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Observations/Reflections on a recent pastor’s conference, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense


swd-logoA recent pastor’s conference (Oct 2016) of the South Wisconsin District (a district of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, LCMS) offered participants the opportunity to hear from Dr. Horvath (of Athanatos Christian Ministries) and Dr. Peter Scaer (an Exegetical Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, IN).  Both presenters, in my opinion, offered insightful reflection on numerous challenges currently faced within in our society and by the church.

Dr. Horvath founded Athanatos Christian Ministries (AMC, Inc.) a group “to equip Christians to defend the Christian faith through the arts and literature, in addition to using evidence and argument.”  Much of his presentation consisted of “connecting the dots” for what is currently going in Christendom, with reflection on the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated.”

For example, Dr. Horvath noted that in the early 1990s, the religiously unaffiliated (i.e. those having left the church and not returning) were in the 5% range of the U.S. Population.  Yet, in 2016, that percentage jumped to 25%.  In the span of around 20 years, the number of religiously unaffiliated jumped 20%.  Commenting on a reason for the rise in the number, Dr. Horvath observed a connection between the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s and the growing divorce rate that followed.  The increasing number of religiously unaffiliated from the early 1990s to 2016 reflect the consequences of acm_1120x198parental divorce and the effects of such divorce on the children, including growing disbelief and disconnection (even atheism) in relation to the Christian faith.

Divorce has consequences.  Sin has consequences.  Horvath suggests that challenges the society and church are now facing have been influenced by actions of the past.

Another insightful connection concerning the direction of our culture is that of information gathered about communications related to the need for population control (i.e. in affiliation with the Center for Family Planning Program Development, 1969 [The Technical Assistance Division of Planned Parenthood-World Population, Frederick S. Jaffe]; Too Many Americans, L. & A. Day; and Public Health & Population Change, Sheps & Ridley, 1967).

Though “dated,” the following (partial list of) “proposed measures to reduce fertility, by universality or selectivity of impact in the U.S.” are eerily being fulfilled, with many, also within the church, oblivious to such an agenda, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood:

Restructuring of family: a) Postpone or avoid marriage b) alter image of ideal family size (i.e. from greater to lesser)

Compulsory education of children

Encourage increased homosexuality

Encourage women to work

Payments to encourage contraception

Abortion and sterilization on demand

Allow harmless contraceptives to be distributed nonmedically

Make contraceptives truly available and accessible

Improve maternal health care, with family planning a core element

Though many migsin12ht view such occurrences, not as fulfilling an agenda, but simply as our “progression” as a society, recognizing the influences of the past upon our own day can help us in the church to better understand and respond to our current, and continual, challenges, moving us to repentance, also for our silence, and to steadfast faith in our Lord, who is the Head of His Church and faithful, even though we be faithless (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:13).

God calls His people to wariness and to preparedness (Luke 21:36; 1 Timothy 6:12; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), as well as to boldly confess His Name.

On an information table for Athanatos Christian Ministries at the pastor’s conference was a brief information sheet entitled, “Know thy Enemy,” which consisted of quotes from Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and reference to her book, The Pivot of Civilization and a Plan for Peace (1923). Compare the following quotations:

“The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately.  Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period.  Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.”

Margaret Sanger, in The Pivot of Civilization, 1923

“…the state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit.  It must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge.  It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and can therefore pass it on. And put this into actual practice.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

The above quotes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler indicate that both wanted to either segregate or limit certain “types” ofsanger_and_hitler people.  What’s amazing is that Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, included blacks as those who were “feeble-minded” and “of the moron class.”  Where is the outcry today against such racist and prejudicial comments, even by African Americans, who also make use of and advocate for a group such as Planned Parenthood whose founder sought to limit the population of certain people and groups in order to establish a society based upon her own ideology?

