31 October 2011

Review: Ambassador Basic Curriculum-Greg Koukl

Over the past two days, I have reviewed two different apologetics training resources--the first from Ravi Zacharias and the second from Tim Keller.  Today, we move on to the Ambassador Basic Curriculum by my favorite apologist, Greg Koukl. Koukl seems to connect much better with the everyday Christian, but does not sacrifice intellectual sophistication.  I don't want to disparage the man (indeed this is meant as a compliment), but I would consider him a blue-collar apologist.  He is very good at taking the ivory tower arguments and ideas and bringing them to the populous.  He produced a series of 15 audio CDs that build upon one another.  The first five are foundational, the second five build on the first, and the final five address specific apologetic issues.  The topics are as follows:
  1. Ambassadors for Christ: The Essential Skills
  2. Truth is Not Ice Cream, Faith is Not Wishing
  3. The Bible: Has God Spoken?
  4. Tactics in Defending the Faith (2 CDs)
  5. Never Read a Bible Verse
  6. How to Keep from Being Spiritually Weird
  7. Decision Making and the Will of God (3 CDs)
  8. Why I'm Not an Evolutionist
  9. The Bankruptcy of Moral Relativism
  10. Abortion: Only One Question
  11. Setting the Record Straight: The Bible and Homosexuality
  12. Any Old God Won't Do
 This is my favorite collection.  You can listen to it in the car, a distinct advantage over the DVD collections.  He also addresses issues in an understandable, but wise manner.  I have listened to many of these CDs three or four times because I find them so valuable.  Another advantage, if you are interested, is that they offer online testing, if you wish, to prove your learning.  I highly recommend this series.

Summary: If you want a great all around apologetics training course that won't break the bank but will help you to learn more about becoming an ambassador for Christ, this is a great way to go. 

Although not a video series, this will give you a flavor for Greg.

When does the apple ripen?

Since Grace was very young, we have tried to make an annual trip to the orchard to pick apples.  My favorite orchard was somewhere outside of Iowa City, Iowa though the name escapes me.  There were row upon row of well groomed trees, a knowledgeable old man with a tractor, and an ancient German shorthair named Hawkeye.  One of the first lessons learned from picking apples is that there are dozens of varieties of apples at each orchard with different tastes and textures.  What you also learn is that the fruits ripen at different times and that different trees yield different amounts of fruit.  Some trees bear fruit in August whereas others wait until October.  Some trees bear bushels of fruit, some not as much.  Those who live with the trees year after year, like the old tractor driver, also know that in some seasons, some trees just don't bear as much fruit.

Apple trees provide important lessons for us as Christians.  Many of us believe that the moment we are saved, we will be suddenly and radically transformed.  In a sense we are, but perhaps not in the way we think.  Our fruit bearing may not be as quick or abundant as we would hope.  We want bushels of fruit from season one until we come to glory.  But what does the parable of the sower say?

As it is described in Luke, it says "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."  Patience can also be translated perseverance.  Our fruit takes time to grow.  In fact, often when it springs up quickly, it burns out (Luke 8:13).

As Mark describes the parable, he reminds us that  "other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold" (Mark 4:8). In other words, not every tree bears fruit in the same measure.  We must be careful when we look at the fruit of others, or ourselves, assuming we are not bearing enough.

We have a patient vinedresser who loves us and is patient with us.  If we abide in Him (John 15), at the proper time he will cause the right amount of fruit to grow on each tree.

30 October 2011

Review: Reason for God DVD-Tim Keller

Yesterday, I started a series where I am reviewing apologetics training courses.  I first covered the series by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Today, I will discuss The Reason for God DVD by Tim Keller.

