Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Truth is the point of reference we share with all human beings. No one can live without truth. Though we may disagree about which particular things are true or false, allegiance to the truth–whatever the truth may be–permits us to stand alongside every person as honest fellow inquirers. Our attitude is therefore not one of ‘us and them,’ but of ‘we.’ And we are forever here to learn and not only to teach.

Dallas Willard, “Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus” in Renewing the Christian Mind

Apologetics is the Christian discipline of theological argumentation concerned with the defense of particular doctrines, beliefs, or practices. The Latin term apologia translates “defense.” Christian apologists often cite 1 Peter 3:15, which in part reads, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Cast out of your mind the notion that argument can only be conducted in anger, or that arguments are always and only about power. Calm, reasoned arguments can be made. And they are often made. If willingly entered into by parties who are share a common objective of arriving at what is true, good, and beautiful, arguments can be decided on the merits. Arguments can be helpful. I wrote yesterday about arguments, not for the sake of argument, but toward wisdom, or the maturation and development of the human soul.

In that same essay cited above, Willard writes:

So, if at all possible–sometimes it is not, due to others–we ‘give our account’ in an atmosphere of mutual inquiry animated by generous love. However firm we may be in our convictions, we do not become overbearing, contemptuous, hostile, or defensive. For we know that Jesus himself would not do so because we cannot help people in that way. He had no need of it, nor do we. And in apologetics as elsewhere, he is our model and our master. Our confidence is totally in him. That is the ‘special place’ we give him in our hearts–how we ‘sanctify Christ in our hearts as Lord’–in the crucial service of apologetics.

I’ve always been struck by Willard’s contention that “Love of those we deal with will help us to observe them accurately and to stay entirely away from manipulating them–meanwhile intensely longing for them to recognize that Jesus Christ is master of the cosmos in which they live.” Willard understood apologetics to be a helping ministry, and as such, it must be conducted in a spirit of neighborly love.

Thus, to be an effective apologist requires undergoing a spiritual formation, not only a disciplining of the mind but of the body, wherein one is free to love one’s neighbor as oneself, to reason freely and without fear, to seek the good of the other, to put self aside, from a place of security derivative of one’s position as a child and servant of God.

Argument Yes, But Toward Wisdom

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But there is some blundering through the failure of instructors; they teach us to argue, not to live, and some error among pupils, who bring to their instructors not the purpose of developing their soul but their intelligence. So what used to be philosophy, the love of wisdom, has become philology, the love of argument.

Seneca, Selected Letters, #108.24

Seneca lived in the first century, and in his letters addresses human concerns as old as dirt. The ancient philosophers observed, quite often, the distinction between the philosopher and the sophist. I read Plato on the subject while in graduate school at the University of Kansas, and I’ve been thinking about this problem ever since. Who is the person of true wisdom, and who is playacting? And how can you tell?

Seneca’s Letter 108 addresses these questions. He observes that some teachers and instructors who present themselves as learned memorize quotations and familiarize themselves with the great sages of the tradition not to gain mastery in the art of skillful living but instead to present themselves, in appearance, as being persons of wisdom without the substance thereof.

In the closing remarks of Letter 108, Seneca writes:

. . . I want to remind you that listening to philosophers and reading their work is for the purpose of attaining a blessed life, not so as to hunt archaic or artificial language and extravagant images and figures of speech, but to learn beneficial instructions and glorious and spirited sayings which will presently be turned into action. May we learn such things so thoroughly that what were words become deeds. For I think nobody deserved worse of all mortal men than those who learned philosophy as if it were a saleable skill, who live in a fashion different from how they declare that one should live. They are parading themselves around as examples of a useless training, open to every failing they denounce. Such a teacher cannot benefit me any more than a seasick pilot in a hurricane. One must hold on to the helm as the breakers snatch it and struggle with the seas itself, one must rescue the sails from the wind; what help can a ship’s steersman give me who is stupefied and throwing up? Yet how much worse a storm buffets life than tosses any boat? We must not talk but steer. Everything these men say, everything they throw out as the crowd listens to them, is borrowed property: Plato said that, or Zeno said it, or Chrysippus and Posidonius and an immense squadron of so many names of this kind. I will tell you how the speakers can prove that these sayings are their own: let them practice what they preached.

