Sunday, February 27, 2011

Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs by Tim Keller

This is one of the best presentations on understanding the issues and presenting the Gospel in our culture. It's not a quick read, but Keller's grasp of how to communicate the Gospel to the Western mind is unparalleled. Of course, that's just my opinion so you'll have to check it out for yourself:


1. Defeater beliefs
Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of 'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call "defeater beliefs." A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can't be true.

Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another. So for example, in the West (as we will explore below) it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief there can't be just one "true" religion. But in the Middle East, people have absolutely no problem with the idea that there is just one true religion. That doesn't seem implausible at all. Rather there it is widely assumed that Christianity can't be true because of the cultural belief that American culture, based on Christianity, is unjust and corrupt. (Skeptics ought to realize, then, that the objections they have to the Christian faith are culturally relative!) So each culture has its own set of culturally-based doubt-generators which people call 'objections' or 'problems' with Christianity.

When a culture develops a combination of many, widely held defeater beliefs it becomes a cultural 'implausibility-structure.' In these societies, most people don't feel they have to give Christianity a good hearing – they don't feel that kind of energy is warranted. They know it just can't be true. That is what makes evangelism in hostile cultures so much more difficult and complex than it was under 'Christendom.' In our Western culture (and in places like Japan, India, and Muslim countries) the reigning implausibility-structure against Christianity is very strong. Christianity simply looks ludicrous. In places like Africa, Latin America, and China, however, the implausibility structures are eroding fast. The widely held assumptions in the culture make Christianity look credible there.
Read More Here.

Keller goes on to talk specifically about the defeater beliefs of Western culture:
What are the dominant defeaters in contemporary Western civilization? These are the dominant defeaters discovered in a recent survey I did of young under 25 year olds in NYC who are not Christian. Below six 'defeaters' are stated and answered in a nutshell. Why Christianity can't be true – because of:

a) The other religions. Christians seem to greatly over-play the differences between their faith and all the other ones. Though millions of people in other religions say they have encountered God, have built marvelous civilizations and cultures, and have had their lives and characters changed by their experience of faith, Christians insist that only they go to heaven — that their religion is the only one that is 'right' and true. The exclusivity of this is breath taking. It also appears to many to be a threat to international peace.

Brief response: Inclusivism is really covert exclusivism. It is common to hear people say: "No one should insist their view of God better than all the rest. Every religion is equally valid." But what you just said could only be true if: First, there is no God at all, or second, God is an impersonal force that doesn't care what your doctrinal beliefs about him are. So as you speak you are assuming (by faith!) a very particular view of God and you are pushing it as better than the rest! That is at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical, since you are doing the very thing you are forbidding. To say "all religions are equally valid" is itself a very white, Western view based in the European enlightenment's idea of knowledge and values. Why should that view be privileged over anyone else's?

b) Evil and suffering. Christianity teaches the existence of an all-powerful, all-good and loving God. But how can that belief be reconciled with the horrors that occur daily? If there is a God, he must be either all-powerful but not good enough to want an end to evil and suffering, or he's all-good but not powerful enough to bring an end to evil and suffering. Either way the God of the Bible couldn't exist. For many people, this is not only an intellectual conundrum but also an intensely personal problem. Their own personal lives are marred by tragedy, abuse, and injustice.

Brief response: If God himself has suffered our suffering isn't senseless. First, if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have to (at the same moment) have a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can't know. (You can't have it both ways.) Second, though we don't know the reasons why he allows it to continue, he can't be indifferent or un-caring, because the Christian God (unlike the gods of all the other religions) takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he is willing to get involved with it himself. On the cross, Jesus suffered with us.

Read the rest of the defeater beliefs here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dancing in the Minefields

Michelle and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage in March. We have three little girls and another child on the way. I hope God gives us many more years together. A couple nights ago we spoke to a group of Miami students about relationships, marriage, and sex. While there is so much to learn, there is one key truth no relationship can do without: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Marriage is such hard work, full of the need to forgive, love, sacrifice, and give. The only way that is possible is by looking to Jesus who first and still loves me.

Michelle and I still have a long way to go, and we don't know what trials await us. But we are trying hard, with his help, to love because he loves us. And after almost ten years of marriage we are happy (much of the time) and grateful (most of the time). God has been good to us.

I listened to this song by Andrew Petersen recently, and it made me thankful for my wife and for God giving us marriage and his love to make it work.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fulfilling the Mission

Message from Sunday, February 20 at Oxford Bible Fellowship.

Fulfilling the Mission from Jared L. Pierson on Vimeo.

The Evolution of Tolerance

This one will make you think, but it's worth the time for a good understanding of how the new definition of tolerance is actually inconsistent, incoherent, and intolerant.

HT: Z via Chris Brauns

Monday, February 21, 2011

Husbands and "Going First"

From John Piper via Justin Taylor:

Leadership means we must take the lead in reconciliation.

I don’t mean that wives should never say they are sorry.

But in the relation between Christ and his church, who took the initiative to make all things new?

