Sunday, November 15, 2009


I had the privilege of attending the Arkansas premier of Collision last Wednesday. It was a special presentation made possible by the Central Arkansas Theological Society (CATS - of which I've written previously) and Logos Bible Software.

The movie is a documentary of sorts concerning a series of debates between Christopher Hitchens (athiest) and Douglas Wilson (christian). They debate the existence of God and the benefit of Christianity for the world. You can read an overview of the movie as well as bios on the "stars" on the movie's website so I won't bore you with those details.

However, I will bore you with my thoughts on the film...

I was riveted. The film is well produced. The dialogue is stimulating. The personalities are compelling. The conclusion is fulfilling (in a strange sort of way).

Both Hitchens and Wilson respect each other and that keeps the movie from degenerating into a shouting match (like so many silly talking heads). In fact, their respect for each other makes the movie utterly enjoyable - well that and the endless witty rejoinders. Both of them are bright, passionate, and winsome.

Intellectually speaking, no great new arguments arise on either side. Those familiar with this debate will find nothing new. However, Wilson artfully collates many of the best arguments and provides satisfying explanations at almost every point. I especially enjoyed his short discussion of Jewish ethnocentrism in the parables of Jesus. Great stuff!

In my opinion the debate boiled down to each man trying to place a heavier burden of proof on the other. Hitchens cries foul of Christianity and commissions Wilson to prove otherwise. Wilson asks on what moral basis Hitchens' can make his claim.

There are lots of other interesting points in the film that warrant discussion, but it would be better to just watch it with friends and discuss. I would heartily recommend this film to anyone - athiest or believer.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The power of the gospel

In my previous post I talked about an objection to Tim Keller's presentation on The Reason For God at Google, namely that he didn't present the gospel. I enumerated the arguments of Keller's defenders, but I want to return to the main reason behind the charge against Keller.

The objector(s) essentially argued:

  • reasoning with foolish man is futile

  • only the gospel is powerful to save (e.g. Romans 1:16, 10:17)

  • therefore Keller should have stopped wading through intellectual arguments and presented the gospel

This is a straight-forward and powerful argument. The argument is made even more powerful for those like me who believe in total depravity (i.e. that we are all dead in our sins and can't understand the things of God until the Spirit regenerates us).

How one deals with this objection will depend on how one defines the gospel.

If the gospel is a concise message (e.g. "Jesus is Lord") with implications for all of life then that message can be expressed in countless ways in both word and deed through our lives. Consider Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 11:26. He says that observing the Eucharist actually proclaims Christ's death. Could our lives not also proclaim the gospel in a similar way? Could we "present" the gospel to an unbelieving friend by laying down our life for them? Clearly, the gospel needs to be articulated in speech. I do not mean to deny that.

However, if the gospel can only be articulated directly from Scripture then anything less would be meaningless in regard to evangelism. Or if the gospel is a technical, theological statement then expressing that in action or through simple explanation will be difficult.

Here are my questions about the nature of the gospel. How you define it will determine your answers:

  • If only the gospel is powerful to save sinners then why do we do anything except proclaim it?

  • Does total depravity invalidate any attempt to build a logical buttress for faith as a means to eventually introduce the gospel? Why?

What is the gospel?

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Central Arkansas Theological Society (C.A.T.S.). Although it sounds fancy, it is just a group of guys (mostly from Redeemer LR) who get together, listen to a talk, and then discuss it.

We listened to Tim Keller talk about The Reason for God which was part of the Authors@Google series. I enjoyed the talk. Keller was winsome and engaged his audience appropriately. It had a Paul-in-Athens (Acts 17) feel.

However since I had already read a fair amount of his book and listened to the talk, I was more interested in the ensuing discussion. Our discussion centered mostly around a few objections that Keller did not make a clear presentation of the gospel. These reason's were offered in defense of Keller:

  1. He was being sensitive to his context (i.e. he needed to build trust and credibility with his audience - a crowd of cynics and skeptics). Thumping his Bible (so to speak) would have been counter productive.

  2. He was tilling the soil of their hearts (1 Corinthians 3:5-6 was cited).

  3. He was asked to come to speak on a specific subject (the kind of reasoning that leads to monotheism - not Christianity necessarily). Straying from that subject too much would have been disrespectful and displayed a lack of integrity.

  4. He did share the gospel (e.g. 39:50 - 41:48)

I agreed with all these sentiments, but reason #4 was the most compelling. Interestingly, it also exposed the hidden assumption that we all had the same definition of the gospel. Here's the essence of what Keller said about the gospel:

  1. God created the world.

  2. God created man.

  3. God fell in love with man.

  4. God saw man was suffering.

  5. God entered the world to save man.

Clearly, some felt that was adequate and some didn't. My question isn't so much about the merits of what Tim presented, but about the gospel in general.

What is the pure essence of the gospel without which it can no longer be called the gospel?

We know from Galatians 1:8-9 that there is a true gospel and a false gospel. Getting the gospel fundamentally wrong will have eternal consequences so we would do well to get it as right as possible to the finest detail.

For further stimulation on this topic I suggest Trevin Wax's "The Gospel of God: Personal Atonement or Christ's Kingdom?" and his fascinating series on Gospel Definitions. I also found Scot McKnight's "Is Our Gospel Too Small" interesting.

Personally, I lean toward definitions of the gospel which are very concise but have broad implications (e.g. "Jesus is Lord") which are then made truly understandable by patient explanation and personal demonstration (i.e. self-sacrificing love).

What do you think? I would love to see a whole C.A.T.S. meeting devoted to this topic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The "Will of God"

I recently listened to a wonderful talk given by Kevin DeYoung on the "will of God" entitled "Just Do Something" (like his book). The content of the talk (and I assume the book) is in agreement with another good book I've (mostly) read on this same subject - Decision Making and the Will of God. However, the talk is certainly more accessible than Decision Making and the Will of God (an exhaustive treatment of the subject) and therefore likely to appeal much more to the intended 20-something audience.

In my late teens I didn't struggle with the "will of God." Thanks to my parents, I entered college with a solid understanding of what I wanted to study and what I wanted to do when I graduated. That said, I wasn't walking with Jesus and so I didn't care about God's will.

However, during college God called me to Himself, and my life's goal became God's glory. What better way to glorify God than to accomplish His will? For a reason that still remains a mystery to me, I was distinctly impressed with the need to discover God's will before I made decisions - the more significant the decision the more important it was that I have clear "guidance" from God. This led to much agonizing over the life-changing decisions I was making (e.g. going overseas, taking a job, buying a house, getting married, etc.). I also noticed similar anguish among my friends who were making (or trying to make) such decisions of their own.

In the years since, I have studied the will of God not just for myself but also in the effort to help my friends. I believe the "will of God" is actually problematic for my generation at large. I believe part of the issue is the paradox of choice (caused in large part by American consumerism) but more than that is the inexplicable conviction that we must discover God's will in order to make the correct choice.

I enjoyed Kevin's lecture so much because it succinctly and compellingly confirms what I have discovered in my own studies. I wish I had heard it in college. It would have blessed me with the freedom that I now (usually) enjoy when making decisions. I highly recommend it.