Letter 108.35

Sounds almost biblical.

The subject matter I teach is called “practical theology.” In my view there is no other kind, for in the end all theology, if it is sound, has direct application to reality as it is lived and experienced.

If our arguments are only quibbles about words, and are not in an effort to grasp what is true, we are only sophists and not sages.

In the Christian tradition, it is not enough to rely on “borrowed property.” God’s outside wisdom must be possessed, transforming us from within. This comes not through words, but through a Word, the Word who is Christ. God’s wisdom can be possessed by us, not through argument, but atonement. Wisdom is not arrived upon through abstraction, but by way of an encounter with a person, a living Lord who as our Teacher contours his Way to the exact, particular needs of every student who enters his school of kingdom living.

Quite a Sight

Harris Creek Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, August 14, 2022

This week a couple of friends of ours were baptized at Harris Creek Baptist Church. It was something to see.

I am not part of Harris Creek, but I am part of the body of Christ, and to see over fifty people enter the waters for baptism is a reason for rejoicing. Children, teenagers, college students, parents entering the waters and then turning to baptize their children, adults in the latter half of life, the pastor baptizing, parents baptizing, grandparents baptizing, and powerful testimonies of new life in Christ. All incredible. A sight to see, for those with eyes to perceive it.

Baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward, spiritual reality, and an encapsulation of the gospel story. We are buried with Christ in baptism and are raised to walk in the newness of resurrection life. It is an act of obedience, following Jesus’ example, and a yielding of the self to his command.

Jesus commanded his followers to go, make disciples, and to baptize into the Trinitarian reality, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all who would enter the kingdom. The water is for a moment. Life with God is for eternity. We remember our baptism. Our life is a testimony to what it means. What story does your life tell?

God continues to call people into a life of relationship in and through Jesus. Few or many, salvation is by grace. The Christian message is, in part, a call to repent and be baptized, to turn from one spiritual reality and into another, from death into life for a lifetime and beyond.

That invitation is open to all.

Sermon: Preach the Word

This sermon was delivered to the First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, Texas on July 31, 2022.

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:1-8

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Sermon: Preach the Word

If you would open your Bibles with me to 2 Timothy 4:1-8. 

Rudyard Kipling, the author and poet most famous for The Jungle Book, wrote:

I keep six honest serving-men

  (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

  And How and Where and Who.

So, as we return to our Scripture for this morning, let’s employ these servants for a moment. Each Sunday, I trust that the Scriptures are read. We should, of course, listen. But we should listen for understanding, and, having gained understanding, we should respond according to what we have heard. Who, what, when, where, why, and how can help us gather the facts, to interpret those facts, and then to live in light of what is true.

2 Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul to a young associate in the ministry named Timothy. It is thought that Paul wrote this letter near the end of his life, while imprisoned in Rome by Nero, sometime in the mid to late 60s, A. D.

In Acts 16, we learn that Paul first met Timothy in Lystra, by way of a city called Derbe.

I want you to picture the Mediterranean Sea, and think of Judea on the eastern border, with Syria now to the north, and, in the first century, Cilicia then as you turn the corner back to the west, and then as you move away from the coastline, you approach the region of Lycaonia, which is where Lystra is located.

Paul visited Lystra during his first and second missionary journeys, and it is thought he likely visited again during his third missionary journey. On Paul’s first visit to Lystra, he healed a man who was lame. You can read this story in Acts 14:8ff. This event drew a crowd and caused quite a stir. 

Since most of the people there were only familiar with the stories of the Greek and Roman myths and legends, when they saw what had happened, they said, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 

And they began calling Paul “Hermes” (in the Greek myths, Hermes was known as the herald of the gods), and they referred to Paul as such because he was the one doing all the talking, and they called Barnabas “Zeus,” I guess because maybe Barnabas was the strong silent type, or maybe they thought he had kind of a stormy look. 

