Article 1 in the series, A Living Faith for a Vibrant Mind
"when he realizes he has some disqualifying sin in his life (cf. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), even if not public, he must be willing to remove himself from ministry on principle alone. If he does not possess the integrity to make such a decision independently and objectively, even in the face of serious hardship for him and his family, he never possessed the necessary character for ministry to begin with."
The mid to late 90’s served as the period of greatest intellectual development and theological expansion for me. I began biblical studies at the college level in ’91, but my formative years were really in the context of my seminary training when I was exploring all the divisions of theological and biblical study, and trying to figure out where I needed to spend the most time and invest the greater part of my energies and resources. One of those areas was in apologetics and the closely related field of philosophy, neither of which I knew much about. I joined a couple of discussion forums, which were conducted via email in those days, and in which I was basically a lurker. One of those forums was the reformed-epistemology forum. The subject matter was intriguing because it dealt with issues related to the way in which Christians are able to rationally justify their Christian-theistic beliefs. The thought of producing philosophical arguments that thinking unbelievers would have to acknowledge as being rationally compelling or even irrefutable was an exciting prospect.
At the time, Christian philosophy was all-the-buzz in academic circles because of the exciting work being done by a handful of professional Christian philosophers who were teaching and thriving in secular universities, the most significant of which was the famed philosopher Alvin Plantinga. The leader-owner of the reformed-epistemology group was a guy who had earned a D.Phil. in philosophy at The University of Oxford, had written his dissertation on Plantinga, and was teaching philosophy at an American university. However, he moved from school to school seemingly unable to find a place where he fit in well.
He went on to write a significant work entitled The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology and was working on this while I was writing a post-graduate thesis that also examined issues related to natural theology and apologetics. In fact, we exchanged a bit of work—I sent the guy some of my thesis work and in turn joined a book critique group that he formed in order to get feedback on his book chapters.
To give you an idea of the thing He was working on, here’s the Amazon.com description of my friend’s book. It reads:
[The author] … examines three prominent objections to natural theology that have emerged in the Reformed streams of the Protestant theological tradition: objections from the immediacy of our knowledge of God, the noetic effects of sin, and the logic of theistic arguments. Distinguishing between the project of natural theology and particular models of natural theology, [The author]… argues that none of the main Reformed objections is successful as an objection to the project of natural theology itself. One particular model of natural theology - the dogmatic model - is best suited to handle Reformed concerns over natural theology. According to this model, rational theistic arguments represent the reflective reconstruction of the natural knowledge of God by the Christian in the context of dogmatic theology. Informed by both contemporary religious epistemology and the history of Protestant philosophical theology, [the author’s]... examination illuminates the complex nature of the project of natural theology and its place in the Reformed tradition.
For the record, I disagreed with some of the fundamental evaluations, premises and conclusions of the book, and Chapter 2 of my thesis presented some of these disagreements. I sent this to my friend but for whatever reason, never heard back from him.
About this time a couple of years ago (Jan 2012), after years of thinking and writing arguments related to the justification of theistic belief from a reformed perspective, my friend abandoned Christianity and converted to Hinduism of all things. He stated in a letter that he had experienced some crises in his personal life, and ironically, a near fatal car wreck (I experienced a near-fatal car wreck 06/04/2012, which broke my neck and caused other severe injuries, but which had very different spiritual/intellectual results).
Over the preceding few years he had been a lecturer in philosophy of religion at the University of San Francisco emphasizing the post-mortem views of the world religions. As a result, during a major time of transition and in the midst of a complex of personal crsises, he had been meditating in a Hindu religious book for his course work, which culminated with what he describes as a “powerful experience of Krishna,” i.e. he felt that a Hindu god was reaching out to him.
My friend experienced an existential crisis and what he had been meditating on filled the void for him. In a letter explaining His conversion experience, he cited nothing related to philosophical argumentation or theological concerns. Rather, he explains that he “felt drawn” to Hinduism personally and philosophically—in fact his new worldview is terribly irrational, but was something that he experienced in a moment of crisis with the result that he abandoned his commitment to Christian-theism. Note: we have not said that it resulted in his abandonment of Christ, but rather, his commitment to the Christian-theistic worldview. Also note that philosophical argumentation cannot replace faith.
What do we make of this? The easiest response is to suggest that he was never a believer in the first place, and then to move on shaking our heads. But Scripture does not let us off the hook with that kind of an answer. On the contrary, there are several important biblical exhortations that suggest we ought to take this as a warning to ourselves and engage in some real self-introspection. Here’s a couple of examples:
- 2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; …
- 1Timothy 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
- 2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
- 1 Cor 9:23--10:13
The above experience is unusual only in the level of sophistication in the thinking involved, and in the worldviews exchanged. With that in mind, I want to share with you some common red flags that I have observed over the years in friends, students, associates, etc., who have expressed a serious commitment to Christ but have gone on to abandon that commitment—particularly after they have engaged in academic work.
