NEW ORLEANS—Two Texas Baptist Universities were among a host of faith-based institutions losing an appeal in their legal challenge to divest themselves of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates requiring they provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortifacients. The U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit ruled June 22 the mandate did not and, likely, would not “substantially burden their religious exercise.”
Claiming they should receive the same consideration as churches under the ACA and the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, Westminster Theological Seminary, University of Dallas, Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, and Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas and Fort Worth filed a lawsuit (ETBU et al vs. Burwell) demanding an exemption from the contraceptive mandate and the policies requiring they defer insurance coverage to a third party. A federal judge in 2013 sided with the plaintiffs. The government appealed and the Fifth Circuit Court reversed the lower court ruling last week.
Robert Sloan, HBU president, said faith-based schools and organizations have historically been recognized by the government as parachurch institutions and afforded the same consideration as churches in matters of conscience and law. But only houses of worship can opt out of compliance with the ACA mandate requiring all employer insurance policies provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage—an untenable proposition, the plaintiffs argued.
“This is the Obama administration taking a very aggressive and oppressive approach,” Sloan said.
But the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the lower court’s ruling. In its decision, the three-judge panel wrote, “The district courts held that the requirement [to provide birth control and abortifacient coverage] violates RFRA. … Because the plaintiffs have not shown and are not likely to show that the requirement substantially burdens their religious exercise under established law, we reverse.”
Plaintiffs argued that though their institutions serve a different purpose than churches, their underlying convictions and subordination to scriptural authority—as is often declared in their governing documents—is no less binding on how they conduct business. Therefore, the government’s distinction between entities is arbitrary and an affront to people of conscience.
“We think the panel got the law and the facts wrong today,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel to East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University. “We are examining the decision with a view to next steps, which may include an appeal to the full Fifth Circuit or to the Supreme Court.”
By Friday, June 26, Sloan said HBU’s case would go forward, but precedent is not in their favor as the Fifth Circuit decision concurs with rulings in similar cases from appellate courts across the nation.
Sloan said he is optimistic because of the Hobby Lobby case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the family-owned arts and craft store could opt out of the contraceptive mandate because of the owners’ religiously held convictions.
Failure to win their case would force HBU, ETBU, and the other religious institutions to either violate their conscience and provide the offending coverage; defy the mandate and pay “onerous” penalties; or partner with a third party insurance provider to offer the contraceptive coverage. All three, Sloan said, are unacceptable.
Disregarding their Christian convictions is not an option.
Paying the fine is also out of the question as the non-compliance penalty of $100 per employee per day totals $12 million and $8 million a year, respectively, for HBU and ETBU.
“If we exercise our religious freedom, the penalties could put us out of business,” Sloan said.
And asking a third party to provide the coverage still makes the school culpable for the objectionable coverage. Besides, Sloan said, the university’s insurance provider is Guidestone Financial Resources, the faith-based insurance provider for the Southern Baptist Convention also fighting the legal battle with the Obama administration over the mandate.
While the cases are pending appeal the mandate is not in force.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26 that states cannot ban same-sex marriage and must recognize such marriages licensed in other states. As Southern Baptist pastors and ministry leaders across Texas and the nation processed the ruling’s implications, they reaffirmed the role of the church in America that is increasingly antagonistic to biblical Christianity.
Calling the decision disheartening but unsurprising, Southern Baptist leaders said the ruling could bring to the fore additional attempts to redefine marriage, legal challenges to churches and religious ministries that do not comply with the new standard, and opportunities for the church to be a witness in the face of opposition. Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of FBC Forney and SBTC president, said the decision magnifies the need for a “fresh movement of God’s Spirit” to address the challenges ahead.
Criswell College President Barry Creamer told the TEXAN, “Because we have understood sexuality and marriage as personal fulfillment rather than a social identity and responsibility, these decisions (along with myriad others, including no-fault divorce) were practically inevitable.”
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed. In responding to the Supreme Court ruling, he said, “The logic of the decision grounds the definition and significance of marriage in the preferences of the individuals who want to enter into marriage. Although the decision acknowledges the longstanding history of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, the majority brushed aside that history in favor of the social whims of individuals.”
In a first-person piece titled “Chutzpah and the Supreme Court,” Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson was more succinct.
“Today’s anticipated decision is a decision of five people in a country of millions to call something right that God has already called wrong,” Patterson said.
Opposition to the ruling also came from the Texas capital. Moments after the ruling was announced, Gov. Greg Abbott Tweeted a statement, “Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it. We will defend our religious liberties.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked county clerks Thursday to hold off issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Uncertainty over whether the ruling immediately impacts all states or just those involved in the lawsuit prompted the statement.
In a press release issued the day before the ruling, Paxton said, “But whatever the ruling, I would recommend that all County Clerks and Justices of the Peace wait for direction and clarity from this office about the meaning of the Court’s opinion and the rights of Texans under the law.
But despite the call for caution, clerks in some Texas counties began issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately.
