repudiated modernism’s absolute confidence in science as the only pathway to the truth. In fact, post-modernism has completely lost interest in “the truth,” insisting that there is no such thing as absolute, objective, or universal truth.
…Unlike modernism, which was still concerned with whether basic convictions, beliefs, and ideologies are objectively true or false, post-modernism simply denies that any truth can be objectively known.
To the post-modernist, reality is whatever the individual imagines it to be.
The world is not just on sand, but on quicksand.
I became a Christian in 1970 during the last remnants of modernism. At that time on my college campus a defense of Christianity still involved an explanation and demonstration of why it was objectively true. The idea of absolute truth as a reality for everyone was still prevalent. The culture of our society reflected this. My daughter reminded me of a Star Trek episode from the original series, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, in which Natira challenges the computer that controls her asteroid ship and declares, “Is truth not truth for all?” That five year mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise did not take place in a postmodern universe!
Postmodernism was, however, stirring in the awakening interest in Eastern religions. Their syncretistic nature began to eat away at the idea that there was absolute truth to be discovered and proved. The idea that a person could go “within” himself to find “truth”, to find “god” and to become “one” with the universe began to rise. These religious ideas wedded naturally with the rebellion against authority of any kind that had become rampant in the 1960′s. One’s self became the final authority, hearing again and wanting the lie of Satan to Eve, “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.“
Dr. Al Mohler has an excellent article on postmodernism: Ministry is Stranger Than it Used to Be: The Challenge of Postmodernism. I urge you to read it, because this is the thinking of the world in which Christians are called to proclaim the gospel. Your neighbor may not be familiar with the term postmodernism, but your neighbor encounters it daily, even as someone watching Star Trek on television in 1968 would have heard about absolute truth. In The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer wrote:
The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all. This is especially so for our generation, as the forces at work against us are of such a total nature. It is our generation of Christians more than any other who need to heed these words which are attributed to Martin Luther:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every
portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which
the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.
Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved,
and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and
disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
απολογία (apologia) is a Greek word that means defense. The word in its various forms occurs numerous times in the New Testament (examples in which it is translated as defense include Acts 22:1, 25:16, 26:2 and Philippians 1:7, 1:16). In English we also use the word apologia, which is not a translation, but a transliteration in which our alphabet letters are substituted for the Greek letters. Christian apologetics is the defense of Christianity.
In the posts on apologetics I want to give you some thoughts on the importance of apologetics and why you can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be the merest beginning of an introduction to the topic, but the topic is vital because men and women need the gospel.
“Truth For All”
The title of this post is from the 1968 Star Trek quote I mentioned in The Era of Six Impossible Things: “Is truth not truth for all?” A Christian answers with a resounding, “Yes!”
When truth is in the realm of the physical universe each of us must answer, “Yes, truth is truth for all.” If you throw a ball into the air, it will fall. A denial of the truth of the existence of gravity on our planet or deciding that your own “truth” will be that gravity doesn’t exist in your backyard, will not change the fact that gravity is a physical law that does not change in accordance with your opinion or belief.
It’s another story, however, when it comes to discussing truth in the moral and metaphysical* universe in our postmodern society because immediately people begin to say they have the power to decide for themselves their own “truth.” Paul has some interesting things to say in Romans 1:18-21 as he connects the physical and metaphysical.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Paul is describing those who do not have the specific and exact revelation of truth that God has given in the Scripture. Even without the Scripture, these people, as they observed the physical universe, knew there is truth in the metaphysical universe—truth about God. Not only that, but from the physical universe these men did know some things about God and His nature, and what they knew about God was enough for them to understand there were specific attitudes and actions they ought to have had and should have expressed to God. These things they refused to do. Paul writes these men suppress the truth about God that they learned from the physical universe, and they do it by their unrighteousness. Men do not suppress the truth out of ignorance because they do not know any better—men by their unrighteousness act against physically observable metaphysical truth about God which they know from the physical world. Furthermore, God’s wrath is revealed against such men; God judges this suppression of truth.
Kent Hughes, in his book Romans, comments on the Greek word for wrath and on the phrase suppression of the truth.
…it does not mean God is given to a capricious, uncontrolled anger….The word here is orge, which signifies a settled and abiding condition. It is controlled. “The wrath of God” is perfect, settled, controlled….