The second presenter, Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary also offered insightful reflection of challenges that we face as Christians and encouragement for the body of Christ.  Similar to Dr. Horvath’s presentation, Dr. Scaer spent some time reminding us of earlier generations and their influences upon us in our day.  He mentioned, for example, Lawrence Lader, who was influenced by Margaret Sanger, who spoke of the need for limiting the size of the family.  Dr. Scaer also mentioned H.G. Wells, whom he referred to as an “eugenicist.”

Additionally, Dr. Scaer also spent time informing us about the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, whose idolatrous agenda was rebellion against men and against God, who divorced her first husband, was involved in numerous affairs, and ironically, said that women don’t need men.  Dr. Scaer had also observed that Sanger had used (coined) the phrase, “Every child a wanted child” (emphasis mine).

Dr. Scaer’s presentation also included a critique of how the LCMS has responded in the past to Planned Parenthood and abortion, noting that Concordia Publishing House had published a book by Rehwinkel entitled, Planned Parenthood, which essentially “sold” Planned Parenthood to Lutherans.  What was quoted of this work, and others, would be disturbing to those concerned about life in general and about the Christian doctrine in particular, since a great emphasis was placed, not on what God says, and what He says about life (i.e. 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder”), but on the individual circumstances (i.e. of the pregnant woman) and the challenges that she would face if the child was born, or the “solutions” offered if the baby was not born.  In other words, Rehwinkel and others offered the counsel that the life of the baby was ultimately the woman’s choice and that she determined the continued existence or death of another human being.

In contrwhobrokethebaby-gartonast to Rehwinkel and others, Jean Garton, author of Who Broke the Baby, was a healthy critique to the genocide of the unborn, offering insight and commentary on the ideology and practice of abortion, which both run contrary to the Word of God and what God reveals about life and its gift.

Dr. Scaer offered more than commentary reflecting end-of-life issues like abortion.  He also asked the question whether we can talk about marriage (i.e. 4th & 6th Commandments) outside the church?  He answered, “We must!”  Same-sex “marriage” is the great challenge for today’s church, Scaer commented.  As this practice is more greatly accepted, society and the church more greatly suffer.  And, as Dr. Horvath had earlier noted, sin has consequences.  The effects of homosexuality (rebellion against God) destroy society.  This is something that “the left” know, but don’t want to admit.  “Where (natural/traditional) marriage works, society works,” said Scaer.

Rather than retreat to the shadows, claiming that little can be done, Dr. Scaer offers encouragement.  Politically, laws can change, and even little laws can help.  In contrast to the thought, “Laws can’t change,” Scaer responds, “Laws can be changed” and that “Man’s law is changeable.”  “They change all the time.”  In other words, in the secular world, there is still something that concerned citizens can do.

james1-12God calls the church to be faithful to the Lord who bought her, the same Lord Who Himself was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5, NKJ).  God is God, and Christ is Head of His Church.

This Lord is the same Christ who is the “bridegroom,” (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) who “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27, NKJ).

Though a “weeding out” take place, the faithful will become more visible.  The Church confesses Christ.  In Him, she lives.

“The Defender’s Guide for Life’s Toughest Questions”–some observations

The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions

(Ray Comfort)[1]

Some observations

Ray Comfort, in the preface of this book, writes, “Most of the questions and objections in this book come from those who call themselves ‘atheists.’  Many have placed their faith in erroneous information…and because of it have hardened themselves against God and Christianity (Romans 1).  They ask questions but don’t really want answers.  My hope is that you are open to reason, and that you will find that that the answers will give you another perspective” (7).

I agree with Comfort’s observation that many atheists have placed their faith in erroneous information.  The same, however, could be said of many groups, including some who call themselves Christians, for not all who call themselves Christians exclusively use the Bible as the “rule and norm” for faith and life.  Again, I agree that some atheists really don’t want answers, that is, the truth that the Bible provides.  Similarly, there are others who follow suite, not wanting the truth at all, but only evidence that seems to support their conclusions.   This applies not only to atheists, but to all people, including Christians as well.  None are immune to the deficiencies and limitations of human reason.  And none perfectly resist the temptation to defend only that which benefits oneself.

