Archive for ‘Apologetics’


Karl Barth and Carl Henry

Carl F.H. Henry recalls in his autobiography the time he engaged Karl Barth during a news conference:

Identifying myself as ‘Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,’ I continued: ‘The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.’  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Services, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  ‘Was it news,’ I asked, ‘in the sense that the man in the street understands news?’

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: ‘Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?’  The audience – largely nonevangelical professors and clergy – roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today and forever.’

Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco: Word, 1986), 211.


We Crave Something Beyond Our Biology

I don’t usually list Andy Stanley as one of my theological heroes or ministry role models, but his recent defense of monogamy in TIME magazine is brilliant:

Cassette tapes are obsolete. Monogamy is more like an endangered species. Rare. Valuable. Something to be fed and protected. Perhaps an armed guard should be assigned to every monogamous couple to ward off poachers. Perhaps not.

The value a culture places on monogamy determines the welfare of its women and children. Women and children do not fare well in societies that embrace polygamy or promiscuity. In the majority of cases, sexual freedom undermines the financial freedom of women. Sexual freedom eventually undermines the financial and emotional security of children.

If we are only biology, none of the above really matters. All’s well that ends with the survival of the species. If we are only biology, monogamy was probably a flawed concept from the start. But very few of us live as if we are only biology. I’m not sure it’s possible. We constantly refer to “our bodies”—an acknowledgement that we are more than “bodies.” Apparently, there is an “I” in there somewhere, an “I” that desires more than another body with which to ensure the survival of the species. As a pastor, I’ve officiated my share of weddings and I’ve done my share of premarital counseling. I always ask couples why they are getting married. Survival of the species never makes the list.

The “I” and “You” that inhabit our bodies desire more than another body. We desire intimacy—to know and to be fully known without fear. Intimacy is fragile. Intimacy is powerful. Intimacy is fueled by exclusivity.

So, no, monogamy is not obsolete. It’s endangered. But so was the buffalo.  Perhaps we happily monogamous couples should relocate to Yellowstone.


The Family

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Illinois Baptist newspaper on the final article in the Baptist Faith & Message on “The Family.”

The Family


Lucas, Law, and Gospel

Recently George Lucas was in Chicago for Ideas Week and was interviewed by Charlie Rose. At one point (starting at 32:14) he shares his thoughts on religion:

If you really look at it and you say, ‘Well, most people say: well what’s the difference between a Shi’a and a Sunni? What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant?’ Well, there isn’t any difference. Or, ‘We all believe in the Jewish god.’ But what about the Jewish god and the gods that came before? And the, you know, Buddha’s a little bit different, but in the end if you think of it as one god you say, ‘Well everybody expresses it differently, but it’s still, you know, basically don’t kill people and be compassionate and love people.’

He’s right that all religions are very similar on the law, but how can we do a better job of getting the message out that only Christianity has genuinely good news for those who can’t keep the law perfectly?

2014 Edison Talks: George Lucas from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.


Military-Entertainment Complex

Before the Super Bowl on the last Lord’s Day, Andrea and I read from James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom.  There is a section of the book that evaluates several ‘secular liturgies’ of our day.

Consider the rituals that constitute the opening of a professional sporting event such as an NFL football game or a NASCAR race, even if only viewed on television.  In a massive space thronging with people, eager for the beginning of the event, a crowd of a hundred thousand people can be brought into remarkable placidity by the exhortation, ‘Please stand for the national anthem.’  Like parishioners who know all the motions of the Mass by heart, these fans instinctively and automatically rise together.  They remove their caps, and many place a hand over their heart as an artist or group sings a rendition of one of the world’s most affecting national anthems, laden with military themes such that those singing it are transposed into battle, the identity of the nation being wrapped up in its revolutionary beginnings and legacy of military power.  Perhaps even more importantly, this rehearses and renews the myth of national identity forged by blood sacrifice.

The sounds of the anthem are usually accompanied by big, dramatic sights of the flag: a star-spangled banner the size of a football field is unfurled across the field by a small army of young people whose movements make it undulate as if blowing in the winds of battle, proudly defiant, but almost dripping with blood in those red lines across it.  And almost always, the concluding crescendo of the anthem – announcing that this is the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave’ – is accompanied by a flyover from military aircraft, whether the searing slice of F-15 fighter jets across the sky or the pulsating presence of Apache helicopters chugging across the air space of the stadium.  The presence of the aircraft has a double effect: it concretizes the militarism of the anthem and the flag while also making the scene something that is felt, as the sounds of the jets or choppers is a kind of noise one picks up in the chest more than the ears.  A crowd larger than many American cities then erupts in cheers and applause as this ritual of national unity has united even fans of opposing teams.