Social media exploded as soon as the ruling was read by Justice Kennedy. Cries of victory from homosexuals and LGBT advocates were matched by calls for prayer and faith in God’s sovereignty by those opposed to the ruling.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, Tweeted, “Marriage remains what God designed as his gift to humanity, the union of a man and a woman. Our society will now call something else marriage.”
Also on Twitter, author Eric Metaxas asked the slippery-slope question, “I also want to know precisely how the SCOTUS can define marriage as between 2 people? Does that arbitrary number come from the Constitution?”
In his dissent of the ruling Roberts wrote, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.”
He said those who gained a desired status by the courts ruling should celebrate that fact but “do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
In his majority opinion, Kennedy wrote of the evolving nature of marriage, such as women no longer given in arranged marriages or receiving social status only after marrying, and that “these new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution.”
Creamer begged to differ.
“The idea that marriage is stronger now than in the previous century or centuries can only make sense to someone with a worldview so skewed by individualism against social and community obligation that marriage itself has changed in meaning to him,” Creamer said.
But as the culture luxuriates in the new paradigm, Creamer said faithful Christians will only become more identifiable as social outliers making “moral education in biblical ministry environments both more challenging and more significant.”
As fidelity to biblical sexuality and marriage will make Christians more recognizable in the community and thereby open opportunities for sharing the gospel, it can also make them targets for social ridicule or legal action.
In his dissent, Roberts stated, “It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s ‘better informed understanding’ as bigoted.”
“[Roberts] warns that future conflicts regarding the free exercise of religion will arise,” Lenow said. “This is echoed in a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post in which the ACLU declares that it can no longer support the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Arguing that the 1993 federal RFRA was intended to assist religious expression that “does no harm to anyone else,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a twisted view of religious liberty, wrote, “It’s time for Congress to amend the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination. Religious freedom will be undermined only if we continue to tolerate and enable abuses in its name.”
Melling said RFRA has been used as “a sword to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people and others.”
Paxton said it is the advocates for marriage equality who have sought to discriminate against those who hold to the traditional view of marriage.
“This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion,” Paxton said in a press release following the ruling.
For Patterson, religious liberty could be the next domino to fall.
“The critical issue that many recognize is the future of religious liberty,” Patterson said. “In fact, without religious liberty, people are not really free at all.”
Although he painted a similarly bleak picture of cultural repercussions stemming from the ruling, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote now is not the time for Christians to panic or express outrage.
“Despite this ruling, the church of Jesus Christ will stand fast,” Moore said in a statement released by the ERLC. “We will not capitulate on this issue because we cannot. To minimize or ignore a Christian sexual ethic is to abandon the message Jesus handed down to us, and we have no authority to do this.”
The commission issued an Evangelical Declaration of Marriage signed by mor than 100 evangelical leaders. It is an en masse dissention of the Supreme Court ruling and reiterates the biblical doctrine of marriage and human sexuality. Others are invited to sign it at erlc.com/erlc/herewestand.
Although Southern Baptist leaders admit the SCOTUS decision has disconcerting implications for the church and individual Christians they said “good riddance” to a cultural Christianity that brought people into the church and in line with a Judeo-Christian ethic but not into the kingdom of Christ. Many have emphasized the fact that the church has often flourished when it is in opposition to the culture.
“I see this as an opportunity for the church to be a city set on a hill,” Lenow said. “Therefore, the church will have to stand with conviction on the truth of God’s Word against the changing tide of culture. No longer will people want to identify with our churches for social reasons—they will join us because of what we believe.”
Creamer said, “Churches must begin to demonstrate extraordinary religion, one out of step with the broader culture, both in the level of kindness and grace with which every person is received and served by the community of the gospel, and in the conviction and purity with which the actual members of the body of Christ are identified.”
Pritchard said the most important thing Christians can do now is pray.
“It is time to extend the gospel to all. It is time to stand on Truth,” Pritchard said. “This can be our opportunity to let our light shine brightly into the deepening darkness.”
Voting for the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges were Supreme Court Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts.
Read the majority opinion and dissenting arguments here.
Grapevine, TEXAS—The past presidents and current president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) signed a joint statement, Thursday, June 25, stating their allegiance to the biblical definition of marriage as that between one man and one woman, for life. The joint statement follows similar statements signed by former and current presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Florida Baptist State Convention, both signed and released in the last two weeks.
In the statement, the presidents say they remain committed to the Bible’s “clear, definitive and unchanging” definition of marriage.
“The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable,” the statement reads. “We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex “marriages,” our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.”
Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney and current SBTC president, said the statement reflects a desire to clearly delineate the convention’s commitment and intent to follow God’s law and instruction regardless of the cultural or legal landscape.
“I think that it’s important for us to express our convictions regarding marriage and to further state that we are not going to move from the biblical definition of marriage and the family no matter what happens,” Pritchard said. “We will take our stand upon Scriptural truth. And it’s not just about marriage, but on every issue. It’s my hope and desire that by our taking this stand, others will be encouraged to take similar stands and that we will honor the Lord and honor the gospel. The gospel itself tells us that marriage is a reflection of Christ and his church.”
