Why Akathleptos?

Why Akathleptos? Because it means Uncontainable. God is infinite. Hence, the whole universe cannot contain Him. The term also refers to the incomprehensibility of God. No man can know everything about God. We can know Him personally but not exhaustively, not even in Heaven.

Why Patmos? Because the church is increasingly marginalized and exiled from the culture.

Why Pen-Names? So the focus is on the words and not who wrote them. We prefer to let what we say stand on its own merit. There is precedent in church history for this - i.e., the elusive identity of Ambrosiaster who wrote in the 4th century A.D.

“Truth is so obscured nowadays, and lies so well established, that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it." Blaise Pascal

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Prepare Your Children/Grandchildren for Times of Doubt (Part 1)

Why do you believe Christianity Is True? How you answer will play a significant part in shaping your child’s worldview.

Typical bad answers:
  • “I believe Christianity is true because I read this book where someone died, went to heaven, and came back.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because there are secret codes found in the Scriptures.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because the lost day of Joshua has been found by NASA.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because we had a special speaker come to our class and show how the Gospel was written in the stars.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because I have seen pictures of Noah’s Ark.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because God spoke to me and told me ______
  • “I believe Christianity is true because there are no better options and I have nothing to lose.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because my friend was healed of cancer after praying.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because I speak in tongues.”
  • “I believe Christianity is true because my church/pastor says it is.”
The problem:
Several years ago Barna published statistics revealing that 65% of young adults in the U.S. that grew up in the church participating in evangelical youth groups, walk away from their faith when they leave home for the first time. Since then other studies estimate the rate may actually be as high as 70-75% . The SBC Family Life Report issued study findings in 2002 that 88% of children in evangelical homes leave the church by the age of 18. Suggestions as to why this might be?
  • They succumb to temptations they haven’t face before
  • They didn’t learn to think
  • They are often consumed with the demands of making a living
  • They see right through the charade of those who profess the faith but don’t “walk the talk”
In a book published in 2005 entitled “Soul Searching”, students were asked why they left the faith. This was an open-ended question there were no multiple-choice answers. 32% said they left faith behind because of intellectual skepticism or doubt. (“It didn’t make any sense anymore.” “Some stuff is too far-fetched for me to believe.” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof.” “Too many questions that can’t be answered.”)
In 2006 a Barna study revealed the majority of young adults in their 20s (61%0 had been churched at one point in their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged. In the book “The Last Christian Generation” published in 2006, the study findings were:
  • 63% of teenaged Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God
  • 51% don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead
  • 68% don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is a real entity
  • Only 33% of churched youth have said that the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home
A 2007 study by Lifeway Research & Ministry Development finds:
  • 70% will leave the faith in college
  • Only 35% eventually return
  • 7 in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 – both evangelical and mainline – who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23
  • 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30
  • That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church. The most frequent reason for leaving church is, in fact, a self-imposed change, ‘I simply wanted a break from church’ (27%).
  • The path toward college and the workforce are also strong reasons for young people to leave church: ‘I moved to college and stopped attending church’ (25%) and ‘work responsibilities prevented me from attending’ (23%).”
A 2007 Study of Student Ministries by Inquest Ministries revealed:
  • 63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
  • 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths
  • 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead
  • 65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity
  • 68% don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real
In a 2011 book entitled “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith”:
  • Nearly 25% of the 18- to 29-year-olds interviewed said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” most of the time
  • 22% also said the church ignores real-world problems and 18% said that their church was too concerned about the negative impact of movies, music and video games
  • 33% of survey participants felt that “church is boring.”
  • 20% of those who attended as a teenager said that God appeared to be missing from their experience of church
  • Many young adults do not like the way churches appear to be against science
  • Over 33% of young adults said that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” and 25% of them said that “Christianity is anti-science.”
  • 17% percent of young Christians say they’ve “made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”
  • 29% of young Christians said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and feel they have to choose between their friends and their faith/
  • Over 33% of young adults said they feel like they can’t ask life’s most pressing questions in church.
  • 23% said they had “significant intellectual doubts” about their faith
Back the first question - Why do you believe Christianity Is True? There should be a two-fold answer:

1st) There is an internal witness: the witness of Indwelling Holy Spirit.

When a person becomes a Christian, he automatically becomes an adopted son of God and is indwelt with the Holy Spirit: "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.... And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 3:26; 4:6 ESV). Paul emphasizes the point in Romans 8. Here he explains that it is the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit that allows us to know that we are God's children:"For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:15- 16 rsv).

Paul uses the term plerophoria (complete confidence, full assurance) to indicate the believer has knowledge of the truth as a result of the Spirit's work (Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Rom. 4:21; 14:5; Col. 4:12). Sometimes this is called "assurance of salvation" by Christians; assurance of salvation entails certain truths of Christianity, such as "God forgives my sin," "Christ has reconciled me to God," and so on, so that in having assurance of salvation one has assurance of these truths.