But this became a problem. The priest of Zeus brought sacrifices, because the people wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, and when they found out about it, this greatly distressed Paul and Barnabas. So what did they do? It’s so great, I’m going to read it. This is Paul, in Acts 14:15-17:

“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Even after giving that speech, they still had trouble stopping the people from offering their sacrifices. While this ruckus was still going on, some of Paul’s opponents from Antioch and Iconium arrived in Lystra, turned the crowd against Paul, where they stoned him and left him for dead.

But, they were wrong. Paul must’ve been tough. The disciples gathered around Paul, and Paul got up, joined Barnabas, and they continued on their way. Back to work.

Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute, why is this guy telling us this?” I’m telling you this because it widens the lens on the reading from 2 Timothy 4.

Timothy was probably born in Lystra. Imagine if you were a young person, and  you were present when these two men came to your town. Imagine, not only if you had heard about the healing of the lame man, but that you had heard about the claims these men were making.

Furthermore, in the speech we read just a moment ago, Paul claims that he and Barnabas brought “good news.” That’s not all. Paul and Barnabas told the people of Lystra to turn away from “worthless things to the living God.” And! And! Paul and Barnabas claimed that even though they had not known this living God, that God was nevertheless kind to the people of Lystra by providing for them rain and crops and even joy. In other words, Paul was telling them that even before they knew this God, God had been gracious toward them. Not to mention that Paul returned later to Lystra, even after they had tried to kill him.

If this was the local lore, you would think that this young man Timothy, if he did not witness these events, heard about them from friends, family, and neighbors. What must Timothy have thought of Paul?

In 2 Timothy 1 we learn that Timothy was raised knowing about Jesus. Paul mentions Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This reminds us that while Timothy may have heard from Paul directly, it was the women in his life who faithfully shared the Word of God with him in a manner that was transformative and enduring. 

There are a few in this room who might have a similar testimony. Or, there may be a few who are, at present, Lois or Eunice to some young child.

The New Testament contains two letters addressed by Paul to Timothy. Not only did Timothy travel with Paul on his missionary journeys. Timothy became a pastor, a preacher. In our passage, we can glean that Paul is writing not only as a peer but as a mentor. He is an older Christian, addressing a younger Christian.

But whether we are young, old, or somewhere in between, I think there are four truths we can identify in Paul’s charge to Timothy, that apply to every person in this room.

First, Paul offers a charge to preach. Second, Paul identifies challenges Timothy will face (and that we still face today). Third, Paul describes the contrast of a committed life. And fourth, Paul speaks of a crown of righteousness that he, and we, hope to receive.

Listen everybody: that’s right, he’s a Baptist preacher, he’s got four points, not three, and each point begins with the same letter. 

Just praise Jesus I didn’t make it five points.

The charge, the challenges, the contrast, and the crown. 

If I were to have a fifth point, it would be “the Christ.” But don’t worry, we’ll get to him, too.

  1. The Charge to Preach

Paul’s instruction, his “charge” to Timothy given in verse two, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” is very famous. 

Consider briefly a couple of things. First, the Greek term translated “charge” is used four times in Paul’s letters (here, 2 Timothy 2:14, 1 Timothy 5:21, 1 Thessalonians 4:6), and in those other places, this word is variously rendered as a “solemn charge,” or a “warning” or as a “solemn testimony” to convey Paul’s meaning. 

Paul’s not just saying, “Go get’em, Tiger.” He’s leveling with Timothy about a matter he considers to be of utmost importance, a task that is very serious. This is supported by Paul’s lead up to the charge in 2 Timothy 4:1: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom…”

Paul isn’t only saying to Timothy that he is offering this charge, but rather, that he speaks on behalf of one greater. It’s one thing if I show up at your doorstep and tell you to do something because another neighbor wants it, greater still if I come on behalf of the mayor, greater still if I come as a representative of the governor, and greater still if I come as a person commissioned by the office of the President of the United States. 