Pritchard says the commitment to biblical truth may prove costly but that he and the six past convention presidents stand by it wholeheartedly.
“I think in the culture it has been an advantage to be a part of biblical churches such as Baptist churches,” Pritchard said. “The time is coming when it’s going to cost us something to be a member of a Baptist church, and we’re going to have to be willing to take our stand and be willing to be thrown into the furnace, as it is necessary. I just pray that there will be men and women of God willing to stand up for the truth.”
Past SBTC presidents who signed their names to the document alongside Pritchard’s include George Harris (2001-2003); Chris Osborne (2003-2005); Steve Swofford (2005-5007); Bob Pearle (2007-2009); Byron McWilliams (2009-2011); and Terry Turner (2011-2013).
As Southern Baptist Christians, we are committed to biblical faith and ethics. As a result, this body of believers stands on the authority of Scripture and God’s truth as central to our lives.
What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex “marriages,” our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.
While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction, we cannot and will not affirm the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior or any behavior that deviates from God’s design for marriage. We also believe religious freedom is at stake within this critical issue – that our first duty is to love and obey God, not man.
Therefore, we strongly encourage all Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastors, leaders, educators, and churches to openly reject any mandated legal definition of marriage and to use their influence to affirm God’s design for life and relationships. We, a confessional fellowship of 2,500 churches with more than 1 million members, stake our very lives and future on the truth of God’s Word.
We also join together to support those who stand for natural marriage in the corporate world, the marketplace, education, entertainment, media and elsewhere with our prayers, influence, and resources.
June 25, 2015
Signed By: Past Presidents of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
GLOUCESTER, Mass.—Elisabeth Elliot Gren, missionary, missionary widow and widely influential author and speaker, died June 15. She was 88.
Elliot died in her sleep in her home in Gloucester, Mass. In addition to suffering from dementia for a decade, she recently experienced multiple mini-strokes, her daughter Valerie Elliot Shepard said.
Her death has inspired many reflections on her life and ministry, some by personal acquaintances and some by those whose own ministries were influenced by her writings. Her Facebook page is flooded with tributes to her influence.
Various women at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 16 in Columbus, Ohio, conveyed their appreciation for Elliot and her impact on believers.
Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Elliot “has been my mentor, friend, co-laborer in the Kingdom and kindred spirit for half a century. She challenged me and modeled for me the honoring and helping of my husband, the nurturing of my children and grandchildren, and the doing of woman-to-woman teaching.”
Through her books, Patterson said, Elliot’s influence “continues in the ministries of women like me who have sat at her feet and been covered with her influence. No one delivers to women a more heartfelt, God-anointed, timely and yet timeless message. She loved God’s Word and she was bound to it in every area of life and ministry.”
Susie Hawkins, wife of Dallas-based GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins, described Elliot as “an extraordinary woman whose courage and unshakeable commitment to the Gospel of Christ has influenced generations of believers.”
“She was a student of the Word, a tireless missionary, a skilled linguist, prolific writer and a grieving widow who freely shared her path of widowhood and suffering,” said Hawkins, who is active in various facets of Southern Baptist life. “She stands tall in the legacy of Christian women who have persevered through great difficulties in order to do the work of the Great Commission. It is true that no one is indispensable in the Kingdom of God, but some are irreplaceable, such as Elisabeth Elliott. Well done, good and faithful servant, we are forever indebted to you.”
Patricia Ennis, distinguished professor of homemaking and director of homemaking programs at Southwestern Seminary, said Elliot’s example and writings made a significant impact on her life and “calling to ‘train the younger women’ (Titus 2:3-5) in a higher education setting.”
“I had the privilege of introducing her when she spoke at The Master’s College and was blessed to experience personally that she was as kind, compassionate and knowledgeable as her writings suggested,” Ennis said. “Her statement for addressing challenging times, ‘Just do the next thing,’ continues to keep me moving forward when circumstances appear insurmountable.”
Tammi Ledbetter, special assignments editor for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s newspaper, The TEXAN, spoke of Elliot’s impact on her as well.
“Beyond my commitment as a wife, and my calling as a vocational journalist, Mrs. Elliot’s words shaped my journey to one day enjoy motherhood, hopefully extending godly influence to generations to follow,” Ledbetter said. “Others tried, but Elliot succeeded in pricking my heart to seek to gladly surrender to discipline. I need to reread those challenges and can only pray to finish the race with the feisty grace she modeled.”
Rhonda Kelley, adjunct professor of women’s studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press, “As a young woman and wife, my faith and convictions were greatly influenced by the writings of Elisabeth Elliot. I have had the privilege of hearing her speak and re-reading her books through the years. Dorothy Patterson and I are so grateful to include several of her excerpts in our upcoming ‘Devotional for Women.’ I am forever grateful for her influence of femininity and purity in my life and the lives of thousands of other women.”
Kathy Litton, national consultant for ministry to pastors’ wives with the North American Mission Board, said Elliot “mentored me in my widowhood most powerfully through her book ‘Pathway Of Loneliness.’ Her words and example gave me hope to walk a life that seemed bitterly impossible” after the death of her first husband in an automobile accident.
