Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Living What Matters

Walking across The Horseshoe on the campus of the University of South Carolina a couple of years ago, I met a young man just coming out of a building from a class. He had his empty back-pack hanging off one shoulder, while he carried a small stack of books under the other arm. After a few moments of light conversation, I asked if he had a religious background, to which he got rather agitated and replied in a stern negative, adding that the Bible could not be trusted. I inquired how he came to that conclusion, to which he bitterly answered, “Because the Bible was written by men. It’s a waste of time. Only an idiot would believe the Bible.” The implication he was trying to make was crystal clear.

What happened next was like one of those movie scenes where everything freezes while a character thinks, dialogues, or moves about for a moment until everything resumes animation once more. I stood there, looked at him, looked at the books under his arm, his empty backpack, again the books under his arm and thought, “really?” When everything started moving again, I could not help, but had to ask:

“Who do you think would be more foolish: the one who believes a book written by men; or, the one who pays thousands of dollars in tuition to read books written by men and be accountable for the contents, whether he agrees or not?”

Everything froze again; or, he was just staring at me, thinking about the logical conclusion of his statement. We eventually parted ways (but not without giving him a gospel tract). Perhaps what is most ironic to me is that USC was founded by the first pastor of what was to become (and still is) the First Baptist Church in Columbia. I meet USC students often who object to the biblical worldview. When I ask how they came to their conclusions regarding their position, the most common answer points back to a class they took or a professor at USC!

People who object to the Bible never come to that conclusion by reading it themselves—they have to be taught their contrary positions.

Objections against the biblical worldview takes various forms, one of which is “truth is relative,” or my personal favorite, “you can’t know anything for certain.” I am amazed at how firmly people stand by their conviction without giving thought to how the argument undermines itself. I am also amazed that the age of the objection—this is nothing new, and I wonder when we will begin to learn from history? Augustine (354-430) faced such objections head-on in his book, “Against the Academics,” where he wrote, “The academicians themselves claim they follow only the probable in acting. Still they go to great pains to seek the truth, although they think it probable that truth cannot be found. Who would not laugh at this? What amazing absurdity!”

Long before Augustine, the apostle Paul faced objections just like we do today. Writing to Titus, Paul warns of unruly empty talkers and deceivers (1:10). “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (1:11) These are no mere open-air hecklers, but are influential teachers who are in close enough proximity to the church to warrant the admonition. These objectors are not simply confused in their opinions (that may be a contributing element, but not the sole cause). They are speaking out of rebellious ignorance and hatred—their motives are evil! They are exalting human understanding and judgment over prayer and faith in the authority of God that inspired His word.

Paul points out the necessity of broadcasting and standing in biblical truth in contrast to the character of false teachers. Paul quotes one of Crete’s own philosophers, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” (1:12) Their only intent through their rebellion is to make themselves prosper on those who follow their teaching. A family friend (who is not a follower of Christ, incidentally) does not miss the truth of this biblical teaching by his observances regarding the Phelps family and Westboro Baptist Church. This group consists of lawyers or one-time lawyers who are waiting for opportunity to consume anyone against whom they can build a case. This is an example of what Paul is talking about here because those who do not hold the biblical worldview are creating an uproar!

How are we to deal with those who raise objection? On the one hand, if one speaks contrary out of ignorance, he is to be taught. “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26) On the other hand, if one speaks contrary to biblical teaching with the intent on doing harm (especially for personal gain), he is to be rebuked (1:13). Rebuking is not a task performed lightly and there is no joy for the one who must do it. Paul often did it with tears (Phil 3:18). There is, however, joy in seeing another repent.

Here is an example of standing firm in truth while dealing with an objection: imagine you are talking with someone and they say, “The Bible has been changed. You can’t trust what it says now because it has been tampered with over time.”

Here is my response that serves as a rebuke for the proud and gives grace to the humble: “who is greater than God to change His Word?” I do not move from this position.

We must cultivate sound thinking because, despite all reason one may give in opposition, the darkness cannot abide in the light; that is, those who do not want the truth will do everything they can to reject it. They may ask hard questions, but don’t let that be discouraging, for the objector may not be asking good questions or they may not even understand what they are asking. How would you answer this one: “There is no such thing as an omnipotent God. Can God make a rock so big he cannot lift it?” This is not a good question because what is at stake is His creative ability vs. His ability to lift. Omnipotence is about power, not ability.

There is an element of hope in Paul’s instruction in verse 13: “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith . . .” The hope Paul has in mind was hinted at in 2 Timothy, above—that one can come to knowledge of truth and repent. This will only happen when we stand in the truth, speak the truth and live because it matters.

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