To that end, this post is directed primarily to Christian academics and from the perspective of a pastor and fellow academician. I regularly observe what I consider cause for concern, red flags so to speak, particularly in younger academics, and so I have compiled a list of the 10 most common indicators that you might apostatize in 2014, or in some later year, beginning with number 10 and proceeding to number 1.
10. Your ministry ambitions are fueled by something other than to see Christ’s Kingdom expanded.
We live in a day when everybody seems to be publishing something regardless of the quality or potential contribution of their work—to the Kingdom. The world of Christian academia/publishing provides an unusual niche market for producers of biblical studies tools/resources. This niche contains much opportunity for enterprising writers, scholars, and publishers. However, peculiar to this market is an unusual admixture of self-promotion and Christ-promotion, and lines between ministry and self-service are easily blurred.
In Christian academic/pseudo-academic circles, it’s likely that the two most common motivators for publication are self-promotion and compensation. In fact, recently when dialoging with an editor for whom I’m doing some work, these two incentives were cited as effective motivators for others, and provided as reasons for why I might want to expand my own project. In his defense, he has a project that needs to be completed regardless of my own heart attitude.
But here is the danger: Christo-centric ministry is God/Christ/Kingdom focused; ego-centric ministry is self-focused and idolatrous, and sometimes phrases like “Kingdom Impact” can be code for “See how great/smart/gifted I am!” It can be very difficult to discern one’s own motives with this. Christian ministers, writers, and scholars, etc. can easily succumb to this temptation by cloaking oneself and one’s work in the vestiges of Kingdom service, though really employed in service to self.
Remember the warning of John, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1Jo 2:16 NAS). In other words, one red flag that you may abandon the faith in 2014 or in some future year is that you are secretly motivated to be somebody, or to gain something, rather than to please Christ, and you rationalize your motivations all the way through. Why is this an indicator you may abandon the faith? When such motivations develop and are allowed to go unchecked, one grows comfortable with using truth/ministry as a platform for gain.
Remember, a distinguishing characteristic in the OT between the real prophet and the false prophet could be discovered by looking at their respective motivations. False prophets were opportunists and were often motivated by the three G’s: gold—financial gain, glory—prominence via religious service, and girls—fulfillment of sexual lusts. False prophets were characterized by low morality. Cf. Micah 3:5, 11; Isa 28:7; Jer 23:11, 14, 15; Ezek 22:25; Zeph 3:4
9. You are more interested in enjoying your personal liberty than in erring on the side of personal restriction when it comes to the use of liberty.
Libertarians will hate what I am about say. I recognize the danger of legalism and pharisaism at this point and I don’t take that lightly. However, do a simple statistical analysis of the amount of Scriptural space dedicated to the theme of separation from the world contrasted with passages urging us to loosen up, and you’ll be hard pressed to dismiss this warning.
Obviously, a lack of motivation to strive for personal holiness is a red flag. However, erring on the side of liberty is a red flag for several key reasons. First, it is not consistent with Paul’s model, who we know was a success in the biblical meaning of the term. He wrote,
And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:23-27).
Second, it would seem that those most gripped with the accomplishments of Christ’ sacrifice for them personally would be most zealous to honor him, possessing a tendency to be overly hard on themselves. Again, I recognize the danger of legalism at this point and am painfully aware of the harm of evangelical asceticism; I have injured myself more than once because of a lack of balance and I don’t take this lightly. In balance, however, anyone who is serious about their personal holiness knows how fragile they actually are, spiritually speaking: the Pauline model—take nothing for granted. Are you not gripped with the significance of passages such as 1 John 3:5, “And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” What about 1 Peter 2:24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” What about 1 Peter 3:18,
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;…” Do such reminders not create in you a passion to avoid even the taint of sin? Jude seemed to be getting at this: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh [emphasis mine].
Remember Timothy’s model—he unnecessarily abstained from wine even when it would have done him good as a medicinal practice, so Paul had to gently instruct him on this. It is remarkable how often I hear of ministers who blatantly engage in questionable practices: use of profanity, earthy humor, celebrate earthy forms of entertainment, questionable tax practices, etc. There is seemingly no struggle to avoid the appearance of sin (yes, I take the other interpretation). By the way, when you take care of the way things look, you often take care of the way things are. When a Christian leader dismisses exhortations such as “…avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness” (2Ti 2:16), I am concerned for them.
Third, in consideration of the conscience of the weak, the Christian leader ought to possess a willingness to sacrifice something that is really OK, for no other reason than it is a stumbling block to the conscious of a weak, untrained, or immature believer. Cf. 1 Cor. 8—to wound the conscience of another is to sin against Christ cf. 1 Cor. 10.