“Yet more than that, Elisabeth trailblazed a path for women and men alike in missions, biblical truth, sexual purity and suffering,” Litton said. “I wept when I heard news of her death. I felt I had lost a dear, dear friend. Yet I celebrate her glorious reunion.”
Elisabeth Elliot’s public ministry ended soon after she was diagnosed with dementia. She responded to her diagnosis the same way she reacted to the other tragedies in her life—with peace, her husband Lars Gren said.
The daughter of missionaries who had served in Belgium, Elliot was raised in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and attended Wheaton College in Illinois, graduating with a degree in Greek in 1948. It was at Wheaton where she met her first husband, Jim Elliot.
After a lengthy courtship documented in her book “Passion and Purity,” she and Jim married in 1953. In 1956, Jim was killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Elliot and her then-10-month-old daughter Valerie continued mission work in Ecuador for 10 years, eventually living among Auca tribesmen who had slain her husband.
“I have one desire now—to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it,” Elliot wrote in “Through Gates of Splendor.” The book along with “My Savage Kinsmen” told the story of her and Jim’s ministry in the jungles of Ecuador, his death and her continued ministry in South America.
In a later work “These Strange Ashes,” Elliot reflected, “To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.”
Her other works include “Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot,” “Quest for Love,” “Let Me Be a Woman” and “Be Still My Soul.”
Upon returning to America, she became a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and hosted a radio program, “Gateway to Joy,” which aired from 1988-2001 and was rebroadcast by the Bible Broadcasting Network in 2014, which can be accessed at bbnradio.org.
In 1969, Elliot remarried Addison H. Leitch, a college professor of philosophy and religion. After his death from cancer in 1973, she married Lars Gren in 1977. Gren was her agent during the end of her public ministry and updated her website and blog during her later years.
By the time you read this the United States Supreme Court will have made a decision on the issue of same-sex marriage. I am writing this article a couple of weeks in advance of their announcement. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage. I’m not a prophet. I do not have the gift of foreseeing the future. However, God has given us a clear statement about his plan for creation. Psalm 8 is a tremendous testimony to his purpose for humankind.
It all starts with creation itself. God is eternal. Matter is not. The eternality of God is the basis for belief that he is the initiator of existence. Stephen Hawking, an astrophysicist (to say genius would be redundant), postulates that something, our universe, was “created” by no one. Atheism is counterintuitive. If a person can believe Genesis 1:1, then everything else that follows in Scripture is possible.
The evidence of God’s existence is found in the created order of the universe. People must be miseducated out of a belief in God. Within every person is a yearning to connect with something or Someone who is beyond himself. Creation cries out that there is a Creator. How nonsensical is the belief that nothing caused something to come into existence?
Humankind is the apex of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-27). God put a man and woman as the first humans in a perfect environment. Well-meaning people wish to improve the lives of others by giving them housing, education and other benefits. The first couple was in the best environment possible. Yet, they still chose to disobey their Creator.
Our purpose is to bring glory to God. The imprint of Imago Dei is on every person. Although marred by Adam’s fall, God’s image continues in every human. This sets us apart from the animals. Animals and plants do not bear the image of God. Mankind’s duty is to be stewards of the environment, not worship it. God’s complementarian plan for man and woman is to live out specific roles.
Romans 1:20-32, tells the story of what happens when the Creator is replaced with the creation. When we fail to fit into God’s plan, tragedy is the result.
How did we get to this point? Why is there tragedy in this world? Why are babies born with cancer? Why do floods and tornadoes take the lives of sleeping families? Why do senseless murders take place? If God is all powerful and all loving, these things shouldn’t happen. God created everything perfect, yet he allowed his created beings to have a choice.
Before time began, Satan was an angelic being who rebelled against God (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Luke 10:18). After God created earth and man, Satan appears as one who desires revenge. He is the tempter, accuser, murderer and liar. These are the descriptions given to Satan in the Bible. He seeks to keep people from giving glory to God.
Every person born with a human father has Adam’s nature. We want to go away from God, not toward him. Because of Adam we live in a sin-cursed environment. Everything is touched by the Fall.
Genetic deformities, environmental factors and spiritual proclivity toward some kind of sin contribute to our march away from our Creator. Lust is the passionate cry for something that never comes. We are all broken.
JESUS is the perfect man. Hebrews 2:6-9 says Jesus fulfills Psalm 8. Jesus is son of man to be crowned with glory and honor. Jesus is the one who has dominion over creation. He stilled the winds, walked on water and cursed the fig tree. He healed the sick, delivered the oppressed and raised the dead. The second person of the godhead became a man. He lived a perfect life. He died a vicarious death. He had a victorious resurrection. He promises eternal life to all who repent and believe. One day all things will be placed under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).
Gender confusion, same-sex attraction and legalized same-sex marriage are nothing more than the culmination of people rejecting the plan God has for a person’s true fulfillment. Questions of all sorts arise in churches, families and individuals. The Bible addresses every aspect of life. While many questions are perplexing, God gives us what we need to live for his glory. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we can have victory in this life over our greatest challenges.