Tim Keller, pastor and author of The Reason for God, also produced a DVD series that involved a series of conversations that Dr Keller had with a small group of atheists and skeptics.  They discussed:
  1. Isn'tthe Bible a myth?
  2. How can you say there is only one God?  
  3. What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life?
  4. Why does God allow suffering?
  5. Why is the church responsible for so much injustice?
  6. How can God be full of love and wrath at the same time?
The uniqueness of this series is that it involves a civil discussion with unbelievers, rather than training provided to a group of believers.  The real strength of this program is that it demonstrates Tim Keller as a winsome ambassador for Christ engaging questions from real people in a loving, but intelligent fashion.  They do not reach resolution on any of the questions; rather you observe their conversations.  It is worth watching, but should not be considered a traditional apologetics training program.

Summary: If you are looking for an inexpensive DVD that provides questions and a great example of how to engage non-believers, this is for you.

Below is the trailer for the series.

Are your ears itching?

If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying "I will preach to you of wine and strong drink," he would be the preacher for his people!-Micah 2:11  

When I read this verse during my quiet time this morning, I was reminded of Beer Church.  Yes, beer church is a real thing--they celebrate, perhaps even worship, beer.  You can even become ordained by Beer Church--I have a friend who has his ordination through this organization.  According to the prophet Micah, it is no wonder that something akin to Beer Church has taken off.  When overindulgence is promoted as acceptable or even righteous, people will gladly respond.

Sadly, many churches are much more insidious.  2 Timothy 4:3 reads, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions."  The largest church in America teaches that God's primary goal in your life is to make you rich, healthy, and happy and people flock to him.  One of the fastest growing "churches" in the United States is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Mormonism.  They promote the idea that you can become deity.  They sooth itching ears by preaching lies and people follow.

It seems to me that itching ears are one of the most unfortunate problems associated with postmodernism.  People assume that truth is relative. People assume that whatever you believe is true--just don't impose your beliefs upon anyone else.  It is no wonder that churches that teach truth from the Scriptures, addressing God's holiness and wrath as well as his love and mercy, are so criticized by modern culture.  People don't want to hear that they are sinful.  They do not want to hear that God hates sin and punishes sinners eternally apart from Christ.  They want to continue to believe what their parents, their schools, and the media have told them all along--that no matter what, they are good people and that they deserve always to be above the national average with regard to happiness, income, and image. When pastors tell them what they don't want to hear, they just leave rather than continuing to wrestle for the truth. 

There is absolute truth. There is a God.  He is holy.  We are separated from Him because we are unrighteous. But there is hope. Jesus Christ. John 1:12 says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

Find a church that preaches truth--absolute truth, Scriptural truth--the truth of Jesus Christ. 

29 October 2011

Review: Foundations of Apologetics-Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

I was someone who had intellectual questions before the Holy Spirit grabbed me.  I worked through the reasons for faith first, elementary though my thinking was at the time.  I have devoured several books on the reasonableness of the Christian faith including Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, On Guard by William Lane Craig, Letters from a Skeptic by Greg Boyd, More than a Theory by Hugh Ross as well as perhaps a dozen others.  Each of these resources provides a different slant or addresses a different issue. My belief in the validity of Christianity has only been strengthened by availing myself of these resources.

I have also undertaken to more intensive study through the many training courses available.  I thought it might be useful for me to give my impression of the ones I have done for those who are interested in delving more deeply into the defense of the Christian faith.  Over the next few days, I will be reviewing these one by one. 

Let's start with Ravi Zacharias. 

Foundations of Apologetics--Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has a 12 DVD series based upon a number of lectures delivered at Oxford University.  Each lecture is about an hour in length.  The topics include:
  1. Conversations that Count-Michael Ramsden
  2. Truth and Reality-Stuart McAllister
  3. The Existence of God-Alister McGrath
  4. Establishing a Worldview-Ravi Zacharias
  5. Trustworthiness of Scripture-Amy Orr-Ewing
  6. Uniqueness of Christ-Joe Boot
  7. Trinity and Apologetics-LT Jeyachandran
  8. Pluralism: Do All Religions Lead to the Same Goal?-John Lennox
  9. Faith, Reason and Integration-John Lennox
  10. God, Evil, and Suffering-Ravi Zacharias
  11. Seeing and Exploring Cultural Connections-Stuart McAlister
  12. Reasoning from the Scriptures-Michael Ramsden