These are dangers for which all need to be aware—trusting erroneous information and not really wanting the truth.  These do not lead to honest and forthright investigation at all, but only intensify the divide between the two or more contrasting positions.   Incorrect information only leads further away from the truth and may further confuse the issues.  Not wanting the truth but only that which supports one’s own position really only demonstrates an unwillingness to consider the truth at all, not as anyone sees it, but as it is—the truth.

Such a comment certainly does assume that absolute truth does indeed exist.  However, truth exists, not because I or anyone else believes it to exist, but because truth is truth, regardless of my own presuppositions or assumptions.  In the words of Comfort, “unbelief or belief doesn’t negate reality” (p48).

John 3:16, for example, as all of Holy Scripture, is true, even if I don’t believe it.  Whether I believe or not doesn’t make something less true.  It only means that I don’t believe it.  I can believe that gravity doesn’t exist should I jump out of the plan while in the air, but that won’t at all change what is true, that gravity will result in my falling to the ground.

In the same way, the Bible is God’s Word and is therefore true, whether I believe it or not.  Only Christians take this truth seriously.  Others may joke about the Bible and act as if it means nothing at all, but their attitude does not change the true and faithful Word of God  (i.e. Psalm 119:89), nor what it is or what it says.

Comfort’s belief that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word is welcome and encouraging.  Christians can give reasonable explanations to the many questions and statements of the day as posed by atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and others.  They can do this, not only using their God given reasoning abilities, but Christians also and especially have the Word of God.  Christians can not only address faulty logic and false conclusions.  They can also say what God has said.

Should the “scientific evidence” seem to contradict the Word, Christians can rightly question the evidence and the assumptions held concerning the evidence, and therefore, get to the deeper conflict that the nonbeliever has with reference to sin and grace.

In five chapters, Comfort addresses these topics:

  1. Humanity: Rights and Suffering
  2. The Bible: Biblical and Theological Issues
  3. Science: Scientific Thought and Evolution
  4. Philosophy: Beliefs and Worldviews
  5. Religion: God and Atheism

Throughout these topics, Comfort often points to man’s inability to keep the law.  He exposes the error of false belief and seriousness of the human condition.  For the most part, Comfort does a fine job addressing many of the issues between the covers.

However, in certain responses, I believe that he could have answered more charitably.  In some places, he seems to write with a bit of sarcasm and/or what may sound as derision.  It seems to me that he does not entirely stick with the issues at hand.

Overall, I found this work to be of benefit for two primary reasons.  The first reason is that Comfort does present a number of arguments, comments, and questions by mostly nonChristians.  These are beneficial in that they present the Christian with a greater understanding of what is being said about Christianity and what Christians believe concerning matters of faith and life.  Secondly, Comfort can help Christians consider answers to the critics based on the Bible and sound reason.  Sound reason will not convert anyone, but it may give critics reason for considering their position.  God’s Word creates faith (Romans 10:17).  Man’s word does not.  Nevertheless, Christians are to use the gifts God has given them, in service to the Gospel, and directed by God’s Word.

Among the weaknesses of this work is the constant refrain of “if…then” statements.  Comfort is coming from a background that assumes sinners can “make a decision for Christ.”  This is what we call “Decision Theology,” and this book is loaded with phrases that place the burden of sinners in need of a Savior, not fully on Christ, but on themselves.  Comfort does indeed articulate the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, but in many instances, this is not as clear as it could be.

Though Comfort does indeed call for the sinner to repent, and though he does speak about the depth of sin, he doesn’t seem to go far enough, for he at least implies that man can somehow “choose God,” even in his sinful condition.  The Bible, however, indicates that man is much more corrupt than this, and must be completely born again, something that Comfort doesn’t adequately address (i.e. Genesis 6:5, 21; Psalm 14:1-3; 19:12; 51:3-5; Matthew 15:18-20; John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5-6;  Romans 3:10-20; 5:6-11; 7:24-25; 10:4, 14-17; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 2:20-21; Hebrews 11:6)