Who left the comfort and security of his throne of justice to put mercy to work at Calvary?

Who came back to Peter first after three denials?

Who has returned to you again and again forgiving you and offering his fellowship afresh?

So husbands, your headship means: Go ahead. Take the lead. It does not matter if it is her fault. That didn’t stop Christ.

Who will break the icy silence first?

Who will choke out the words, “I’m sorry, I want it to be better”?

Or: “Can we talk? I’d like things to be better.”

She might beat you to it. That’s okay. But woe to you if you think that, since it’s her fault, she’s obliged to say the first reconciling word.

Headship is not easy. It is the hardest, most humbling work in the world.

Protect your family. Strive, as much as it lies within you, to make peace before the sun goes down.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don Carson Coming to Oxford

It's a bit early, but mark your calendar for this special event. On March 26-27 , Oxford, OH is privileged to have Don Carson visit for a lecture on Saturday night at Miami University and teaching on Sunday morning at Oxford Bible Fellowship. Click the image for more details.

Press Release
Donald A. Carson, distinguished professor of New Testament will speak on the subject of his recent book, Christ and Culture Revisited (Eerdmans, 2008) at 8 p.m. in the Heritage Room of the Shriver Center on Saturday, March 26.

He will revisit H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic study, Christ and Culture (1951), which listed five positions held by Christians through the centuries: 1) Christ against Culture, 2) Christ of Culture, 3) Christ above Culture, 4) Christ and Culture in Paradox, and 5) Christ Transforming Culture.

Carson received his B.S. from McGill University, his M. Div. from Central Baptist Seminary, and his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He is the author or editor of over 50 books, and is a popular lecturer at conferences and universities.

The lecture, which is funded by the Edwin M. Yamauchi Lectureship and administered by the Oxford Community Foundation, is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the History Department, it is cosponsored by a number of campus organizations including the Oxford Bible Fellowship, the Faculty Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Navigators. The lecture will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by a dessert banquet with the speaker. There is no cost, but those who wish to attend will need to preregister by calling the Oxford Bible Fellowship (523-5300) by Wednesday, March 23, as seating is limited.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Watson the Super Computer & Jeopardy

Kevin DeYoung reflects on the recently aired competition between two Jeopardy champions and Watson, the IBM super-computer:

I like Jeopardy! anyways, but this week has been especially intriguing. In two games aired over three days Ken Jennings, the 74-game winner, and Brad Rutter, the all-time money champ, go head to head with Watson.

Actually, that’s not true. Watson has no head. He’s a computer–a supercomputer three years in the making whose total cost to IBM may be as much as $1-$2 billion dollars. It’s one those Gary Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, man vs. machine stories that makes the news every few years.

The first game finished last night. Watson trounced the humans by more than $25,000. It wasn’t even close. Round One goes to the machine.

And yet, I’m still left scratching my head at the genius God gave to mankind. Let me explain.

Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter have roughly 3 pounds of gray matter (pink really), enough to fill the palm of your hand. Watson is too big to fit on stage. What you see on t.v. is a monitor, some sort of avatar. The real Watson is comprised of 90 IBM servers enclosed in ten racks. Score one for the humans for being more compact and mobile. Seriously, how is this a fair fight when Watson gets 90 brains working for him offstage?

And consider this: Watson has 16 terabytes of memory, equal to all the information in print at the Library of Congress. And Jennings and Rutter still knew some questions the computer didn’t. Sure, they got smoked (mostly by not ringing in first I surmise), but they didn’t have a million books within their immediate mental reach. I’m amazed they beat a supercomputer on any question whatsoever.

Read On...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Motivation for Unpacking Forgiveness

Last Sunday Chris Brauns delivered a great message on forgiveness. Unfortunately our video didn't work out, but you can listen here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meet Chris Brauns, Part 2

Yesterday I introduced you to Chris Brauns, and today I want to share with you a little more about him and his work.

Chris has pastored various churches, and has most recently lead the Congregational Christian Church of Stillman Valley since 2005. Before entering the ministry, he started out with a chemistry degree and MBA, working in product development for a research based company. Sensing a call to vocational ministry, Chris entered seminary, obtaining a Master of Divinity degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Later he received a Doctor of Ministry degree with a Preaching Emphasis from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Chris and his wife Jamie have four children that keep them hopping, and Chris enjoys sports, reading, and writing.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Meet Chris Brauns

Next Sunday, our church has the privilege of hearing from Chris Brauns as we continue our teaching series Missional. Chris is a pastor and the author of Unpacking Forgiveness. He's also my wife's uncle, and has been a big help to me in ministry. Tomorrow I'll do a post introducing some of his work.

Chris is going to address the issue of interpersonal conflict and reconciliation by looking at the story of Philemon and Onesimus. Reconciliation is such a strategic missional issue, because until the church of Jesus Christ exists in loving unity, what can it offer to others? It is only when the church exists as a loving, forgiving community that the message of Jesus Christ makes sense. Relationships in our world are a mess. People need love and grace. And we have the opportunity to provide it, through Jesus, as we live reconciled to each other.