I enjoyed this series, but it took me several months to work through it.  This series, though highly informative, is not for many people.  Unless you enjoy watching video of someone standing behind a podium lecturing, it will probably not be for you.  It is probably more academic than many people might like, though I personally enjoyed it a great deal and learned a lot from it.  My wife would catch glimpses of it while I was watching and it was clear that she did not connect with the material on the same level that I did.  I particularly liked the lectures by John Lennox, Michael Ramsden and of course, Ravi Zacharias.  Others were less engaging.  They were very strong on certain areas, including things such as establishing a Christian worldview, but weaker on others such as creation science/intelligent design, likely due to their European audience. 

Summary: This is a good series if you would rather watch than listen, don't mind the more academic presentation, or like British/Scottish accents.

Below is an example of the series from a lecture by Michael Ramsden

Reformation Sunday

Tomorrow is Reformation Sunday.  I know that many of you probably don't care about this as much as you do Halloween, but you should.  Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther turned the Christian world on it's head when he pounded his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door.  For any of you who are protestants, it all started then.  Tomorrow, we celebrate the early reformers.  Here are several resources if you wish to learn more about the Reformation. 

Reformation and the Gospel--Matthew Barrett writes an extended summary of events involved with the Reformation, centering on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which cam to be a central tenet of the Reformation. 

Justin Taylor's resources--Justin Taylor has assembled numerous resources for people who want to learn more about the Reformation.  He highlights the movie, "Luther", which is a good movie that will help you to understand what happened during the Reformation and what Luther's part was in it.

Reformer Biographies--Steven Lawson, at the Ligonier ministries site, has assembled biographies of many of the early reformers including: Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin. Bob Kellemen at RPM Ministries has also assembled some worthwhile biographical information

If you are really feeling ambitious, track down some of the longer pieces from these authors.  Read Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians, or delve into Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

23 October 2011

Book Review: Don't Call it a Comeback

Don't Call it a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (DeYoung, 2011) has been on my shelf for a while.  It is an edited volume of short chapters on the essentials of the faith.  Presumably with intention, the authors for this book are all relatively young--no MacArthurs, Pipers, or Sprouls here, but the quality does not suffer at all. 

The opening chapter by Kevin DeYoung, "The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation", is alone worth the price of the book.  He encourages church leaders to grab people with passion, win them with love, hold them with holiness, challenge them with the Truth, and Amaze them with God. The next several chapters cover topics of systematic theology in an understandable way.  Topics such as God, Scripture, justification, and new birth are addressed.  In this section, I particularly appreciated Owen Strachan's chapter on sanctification as he provides a clear exposition of what sanctification entails.  In the final section, the authors address issues relevant to evangelical practice, topics such as abortion, missions, and worship.  Denny Burks chapter on "Gender confusion and a Gospel-shaped counterculture" was a beneficial read. 

I would happily recommend this book to anyone hoping to learn what being an evangelical means in real life today.  4 stars. 

22 October 2011

Passion of Youth, Wisdom of Age

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.-Proverbs 20:29

Despite the increasing concerns in the media regarding the apathy of young people, particularly young men, I am encouraged by many of the young believers I see around me.  They demonstrate a desire to know God and scripture more deeply.  They want to grow in godly character.  They interact with one another and with many Christian pastors through YouTube, blogs, and Twitter. 

Older believers have walked the road for a longer time.  Their reputations among younger believers are often of having lost touch,  of not really understanding the Gospel, or attending church for its own sake.  But older believers have the wisdom of age.  They have endured seasons of hardship and blessing, continuing to walk with God. 

Younger believers are a fresh blaze.  They burn brightly, but haven't developed glowing coals.  Older believers are glowing coals, but the flames may appear to have died down.  Flames are unstable, coals are consistent.  Flames are bright, but coals are hot.  The flames look upon the coals as unexciting, dying out.  The coals view the flames as lacking substance. 