Paul claims to represent a person, and a kingdom, that is even greater. Paul is saying to Timothy, “This is our commission, this is whom we represent, with a mission of highest importance: herald the message, announce the reign of God, invite others to put their faith in Jesus, and to live as the redeemed and renewed people of God.”

Second, Paul doesn’t say, “tell people how to live” or “preach what you feel.” The subject of preaching is clearly given: “the Word.” There is a dual meaning here. 

First, we are to preach the Bible, the Word of God, the written and recorded revelation of God’s speaking, action, and movement among his people. In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.” Remember, when Paul wrote to Timothy, the Scriptures were what we as Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The New Testament canon was still coming into shape.

Preaching the Word requires knowledge of the Scriptures. Listening to sermons is just one way to be equipped to know, preach, and teach the Bible. I hope that many in this room would join me in the study of the Scriptures, and the daily reading of the Bible. I read four chapters each day. The Bible, the Old and New Testament, is God’s Word.

But secondly, “the Word” is the term chosen by John the Evangelist, in the Gospel of John, to refer to Jesus, the “Word” made flesh. We are instructed to preach Jesus. And, in my opinion, if we search the Scriptures prayerfully, with the Holy Spirit’s help, and under the instruction of Jesus, we will discover that all the Bible points us toward him, and that the faithful teaching and preaching of the Bible will lead us to a deeper love and devotion to God, and to Jesus, for the Scriptures are fulfilled in him.

The first three words of this verse, “Preach the Word,” likely before today, have stuck in your mind. If not, it is my hope that after today, you will never forget that all Christians–not just Timothy–are tasked to “preach the Word.” Paul’s statement is an imperative, a grammatical term meaning a “command.” 

We are told to do it. We are told to be prepared to do it in all times and places. As we do it, we are told that this preaching task involves correction, rebuke, and encouragement. And we’re told that our posture, as we do it, is patient and careful as we teach or instruct.

Last weekend I was on retreat near Belton, at a place called Summers Mill, and while on retreat I read a book by R. Robert Creech, Pastoral Theology in the Baptist Tradition

In that book, Dr. Creech reminded me that congregations do not only have one minister or perhaps a ministerial staff of a few. Congregations, in the Baptist tradition, have understood themselves to be made up of a membership of ministers. We all have a priestly task, one unto another. The pastor is called as one among the membership to shepherd the flock, to care and feed and protect and to walk alongside the people of God. But the people, as a whole, share in the ministry.

In 1 Peter 2:9, we read, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We are each called to proclaim the Word of God. Let’s be faithful in doing so, “in season and out of season; correct[ing], rebuk[ing] and encourag[ing]—with great patience and careful instruction.

  1. The Challenges, Past and Present

Paul knows the task won’t be easy. Remember, on Paul’s first visit to Timothy’s hometown, he experienced the highs and lows of ministry. He was worshiped as god, and then dragged out of town and left for dead. Timothy knew the risks.

Paul writes, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Remember, Paul wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago. We think false teachers and futile pursuits, the seduction of lies and the abandonment of truth is a new phenomenon. We think that’s something that only emerged in our day.

But this text should disabuse of that notion. In my opinion, I think this text should not only be a clear call to discernment regarding those we believe adhere to false teachings about God, reality, salvation, etc. in our world but also a call to discern unsound doctrine and false teaching among God’s people, and to correct such errors, to search the Scriptures and to rely on the Spirit to lead us into all truth, to seek God and to ask God to help us to walk before him faithfully. 

This applies to me, too.

Martin Bucer, a Protestant Reformer who met and was influenced by Martin Luther in the 1500s, in his commentary on these verses, observed, “Obedience to the holy gospel is to be maintained with great earnestness, because there is nothing that the devil and proud flesh oppose so vehemently. And people always want to have teachers and prophets who will not chide them, but tell them what they like to hear…”

If we faithfully preach the word to one another, from time to time, we will be uncomfortable. Martin Bucer observed that sound preaching should lead us to be moved by what we have heard, to acknowledge our sins more fully, to commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to Christ, or to seek more earnestly to improve our ways.