Because of Comfort’s inconsistency about the depth of human sin and man’s corruption, he is unable to fully declare God’s grace in Christ.  He doesn’t rightly distinguish Law and Gospel throughout.  He therefore also fails to consistently articulate man’s salvation by God’s grace through faith (salvation, God’s grace, and even faith) as pure gift (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9).[2]

This doctrine, that sinful man is saved only God’s grace in Christ through faith, is known as the doctrine of justification.  This doctrine teaches that man can do nothing for his salvation, that God has done it all in Christ through His death on the cross.  Salvation and God’s grace, and even faith, are fully gifts of God (as is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

The doctrine of justification is objective, sure, and certain.  Anything of man, even any decisions or choices he makes, is uncertain and doubtful, whereas the things of God give only confidence and certainty.

Unbelievers, including atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and any others, will not know such certainty or believe God’s grace apart from Jesus Christ.  They will not believe the forgiveness of sins without the Holy Spirit.  Christians can address the faulty and limited logic of the naysayers.  They can give rational arguments for their understanding of the evidences.  But only God, by means of His Word, creates faith to believe that Word, even that Word which is now flesh, Jesus the Christ.  It is this Word, also, that God calls His people to speak consistently and truthfully throughout, as in Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).

[1] Ray Comfort, The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions (Green Forest, AK: Master Books), 2011.

[2] Cleary absent from this book is any reference to baptismal regeneration.  Comfort often confuses Law and Gospel, too.

Book Review-The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008)

Hindson, Ed & Ergun Caner  (general eds.), The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008) [Harvest House]

In the introduction, Edward Hinson and Ergun Caner write, “We wanted to place in your hands a tool that will enable you to both defend you faith and answer the major objections to Christianity.  More specifically, we wanted to provide a resource that is accessible to every Christian—a popular encyclopedia that avoids the technical jargon of specialists while cogently presenting a Christian response to skeptics and cynics” (11).

With more than 60 authors, many affiliated with Liberty University and Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, and about 180 articles, this book is indeed a tool to help answer some of the major objections of Christianity.  Though not exhaustive, it is a very helpful introduction to some of the names, teachings, movements, philosophies, and theologies antagonistic to the Christian faith.  From abortion to Zoroastrianism, this book covers, in a very readable and understandable way, that which is beneficial for the Christian who seeks to further answer arguments of the naysayers.

Throughout the book, one will cannot help but notice its evangelical bent.  Every now and then, for example, various articles contain the assumption that even nonChristians can make decisions and choices for Christ.   Also, the erroneous teaching sometimes explained in this manner as, “once saved always saved” seems to be held.

In the article, “Sin,” Caner writes, for example, that the categories of venial and mortal sin within the Roman Catholic Church, “demands that a person can become a Christian and receive grace and forgiveness and then possibly lose that salvation again” (453).

Properly understood, in distinction from the teaching of the Church of Rome, these categories of venial and mortal sin can actually magnify the grace of God in Christ Jesus and give the Christian greater confidence of that unmerited grace and favor of God that the Christian seeks all the more to amend his/her sinful life.  And, the Bible does in fact indicate that salvation can be lost (i.e. 2 Timothy 2:17-18; Hebrews 6:4-6).

In addition, the book’s evangelical flavor can be recognized by a number of the articles which deny baptismal regeneration and emphasize that “man must repent of his sins”, implying that salvation is somehow dependent on our repenting (255-256, italics mine).

Interestingly, in the article, “Reason and Faith,” Shawn Hayes concludes the article under the section, “The Place of Faith” with these words, “By faith we know some things are true because God said them.  In the case of faith, our certainty does not rest on our reasons, but rather, on our faith in God” (412).  However, faith does not rest on our faith (a near kin to fideism), but on the very Word of God in Christ (Romans 10:17).