I’m suggesting that this constitutes a liturgy because it is a material ritual of ultimate concern: through a multisensory display, the ritual both powerfully and subtly moves us, and in so doing implants within us a certain reverence and awe, a learned deference to an ideal that might some day call for our ‘sacrifice.’  This is true not only of professional sports; the rituals of national identity – and nationalism – have been almost indelibly inscribed into the rituals of athletics from Little League to high school football.  ‘As is well known,’ Stanley Hauerwas once quipped, ‘Friday night high school football is the most significant liturgical event in Texas.’  The imagination couples these spectacular displays at professional sporting events with the simplicity of the anthem and color guard at a high school football game, and together they build up a story of national unity forged by battle and sacrifice.  Over time, these rituals have a cumulative, albeit covert, effect on our imaginary.  And together, I’m arguing, these constitute liturgies of ultimate concern…

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 105-106.


Smith makes some fascinating observations and helpful arguments in this book.  It’s important to be aware of what’s happening to us in these cultural practices.  What has really captured our imaginations?

I couldn’t find yesterday’s version, but here is the 2011 video production that played before the Super Bowl.  I think Smith is onto something here:


Edith Schaeffer (1914 – 2013)

What a magnificent description of her death from her son-in-law Udo Midleman:

Today she ‘slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus’, her Lord, from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.


The Easiest and Hardest Thing in the World

From Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There:

If it is so that there are good and sufficient reasons to know that Christianity is true, why doesn’t everybody accept the sufficient answers?

We must realize that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world, because it is the only religion in which God the Father and Christ and the Holy Spirit do everything. God is the Creator; we have nothing to do with our existence, or the existence of other things. We can shape other things, but we cannot change the fact of existence. We do nothing for our salvation because Christ did it all. We do not have to do anything. In every other religion we have to do something – everything from burning a joss stick to sacrificing our firstborn child to dropping a coin in the collection plate – the whole spectrum. But with Christianity we do not do anything; God has done it all: He has created us and He has sent His Son; His Son died and because the Son is infinite, therefore He bears our total guilt. We do not need to bear our guilt, nor do we even have to merit the merit of Christ. He does it all. So in one way it is the easiest religion in the world.

But now we can turn that over because it is the hardest religion in the world for the same reason. The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it gives us our worth), but it robs us completely of being autonomous. We did not make ourselves, we are not a product of chance, we are none of these things; we stand there before a Creator plus nothing, we stand before a Savior plus nothing – it is a complete denial of being autonomous. Whether it is conscious or unconscious (and in the most brilliant people it is occasionally conscious), when they see the sufficiency of the answers on their own level, they suddenly are up against their innermost humanness – not humanness as they were created to be human, but human in the bad sense since the Fall. That is the reason that peopel do not accept the sufficient answers and why they are counted by God as disobedient and guilty when they do not bow.

People are living against the revelation of themselves. They are denying the revelation of God they themselves and all reality are. They are denying it and yet they have to live with it. When the person comes to see that there are good and sufficient reasons, then he or she is faced with a problem; either they bow before those good and sufficent reasons, and bow to the Person behind the reasons, or they refuse to bow.

It is not that the answers are not good, adequate and sufficient. Unless one gives up one’s autonomy, one cannot accept the answers.


Truth in Love

I’ve been really enjoying reading Francis Schaeffer’s Trilogy (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990). This stuff is not out-dated! He is firm on truth and demolishes the non-Christian’s presuppositions, but he does it with genuine love. Listen:

These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion. (34)

Should we not grieve and cry before God for such people? (46)



In my preparation for preaching this week on Matthew 25:31-46 I read this helpful paragraph from D.A. Carson, Matthew, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 523:

The final separation of ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ is a recurring theme in the NT, including Matthew (e.g., 7:21-23; 13:40-43). Some have argued that this doctrine has turned many people into infidels; but so have other Christian doctrines. The question is not how men respond to a doctrine but what Jesus and the NT writers actually teach about it. Human response is a secondary consideration and may reveal as much about us as about the doctrine being rejected. Nevertheless two things should be kept in mind: (1) as there are degrees of felicity and responsibility in the consummated kingdom (e.g., 25:14-30; cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15), so also are there degrees of punishment (e.g., Matt 11:22; Luke 12:47-48); and (2) there is no shred of evidence in the NT that hell ever brings about genuine repentance. Sin continues as part of the punishment and the ground for it.


The Need for Education

From C.S. Lewis’ address entitled, “Learning in War-Time” (found in The Weight of Glory):

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated [I think Lewis is just being rhetorical here]. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.