To the younger believers:
  • Read Scripture more than you listen to online teachers--significantly more.  Although men like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Paul Washer and Tim Keller may be able to offer wise counsel, they are fallible.  Just because one of them says something, it does not make it Gospel.  What you learn from them must be balanced against and ultimately submit to Scripture, which you must swim in daily.  
  • Become a part of a local Bible-believing church.  YouTube is not church.  Reading books by Famous Christian Guys is not church.  Joining a congregation of believers who are as fallible as you are, sitting under Godly preaching, glorifying God, and loving one another in the brotherhood is church.  Learn from the men and women who have walked the road much longer than you have--real men and women whom you see on a weekly basis.  
  • Don't assume that because you read books about theology that you have a better developed sense of the Bible than others in the church.  Theology is important, but it is not all-important.  Theology, in wise hands, can be a wonderful tool for knowing and loving God more deeply.  In immature hands, it may be a dangerous weapon.  If you haven't read Kevin DeYoung's "A Tale of Two Corners", I would encourage you to do so right now.  It should be required for all young believers. 
  • Grow in character.  Pursue holiness.  Be self-controlled and disciplined. Pray for humility and practice it.
  • Don't lose your flame; that's how you develop coals.
To the older believers:
  • Listen to the younger believers.  Their passion leads to legitimate questions. Don't be quick to dismiss them.  Although Elihu was arrogant (Job 32 and following), he was accurate in many respects.  Allow younger believers to fan the flame of your faith.
  • Be sound in faith (Titus 2:2).  This may involve studying theology, pushing yourself to chew on some of the more difficult meat of Scripture.  Just like I said above, if you haven't read Kevin DeYoung's "A Tale of Two Corners", do so now.  It should be required reading for all older believers. 
  • Don't flaunt your experience.  It had nothing to do with you.  God has kept you by his grace even when you were a smoldering wick or a bruised reed. 
  • Mentor younger believers.  They will benefit from your experience of having walked the road.  
  • Fan your flames, that's how your coals become hotter still. 

God the Spirit

O Lord God,
I pray not so much for graces as for the Spirit Himself,
because I feel his absence,
and act by my own spirit in everything.
Give me not weak desires but the power of his presence,
for this is the surest way to have all his graces,
and when I have the seal, I have the impression also;
He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly and easily,
can work grace and life effectually,
and being eternal, he can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hinderances,
from being content with a little measure of the Spirit,
from thinking thou wilt not give me more.
When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith,
for when I lose thee I am either in the dark or cannot see thee,
or Satan and my natural abilities content me with a little light,
so that I seek no further for the Spirit of life.
Teach me then what to do.
Should I merely humble myself and not stir up my heart?
Should I meditate and use all means to bring him near,
not being contented by one means,
but trust him to give me a blessing by the use of all,
depending only upon, and waiting always for, thy light,
by use of means?
Is it a duty or an error to pray
and look for the fullness of the Spirit in me?
Am I mistaken in feeling I am empty of the Spirit
because I do not sense his presence within,
when all the time I am most empty
and could be more full by faith in Christ?
Was the fullness of the Spirit in the apostles
chiefly a power,
giving the subsistence outside themselves in Christ,
in whom was their life and joy?
Teach me to find and know fullness of the Spirit only in Jesus.
-Valley of Vision

13 October 2011

Book Review: Luther's Commentary on Galatians

Recently, Mike Horton was asked what 5 books besides the Bible every Christian should read.  On the list was Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians.  I downloaded it for free from Amazon. This book is quite simply spectacular.  It contains Luther's thoughts on the book of Galatians, Paul's epistle written to call a church back to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Considering his own predilections, it is not surprising that Luther would have such strong feelings about this book and he expounds upon them well.  I agree with Horton that every Christian should read this book.  It is much more accessible than his similarly excellent The Bondage of the Will.  Although I have underlined much of the book, I will share a few of my favorite quotes from his thoughts about chapters 1 and 2. 