…This suppression of the truth is not passive. It carries the idea of holding something down….The idea of suppression here is, continual and aggressive striving against the truth. Paul opens our eyes to the fact that all who are without Christ are in the constant process of holding down the truth and therefore are subject to God’s abiding anger.
This concurs with A. T. Robertson’s translations and comment:
Hold down the truth (ten aletheian katechonton). Truth (alētheia, alēthēs from a privative and lēthō or lanthanō, to conceal) is out in the open, but wicked men, so to speak, put it in a box and sit on the lid and “hold it down in unrighteousness.”
Paul goes on to connect the truth of the metaphysical universe to the truth of the physical universe in Romans 1:21-32. He states that God’s wrath is revealed against man by an action God has taken towards man. Paul repeats this action of God three times.
…they… exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…
Therefore God gave them up…
…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie
and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…
For this reason God gave them up…
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God,
God gave them up…
See Romans 1:22-26, 28 (ESV)
A. T. Robertson states,
[This is] not three stages in the giving over, but a repetition of the same withdrawal. The words sound to us like clods on a coffin as God leaves men to work their own wicked will.
To what did God give them up?
…in the lusts of their hearts…
…to a debased mind…
See Romans 1:24, 26, 28 (ESV)
In His wrath God gave them up to their own hearts and minds. And Paul lists observable, undeniable facts about man’s resultant behavior—in this behavior we see God’s wrath revealed. The behavior is both physical and metaphysical; it involves physical acts and mental thoughts and attitudes. Most of us would also admit the behavior can be described as moral behavior. God’s wrath is revealed…and we can see it, hear it, touch it, smell it and taste it in these acts and attitudes.
Do you understand Paul insistence that physical truth reveals metaphysical truth? Why is this so important? The truth that we know is for all in the physical universe (for all can observe it) reveals there is truth that is for all in the metaphysical universe. The created world gives evidence of God. We do not live in a postmodern universe.
In the chapter “The Man Without The Bible” from Death in the City, Francis Schaeffer analyzes how Paul speaks to men without the Bible (Paul does this three times in the New Testament in Acts 14:15-17, 17:16-32; and Romans 1:18-2:16) and states we must learn to speak as Paul did.
The first thing Paul says to the man without the Bible is this: “You’re under the wrath of God because you hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Notice that he immediately begins to preach the wrath of God. Think now of this man without the Bible (and he is no different then than now). If you merely say what Paul did in 1:16 and 17, “Here’s salvation,” he will shrug his shoulders and say, “Why do I need salvation?” Or if modern man thinks he needs salvation, it will be some modern psychological salvation. But Paul says, “No. What you need is moral salvation. You are guilty. You have true guilt in the presence of God.”
John MacArthur writes,
The world needs Christians who embrace an antithetical worldview, a biblical mindset that answers questions of truth and morality in terms of black and white. Why? Because there is no salvation without absolute, unshakeable truth. Compromising, changing, tolerant opinions don’t provide answers for the “crazy and confusing and painful” issues… Only truth saves and sanctifies and gives hope.
Postmodern men and women are living against truth. They have put truth in a box, and they sit on the lid as they suppress truth in their unrighteousness. They are continually and aggressively striving against the truth. Some will be aware of tension within because they realize they are living against reality, and some may even know that contradictions within are tearing them apart, but all have true moral guilt before God whether they feel it or not. That is why they need to hear God’s wrath is being revealed against them.
And then they need to hear in the gospel God’s righteousness is being revealed for them.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
I first heard Graham Kendrick’s Shine Jesus Shine sung by a choir of children from a Christian orphanage in Africa. Shining with smiles, when they came to the chorus they started swinging flashlights in time to the music, and we rejoiced together in Jesus who had brought light into our lives.
The song contains the phrase, “Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.” The words of that verse are based on 2 Corinthians 3:18:
Whatever defense we give of our Christian faith, our apologetics are undergirded or undermined by our lives. Sometimes when people won’t listen to our words, they will listen to our lives. Sometimes no matter how adept our words or explanation, our lives can drown out anything we might be saying.
In Anchor of Hope I mentioned that Peter wrote his first letter in the New Testament to Christians who are suffering. Their hope in Christ is one of his recurring themes as he strengthens them and instructs them on living in the midst of affliction. In 1 Peter 3:13-17 he tells them how to explain their hope.