Believers will be mocked. Longstanding social norms are ridiculed. Simply voicing an opposing view based on Scripture characterizes a person as a hatemonger. Followers of Jesus are to speak the truth in love. Only the gospel can change lives. Let us be faithful to share it.
Apologetics begins in the hearts of maturing Christians who are even unfamiliar with the term. I think it gets a bum rap from those who see it as merely argumentative—and it can be just that if misused. It is not a defense of the gospel so much as it is an explanation for “the hope that is in you,” to continue the quote of 1 Peter 3:15. If we live as citizens of heaven, fearing God rather than men, we’ll be asked why. What a pity to be caught flat-footed when that question arises.
Apologetics is not merely a matter for professionals or academics but for all believers who “know that [they] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). If we are going to follow the biblical imperative to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, we will progressively have a better understanding of the “what” and the “why” of our beliefs. That knowledge comes first from the Scriptures, opened to us and applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit. But being ever more ready to “give a defense” will require some things from us.
Curiosity—We will naturally want to know more about the God we love. As we read his written Word, we’ll come across questions—the same questions asked by some who want to know about our faith. I like to write those down as I study a verse or passage. Often a question is answered or expanded in another verse of the Bible. Other questions or unfamiliar words can be addressed by books or online helps, but we won’t even seek the answer if we’re not in God’s Word and if we are not hungry to know more about him. Perhaps the best and most natural kind of apologetics is when someone asks us a question and we can say, “I had that same question, and this is what I came to understand.” It becomes a testimony at that point rather than a debating point.
Diligence—Read through 1 Timothy this week. It won’t take long, and you’ll notice something that struck me the last time I read it. Paul tells Timothy to work hard in his ministry of the Word. He uses metaphors of struggle (“warfare” in 1:19, “fight” in 6:12, “guard” in 6:20), frequent imperative language (“I charge you” in 1:18, “I exhort” in 2:1, “instruct” in 4:6, “reject” in 4:7, and many others), and in one challenging passage tells Timothy to “give attention” to the Word, “do not neglect” his ministry gift, “give yourself entirely,” and “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.” He later refers to pastors as “laborers.” The point is that following Christ should be something that requires commitment and energy. Although the Bible does set a high standard for pastors, there is no indication that the rest of us are off the hook as far as intense interest and labor for the things of God. Are we as eager to know more of God as we are to learn more about a hobby or favorite recreational activity? Are we seeking God as passionately as we expect our pastors to do? A casually educated person who applies himself to Bible reading, prayer and obedience will surpass in his understanding of God a formally trained person for whom the whole thing is academic.
Intention—I do think 1 Peter 3:15 is referring to curiosity and diligence in our Christian walk for more reasons than just personal edification—edifying though they are. “Ready to give a defense,” indicates that we expect we’ll be asked or challenged. That requires an understanding of God that goes beyond a simple witnessing scheme such as the Romans Road (3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:13), though that is a useful scheme. Our best brief explanation of our faith is better as we understand more of what God has told us about himself, man, sin, redemption and eternity. But we learn these things partly with a missionary intent.
Intention also indicates an awareness of context. When Aquila and Priscilla explained the gospel to Apollos, they were telling him the rest of a story he already knew. Peter’s message on Pentecost was likewise to a crowd that knew redemption’s context but needed to know its fulfillment. But Paul had a very different challenge when he spoke to the Greeks on Mars Hill. He started with Romans 1 rather than John 3:16, so to speak. He knew his audience and could explain the gospel appropriately because he was curious himself about these things, diligent in study and intentional in his presentation.
Love—Perhaps this isn’t a motive often enough ascribed to theologians or even evangelists, but all believers are recipients of God’s love and should desire to reflect it toward others. If we see our neighbors as people in chains and bound for a godless eternity, we should care about that as much as someone cared to tell us. And yes, that requires that we learn more about our God and our faith in him so that we can explain it better every time.
Think of apologists as “explainers.” The explanation of the hope within us will be a bit different from person to person, in the same way our testimonies differ. Our story will, or should, gain depth and nuance as we follow Christ and grow in him. We don’t all have to become academics (though thank God some do), but we can all know God better than we did. I believe God will bring people into our lives appropriate to our maturity and preparedness to give an answer/defense/explanation of the hope within us. Our challenge from 1 Peter seems to be to care first about the things of God and then about the people around us who need to hear good news far more than they desire to hear it.
Christianity may have fueled the rise of Western civilization, but it has largely lost legitimacy in American culture. In a crowded and hostile marketplace of ideas, the gospel struggles to get a fair hearing.
That’s the bad news, says Paul Gould, assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Take the front-burner issue of sexuality and gender, for example. Same-sex marriage is something 60 percent of Americans now favor, a recent Gallup poll suggests. Meanwhile, Bruce Jenner, America’s Wheaties-box hero of the 1970s, adorns news magazines as he flaunts his feminine alter ego. Jenner is cheered along the way, while those who dare suggest he needs help are scorned as bigots.
