This is Apologetics: an Argument from Science

What is apologetics?

Is Christian faith the enemy of science? This is a common objection to biblical Christianity, but is there any weight to it?

If Christianity’s teaching about man and nature is true, then our senses are designed by our Creator to correspond to the world around us, and scientific inquiry is possible. If not, then there is no corresponding design and we have no reason to trust our sensory intake, and therefore no reason to trust in science.

Christian faith is not the enemy of science. On the contrary, science actually needs the Christian message to be true for its own survival. If you want to believe in science, you must presuppose the Christian faith. Yet the Christian faith doesn’t end with the creation narrative in Genesis. It is revealed in 66 books (together called the Bible) with one central message. And the urgent call of the Christian faith is this:

“…having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Paul the Apostle, Acts 17:30-31).

That judge, and the only Savior and Lord, is Jesus. By believing in science but rejecting Jesus, you are actually sinning against the Creator who gave you life–and a lifetime of sinning against God earns the “wages” of an eternity of death. The Creator’s gift for sinners, however, is that he sent his into the world he created, to take the death his people had earned in their place.

Science is an incredible gift from God, yet it is a gift that points beyond itself to the God revealed in the Bible. We have all sinned against him, and we all must get to the point where we turn from our sin and trust ourselves to his Son. Repent and trust in him today, and your Creator will give you new life that lasts forever.

^This is apologetics.

Further study:

How Elijah Points to Jesus: Further Reflections on 1 Kings 18

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Park Community Church from 1 Kings 18 on the story of an ancient prophet of Yahweh’s confrontation with the pagan prophets of a false god. It was the latest installment of our “Great Stories” series.

This story, in which the wild man Elijah calls down the fire of the Lord, slaughters the treasonous Baal prophets and launches a revival in the nation of Israel, has always fascinated me. I even adapted it into a short story in my junior-year English class at Glenbard East High School (looking back, there was probably something close to plagiarism going on there, in how closely I followed the biblical narrative).

Over the years, I have become borderline obsessed with the idea that every story in the Tanakh (AKA the Hebrew Scriptures, AKA the Old Testament) points forward to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in some way. Of course I did not invent this idea; it is as old as the Bible itself. Nevertheless, this Christocentric approach to Scripture study now has me asking about every OT story, in a way that I never did as a high schooler or for years afterward, the question, “How does this point to Jesus?”

Until I wrote this sermon (here’s the transcript), I had never really studied 1 Kings 18 with that question in mind. So it was a real joy to do so. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Elijah proclaims repentance to Israel – Much like the later “Elijah” (John the Baptist) would do, he prepares the hearts of Israel for an encounter with the Lord. For Elijah, it was the Yahweh who would show His power on Mount Carmel. For John the Baptist, it was Yahweh-in-the-flesh, the man Christ Jesus, who saved His people on Mount Calvary.
  2. Elijah preached that God’s people should follow Him alone – Jesus too warned against trying to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) and insisted that, “No one who “puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
  3. Elijah offered a sacrifice, and God accepted it – The Lord vindicated His servant Elijah by sending a bolt out of the blue and burning up his sacrifice. Nine centuries later, He accepted a far greater sacrifice for sin and vindicated His Son, by raising Him from the dead.
  4. Elijah’s altar of twelve stones expressed a desire for God’s people to be unified – God’s people (which meant the 12 tribes of Israel in Elijah’s day) were meant to be together, not split up into multiple kingdoms (which they were at that time). In Christ, people from every ethnicity, culture and kingdom are united (Galatians 3:28).
  5. Elijah’s revival was temporary, showing the need for a greater revival – Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s returns to God (as in 1 Kings 18) never involved the whole nation, and they were temporary, because most of their hearts did not change. This story accentuates the need for the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, in which all God’s elect people will know Him, and they will serve Him with new hearts forever.

It is amazing to set back and think about the privileged place in history in which we live. The promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ, and we can see in hi-def what OT believers saw only in types and shadows. From Genesis to Malachi, the Hebrew Scriptures are all about the Messiah to come. Starting next month, we will launch our new series, all about what it means to live together as followers of said Messiah, as the church.

What other ways do you see the “great story” of Elijah on Mount Carmel pointing to the greatest story ever, i.e. the Gospel? Feel free to share any insights in the comments.

What Kind of Church Outreach Works?

Since I started in ministry back in 2011, I have been a student of church outreach methods and practices. What is outreach? Outreach is simply the activity of extending one’s attention beyond one’s church community in order to bring the Gospel to outsiders, and to bring outsiders to faith in Christ and into the church.

Outreach is important, because as followers of Jesus, we ought not to keep the good news to ourselves. We want to share it and see others–as many as the Lord will give us–come to saving faith, reconciliation to God and others, and the transformed life that only Jesus can give.