  • We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained (in reference to Gal 1:4).  
  • Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins. To believe is to have eternal life (Gal 1:4).
  • Every teacher of works righteousness is a troublemaker. (Gal. 1:7).
  • The article of justification is fragile. Not in itself, of course, but in us. I know how quickly a person can forfeit the gospel. I know in what slippery places even those who stand who seem to have a good footing in the matters of the faith. In the midst of the conflict when we should be consoling ourselves with the Gospel, the Law rears up and begins to rage all over our conscience. I say the Gospel is frail because we are frail (Gal. 1:11-12). 
  • The Law terrorizes the conscience. The Law reveals the wrath and judgment of God. The Gospel does not threaten. The Gospel announces that Christ is come to forgive the sins of the world. The Gospel conveys to us the inestimable treasures of God. (Gal. 1:16). 
  • True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone. (Gal 2:4-5).
  • I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me. (Gal 2:4-5).
  • No person has ever sunk so low that he cannot rise again (Gal 2:11). 
  • This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then too, we sometimes drive away the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this fact, "that our sins are covered," and that "God will not lay them against our charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake (Gal 2:16). 
  • Not that we reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be removed from the anchorage of our salvation. (Gal 2:16). 
  • If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. (Gal 2:20).
  • What awful presumption to imagine that there is any work good enough to pacify God, when to pacify God required the invaluable price of the death of blood of His own and only Son? (Gal 2:20).
  • Should I be so stupid as to reject the righteousness of Christ which cost me nothing, and slave like a fool to achieve the righteousness of the Law which God disdains? (Gal 2:21).
If you want more, get the book.  It is worth the price. 5 stars.

12 October 2011

Am I obtuse?

Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man.-Proverbs 30:2

I like words.  I like ideas.  I spend a lot of time reading words and ideas that allow me to formulate thoughts about a wide variety of topics, though particularly related to Christian theology.  Because I have spent a lot of time reading deeply, people often ask my opinions regarding various matters.  Sometimes, I even share my opinions without being asked.  Despite my affinity for well-crafted arguments, I realized today that in my desire to share my knowledge, I sometimes entirely miss the person with whom I am communicating.

Too often, I am obtuse.  To be obtuse is to be lack tact or to be slow to understand.  Twice recently, I could have been labeled obtuse (though it could be more; an unfortunate condition of being obtuse is not always knowing that you are).  In each of these instances, I crafted my arguments well, but I missed the person.  In the first case, I missed the sense of loss the person was experiencing; in the second, I was insensitive to his feelings.

A well constructed exposition is meaningless if it misses the audience.  If I unintentionally hurt someone by my words, even if I believe that they are logically informed, the relationship is the worse for it.  I suspect growth in wisdom is not only accruing knowledge, but learning to use it to patiently and humbly love others. 

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.-Proverbs 16:23

01 October 2011

A Father's Son

Ian has increasingly grown emotional.  Wednesday, before I left, Ian must have reminded me 10,000 times that I must give him a hug and a kiss before I left.  "Don't forget to give me a hug and a kiss before you leave."  Those words, oft repeated, are imprinted in my brain. And what a fine imprint!  He is also the first to make sure that I kiss him good-bye every day before work and he insists I pass those blessings along to his sisters as well--sometimes twice. 

So often, people downplay or minimize emotionality in boys.  We don't want them to be feelers.  We expect them to be "strong", whatever that means.  The older I get though, the more I learn that true masculinity includes an emotional side.  Jesus wept. Jesus experienced sorrow.  Jesus felt hope. Jesus became angry.  Jesus is the definition of true masculinity, and he was emotional. 

I cherish the emotions of my children.  I am increasingly learning that even the negative ones can serve a purpose and that as a father, I need to learn to respond to those with grace as well, rather than with irritation.  Christian parenting is not about creating automatons, but loving our children and encouraging their passionate emotions, reminding them that God created them as passionate, emotional creatures. 

May we all have a passionate love for God, deep sorrow over losses, and appropriate anger. May we all have a heart after God, who created us to feel.