To add to the angst, a Pew Research study in May showed that Americans are growing less Christian and more boldly irreligious, especially the younger generations. Being atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular has lost its social stigma.
One might conclude the Bible has lost its gravitas. We are post-biblical.
All is not lost, however, several Christian apologists told the TEXAN. In fact, the opportunity to reclaim the beauty of a full-orbed, first-century faith that attracted idolatrous pagans to the early church may be in reach, Gould contends.
It won’t be quick or easy. Heavy lifting is needed to lay planks along the bridge stretching from a disbelieving, postmodern culture to the cross of Christ. If we have hope, we must be able to articulate why.
Instead of going straight to the Romans Road in our witnessing, we may find ourselves beginning in Romans 1 and 2, appealing like Paul to natural revelation and “the law written on their hearts.”
THE ‘FACT/VALUE SPLIT’
A significant obstacle to Christian engagement with the culture lies in something writer and apologist Nancy Pearcey calls the fact/value split, says professor and author Steven B. Cowan, general editor of the book Five Views on Apologetics and co-editor (with Terry Wilder of Southwestern Seminary) of In Defense of the Bible.
Today, questions of religion, morals and ethics are restricted to the realm of “values”—a kind of second-tier mode of reality that takes a back seat to what modernist philosophers consider “facts”—those things that are known by empirical, testable data. The late Francis Schaeffer eschewed this false division, which he described as a two-story house: Downstairs held the “real knowledge” derived from empirical testing; all else—religious faith especially—was consigned to the upper story.
These “upper story” values, thusly defined, may be sincerely held and useful, but they are not considered knowledge.
“Religion and morality are relegated to the realm of values instead of facts,” Cowan told the TEXAN, “so the authority of God’s Word, religious beliefs such as ‘God exists’ or ‘the Bible is God’s Word’ and moral beliefs such as ‘stealing is wrong’—some people might cherish or find value in them, but they are not facts—these are things we can’t legitimately know, from their viewpoint.
“I believe that not only does the advance of the gospel depend on demolishing the fact/value split, but almost all of the public discourse over the moral and ethical issues we are facing that concern the Christian community are all influenced by the fact/value split.”
Because of this, Cowan said the strategy of quoting Scripture to people who “don’t believe the Bible is a real source of knowledge” is typically futile, unless you can first demonstrate that it has authority.
So in the same-sex marriage debate, for example, claims to biblical authority carry little significance because such claims reside in the so-called upper story.
In order to lay claim to truth, Cowan says an apologetic is needed that first convinces people, or reminds them, that religious truth is knowable.
Cowan prefers what is termed “classical apologetics,” in which the apologist begins with natural revelation—what can be innately discerned—and builds out from there a case for Christ. Well-known apologists such as Norman Geisler have championed this method.
Gould, meanwhile, said his approach can best be described as “eclectic,” but he carries the classical approach in his toolbox.
“The starting point we have in our culture, I think, are the universal longings for truth, goodness and beauty, so I want to play off of those with reason, conscience and imagination,” Gould said.
Like Cowan, Gould said he begins with meeting people where they are.
And where they are might be all over the place, says Joe Wooddell, professor of philosophy and vice president for academic affairs at Criswell College. Wooddell, whose book The Beauty of The Faith addresses apologetics in a postmodern context, said most people live “with feet planted firmly in both worlds”—modern and postmodern.
For example, students at a typical secular university might attend biology class and use 19th- and 20th-century modern methods in their work, then go to history or English class, where postmodern philosophy will teach that no “big story” or metanarrative about the world around them is true. In the secular mind, Christianity belongs to the list of discredited big stories.
“We live in an cafeteria-style, postmodern culture,” Wooddell said. “A little bit of Buddha, a little bit of Jesus, a little bit of Muhammad. Throw in some witchcraft and some Darwin, and you’ve got a nice little worldview. They all contradict each other But the postmodern will say, ‘That’s OK. I like it. I don’t mind my food touching.’
“So we need to be able to answer that.”
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Gould said a major part of his focus right now is developing what he calls the Christian voice, the Christian conscience and the Christian imagination. His target is what he views as masses of disenchanted people.
The Christian voice refers to the ability to gain a hearing in the culture. Alongside it, the Christian conscience points humankind toward God’s plan for human flourishing. And the Christian imagination, Gould said, is the ability to see reality as it really is—“a deeply enchanted world where everything is a gift that is supposed to point to the Giver of these gifts.”
Wooddell makes a similar appeal to beauty in his book on postmodernism.
Gould argues that voice, conscience and imagination—all victims of the modernism and rationalism of the last few centuries—must be reclaimed and recast by Christians in order to build an apologetical bridge to the emerging culture. He looks to C.S. Lewis as an exemplar on this.
The challenge, Gould said, is that the Christian voice no longer fits within what sociologist Peter Berger calls the “plausibility structure” of culture, comprised of those things that society deems reasonable.