The section, “Grace,” seems a bit overextended and straining, except for clarifying the evangelical understanding of grace, as Breidenbaugh describes grace as “one of God’s many communicable attributes” (254), and speaks of  two kinds of grace: 1) common (general, universal) and 2) elective (special, saving, regenerating).  Under the first kind of grace, he includes as headings physical provision, intelligence, society, and Christian events.  Under the second kind, elective grace, he includes as headings prevenient grace, efficacious grace, irresistible grace, and sufficient grace (255-257).  Not surprisingly, Breidenbaugh also includes “the divine sovereignty involved in salvation” (257).

Though I would recommend the book as at least an introduction to Christian apologetics and for many of the arguments contained therein, I would also encourage caution and discernment.  There is certainly an “evangelical ring” to the articles and to some extent, an inconsistency due to the various authors.  Generally, however, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics is a helpful resource to have in one’s library.  The reasoning in the articles is, for the most part, sound and certainly understandable.  Yet reasoning and argumentation alone are not the last word—God’s Word is.  Knowing His Word, one will be quite prepared to proclaim the truth of the Christian religion.

Ligonier Ministries–2011 National Conference

2011 National Conference | Ligonier Ministries Events.

The upcoming Ligonier National Conference, entitled, “Light & Heat: A Passion for the Holiness of God,” sounds like it may be a decent conference.  I am not Reformed, but might find such a conference stimulating, especially in light of the “spirit” of today’s Christendom.  It’s encouraging to hear other voices with a concern for what God says.

On that note, just a few comments concerning information about the conference…

The third paragraph of the above site states:

“Several essential doctrines of the Christian faith are under attack in our day, even from within the church, and it is important that we be well grounded in these truths so that we may have a deep affection for our triune God. John Piper will join me and Ligonier teaching fellows Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, and R.C. Sproul Jr. as we look at several important tenets of the faith, such as divine sovereignty, biblical worship, evangelism and missions, apologetics, and justification.”

While I wholeheartedly agree that the Christian faith is under attack in our day, even from within the church, I question the following, 1) that it is only “important” that we be well grounded in these essential doctrines 2) so that we may have deep affection for our triune God, and 3) that divine sovereignty, biblical worship, evangelism and missions, apologetics, and justification are only “important tenets of the faith.”

St. Paul writes to Timothy these words, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).  Certainly, Paul the apostle is not only talking about a few teachings of the Christian faith here.  Notice that he writes, “the doctrine,” singular with the definite article, not doctrines, plural.  “The doctrine” is that which Paul taught to Timothy, that which is of God.  It was not only important to be grounded in this one doctrine (not many), but necessary to be grounded so.  “Take heed” (or “pay close attention to”) and “continuing,” tied with salvation, cannot mean only important, but a necessity—if Timothy was to save himself and those who heard him.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find the phrase “affection for God” anywhere in the New Testament.  I am genuinely ignorant of this phrase with reference to God.  I just don’t know what it means.  I have some guesses, but that’s all they are.  I’m more familiar with God’s compassion towards those in need (i.e. the sick, demon-possessed, etc.) and His people (i.e. those who cry out to Him, God’s love in Christ), as well as how we are to be with one another, than with having “deep affection for the triune God.”  This is a different way of talking.  If faith is meant, fine.  But then just say “faith.”  So what is meant?  I’m cautious about the use of unfamiliar words.  They may indicate a different theology going on.

Important tenets of faith…Absolutely necessary or negotiable?  That’s the way I read such wording (the latter, not the former), though I assume that such is not the intention of the writer.  Or is it?  I don’t know.  One might honestly ask the question if such examples as “divine sovereignty, biblical worship, evangelism and missions, apologetics, and justification” are only “important tenets.”  To claim as such seems to somehow minimize them in some way.  It also implies that only some doctrines are of importance.  But what happens when one is taken away?  Does Christianity still stand?  Is all doctrine equal (on the same level)?  And finally, what is it that makes doctrine Christian doctrine, in contrast to nonChristian doctrine?

These are just a few thoughts on an “advertisement” for an upcoming conference.  Will it be worthwhile?  It may be, but discernment is certainly in order.