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
The word good is repeated in these verses (doing what is right is the translation of a compound word containing the same word translated as good in verses 13 and 16). This goodness is no assumed mask, but comes from an earnest desire to do good. I think many who are not Christians recognize and recoil from the facade of a mask. In fact, they rarely use the word righteous unless it’s coupled with the word self. Of all people Christians should know the futility of being self-righteous. It is an oxymoron for us. We cannot be self-righteous; it dishonors God and it disgusts other people. Living in gratitude for God’s forgiveness for our sins and in the realization that Christ alone is our righteousness helps us to have a zeal for good marked by humility of heart.
Peter writes don’t be afraid or troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. In The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney states that in verses 14 -15, Peter is referring back to Isaiah 8:12-13 and comments:
Peter shows us that our hope provides both the courage for our witness and the content of our witness. Our hope is in our risen Lord. We sanctify the Lord Christ in our hearts; there is the end of fear. We sanctify Christ in our words; there is the start of witness.
To his alliteration I would add that our hope provides the context of our lives as we witness. Sanctify Christ as Lord in our lives; we learn to give a defense of our hope with gentleness and reverence.
Apologetics is not one-upmanship. We defend our faith and explain what and why we believe, but we don’t try to show we’re smarter or better in some way. We don’t back down from the truth of the gospel, but we should back down from a self-centeredness that will reveal itself in pride, outrage or some other repelling attitude. People may reject the gospel, but let us make sure they do not find objections to it because we, in our behavior, are objectionable!
We are to explain our hope with gentleness and reverence. In the King James Version the word meek was used instead of gentleness. Meek is a word that has lost the meaning it had at that time. In writing on 2 Corinthians 10:1, A. T. Robertson notes the word meek is “this great word that has worn thin with us.” In his work on Matthew he writes,
The English word “meek” has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls Himself meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy.
William Hendricksen recommends reading Psalm 37 to understand the qualities of meekness. He says, “the meek person is the one “who finds refuge in the Lord, commits his way entirely to him, leaving everything in the hand of him who loves and cares.”
In John MacArthur’s sermon, Securities Against a Hostile World he defines the word reverence:
I think it says here, or in some Bibles it says that, here it says reverence, properly so, is actually the word for fear. It’s the word phobou from which we get phobias. In other words, reverence, a healthy reverence for God, a healthy reverence for truth and even a healthy reverence for the person to whom you speak, a graciousness. Second Timothy 2 it says we’re not to strive, we’re not to be argumentative as we present truth.
In the New Testament we have the record of other eyewitnesses—eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ.
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
In the opening lines of Luke’s gospel as he writes to Theophilus he mentions these eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and of his own care in investigating and recording their witness.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)
In Jerusalem Peter mentions these witnesses when he proclaims:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
Acts 2:32 (ESV)
Paul states that over 500 people saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection, including himself. Not only that, he says that most of those witnesses are still alive—verification of his own witness could be made.
Why such an emphasis on eyewitnesses? Because Christianity is Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a mere system of ethics or philosophy, but proclaims that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again, in—as Francis Schaeffer said—historic space-time. Without the actual, real events of His death, His resurrection, we would be lost; we would be without hope. Look at how Paul reviews the content of the gospel, and read what he writes as being of first importance in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV)
This is why the record of the eyewitnesses is so important. Christianity is grounded in the history of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The eyewitnesses of the New Testament attest to what they have seen and known about Jesus Christ. They want those who read their witness to know and to be confident of the truth regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, because without Jesus Christ there is no Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes on to say:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…
1 Corinthians 15:12-20a (ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sine qua non of the Christian faith. The historic fact—the actual and real event—of His resurrection is the authenticating proof given by God regarding Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Romans 1:1-4:
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord…
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
While those reading these words in the first century could have met these eyewitnesses or could have known those who had, we cannot, for the span of time prevents us. How do we know that within the New Testament we have a reliable record regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Anyone, whether or not they are a Christian, can read the New Testament as accurate historical documents for there are excellent, valid reasons to view the New Testament as a trustworthy historical account. Belief in Jesus Christ is not an irrational leap that can only be made without reason to believe. In The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable? F. F. Bruce writes:
The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.
He goes on to set forth the scholarship that attests to the authenticity of the New Testament and concludes at the end of the book:
Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth’, but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.’