In preparation for next Sunday, Chris wrote the church a letter. Here it is:
I am prayerfully looking forward to being with Oxford Bible Fellowship in a couple of weeks. I plan to preach on Philemon, one of the shortest books of the Bible (only 25 verses) and also one of the most neglected. When was the last time you heard a sermon on Philemon?

The lack of attention given to Philemon is ironic, because it is one of the most immediately relevant sections of Scripture. Philemon is a case study in how Paul motivates friends to live out the Gospel in his relationships. In this case, Paul is sending back Onesimus, a slave who escaped from Philemon, and probably stole money in doing so. Obviously, it was a complicated situation. While we can't immediately relate to slavery in the Roman Empire, we certainly understand complex interpersonal wounds. In a fallen world, so many of us have deep wounds from relationships. We know, or at least suspect we know, what we ought to do. But we struggle being motivated and excited to do so.

A wonderful way to prepare for the upcoming sermon would be to read through the book of Philemon several times. Again, it's only 25 verses. See if you can identify the explicit ways Paul encourages Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Also notice the subtle arguments that Paul uses. The more you read Philemon, the more you will see the inspired brilliance of his appeal to Philemon. And the more you will understand the significance for how we live in 2011.

Remember, the book of Philemon is the very Word of God. It will revive our souls and bring joy to our hearts when we feel as though we simply cannot take one more step. Soak in the book of Philemon and you will be blessed.
Even if you are not a part of Oxford Bible Fellowship, I'd encourage to take some time to check out this extraordinary letter. After all, God included it in the Bible for a reason.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Difference Between Evangelicals & Catholics

Ministering among college students, many of whom come from a Catholic background, I often get this question or at least speak with students who are struggling with dating someone of a different faith. The question: What is the difference between Evangelicals & Catholics?

The question doesn't always come out that way. It tends to come out as a tension between one person believing differently about something than their boyfriend or girlfriend. For example: praying to Mary, confession to a priest, contemporary worship, marriage in the Catholic church, salvation in Christ alone for salvation, infant baptism, etc.

These are tensions that must be resolved before marriage - they will not get better! And I want to suggest that apart from both parties joining the same faith, the tension will never be resolved. Evangelicalism and Catholicism agree on many things, but not on the two most important things: the locus of authority and the ultimate means of salvation. When your authority is different, how can you ever agree?

Kevin DeYoung provides a helpful article that highlights the authority issue between Evangelicals and Catholics. He also throws in Liberal Protestants for added discussion. Check it out:

Why can’t all the professing Christians in the world look past their differences and just get along?

Because some of those differences are irreconcilable. Most significantly and most foundationally, the three main branches of Christianity in this country–Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant, and Evangelical Protestant–do not agree on the locus of authority. We don’t answer the question, “What is our final authority?” in the same way.

Every Christian acknowledges that in some sense our theology and ethics must “accord with Scripture.” But whether that means “Scripture along with Church Tradition” or “Scripture as redefined through personal experience” or “Scripture alone” is what separates us. And as long as we disagree on this matter of authority, we should not expect genuine spiritual unity among the three groups. There can be no unity where there is no agreed upon authority.

Let me show you what I mean.

Peter Kreeft (Roman Catholic):

Most Protestants reject all Catholic doctrines they cannot find explicitly in Scripture–for example, Mary’s Assumption into heaven–because they believe sola scriptura: that Scripture alone is the infallible authority. This is the fundamental reason behind all the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology. (Catholic Christianity, 20).

Gary Dorrien (Liberal Protestant):

The essential idea of liberal theology is that all claims to truth, in theology as in other disciplines, must be made on the basis of reason and experience, not by appeal to external authority. Christian scripture may be recognized as spiritually authoritative within Christian experience, but its word does not settle or establish truth claims about matters of fact. (The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950, 1)

Michael Horton (Evangelical Protestant):

Ultimate authority always resides outside the self and even outside the church, as both are always hearers of the Word and receivers of its judgment and justification. The church is commissioned to deliver this Word (a ministerial office), not to possess or rule it (a magisterial office). Thus, the authority is always transcendent. Even when it comes near us, it is never our own word that we hear (Ro. 10:6-13, 17). (The Christian Faith, 194)

So it seems that whatever else we may disagree on as Catholics, Liberals, and Evangelicals, we should at least agree that it is our view of Scripture and authority that divides us.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Missional Church by Tim Keller

Here's a great, short, free article by Tim Keller titled "The Missional Church." D.A. Carson says that it was Tim Keller who coined the phrase "missional" toward the beginning of the 1990's. Keller wrote this article in 2001, and ten years later it is just as relevant as it was when he wrote it. You can download it here. And here are the main points:

The Elements of a Missional Church
  • Discourse in the vernacular
  • Enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel
  • Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation
  • Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive
  • Practice Christian unity as much as possible on a local level