Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ex 'Christians' criticising Christianity

Here is something I've come across a bit in the last year or so. In summary it usually goes something like this:

"I have been there and I know what I am talking about. I know how you think, and I know that it is wrong."

There is another variety that says, "I have been there and I have looked at the arguments objectively and now I realise how blindly I was conned into accepting it all. Yet all in all, I really wish I could believe again."

I find myself torn as I meet these people. On the one hand I feel sadness - because I know that in all likelihood they haven't experienced true Christianity. A friend of mine falls into this category. His experience of Christianity and mine are radically different. If I had had his experience of Christianity I would be tempted to reject it too. But sadly I don't believe that what he experienced was genuine biblical Christianity. It was a blend of Christian truth and psychological manipulation dominated by strong personalities in a charismatic environment. Rightly he saw through it all. Sadly it appears that he thinks that it was Christianity he saw through.

Yet this is an important realisation - for if you haven't experienced real Christianity, it isn't possible to criticise it from the inside. It isn't a case of poacher turned gamekeeper, more a case of poacher turned 'Strictly Come Dancing' critic. The two aren't related.

In dealing with such people we need to help them see the difference between what they experienced and real Christianity.

On the other hand I find myself irked. There is a patronising attitude that looks condescendingly at those poor unenlightened Christians who still believe. Apparently we don't have the intellectual ability to see things as they see them. Perhaps this grows out of an element of truth. Perhaps their faith was built on teaching that wasn't intellectually rigorous, on facts that weren't facts. And if that is so then they are right to insist on intellectual rigour and honesty.

It also comes across that they think that there are no serious intellectuals who believe in Christianity. Perhaps in their background they haven't come across Alvin Plantinga, Cornelius van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Don Carson, Ravi Zacharias, or William Lane Craig, or the host of famous scientists that have believed the truths of the Bible - Lord Kelvin, Michael Faraday, James Simpson to name three.

However, just because what they were taught was wrong, that doesn't make Christianity wrong. Often there is an attitude of "I am cleverer than you are." There is an over-reliance on their own intellectual ability. But there needs to be a humility of heart that accepts the need to go back and look at what the scripture teaches, rather than what they think the scripture teaches. Yet often that is absent. I believe that is because deep down they know the facts are true and they're real problem is that they don't want to accept them, because they know that it will involve making changes in their lives.

How then do we explain all this? Is there a biblical explanation for this scenario?

The Bible teaches that those who are truly saved will never fall away. It teaches that those who are converted are the recipients of a series of completed and irreversible actions carried out by God. That doesn't mean that they wont have doubts, but it does mean that they know where to turn to in their doubts - they will turn to God. So no matter how hurtful it is to those who claim to be "Ex Christians", the Bible tells us that they were never Christians in the first place. Hence the use of the apostrophes around the word Christian in the title.

Well, what then explains their experience? Mark 4 is one of a number of places that explains it. It is the parable of the sower. Jesus clearly teaches that there are more than two responses - acceptance or rejection - of the gospel. There are also those who receive the word with joy but only last a short time. Others spring up and look like Christians, but other things come along and choke the life out of them. Neither is truly converted because they bear no fruit. Not everyone who responds positively to the gospel is converted.

Ex 'Christians' don't then come as a surprise to me because the Bible has already described that category of people.

How should we respond? What lessons are there to learn?

  • We need to accept the truth from these critics when they make valid criticisms. Often Christians are intellectually sloppy. Often they make generalisations that are untrue. Often we pass on stories that aren't factual - e.g. NASA records backing up the missing day in the book of Joshua, or Darwin recanted on his deathbed. Preachers, evangelists especially need to be intellectually rigorous. There is a trite approach to evangelism that says "All you need is John 3:16" - but that ignores the fact that God has given us minds, and that the scriptures say, "Come let us reason together."
  • We also need to make sure that our teaching is biblically based, and not a blend of popular psychology and crowd manipulation.
  • In evangelism we need to aim to break the pride of sinners before applying the grace of the gospel. Law first, then grace. Otherwise we will have intellectual converts who have never humbled themselves before God. And as Christians we need continually to humble ourselves, for pride is the surest route to failure.
  • We need to realise the reality of what theologians call the 'noetic effects of sin'. In other words it affects our thinking. No unbeliever can look at the facts and, of their own intellectual ability, be convinced of the truth of the gospel (Rom 1:21). They will always find a way to explain them away. Evangelism that is based primarily in factual evidence will always fail because it forgets this biblical truth. There are plenty of facts that are intellectually credible, and we are to present them because we don't know whom God is working in. But we are primarily to aim at breaking the heart by a display of its guilt before God.
  • We need also to realise that there are many people who will respond positively and then fall away. That is why Jesus taught the disciples as he did in Mark 4. When this happens we should not then be discouraged.
  • And we need to respond in love, rather than in frustration. They are lost. We can have no pride or superciliousness in the fact that we are Christians. How did we become Christians? God opened our wilfully blind eyes to the truth. All we contributed was our guilt. How can we be proud in that? Where they have real criticisms we need to listen. Where they are mistaken in their perceptions we need to gently correct. Where other Christians have unjustly hurt them we need to help them see that that wasn't biblical Christianity.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pensées on Pride - 13-18