Over the years, I have worked with ministries and staffs to develop strategies ranging from pub theology groups, to backyard barbecues, to evangelistic retreats and lock-ins, to well-known programs like the Alpha Course. I have attended conferences and researched curriculum. I have preached it from the stage, and I have obnoxiously wedged it into conversations. I would by no means call myself an expert in outreach, but I am a student of it. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I have learned a few things. And after years of studying and practicing outreach, I am convinced that there are two methods of outreach that is more effective than everything else.

The two most effective methods for evangelism I have found are these:

  1. Studying the Bible in a small group.
  2. A personal invitation to church.

Studying the Bible in a small group

There is something about opening up God’s word with a group of two-to-12 people, reading it, discussing it, and asking and answering questions about it that is just powerful. In Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says, “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (CSB). I have written about the benefit of small group Bible study to spiritual growth, so I won’t belabor this point.

If you are looking for something you can do to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, I would just encourage you to pray first, and then recruit one or two other believers to do this with you. Together, pick up a book on one-to-one or small-group Bible study (like this one) and start inviting your non-Christian friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with you. You can say something like, “Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me and a couple other guys (/gals) for a few weeks?”

An evangelistic, small-group Bible study on a book like Romans or one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be a powerful environment for outreach.

A personal invitation to church

Ideally, there is one place you can count on the Gospel being announced at least once a week. That place, of course, is your local church (if your pastor is not preaching the Good News about Jesus every week, then you need to have a sit-down with him. Come on, Preacher! We’ve got souls to save here! Get on your horse!). Because of this, a church invite can be a great way to get your non-Christian friends, neighbors and family members in front of Jesus. The fact is, most of us are not inviting people to church. Before churches plan to spend money, time and volunteer hours on large-scale outreach initiatives, we should take advantage of the “outreach event” happening every weekend!

The invitation can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, if you don’t have any plans this Sunday morning, I’d love to have you join me at my church this Sunday. We can even grab lunch afterward. Want to come?”

These two outreach methods are simple, but let’s be honest, they are still intimidating. You still have to make the invitation. Sometimes, we may prefer large-scale events, because it allows us to hid behind everyone else in the church. These two methods require personal, face-to-face interaction and taking a risk. But this is exactly what the Lord did for us. Jesus came down and met us face-to-face. And last time I checked, He still invites us, through His word, to come to Him (see here and here).  It’s our privilege, as His followers, to pass that invitation along.

Further reading: 

  • Why Church Members Don’t Invite Others to Church: http://thomrainer.com/2014/07/church-members-dont-invite-others-church/
  • Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched: http://thomrainer.com/2016/12/five-surprising-insights-unchurched/

What About Those Who Don’t Believe in God?

As I prepare for tomorrow’s message on the book of Jonah–the man who was plunged into the abyss, into the belly of a giant fish, and returned after three days–one concept has really shocked me. In this incredible (though not un-credible) story, there are two groups of people who become worshipers of the Lord, namely the polytheist sailors and the wicked citizens of Nineveh, who had previously been the furthest thing from believers. And yet, it is clear from the story that God actually expected their worship. He deserved it. They owed Him worship.

There is no sense, from Scripture, that worship of the Lord is something optional, or that God only certain people to worship Him, or that He only wants to be known, glorified and enjoyed by people who currently adhere to a particular religion.

God is the God of everyone He has created. And He has created everyone. He is even the God of those who don’t believe in Him. (Or at least, they claim to believe in Him. Whether anyone can truly be an atheist is an issue for another time. Spoiler alert: they can’t.)

These theme of the universality of God’s worship-worthiness continues on into the New Testament, in which Jesus is said to be the Savior, not only of certain people, but of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2 and 4:14). That is to say, there is only one God, and One who goes between God and man, to make peace between us.

Like the pagan sailors and the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, you, me, and everyone we know owe our allegiance to the one true God.

This is difficult, because there are many religious systems out there claiming to be true, and insofar as they deny the Gospel, they are therefore all wrong (see the recent controversy with Senator Bernie Sanders and presidential appointee).

However, it is also wonderful news (the word Gospel means “good news”), because there is a sure way to God. There aren’t multiple ways, but that’s okay, because there aren’t multiple gods. There is only one. And He has given us a way. That way is through faith in Jesus (John 1:12).

This Gospel is the message that Christians must take to our family, friends and neighbors: there is one true God. He made us, and we owe Him everything. We’ve been refusing Him the worship He deserves, and we’ve earned His punishment (that’s why God sent Jonah to Nineveh in the first place!). Rescue from that punishment comes through faith in the one who was plunged into the abyss of death and returned to the land of the living after three days. Not Jonah, but Jesus. Do you know Him? Whom will you tell?