If we keep Paul’s charge to Timothy, we’ll not only be discerning about falsehood “out there,” but “in here.” We’ll face that challenge, squarely. And we’ll call one another to seek God faithfully, walking by the Spirit, open to the Spirit’s instruction as we are led into all truth (John 16:13).

  1. The Contrast of a Committed Life

We’ve considered Paul’s instruction to preach the word, and considered the challenges both past and present to maintain a faithful witness to the word. Now, we’ll consider the contrast of a committed life.

Look again at verse five, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Paul offers a fourfold description of a faithful minister: 1) keep your head, 2) endure, 3) evangelize, and 4) fulfill your responsibilities.

Let me put that a slightly different way. Paul offers a fourfold description of a mature Christian disciple. All those in this room who consider themselves a follower of Jesus are called to keep a cool head in all situations, endure suffering, share the good news of and about Jesus and his kingdom, and to be a faithful minister–in this congregation, in your family, in your workplace, and in this community, in your school.

I play in a pickup basketball game every Friday morning at the First Baptist Church of Woodway. I am often, though not always, the oldest guy there. After about an hour of play, we pause, hear a devotional thought from one of the ministers there, and pray in groups of two and three.

This week, one of the men, named Austin, who came to play shared that on a recent trip to H. E. B., he felt God’s leading to buy the bottle of ranch dressing held by the man in line behind him. So he did. And he struck up a conversation with the man. He shared his faith. He said that this act of kindness was because of what Jesus had done for him. And this other man shared that four years ago, he had come to know Jesus. The other man was an ex-convict. He had dealt drugs. But God had totally changed his life.

So these two guys, they walk into the parking lot, and as they share their testimonies with one another, and as they begin praying with one another, another man approaches them. They ask what he needs. The man tells them that he needs prayer. He said to Austin and his new acquaintance that he was struggling with sexual sin, and that he needed help, and freedom, and grace. And so they prayed together, and for this man, who, in his shame, would not offer his name.

Listen everyone, the application here is not to go and buy someone else’s ranch dressing at H. E. B. This isn’t a gimmick, or a technique, or a strategy. But it does illustrate a posture, an openness and a receptivity to God’s leading, and a way of being in the world as a servant of Christ that we all need to consider. And let’s admit it: it’s weird. It’s out of the ordinary. 

But so is the kingdom of God–which, when Paul went about the Mediterranean world announcing it, led to his being charged with “turning the world upside down” and proclaiming a king other than Caesar, namely, Jesus Christ.

There should be a “Christian difference.” Together, let’s ask God to make us people who keep a cool head, endure, are ready to share our faith, and who faithfully execute our ministries.

  1. The Crown We Hope to Receive

The call to preach, the challenges, the contrast, and now, finally, the crown we hope to receive. In verses six to eight, Paul writes:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Some of us, as we read this together, feel like Paul. We’ve given our life in service to Christ. The race marked out is nearing completion. Maybe we’re tired. Maybe we just want to be done. Maybe we’re struggling to finish.

Others are mid-race. We’re still running. We’re in the middle, the initial adrenaline has worn off, and the finish line may be distant enough that we’ve forgotten why we’re on the course.

And a few of us, I’m speaking with the young men and women, the teenagers in this room, have only recently left the starting line, and have only just begun our fight, our race.

We want to run well. Paul here offers us an image. He writes of “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award…on that day.” He adds that this crown is not only his hope, but the hope of all who know and follow Jesus, who serve him today, and who long for his return.

John Trapp, an Englishman who lived in the 1600s and who wrote a commentary on the Bible, observed of these verses, “Salvation is called a crown of righteousness, not because it is a right due to us, but because it is purchased for us by the righteousness of Christ, and shall be freely given to those who are justified by faith.” In other words, we don’t run to earn our salvation, but to receive it. We’re on the course because we’ve already been called and claimed by Christ.

We run our race, we fight our fight, we preach the word, we face our challenges, we adhere to sound teaching, we live differently as citizens of Christ and his kingdom because we have looked, and we have seen what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will one day bring to completion. Salvation is God’s gift, accomplished by Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. God’s salvation is being worked out, in us, in our world, and one day, will come in full on that day, when Christ returns. We live in and by and according to our hope.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus has finished his work of salvation, and his purposes continue to be worked out today, in and through us. We’ve been given a charge.