The earliest propagators of Christianity welcomed the fullest examination of the credentials of their message. The events which they proclaimed were, as Paul said to King Agrippa, not done in a corner, and were well able to bear all the light that could be thrown on them. The spirit of these early Christians ought to animate their modern descendants. For by an acquaintance with the relevant evidence they will not only be able to give to everyone who asks them a reason for the hope that is in them, but they themselves, like Theophilus, will thus know more accurately how secure is the basis of the faith which they have been taught.
This is a readable short book, and Dr. Bruce vigorously marshals the evidence. Another excellent book to read, and again, a small one, is John Warwick Montgomery’s History, Law and Christianity.
The New Testament gives the knowledge needed to decide the question of belief in Jesus Christ. The question is unavoidable: what do I think about Jesus Christ? There is no middle ground regarding belief in Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” C. S. Lewis famously concluded we are left with the options of deciding Jesus Christ is Liar, Lunatic or Lord.
We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects–Hatred–Terror–Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
The eyewitnesses give evidence; the question remains: “But who do you say that I am?”
House On The Rock
Jesus finished teaching in the passage we call the “Sermon on the Mount” by telling a story of two houses.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall.”
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Now that is teaching with authority! —to say that if you act on His words you will withstand the storms of life’s adversity.
An obvious question for any belief system is how well does it correspond to reality. Does it really describe this world and who we are? Does it have answers that stand the strain of disaster?
Towards the end of Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who Is There he writes that there are two realities none of us can escape: internal reality and external reality—who we are and what the world is.
…a man must live in reality, and reality consists of two parts: the external world and its form, and man’s ‘mannishness’, including his own ‘mannishness’. No matter what a man may believe, he cannot change the reality of what is.
By ‘mannishness’ Schaeffer is speaking of the fact that man is a “real, personal being.” He goes on to say:
Without indicating that his psychology or philosophy is correct, Carl Gustav Jung has correctly observed that two things cut across every man’s will–the external world with its structure, and those things which well up from inside himself.
Schaeffer explains we get caught in a tension between two things: the real world—external and internal—and the logical conclusion of our presuppositions—the belief system we have about life, truth, meaning, etc. We can make some presuppositions about life or self, only to find out that life or self will turn around and shoot those presuppositions full of holes.
Let me mention a few things we experience in undeniable reality that I believe point to the truth of Christianity: the desire and yearning for significance and justice and the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering.1
Take the desire and yearning for significance. We can see this in the behavior and words of others, and we each can testify to this yearning within ourselves. Who among us does not want to know that we matter to someone? That our lives have significance in some way? Who doesn’t yearn to love and be loved? Why do we think like that? Where do these feelings come from?
Even those whose belief system presupposes randomness and lack of meaning to existence and to the world will for the most part live their lives as if their lives have significance. Their system of belief may deny meaning, purpose or significance, but they won’t live like that. And to those who say one must make your own meaning, I would ask why? Why do you even want to have meaning?
Christianity teaches that we each have significance because we are each made in the image of God. Our yearning to love and be loved is a reflection of God who is love.
And take our desire for justice. Who among us, whatever our code of morality may be, has not at one time cried, “That’s not fair!” and yearned to see justice done. I think our desire for justice is a reflection of the holiness of God. Even those who may rail against a God they say exists only in the minds of men to give condemnation and guilt, have at some point in their life cried out to see wrongs made right, even if only within their own life.
Whatever the presuppositions of our belief system are, at some point we want significance and we want justice, whether or not that belief system states that significance and an absolute standard of justice exists.
The Bible states that creation around us is an indication of the reality of a good God who is a Creator of power and wonder. Paul writes in Romans 1:20:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Paul goes on to say that man failed to honor God as God or give thanks, indicating that creation itself teaches us that God is good and worthy of our gratitude as Creator.
Yet we see beauty so often flawed with suffering. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy uses the analogy of a shipwreck to describe our world. He begins the comparison in the chapter titled “The Ethics of Elfland” as he compares the good we see in the world to the items Robinson Crusoe salvages from his shipwreck. He continues it in the “The Flag of the World”:
And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe’s ship—even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.
The Bible teaches that this world is seriously skewed with wrong, evil, injustice and suffering as a result of the consequence of sin. We have each turned aside from God and gone and lived life in our own way. We have each, in minor and at times major ways, brought things crashing down around us in our lives or the lives of others because of our choices and actions. None of us have even been able to live up to our own standard of right and wrong, whatever that may be, much less the standard of right and wrong set by God.
