A Few Example Posts:

  • "The End of Faith: A Short Response to Sam Harris"
  • See also:
  • "A Long Response to Sam Harris' The End of Faith, by Neil Shenvi"

  • "Is John Piper the Best Answer to Emergence and Postmodernism?"

  • "Captured"

  • "The Storm is Over"

  • "If Golfing Were the Pursuit of Moral Perfection"

  • 8.17.2005

    Engaging the Issues at Hand

    What do young people do when churches, schools, and other ministries on which they rely completely miss major points of development in an immature soul? I suppose these young people do one of the following:

    · Throw off the religious system that never connected with them--and embrace the spirit of the age.
    · Maintain some level of devotion while honestly struggling, failing, and trying again. Quietly hurting while trying to perform.
    · Become hypocrites--maintaining the image of their religious system while living “on the dark side”--hoping nobody in their circle of friends finds out.
    · Look for answers.

    The battle over young people is intense, and it seems that the world system has all the advantages. However, young people are still drawn to honest souls who will listen and answer questions. These honest souls may even have to provide the questions, because many youths cannot articulate their struggles. Francis Schaefffer's comments still apply:

    “I find that everywhere I go...children of Christians are being lost to historic Christianity....They are being lost because parents are unable to understandtheir children, and therefore cannot really help them in their time of need. This lack of understanding is not only on the part of individual parents but often also of churches, Christian colleges and Christian missions. Some Christian colleges (and I am not talking of ‘liberal’ colleges) lose many of their best students before they graduate. We have left the next generation naked in the face of the twentieth-century thought by which they are surrounded.” 1

    Looking at the time that Schaeffer wrote and the issues he addressed, I realized that I was one of those turned out into the cold of twentieth-century thought. Schaeffer had me pegged.

    I became a Christian as a young boy. The churches and ministries of my youth provided an enormous amount of spiritual wealth for me. However, as I grew, one underlying struggle developed: “How can I know that Christianity is true?” The struggle was in the realm of epistemology--although I didn’t know the name of the category at the time. I remember thinking as an early teen, “I’m going to prove Christianity to be true. I’m going to learn everything I can.” I believed Christianity was true. In my gut, I knew it was. But that wasn’t enough to settle my mind as I lived in the climate of an emerging postmodernism.

    God has since provided the answers I needed--and I am grateful. But I had to look and look hard. The ministries at hand did not offer the answers I needed.

    I hope that more Christian schools, colleges, camps, and churches are willing to enter the arena of epistemology and apologetics. Sometimes, ministries often find it easier to resort to instilling rigorous moralism in students or circling wagons to preserve a nostalgic sense of some by-gone Christian culture. I see these kinds of responses across the country.

    But we are going to have to seriously consider how to reach the next generation. The issues of the current generation are already somewhat different from the ones I faced.

    My point is this: finding the true battlefield of a soul is difficult, yet we must attempt it.

    What are these twentieth century thought forms Schaeffer described? They are “nuanced” in various ways, but they arrive at the same conclusion:
    Truth is relative. You cannot really know.

    How people can reach this conclusion fills books. I think that, like a dispersing gas cloud, this conclusion still fills the mental atmosphere of the new millenium. Couching the issue in terms of philosophical pluralism, D.A. Carson wrote:

    “The impact of philosophical pluralism on Western culture is incalculable. It touches virtually every discipline--history, art, literature, anthropology, education, philosophy, psychology, the social sciences, even, increasingly, the ‘hard’ sciences....It achieves its greatest victory in redefining religious pluralism so as to render heretical the idea that heresy is possible. Tolerance is radically defined, and masks a sometimes brutal intolerance....For the Christian, it has certainly altered some of the priorities that must be adopted in evangelism.” 2 [Emphasis added]

    Some say that we will not operate for long on the basis of epistemological futility. Some new model for knowing may arise. But I believe the despair concerning knowledge is still rampant, and we need to adjust our methods of pre-evangelism, evangelism, and post-evangelism--to meet the despair head-on.