Along this line, the Christian leader must be willing to remove himself from ministry if/when he realizes it is best for the Church for him to do so. If he is not willing to suffer personal loss, whether in position or in possession, for the sake of the Kingdom, he is unfit for ecclesiastical leadership to begin with. For example, if he comes to realize that he constitutes a financial hardship on his people, he must be willing to get an alternate form of employment/sustenance.
More seriously, though, if/when he realizes he has some disqualifying sin in his life (cf. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), even if not public, he must be willing to remove himself from ministry on principle alone. If he does not possess the integrity to make such a decision independently and objectively, even in the face of serious hardship for him and his family, he never possessed the necessary character for ministry to begin with. An indicator of whether a man has this character is that he is willing to deny himself small things that really are OK, on nothing more than principle. A mark of a servant of Christ is a willingness to sacrifice what one rightfully has in order to preserve another. When this mark is missing, the mind of Christ is missing. Recall:
“…Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed ( 1 Peter 2:21).
8. You play fast and loose with Scripture.
This one is pretty straightforward and gets a lot of press because it shows up in pulpits, in living, in counseling. It has to do with the way that you handle and/or practice Scripture publicly. Simply put, you do not take God’s Word as seriously as you should. However, the difference between this one and #7 below, is that this one is more casual, unintentional, and attitudinal, and the one below is more self-conscious and deliberate. The key difference is that this one is a reflection of a heart attitude, and the other is a more deliberate manifestation of a methodology. In fact, this one appears more benign and may just look like a lack of focus or maturity, but it may be a precursor to #7 or may even be #6 in embryonic form. Recall, however, the biblical warnings:
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.
1Timothy 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
Note: A thinker who does not strive to handle God’s Word well is not striving to comply with the revealed mind of God.
7. When you are confronted with an interpretive difficulty, your tendency is to find fault with Scripture rather than to resolutely work through to a valid conclusion.
In other words, when you see an interpretive difficulty, you begin to question the inspiration, inerrancy, or sufficiency of the text of Scripture. This is nothing more than a lack of confidence in God’s Word. I have discovered, however, if you work at arriving at an interpretation consistent with a high view of Scripture, you’ll end up: 1.) finding the right interpretation; 2.) finding the one that best reflects the testimony of Scripture about itself—that is most consistent with the self-witness and message of Scripture; 3.) will find one that demonstrates a far higher level of thinking/writing in the original author than the critic would have imagined or been able to discover, and 4.) will find yourself thrilled at the complexity and beauty of the biblical text.
This is my experience whenever I do exegesis on the biblical text, particularly the sections that are most difficult or most misrepresented by the critic. The critic is motivated by unbelieving presuppositions driven by unargued philosophical bias, prejudicial conjecture, etc. and will regularly miss the more nuanced aspects of the literature. Additionally, he employs a faulty methodology. I’ve provided concrete examples of this in my own writing regarding Psalm 19.
The unbelieving scholar will often select the interpretation that: reflects a low view of Scripture, deconstructs or undermines Scripture, or is just the easiest one to arrive at. This happens because there was no striving to see how the passage really makes sense; there was not the confidence in Scripture necessary to compel the student/scholar to do the really hard work of textual analysis. Sometimes, however, the unbelieving scholar wants to arrive at an architectonic interpretation propelled by a desire to be innovative, etc.
The more I analyze the details of the text in the original languages, the more impressed I am with the genius of not only God, but of the human writers who served as the instruments for this work. My own exegetical work has bolstered my confidence in Scripture, not reduced it.
Observe Gleason Archer’s procedures for handling biblical difficulties:
- Be fully persuaded an explanation or reconciliation exists.
- Trust in the inerrancy of Scripture as originally written down.
- Carefully study the context and framework of the verse to ascertain the original intent of the author.
- Practice careful exegesis: determine author intent, study key words, note parallel passages.
- Harmonize parallel passages.
- Consult [the best] Bible commentaries, dictionaries, lexical sources, encyclopedias.
- Check for a transmissional error in the original text.
- Remember that the historical accuracy of the biblical text is unsurpassed; that the transmitted text of Scripture is supported by thousands of extant manuscripts some of which date back to the second century B.C.
(Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Chicago: Moody Press, 1994, P. 36).
6. Your interpretive decisions are more likely to be influenced by popular opinion than by the grammatico-historical model of exegesis.
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on women—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on church discipline—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on creation—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on Hell—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on the virgin birth—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on the impeccability of Christ—so you reject that part
- You’re uncomfortable about the Bible’s teaching on justification by faith, or the substitutionary atonement, imputation of sin/righteousness/total depravity/original sin—you reject these things
- Before you know, you have rejected the Gospel
A desire to allow one’s theology to be determined by the grammatico-historical model of exegesis is a willingness to submit one’s thinking to the Divine author of Scripture. This attitude of submission is a component to submitting one’s thinking to the Lordship of Christ, which is required to be His disciple.