“We don’t see reality in its proper light,” Gould said. “Everything is mundane and familiar, and so we’ve lost a sense of meaning and mystery and deep beauty and holiness—those things Lewis talked about.”
Void of meaning or satisfaction, idolatry emerges, Gould said.
“The opposite of theism isn’t really atheism or the death of God; it’s idolatry. … As Calvin said, ‘Our hearts are idol factories.’”
The encouraging thing for Christians is that “reality is fundamentally religious and spiritual, even the fact that God exists,” Gould added. “You can’t rub spirituality out like grease on a pair of pants.”
Wooddell noted that traditional approaches to apologetics are still relevant to many people. Everyone brings his own bag of objections.
“But a postmodern doesn’t care a whole lot about arguments or evidence but rather what is attractive,” he added. “So if we can put the truth of Christianity on display and make it attractive while not compromising the truth, that might be a better method.”
Two things largely achieve that, Wooddell said: Christian service and Christian love. “Putting on display the gritty, authentic excellence of just living a virtuous life that lays down its life for other people—that’s attractive.”
Such a life often removes barriers leading to deeper discussions about the resurrection of Jesus, origins, the authority of Scripture, or evil and suffering.
As Cowan noted, being ready to give reasoned, biblical answers requires equipped saints.
“We need to teach people to value the life of the mind and to take seriously the questions that unbelievers have and [the questions] that believers have,” Cowan said. “Then we need to teach theology and doctrine in our churches and articulate a Christian worldview, showing how Christian truth impacts every area of life—family, politics, education, science, whatever. That’s what we need to be spending our time on in the churches.
“Studying the Bible, yes, but studying it with a view toward articulating an entire Christian worldview and giving church members the skills to answer tough questions.”
“The cause of justice and peace in society is a noble one, and evangelicals should be in forefront of it.” —Carl F. H. Henry
We can take a lesson from the conversation between Dr. E.V. Hill and a White House staff member regarding the inauguration of former President Nixon. As if eavesdropping in on the conversation, listen to the truth found in these words:
White House: Dr. Hill, we have not yet received a copy of your prayer.
Hill: Well I haven’t prayed it yet.
White House: Dr. Hill, we need a copy prior to the event. And you know you can’t mention any names of deity (meaning Jesus) in your prayer.
Hill: I always pray in Jesus’ name because I plan on my prayers being answered. If you need to, tell the president to get somebody else.
Dr. Hill prayed in the powerful name of Jesus, and they left him alone. We can learn a lot from Dr. Hill’s conversation, for it is only at the name of Jesus that the moral decline of our nation can change. No other name has the power to change the climate of our nation, but Jesus.
For it’s Jesus that has power to cast out Legion from the man in the tombs; it’s Jesus that has the power to cause Jairus’ daughter to live again; it’s Jesus that has the power to calm the raging sea by saying, “Peace be still.” Surely, since he has done all of these things, he truly can bring peace to our nation.
It is tragic that the landscape of our country is strewn with the debris of social unrest. Various communities have experienced moments of hostility and division. These include cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, Baltimore, Md., and most recently McKinney, Texas. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of agreement or disagreement concerning the actions and subsequent reactions in each city, the common denominator is the moral decay of the “greatest country” in the world. It has become more and more apparent that our country is in need of a great awakening.
The family is in disrepair due to high divorce rates, single parent families and continuing economic decline. The redefinition of the family is not the only issue, but the laxity of our commitment to family stands as a glaring reminder of the plank that is stuck in the evangelical eye. The Pew Research Center reveals that evangelicals account for 28 percent of divorced and separated adults among Christian denominations. Within the evangelical tradition, Baptists make up 10 percent of the divorced and separated, the highest percentage in the evangelical tradition. Not to mention, evangelicals have a higher divorce and separation percentage than all non-Christians combined. This divorce rate includes Muslims, atheists and humanists, to name a few. We see a continual moral decay of the “greatest country” in the world, and it has become more and more apparent that our country is in need of a great awakening.
We have a unique opportunity to reignite the Christian fervor of our nation. Carl F.H. Henry tells us that evangelicals should be leading the nation in spiritual renewal and establishing justice and peace in our society for all people. Renewal is a daunting task; however, as evangelicals we have the responsibility to lead the way in the pursuit of a new Great Awakening. The unspoken question on many of our minds is how do we start the process of renewal?
Acts 4:23-31 gives us a blueprint, anchored in prayer. Peter and John had just been released from the Sanhedrin council after healing a lame beggar and preaching a bold gospel. Just as Dr. Hill was asked not to pray in Jesus’ name, Peter and John were asked not to preach in his name.
The boldness of Peter and John to speak put them in harm’s way, but also got them released. It is that same boldness that they prayed would permeate all of the believers. Just as the boldness and power of prayer shook the foundation during their prayer meeting, evangelicals should come together in fervent prayer before a living God and allow him to fill us will the boldness to preach the uncompromising Word of God as he heals the land.