Review of Josh McDowell’s, “The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict”

The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict

A Brief Review

Josh McDowell does a helpful service to Christians everywhere in this updated volume.  In four main parts, 1-The Case for the Bible, 2-The Case for Jesus, 3-The Case for and against Christianity, and 4-Truth or Consequences, McDowell gives compelling evidence for the credibility and the rationality of the Christian faith.  Christians need not be unprepared for giving defense for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15) with reference to giving answer to the historicity and the logic of the Christian faith.

Christians increasingly recognize the value of Christian apologetics (defending the Christian faith with sound arguments, in distinction from apologizing for it) as a necessary tool for answering questions of both Christians and nonChristians alike.  However, apologetics is only a beginning.

As helpful and necessary as Christian apologetics is, including this work by McDowell, it is not the Gospel.    It is only the Gospel through which God creates saving faith in the heart, not apologetics, nor the will of man, as we shall see (Romans 10:17).[1] The reader is to be aware of this as he begins study of this book.

The reader should also be aware that Josh McDowell comes from a certain Christian background, one quite different from confessional Lutheranism.  As such, he has a different confession concerning faith (what it is) and conversion, Law and Gospel distinctives, and the means of Grace (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), to name a few.  The following are some of those differences that more readily show themselves…

Speaking about faith and conversion, McDowell writes in the forward, “Not all—not even the majority—of these whom I have spoken accepted Him (Jesus) as their Savior and Lord.  This is not because they were unable to believe—they were simply unwilling to believe” (italics his).

On the same page, he writes, “The majority of people in most cultures do not need to be convinced of His (Jesus’) deity, nor of their need of Him as Savior.  Rather, they need to be told how to receive Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord” (xii).

In saying that the majority of people he has spoken with were unable to believe, McDowell emphasizes man’s willingness or unwillingness to believe.  The how of receiving Jesus as Savior thus becomes a matter of man’s decision rather than the gift of God given through Word and Sacrament (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  McDowell supports this testimony by using his father and himself as examples in the section entitled, “He Changed My Life” (see esp. xxv-xxvii).[2]

Christian faith is not of the will.  It is the result of God’s law convincing and convicting of sin, putting the sinner to death as damnable before God; and then the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, giving new life and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff; 8:1ff); and believing the same, saying “for me” Christ died, with confidence according to God’s promise.

Christian faith is not a matter of “making a decision for Christ.”  We cannot! (Genesis 8:21; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Psalm 14:1; 130:3; Matthew 15:18-19; Romans 3:10, 23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9-10).  Faith is the gift of God (Romans 10:17).  Faith takes God at His Word, denies oneself (Matthew 16:21-26), and believes God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).  Faith does not place any confidence in self, but in Christ alone—in Christ and in His Word and in His Work (Luke 18:9-14; Romans 4:2-25; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Inherent in such a discussion is the power (the efficacy, effectiveness) of God’s Word.  By placing emphasis on man’s decision and will, McDowell, knowingly or unknowingly, teaches wrongly about the power of God’s Word, not man’s, to change the sinner.  God’s Word will not return to the Lord void (Genesis 1:3ff; Isaiah 55:10-11; John 6:63-69).  It will humble the exalted and exalt the humbled (Luke 18:14).  God’s Word hardens the self-righteous and gives peace to those trusting God’s salvation in Christ.

McDowell also minimizes Christ and His work in converting the soul.  By impressing upon the sinner the need “to choose,” McDowell lessens Christ and praises man’s ability.  This is not an insignificant point!

Closely connected to McDowell’s emphasis on the human will and “making a decision” are the Four Spiritual Laws[3] as described in the last section of the book (p757ff).  With Law Four, McDowell, Campus Crusade for Christ, and all who use such “Laws” place the decision on the sinner, ultimately, for salvation.  If such is not the case, why such an emphasis?  However, it is not the sinner who chooses God, but God who chooses (and desires to save, 1 Timothy 2:4) the sinner (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; John 15:16, 19).  God is the One who seeks (Luke 15).  Only in Christ is salvation certain and secure, not because of one’s decision, but because of Christ!