5. You will alter your theology based on life circumstances/experiences.
- I’m not talking about using discretion in the way you articulate your theology in a given social setting/context, rather, when you are willing to actually change what you believe or say you believe: to get a job, ministry, promotion, degree, etc.
- In other words, your articulated or private theological commitments are situational, they are not deeply held. They can be bought/sold; they are not commitments at all, they are not convictional; they are perspectives that can be exchanged according to the need of the moment.
- This is a particular struggle for those who have acquired advanced degrees, Ph.D.s, D.Phil.s, etc., who feel pressure to get a job after years/decades of advanced study and who perhaps have debt to boot. Perhaps they find an opportunity at a seminary representing a different theological perspective, or a secular university hostile to evangelical theology. Perhaps they are able to get the job, but must compromise to gain tenure.
4. You will alter your theology due to relationships.
This is similar to #5 above, but the nuance resulting in compromise is different. If a person is willing to abandon Christ, it will often surface here. This is related to what Christ was getting at in Matt 10:34-39.
Matthew 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39"He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.
Are you willing change your views on essential Gospel truths or clear biblical teaching to maintain relationships, even close ones? If so, your commitments are still based on convenience rather than a non-dispensable component of your DNA.
Personally, if my uncle/cousin/brother/father is running for a political office, for example, on a platform that is fundamentally contrary to my convictions, I’m neither voting for him nor putting his sign in my yard, though I may choose to highlight positives about him as a person or employee as appropriate. This is the kind of the thing that can make holiday celebrations with family treacherous.
3. You stop struggling against sin.
You begin to tolerate sin, whether private or blatant, in your personal life, or in the church. It is worth nothing that in 1 Thessalonians, Paul spends 3 chapters lauding the Thessalonians for what they had done right before ever issuing an exhortation. When he finally does exhort them, it looks like this:
“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality….”
A few key points can taken from this: 1.) Apostolic teaching has its source in God, not man or his social conventions and is therefore not relative, i.e. the standard delivered by Apostolic teaching is the standard for purity, not the world’s standards; 2.) Even the best Christians must be reminded and exhorted to grow in sanctification, i.e. Christ-likeness; 3.) God’s stated will for you is that you become like Christ and be pure. If someone asks you what God’s will for you is, you know at least this: God’s will for me is my sanctification, i.e., to be Christ-like, not the least of which is my sexual purity. One warning sign that you are in trouble is when you cease striving against sin stop coveting Christ-likeness.
2. You give up/replace on your devotional studies with activities.
The idea here is that you give up on maintaining the mind of Christ. Recall Paul’s exhortation to the Romans:
Romans 12:1--"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Note: 1.) Your spiritual service of worship is the presentation of yourself to God as a holy sacrifice which is alive, as opposed to a dead animal offering, in your living; and 2.) the way to avoid devolving toward worldliness intellectually or practically is to renew your mind thus proving/accomplishing God’s will. The term translated “be transformed” is the Greek imperative μεταμορφοῦσθε, “metamorphousthe.” The English term metamorphosis derives from this term. Consider the change a butterfly undergoes as it morphs from the caterpillar. The idea here is that we naturally devolve into worldliness unless we take care to ensure a continual metamorphosing of our thinking by bringing it into conformity with Christ. The revealed mind of Christ is what is revealed to us in His Word.
1. You are not primarily motivated by an adoration for Christ.
- Is Christian-theism rationally defensible even within the context of serious analytic philosophy? Yes.
- Can we identify and point out to our unbelieving friends the rational-irrational dialectic inherent within their non-Christian worldviews? Yes—to the degree that our friend will listen.
- Can we demonstrate the irrationality of unbelief and of competing worldviews by showing that all non-Christian worldviews inherently possess irresolvable tensions between their main components and from which biblical Christianity is free? Yes.
- Can a person understand the system of Christian truth and the Gospel in particular and have an existential religious experience in connection to a time of reflection on these truths and still fail to believe in Christ salvifically? Yes.
- Ultimately, in order to be a Christian, one must adore, treasure, worship and trust in Christ as the Son of God and his own Savior from sin. To be clear, one must obey the Gospel to be a Christian.
- See Matt 13:44-51
- If you want to make sure that you are a Christian, simply ask yourself the question, “Am I obeying the Gospel?” Second, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit enabling, make sure that you are in fact obeying the Gospel and that you continue to do so.
* About me, see profile. Note: The present article is adapted from two messages delivered on 12/31/12 at The Bible Church of Beebe, and serves as post 1 of the in-progress blog series: “A LIVING FAITH FOR A VIBRANT MIND.” SEE BELOW FOR DESCRIPTION OF SERIES. Articles will be uploaded each Monday through the completion of the series.