Prayer has the supernatural power to bring about a new Great Awakening, one that will bring healing to our land, peace in our communities and unity among humanity. Evangelicals must be bold enough to come together, to pray and to be uncompromising in their belief that their prayers will be answered and our nation will be healed. The antidote is praying with boldness and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, which leads to spiritual transformation that will result in social transformation.
HOUSTON The university campus has long been the intellectual caldron in which students stew over the “big” questions, roil in their doubts and bubble over with newfound convictions—or at least it should be. Political correctness, trigger warnings and flagrant attempts to stifle ideological foes threaten to douse the fires of inquiry that lead to the truth, particularly the truth of the gospel. But an upstart Christian apologetics program at Houston Baptist University has kindled an enthusiastic response from students and scholars alike.
Launched part-time in the spring semester of 2013, HBU’s Master of Arts in Apologetics boasts a robust (and growing) academic program on campus and launched a full-time online presence in 2014. Students can take the philosophical or cultural track of the interdisciplinary program taught by a coterie of the top Christian apologists in the nation. Sharp minds instruct students not to win arguments but to engage in civil, confident dialogue for the sake of the gospel.
“Apologetics lays the groundwork that makes a serious consideration of the Christian claim possible,” Holly Ordway, professor and director of the MAA program, stated in an email interview.
Ordway speaks from experience. Formerly an atheist, she could not seriously consider the notion of God much less the precepts of the Christian faith. But “rational apologetics,” along with the writings of C.S. Lewis, put a crack in the wall of her secularist defenses.
“Rational apologetics is very important because it helps remove obstacles to belief—if someone genuinely believes that what we call God is a big man in the sky, then of course the Christian faith will seem ridiculous,” she said. “Rational apologetics also helps to show that our faith is reasonable, that we don’t ‘check our brains at the door.’”
Ordway’s colleague and fellow former atheist Mary Jo Sharp explained that philosophical and cultural apologetics provide an inroad for sharing the gospel within a society that is increasingly offended by the truth of Christianity.
Quoting from Augustine’s Confessions, Sharp said, “’They love truth for the light it sheds but hate it when it shows them up as being wrong.’”
Part of the problem lies in society’s separation of the secular and the sacred, as people compartmentalize their lives and relegate religion to the “no facts to be found here” category. This separation is evident even in the church, where believers all too readily accept secular notions of what is true.
“The truth of Jesus Christ relates to all of life,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter where you are. You can’t separate the sacred and the secular.”
HBU president Robert Sloan agrees. A polarized society where people dig their heels into the ground they claim as truth and refuse to hear another perspective, Sloan said, creates a problem for the Christian witness.
Some Christians are not open to apologetics, often associating it with arguing. Not long ago a woman asked to pray with Sharp following a speaking engagement and went on to beseech God to undermine her ministry because “it teaches people to argue.”
Sloan contends that every Christian must give an answer for his faith. That is the basic tenet of apologetics, which is derived from the Greek apologia, which means “to defend.”
“If apologetics is approached as simply argument to score points—and unfortunately it often is—then frankly it’s not very useful for communicating the gospel,” Ordway said. “That’s one of the premises behind our program: that it’s not enough to know things about God; we want our students to know God and to be able to draw others to him through personal witness, rational argument and imaginative engagement.”
The interdisciplinary nature of HBU’s cultural apologetics program teaches students to recognize and then communicate God’s truths that can be found in philosophy, the arts and literature. Speaking God’s word is always effective, but the manner in which it is conveyed is key to gaining the opportunity to speak in the first place.
Enrollment in the program has swelled from 10 to 50 in just a year and a half. These students represent recent college graduates, pastors, lay leaders and one surprising subset: mothers.
Both Sloan and Sharp said that mothers are concerned about the ideas their children bring home. Many moms feel ill-equipped to prepare their children to hold their own in matters of faith.
“It has been thrust upon us,” Sloan said. “There is more vocal challenge to the Christian faith.”
The students and faculty represent the breadth of Christendom, with roots in Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and non-denominational evangelical churches. All of them, Ordway said, share “a commitment to Christ, a passion for sharing the gospel, and a desire to love God with their minds as well as their hearts.”
In addition to full-time faculty—an amalgamation of authors, bloggers, philosophers, ministry directors, male and female—visiting scholars include names like William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Nancy Pearcey and HBU Provost John Mark Reynolds.
Still in its fledgling stages, the HBU apologetics program is just beginning to teach and train its students to use cultural apologetics as a means to an end—the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the interim, Sharp recognizes the work to be done.
“I’m not seeing bold Christian witness—people who are naturally living their faith in public,” she said.
But Ordway is seeing students gain confidence in her classes.
“The more frequent ‘aha!’ moment has actually been as students realize how they can use what they’re learning to transform the culture rather than fleeing from it—that they are becoming equipped to use literature and the arts to convey the truths of the faith; that they can articulate why science and faith are not at odds; that they can engage in constructive dialogue and creative work.”
The professors and Sloan see the program only growing and being duplicated on other campuses. The reason, Sloan said, is obvious.
“I believe [apologetics] is increasingly effective because it is increasingly necessary.”
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