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The Christian life would be a lot easier if Christianity were more inclusive. Think of all the things we could believe and all the intellectual options available to us in the vast marketplace of ideas. Are there objective truths out there? It just wouldn’t matter; we could let subjective interpretations run wild and free. Aren’t humans just another biological species that gradually evolved from Mother Nature’s cyclical pattern? And if no one gets hurt, why can’t gender be as fluid as a social construct and sex be as much of a preference as a selection from a restaurant menu?

When things matter, conflict arises, and in Christianity, things matter. Objective truth matters, humanity’s special status as God’s image bearers matters, and the central role of marriage and the family matters to God. If it matters to God, it should matter to us.

Throughout history, God has placed His people in opposition to surrounding cultures and their ideas. Christians have seen attacks come from the natural sciences, the arts and entertainment, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and just about every other domain of knowledge. People who have devoted their lives to specializing in these disciplines can sometimes muster complex, detailed arguments against Christianity. Thus, it can seem as if Christians need to be omniscient to defend themselves.

Though we can’t know everything, we do have Someone omniscient on our side, and He has not kept us in intellectual darkness. He has spoken. The One who provides for His children’s daily needs also provides for His children’s epistemological (knowledge) needs.

Christians too often suffer theological amnesia when they open their Bibles. We forget we are reading words that have been orchestrated and arranged by an omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, good, omnipresent God. Nothing can take God by surprise. He was there when every word was written, divinely authoring and securing the Word we now read. And He is there, in sovereign, omnipotent control over history, with His bride the church after that Word was completed.

When Christianity faces attack—whether the attacks target individual believers or Christianity as a whole—it is crucial that we remember God’s character and His testimony in Scripture. He has pointed to Himself as the origin of the universe. He has told us that humans are made in His image and how that sets us apart from everything else in creation. He has told us that there is right and there is wrong. He has told us a vast amount about His creation and how the world works.

A proper defense ultimately serves the One who created both the challenged and the challenger.

So it should come as no surprise when those outside the church (or even from within) look at the world and come to conflicting beliefs about its origins, the status and role of humans, what is right and what is wrong, etc. God tells us in 1 Peter 3:15–16:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

In this passage, Peter gives us principles to live by when our Christian beliefs come into conflict with the surrounding culture. When should we be prepared to make a defense? Always. And in doing so, we defend ourselves (and our God) with gentleness and respect. Our demeanor flows naturally from the honor we give Christ when we (and He) are slandered.

What Peter gives in principle, Paul puts into practice. In Acts 17, Paul found himself in mixed theological company among both Jews and Greeks. The way he defended his faith is noteworthy. In Thessalonica, Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. In Berea, it was the Bereans who checked Scripture to see if what Paul was saying was true. But in Athens, we get a closer look at Paul’s model of defense.

As he interacts with the people in Athens, he faces Jews and Greeks, reasoning with both by preaching Christ and His resurrection (v. 18). Paul links reason with truths such as Christ’s resurrection, truths that some have incorrectly taken to be sources of embarrassment for Christians then and now. But he also demonstrates intimate knowledge of their culture and their beliefs. They believe in a god, but not the true God. The true God created the world, created Adam and all who came after him, and calls everyone to repent before the resurrected Christ comes again on judgment day (v. 31). Paul’s method is to tell the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. And he does so while informed by the culture to which he is speaking. He is familiar with Athenian philosophy and Athenian art. Paul models that fine balance of being both uncompromising in one’s theological defense and at the same time knowing the culture and beliefs of those who put up a challenge.

The Christian life on this earth is not (and should not be) a life of intellectual ease. God has seen fit to surround His church with a never-ending barrage of challenges from every academic discipline. But God not only exercises sovereign control over each challenge, He has graciously provided us with the tools to answer those challenges. While we may be forced to say, “I don’t know,” when facing intellectual giants, confidence in our omniscient Savior should always keep our faith strong. Knowing the opposing person and the culture as much as we can is not just a helpful persuasive tactic, but our defense of Christianity serves those who do not even know they desperately need it. And a proper defense ultimately serves the One who created both the challenged and the challenger.

Faithful Preaching amid Persecution

Resolutions

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From the July 2018 Issue
Jul 2018 Issue