Before I became a Christian I realized my presuppositions didn’t capture the whole picture of life. I came to the realization that Christianity did. I majored in math education and I loved geometry and abstract algebra. Geometric and algebraic proofs were a delight to me as I poked and prodded the postulates and theorems and found the process that worked because it was true. I will never, ever forget the wonderful, absolutely wonderful feeling when I realized that I could poke and prod Christianity all I wanted, and I would find I was on solid ground.
The question for each of us is: does the pull of reality within and without rip our presuppositions and beliefs to shreds or can they stand the strain? During my years as a Christian I’ve known great and intense personal loss, both in emotional and physical suffering. Reality has ripped and roared, but the solid ground of the Rock has held.
“The Mark of the Christian”
Several months after I became a Christian I attended a fall conference for college students from several universities within the state. I wasn’t doing very well that weekend, and Saturday evening when I went to my bunk I found a small packet on my pillow. I opened the bit of paper and read, “This was given to me in love. I give it to you so the love will grow and spread.”
Wrapped inside the note was a silver fish pendant with ἰχθύς, the Greek word for fish, inscribed within its outline. The paper wasn’t signed, but I found the person who had written it. She told me she’d noticed I was depressed and wanted to give me the fish.
The night before Jesus died, He said to His disciples:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Later that same evening He prayed:
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
Francis Schaeffer said the love of Christians for one another is The Mark of the Christian, and in the book he wrote by that name he called John 17:21, “The Final Apologetic.” This is the apologetic given by Christ Himself to all peoples and for all times. Questions asked of Christians may change according to the issues of the day, but our love remains the mark that we are His disciples, and it remains the final apologetic to the world that Jesus was, in fact, sent by God, and that God, in fact, loves those who have believed in Jesus. Our love for each other proclaims to all, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” Our love for each other proclaims to all, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…”
So what about the times when those who say they are Christians do not love their fellow believers? Those times when Christian love seems as broken and cracked as the ἰχθύς wheel symbol on the right? This is something I have thought about a great deal because it has bothered me a great deal. I want to answer by first looking at why and how Christians are able to love one another.
Edmund Clowney comments on 1 Peter 1:22:23:
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [1 Peter 1:22-23]
…he urges Christians to love one another, he shows that what we are to do is grounded in what Christ has done. God’s word renews, cleanses, and matures us for a life of love….
…Peter requires love for fellow-Christians as the great mark of true holiness. He is not satisfied with tolerance or acceptance, far less with formalized distance. He will have love, sincere love, without pretense or hypocrisy. (In the New Testament, ‘unhypocritical’ always describes love.) But even sincerity is not enough: our love must be ‘deep’ and intense. Peter uses a word that means ‘stretched’ or ‘strained’….
How can such love be commanded? …For such love to appear, the pride and selfishness of our alienation from God must be swept away. They must be replaced by a heart made new with the motives of grace. It is the word of God, the good news of the gospel, that is the means both of our new birth and of our nurture in holiness.
Because God’s love is the source of ours, the message of his love is what kindles ours. Christian love may be demonstrated by a hug, a holy kiss, or a helping hand, but Christian love cannot be transmitted that way. Christian love is born as Christians are born: through the truth of the gospel….
As I mulled over Clowney’s words, I realized that in the churches and individuals in which I have seen and known the greatest love, there has been the greatest gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness. A ‘first love’ for God has been present, and a hunger for His Word—to read the Bible and understand the Bible in order to know and obey the living God revealed in the Bible. There has been within those churches faithful and fervent preaching and teaching of the Bible, week in and week out, and that teaching has born fruit in lives that were changed.
In those places in which love for fellow Christians has been thin and sparse, gratitude for God’s grace has been thin and sparse, and people no longer “in humility receive the Word implanted”. Not always, but usually the Word has not been faithfully and fervently taught by men who themselves have received it in humility.
The New Testament is also clear that there will be those within the church who appear to be Christians, but in reality are not. Paul told the elders from the church at Ephesus that savage wolves would arise who wouldn’t spare the flock, and that from among them men would arise who would speak perverse things and draw disciples after them. Over and over in 1 John, John emphasizes the link between our love for God and our love for each another, with one demonstrating the reality of the other.
We used to sing a song in my early years as a Christian:
Beloved, let us love one another:
for love is of God;
and every one that loveth is born of God,
and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God;
for God is love.
So, Beloved, let us love one another.