But we don’t take it up alone. God is with us. Jesus leads us. Remember the words of the hymn we sung a moment ago, by Fanny Crosby?

All the way my Savior leads me–

What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy,

Who through life has been my guide?

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,

Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know, whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well;

For I know, whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well.

Jesus has gone before us. He is the author, the pioneer, and the finisher of our faith. Let’s keep the charge given to us. Let’s preach the word. Let’s face our challenges. Let’s live faithfully according to our calling and commitment. Let’s remember, Christ has won a crown for us, and he awaits us at the finish. Let’s run a good race. Let’s be like Paul. Let’s be like Timothy.

Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. All the way, he leads us.

Keeping God Before Us

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Last week I relayed a thought from Dallas Willard (1935-2013) explaining that to think of God rightly, in a manner leading to worship, “is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining the spiritual formation of the whole person.”

Here is Henry Scougal (1650-1678) suggesting much the same thing:

The awareness and remembrance of the divine presence is the most ready and effectual means both to discover what is unlawful and to restrain us from it. There are some things a person could attempt to mitigate or defend, and yet he would not dare to look almighty God in the face and then set out to do them. If we look to him, we shall be enlightened. If we set him always before us, he will guide us by his eye and instruct us in the way wherein we ought to walk (Psalm 32:8).

The Life of God in the Soul of Man, p. 133

Scougal observed that many believe Christianity, or the true nature of religion and spirituality, to be a matter of orthodox belief or doctrine, outward behavior or ethics, and/or emotion or ecstatic experience. But religious faith in the Christian tradition, while it may involve such things, is none of these in and of themselves. Rather, Scougal writes, true religion “is union of the soul with God. It is a participation in the divine nature. It is the very image of God drawn upon the soul. In the apostle’s words, it is Christ formed within us” (p. 29). Scougal refers to this as “a divine life.”

Biblical and theological knowledge helps us to know God as God has been revealed to humankind, and a careful study of the history of the Christian movement and the conclusions reached concerning sound and reliable teaching by God’s grace and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit are helpful for our own journey. So, too, is the adoption of patterns of life and protocols for decision making that result in godly action. Furthermore, there are feelings and emotions evoked by the contemplation of a transcendent truth, the observation of the nature’s wonders, or the participation in a healthy, vibrant community that can encourage us and inspire us along life’s long and difficult way.

But there is no substitute for a personal relationship with God stemming from an open and wholehearted response to God’s invitation to fellowship, made possible to us not through a doctrine, or an ethic, or a feeling, but through a person: Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3 puts it this way:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

The invitation is open to all, to know and to be in relationship with the “life” who has appeared, who through faith imparts to us the gift of fellowship with God, and through fellowship establishes within us “the divine life.”

The Most Powerful Force in the Spiritual Formation of the Human Person

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

As disciples engage in the practice of placing Jesus Christ at center stage in every branch of human knowledge, they are simultaneously being encouraged to train their thoughts ever upon God. In this way they enter not only a life of study, but also a life of worship.

To think of God rightly, as God is, one cannot help but lapse into worship; and worship is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining the spiritual formation of the whole person. Worship naturally arises from thinking rightly of God on the basis of revealed truth confirmed in experience. We say flatly: worship is at once the overall character of the renovated though life and the only safe place for any human being to stand.

Dallas Willard, “Transformation of the Mind” in Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks [affiliate link]

Writing What’s True, Preaching According to Conviction, and Sean Tucker’s “Making the Art You Really Believe In”

I think Sean Tucker is right, and that much of what he says here has direct application to the craft of preaching, writing, and blogging.

Many preach, write, or publish on the web in an effort to become popular, rather than to uncover and offer what is true.

Popularity isn’t always the best measure of success, integrity, or profundity. Many artists, prophets, and innovators are widely misunderstood in their own time. Pursue truth. Point to it. Tell it. Relay it as you are able.