Isaiah 2:11 The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
  • "The Lord alone will be exalted" - how often do I look for me to be exalted, even in terms of the last day. There is a difference between being vindicated and being exalted. Sometimes it is easy to mistake the two. We will be vindicated. God will be exalted.
Isaiah 2:12 The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted … will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
  • There is a day for every proud man - minister or otherwise - when they will be brought low.
Isaiah 25:10 The hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain; but Moab will be trampled under him as straw is trampled down in the manure… God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands.
Isaiah 28:3 That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, will be trampled underfoot.
  • Foe or friend - God will not tolerate pride
Isaiah 29:19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD.
  • Do I find my joy in the Lord gone? It is the humble who rejoice (cf Psalm 138:6)
Isaiah 37:23 Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel!
  • Oh the ludicrous abomination of pride! I am contending with the Holy One of Israel for glory. Woe is me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Book Review - A House of Prayer

A House of Prayer
Andrew Stewart
Welwyn Commentary Series
Evangelical Press

Andrew Stewart, minister of Geelong RPC, has added this companion volume to his one on 1 Chronicles. It picks up where the other one left off and continues in the same easy to read style.

Why should we bother with Chronicles? Andrew Stewart answers that for us in the forward, "Much of this book was written as an encouragement to ordinary Israelites who were struggling to be faithful in daily and mundane matters." Sound familiar? He continues "That is why God has given us the book of Chronicles. It is good for us to learn about their struggles to be faithful to God."

This eminently helpful commentary opens up this often neglected book, and points out the emphases that make this history distinctive from the history recorded in Kings. Most importantly it continually points us to Christ, the fulfilment of the temple with which 2 Chronicles opens; and teaches us how to understand much of the Old Testament's history and how it relates to Christ.

As well as adding to our understanding of the Old Testament and our Saviour, there are many helpful and practical applications to the Christian life so that we can indeed be challenged and encouraged in our struggles to be faithful. Throughout the book key points are clearly illustrated which helps the reader grasp their relevance.

Many have already found the Welwyn series to be a great tool for personal devotions. Since most would find whole chapters too long for personal devotions (unless they have half the morning), Andrew has thoughtfully divided up each chapter into smaller bite sized sections with plenty of explanation and application in each.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pensées on Pride - 10-12

Psalm 94:2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.
  • Lord, I can't sing this because it is me. Lord, thank you for your mercy in not giving me what I deserve.
Psalm 138:6 Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.
  • Why is it I feel God is distant? Why is it that he seems afar off? Here is the answer.
Proverbs 18:12 Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honour.
  • We get it the wrong way round - we are proud because we think we deserve honour. God gives honour to those who are not proud.
  • Lord, help us to keep ourselves in a proper perspective, without keeping an eye to the promise of honour.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Imagination in Preaching

This topic has popped up a bit a few times recently. It's something I feel strongly about and I mentioned it in my post on Books on Preaching a few days ago. Jollyblogger has been reading old Journals of Biblical Counselling and has found David Powlison writing on the same subject. And Sinclair Ferguson ranks it at No. 5 on his Ten Commandments for preachers.

The more the merrier! All for the sake of better preaching.

Pensées on Pride - 6-9

1 Samuel 2:3 "Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed."
  • "By him deeds are weighed" - How do my deeds measure up in his hands? They must seem like the finest particles of dust.
  • How often I compare myself to others - yet it is not the others, but the Other that I must compare myself to. Then I will have nothing to feel proud of.
  • "The Lord is a God who knows" - He knows ALL about me, how then can I boast. Rather I hang my head in shame.
1 Kings 11:39 I will humble David's descendants because of this, but not for ever.'"
  • When the Lord humbles his people there is a time limit. He only brings his people down in order to raise them up again.
2 Chronicles 25:19 You say to yourself that you have defeated Edom, and now you are arrogant and proud. But stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?"

2 Chronicles 26:16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.
  • I say to myself "I have done this or that…". A little God-given success here and there and it starts to go to our heads, and we forget that it is all God-given.
2 Chronicles 34:27 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.
  • A promise - if our hearts are responsive, and we humble ourselves, God will hear. Thank you Lord.