1 John 4: 7 and 8.
After almost forty years, I still have that fish. At low points in my life it still reminds me that, yes, love is the mark of a Christian, and, yes, that that love confirms that God, in fact, sent Jesus, and that God, in fact, loves me.
The Era of Six Impossible Things
Alice “a-dressing” the White Queen by John Tenniel: Public Domain, via Wikipedia.
John MacArthur, Grace to You: Mo and PoMo, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1968.
In a footnote, Michael D. Marlowe of Bible Research states that the quote attributed to Martin Luther was actually written by Elizabeth Charles.
Fritz Rienecker, Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. (Translator and Editor), Linguistic Key to the Greek
New Testament, 1980, απολογία, p. 323.
“Truth For All”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans, 1991, pp. 33, 32.
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1931, Vol. IV, pp. 328, 330.
Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City, 1969.
John MacArthur, Grace to You: The Rise of Extreme Tolerance.
Back to Home [This photograph was taken in Iran. There is a man on a bicycle whose silhouette is partially obscured. I chose the photograph because of the location.]:
ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
People On The Move: FreeFoto.com
Merriam-Webster defines metaphysics as “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology [study of being or existence], cosmology [study of the origin and structure of the universe], and often epistemology [study of knowledge].” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metaphysics
In his master’s thesis, Toward A Thomistic Theory of Meaning, Thomas A. Howe includes this figure, “Relation of Disciplines” (Figure 1, p. 6 [p. 12 of the PDF].
In What Comes First? Epistemology or Metaphysics?, Bill Pratt writes, “The next question that must be answered after we’ve looked at that which exists is, “What is that which is?” This is the discipline of metaphysics. According to Howe, in metaphysics we are “inquiring into the nature of reality.”” R. C. Sproul defines metaphysics as “the study of ultimate being or of ultimate reality.”
Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Creation—Reality—gives witness to God. Romans 1:18–21 speaks of Creation—Reality—and declares through That which is God has made evident to man his “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.” To go further, Psalm 19:7–14 describes God’s verbal communication to man through His Word, and affirms not only God’s linguistic communication to us, but also our linguistic capability of understanding.
Graham Kendrick: Shine Jesus Shine
Romano-Celtic mirror (Desborough): Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, 1988, p.148.
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1931, Vol. IV, p. 251, Vol. I, p. 41.
[Paul used the word meek to describe Jesus in 2 Corinthians 10:1. The NAS and ESV both use the phrase "meekness and gentleness of Christ." The Greek word translated as meekness is the same word translated as gentle in 1 Peter. The word translated as gentleness in 1 Corinthians is a different Greek word. I think this highlights our loss of a positive meaning connected with the word meek. ]
William Hendriksen, Matthew, 1973, p. 504.
John MacArthur, Grace to You: Securities Against A Hostile World.
(ESV): English Standard Version.
Luke 11:2 in Codex Sinaiticus: Public Domain via Wikipedia.
C. S. Lewis, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” from God In The Dock. See also C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable?
House On The Rock
Waves crashing over The North Pier, Tynemouth: FreeFoto.com
Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There.
1If you’ve been reading my posts, you call tell I am indebted to Francis Schaeffer for much of my thinking in the area of apologetics. If you have read some of his writings you will recognize that my discussion of significance is drawn from and echoes his work. These ideas are themes of his, and he writes of them in various places and in various ways.
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908, 1936, pp. 62, 80. I have many disagreements with Chesterton; his understanding of the Christian faith is erroneous and his understanding of Reformed doctrine is a caricature, but I love his imagery of a shipwreck to describe the juxtaposition of the splendour we still see in God’s handiwork in Creation even as it is a fallen and corrupted world (see Romans 8:18-22).
Posted in Adversity, Apologetics, Bible, Doctrine, Evil, Justice, Love, Sin, Truth.
“The Mark of the Christian”
Francis, Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian. You can read this short book online here.
Ichthus (the ΙΧΘΥΣ) Wheel in Ephesus: public domain via Wikipedia.
The wheel is an overlay of the uppercase letters of ΙΧΘΥΣ. The fish has been a Christian symbol since the early years of the church. The Greek word for fish is an acrostic; each letter is the first letter of one of the five words of the phrase, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior: ͑Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ ͑Υιός Σωτήρ.
Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, 1988, pp. 73-75.
Posted in Believe, Bible, Life in Christ, Love.
Original content: Copyright ©2010 Iwana Carpenter