    Decades ago, Schaeffer wrote:

    “I walked out of a restaurant one morning a few weeks ago, and there was a girl sitting with a cup of coffee reading Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. She represents millions. We have millions and millions facing these questions, and in fact I think today the majority of the community have such questions. And they do not have to be university graduates. I have worked with shipyard workers, mill workers, all kinds of people (as well as, when I was younger, personally working on farms, a huckster wagon, in factories, and so on), and I am convinced that these people often have the same questions as the intellectual...” 3
    This denial of knowledge is still popular, and it has worked itself into the practical forms of everyday living and thinking. Now religious truth is not considered to be something you can “know.” It is simply a set of personal values people choose among many. Obviously, we now face serious challenges in evangelism. Nancy Pearcey recently wrote:

    “[T]oday if you talk about Christianity being true or historically verifiable, many people would be puzzled. Religion is assumed to be a product of human subjectivity, so that the test of a ‘good’ religious belief is not whether it is objectively true, but only whether it has beneficial effects in the lives of those who believe it.” 4

    So,we retain the Two Questions that still resonate in our culture:

    1. Is anything true?
    2. If so, what is it?

    Our culture’s unconscious answer to Question 1 is “No.” People rarely ask Question 2. Even Christians need help to maintain an answer to Question 1--in order to combat the spirit of the age. I know I did.

    How do we penetrate the fog? How do we reach unbelievers and build strong believers?

    1. Acknowledge the existence of the Two Questions.

    Let’s be honest about these life and death questions. If we are distracted by maintaining a Christian subculture rather than engaging these issues, we will miss the battle at hand. This means we must become Christian thinkers. We need to use Scripture as the basis for all we do, but simply throwing Scripture verses at unbelievers is not the best way to win them. We must have a Christian philosophy of knowledge, engage in conversation, share Scripture as answers, and love people: a comprehensive approach.
    Concerning philosophy, C.S. Lewis said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” 5 If we refuse to recognize the philosophical questions with which people unconsciously struggle, how can we even begin to develop good Christian philosophy to answer the bad stuff?

    2. Study the answers to these Two Questions.

    We will have to listen to the "smart people" God has given us. We may have to humble ourselves into a student attitude in order to listen. God has given us people that can help us. (See my post “I Heard It on Good Authority.”)

    I am not promoting some “priesthood of the intellectual.” I am merely saying that God has given us many gifts. Some of them are smart people. Let’s take the time to reach a little higher, strive for the top shelf in thinking, and then bring the goods down to where we live.
    In other words: Lets work a little bit.

    3. Prepare to engage the man on the street concerning the Two Questions.

    I am praying more and more about how to engage people in conversation about the issues with which they struggle--whether they be the Two Questions or not. This is the model of Christ with the woman at the well. Offering authoritative answers of hope is one way to define “loving the lost.”

    4. Pray for Holy Spirit enabling to communicate answers to the Two Questions.

    Of course, for anyone to be redeemed from despair and sin, God will have to illuminate minds. It is a spiritual work.

    I hope to engage these principles in my own ministry. I am no scholar, but I don’t have to be. I’ll use Scripture, read smart people, pray, and work. May God help me fight the issues at hand and reach others for Christ.
    Footnotes are Linked to booksellers:
    1. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (Downers Grove, Illinois; Intervarsity Press, 1998) 172.
    2. D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 52.
    3. Schaeffer, The God Who is There, page 198.
    4. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Books, 2004), 117.
    5. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, “Learning in War Time" (1939), para. 10. p. 28.
    Books by Os Guinness One I have appreciated recently is Time for Truth.
    Miracles by C.S. Lewis as well as The Abolition of Man.
    The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. This is one I borrowed from my sister and read years ago (I plan to return it someday).
    I am not commissioned to sell these books. These are just some that have helped me. There are more in the pile.


    At 1:35 PM, Blogger Steve Weaver said...

    Excellent post!

    At 3:04 PM, Blogger Joe said...

    Good post!
    May I ask a couple of questions? (I hope you said, "Yes.")

    Regarding particularly your first section about spiritual growth in young people:

    Is it JESUS via His Holy Spirit who does the drawing to Himself, or is it the methods we use to "attract" certain groups of people (usually Youth)?

    Where and/or how do we find the balance between using various methods to reach people (eg: contemporary music) and just doing our thing and trusting Him to bring them in and to reach them?

    Don't misunderstand, I support expressing our faith in Christ through almost any means. (I was actualy let go from two minstires for being "too contemporary" with the Youth. I still like new stuff, and would love to experiment with hip-hop or rap. I love the old stuff, too. I'm 63, btw)

    I'm not trying to be provocative, I just love to get different takes on the issue.

    At 11:57 AM, Blogger John Rush said...

    Thanks for your comment, Joe. In response I'd say that I'm not trying to get at external methods of evangelism per se.

    I am trying to think through issues of the heart and mind--ultimately to help non-believers come ashore in their thinking and to aid Christians in standing strong in the faith.

    Can we be assured that truth exists? We can. Can we be assured that the truth is Christ? We can.

    We need to help people find this settled assurance in their hearts.

    Good question.

    At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Lane Santa said...

    It''s quite impressive.


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