The apostle John also clarifies that the Holy Spirit within us gives believers conviction of the truth of Christianity. "But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know... the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him" (1 John 2:20, 27 rsv). John explains that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us the truth of divine revelation. John is clearly echoing the teaching of Jesus himself, when he says, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26 rsv). John is talking about is the inner assurance the Holy Spirit gives of the basic truths of the Christian faith. This assurance does not come from human arguments but directly from the Holy Spirit himself.

John underlines other teachings of Jesus on the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, according to Jesus it is the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives the believer certainty of knowing that Jesus lives in him and that he is in Jesus, in the sense of being united with Him:  "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.... In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." (John 14:16- 17, 20 rsv)

John teaches the same thing elsewhere: "And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.... By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit" (l John 3:24; 4:13 rsv). John uses his characteristic phrase "by this we know" to emphasize that as Christians we have a confident knowledge that our faith is true, that we really do abide in God, and God really does live in us. In fact John goes so far as to contrast the confidence which the Spirit's testimony brings to that brought by human evidence.

The existence of an authentic and unique witness of the Spirit does not exclude the existence of false claims to a similar witness – i.e., Mormonism’s “burning in the bosom”. William Lane Craig addresses this issue. “The analogy of the bottles all labeled H2O, but only one of which really contains water, is relevant to this point. The falsity of the other labels does nothing whatsoever to undercut the truth of the label on the bottle really containing the water. You ask, “how can the person with the H2O (Real Holy Spirit) know they don’t have a mislabeled Bottle? Is the true bottle of water unmistakable when experienced? If so, then must I conclude that the Mormon claiming the true witness is lying or simply mistaken?” The answer is that the witness of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable (though not indubitable [impossible to doubt]) for him who has it and attends to it. He who has it should, indeed, conclude, that the Mormon is lying or, more charitably, sincerely mistaken. The Mormon has probably been misled by a counterfeit experience, and the non-veridicality of his experience shouldn’t lead you to doubt the veridicality of your experience.

So “how,” you may ask, “can a Christian and a Mormon gain any ground one way or another? Both would believe their Spiritual Witness to be authentic, and both would claim that since we only see in part, Evidence cannot possibly rule their experience out.” Yes, they both make those claims; but the Mormon’s claims are false, he has no self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit in favor of Mormonism’s truth, and therefore, under the force of the evidence he may begin to doubt and to seek. Thereby, progress will be made.” This is one reason why an external witness is also important – to refute similar false experiences.

But what about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of an unbeliever? Since the Holy Spirit does not indwell him, does this mean that he must rely only upon arguments and evidence to convince him that Christianity is true? No, not at all. According to the Scripture, God has a different ministry of the Holy Spirit especially geared to the needs of the unbeliever. Jesus describes this ministry in John 16:7- 11 (RSV): It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Here the Holy Spirit's ministry is threefold: he convicts the unbeliever of his own sin, of God's righteousness, and of his condemnation before God. The unbeliever so convicted can therefore be said to know such truths as "God exists," "I am guilty before God," and so forth.
This is the way it has to be. For if it weren't for the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever become a Christian. According to Paul, natural man left to himself does not even seek God: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God" (Rom 3:10- 11 ESV).

Unregenerate man cannot understand spiritual things: "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14 rsv). And he is hostile to God: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Rom. 8:7 ESV). As Jesus said, men love darkness rather than light. Left to himself, natural man would never come to God.

The fact that we do find people who are seeking God and are ready to believe in Christ is evidence that the Holy Spirit has already been at work, convicting them and drawing them to him. As Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44 ESV). Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God's Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God. But anyone who responds to the drawing of God's Spirit with an open mind and an open heart can know with assurance that Christianity is true, because God's Spirit will convict him that it is. Jesus said, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" (John 7:16- 17 rsv). Jesus affirms that if anyone is truly seeking God, then he will know that Jesus 'teaching is truly from God.

So then for the unbeliever as well as for the believer, it is the testimony of God's Spirit that ultimately assures him of the truth of Christianity. The unbeliever who is truly seeking God will be convinced of the truth of the Christian message. We find that for believer and unbeliever alike it is the self- authenticating work of the Holy Spirit that supplies knowledge of Christianity's truth. Thus, I would agree that belief in the God of the Bible is a properly basic belief and emphasize that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that supplies the circumstances for its proper basicality. And because this belief is formed in response to the self- disclosure of God himself, who needs no external authentication, it is not merely rational for us, but constitutes knowledge. We can know Christianity's truth.

2nd) There is an external witness - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Christ never spoke of his impending death without affirming He would rise from the dead after 3 days. The Jews were well aware of his prediction and implored the Romans to take precautions to prevent His body disappearing from the tomb by nefarious means. The Romans took measures to ensure His body stayed in the tomb. However, Christ’s body disappeared under penalty of death for the tomb guards – there was no dispute over the fact the body’s disappearance by either the Jews or Roman authorities.

Something happened that transformed the apostles from cowards who fled Jesus in the garden at His arrest, to fearless martyrs  for the gospel. Something changed Saul of Tarsus from an ardent enemy of the gospel into its most powerful advocate and defender who would ultimately give his very life for Christ. The answer is they saw Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The resurrection was the centerpiece of the early church’s gospel proclamation – there are dozens of resurrection references in the book of Acts.

(Continued in Part 2 here)

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