When McDowell speaks of “receiving” Christ, he means to say, “choosing Christ.”  Grammatically and in common usage, to receive something does not mean to choose it.  “Receiving” is a passive word, whereas “choosing” is an active one.  What McDowell is speaking about is a contradiction in terms.  According to McDowell, prayer is “talking with God.”  This is a correct definition.  Prayer is what the Christian does, having confidence in the Lord that He will hear and answer.

Yet McDowell contradicts himself when he says that prayer is “talking with God,” on the one hand, something in which we are active, and then goes on to say that “we receive Christ,” something in which we are passive, “through prayer.”  Receiving means “to be passive.”  Choosing or deciding means “to be active.”  So which is it?  Is it through what God does that we “receive” Christ, or is it through what we do, through prayer, that Christ becomes our Savior?

According to Holy Scripture, we received Christ through what God does.  See John 1:11-13; 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1-10, etc. Receiving Christ is only what we passively do.  It is God who gives.  It is we who benefit from His gifts as He gives them to us.  Faith and salvation are not even remotely our work (Ephesians 2:1ff).  Our own decisions or choices before God do not save.  Only Christ does.  McDowell here does not write clearly according to Scripture.

Another area in which the emphasis on man’s will shows itself is in quotes like the following and others like it:

“You can laugh and Christianity.  You can mock and ridicule it.  But it worksIf you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions—Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.

Christianity is not something to be shoved down your throat or forced upon you.  You have your life to live and I have mine.  All I can do is tell you what I have learned and experienced.  After that, what you do with Christ is your decision.” (xxvii) [Italics mine, for emphasis]

According to the above, McDowell would have the reader believe that he has the ability to decide for or against God.  But the Lord speaks of “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14), and “being” called children of God (passive; Romans 6:1ff; Galatians 3:26-27; 1 John 3:1[4]; note the verbs).

Christ is not an option (John 3:17-19; 8:23-24, 42-43).  Nor is Christ better than any other.  Rather, He is the Savior; the only One.  There is no other (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

McDowell would also have the reader believe that Christianity is right because it works.  Christianity, however, is right because it is the truth.   Practically speaking, Christians live under the cross.  They live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Therefore, whether Christianity seems to work, or not, Christianity remains true just the same, because it is of God, and Christ is the Church’s Head (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).  McDowell’s testimony is only human testimony.  But God’s Word is God’s testimony and not man’s.  Man’s word will change others little, but God’s Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12).

Apart from McDowell’s errors concerning man’s will, faith, conversion, and Scripture, the general content of this book is worthy of study.  If one be able to set aside the former, one will greatly benefit from the latter.  McDowell’s personal doctrinal positions aside, and that of Campus Crusade for Christ, this work is a valuable contribution to the apologetic task (John 5:25).[5]

[1] McDowell also notes that apologetics is ‘not the end’ when he writes, “The presentation of evidence (apologetics) should never be used as a substitute for sharing the Word of God” (xv).

[2] The prayer of McDowell’s father (xxvii, last paragraph of first column) is a clear example, not of faith, but of faithlessness, for the writer of Hebrews writes, “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Also, St. James writes, Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  That McDowell’s father did not pray in faith is clear from his use of the words “if God can do…,” “If you’re really God,” (implied– “if…Jesus died on the cross) “If Jesus can do…”  The prayer of faith does not pray with such uncertainty and doubt, but with confidence, not because of another’s experience, but because of God’s Word and promise.  See also Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5-6; John 14:1.  Also, note that the father had said, “I want to give God the opportunity.”  Is it we that give God ‘opportunity?’  God, rather, is the one who is, does, and says without our permission.  (Romans 9:14-33)

[3] McDowell’s and Campus Crusade for Christ’s use of Law here is telling.  Essentially, what saves is not the Gospel, but rather, the law.  The “Four Spiritual Laws” are just that—Laws.

[4] We do not become children of God by “decision.”  Nor do “birth” ourselves into the kingdom.  God gives life to that which was dead.

[5] Other works by Josh McDowell include, A Ready Defense and More than a Carpenter.

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