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What Are the Most Churched (and Unchurched) Cities in America?
Is your city on any of these lists?

Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?
“I’ve never really known how to identify the scope of the biblical illiteracy facing us until I read this past weekend a sentence that perfectly articulated what I had noticed, in David Nienhuis’ very helpful new book A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament (Baker). Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.”

Why I’ve Spent Half My Life Helping North Korea
“North Koreans are real human beings who are trying to love their families well. They’re trying to raise their kids. They’re trying to be healthy. They suffer just like we do. They long for better relationships with the outside world, with us as “the enemy.” They want to know who we are and why we think the way we do….It’s a very complex situation, but I think the Bible is very clear: We are called to actively love our enemies. When we do, God enters into that space and brings healing, understanding, righteousness, and justice. So we’re called to engage. We’re called to reach out. We’re called to remember that these are our brothers and sisters.”

3 Downsides of Thinking You Are Better Than You Are
“Most speakers think they are better speakers than they actually are. Most leaders think they are better leaders than reality says they are. And most professional football players, according to John Madden, think they are better than they actually are.”

My Writing Process, Advice for Aspiring Authors
From Randy Alcorn, author of over 50 books.

Free Ebook: ‘The Case for Life’
“Fill out a brief survey on your Bible reading habits to download a free digital copy of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture today.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Some excellent commentaries available here for $5.99 and $6.99. I almost always consult this series in my sermon prep.

What’s in the Bible: A One-Volume Guidebook to God’s Word by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth $1.99.

Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship  by Timothy M. Pierce $2.99.

50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith by Warren W. Wiersbe $1.99.

A Surprising Puritan Apologist

Ever thought of Matthew Henry as an apologist? No, neither had I until I came across the last book he sent to the printers just twenty-three days before he died in 1714.

The book is entitled The Pleasantness of a Religious Life: Opened and proved; and recommended to the consideration of all; particularly of young people. It comprises the last six sermons in his two-year apologetic series on the Reasonableness of the Christian Religion and was based upon Proverbs 3:17, “Her [Wisdom's] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”

Henry’s apologetic passion is not only clear in its title but also in the preface to the book, where he states that “the Pleasantness of Religion is what I have long had a particular kindness for, and have taken all occasions to mention.” In other words, it was his favorite and most frequent subject. When you read his commentary with this knowledge, you see his arguments for the reasonableness and pleasantness of the Christian life everywhere.

After asserting that “Nothing draws more forcibly than pleasure,” he explained his apologetic motive in writing:

In order, therefore, to the advancing of the interests of the divine life in myself and others, I have here endeavored, as God has enabled me, to make it evident, that the Pleasures of the Divine Life are unspeakably better, and more deserving than those of the animal life: were people convinced of this, we should gain our point.

A brief exegesis of Proverbs 3:17 is followed by Henry’s own summary of what it teaches: The doctrine, therefore, contained in these words, is, that true piety has true pleasure in it. Or thus; the ways of religion are pleasant and peaceful ways.

His apologetic strategy is further demonstrated in the chapter titles, with three chapters dedicated to proving the truth in different ways (Chapters II-IV), and one to defending the truth from objections (Chapter VI) as can be seen from the table of contents:

Chapter I. The Explication of the Doctrine.

Chapter II. The Pleasure of being Religious, proved from the Nature of True Religion, and many particular Instances of it.

Chapter III. The Pleasantness of Religion proved from the Provision that is made, for the Comforts of those that are Religious, and the Privileges they are entitled to.

Chapter IV. The Doctrine further proved by Experience.

Chapter V. The Doctrine illustrated by the Similitude used in the Text, of a Pleasant Way or Journey.

Chapter VI. The Doctrine vindicated from what may be objected against it.

Chapter VII. The Application of the Doctrine.

You can buy a modern edition of this work with a foreword by J. I. Packer, or you can read the online text here. It’s a good example from a surprising source of the kind of needs-based or experiential apologetics that we’ve been exploring the last week or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s a helpful model to learn from and adjust to our own day and its own great needs, needs that the Christian faith alone can satisfy.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics
Experiential Apologetics
The Most Common Apologetic in the Bible?
A Brief History of Needs-Based Apo0logetics

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11 Ways We Can All Nurture Our Mental Health
“Our mental health is not entirely outside our control. In fact, even when a genetic predisposition is present, or our circumstances are harmful, our lifestyle choices can prevent a disorder from developing, lessen its severity, or help us achieve better recovery. Regardless of our predispositions, experiences, or sense of health, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to neglect the opportunity to protect and strengthen our mental health. No matter who you are, why not give some thought and care to your mental health this year? Here are 10 ways we can all do that.”

Disability and a Theology of the Body
“A “body is everything” theology (at least functionally speaking) leads to a near-exclusive focus on comfort and relief of bodily suffering in a ministry context. This may be associated with the assumption that suffering people in their particular state of disability bear little to no responsibility before God. They are sufferers much more than they are sinners. On the other hand, a “body is nothing” theology (again, functionally speaking) leads to a near-exclusive focus on soul care. Seeing people come to Christ and discipling them is where the action is. Suffering is primarily seen as a pathway to holiness rather than something to grieve and lament. But either of these two extremes actually dehumanizes people. How does Scripture provide a balanced view of the body?”

How to Reconcile with Another Christian
“How do we reconcile with fellow Christians? In my thirteen years of pastoral ministry, I have found that much of my calling deals with helping those who have been injured by other people—especially other people in the church.”

The Joy of the Old Testament
“After reading the New Testament multiple times over, while only reading small chunks of the Old Testament, I realized something was missing. One time, as I came to the end of the New Testament, again, I felt a void. The New Testament wasn’t coming together as I had hoped. I was not gaining the joy in God that it once had. I did not have a want for more.”

Preparing for Winter
“The response of Christian higher education to the coming winter must therefore be twofold: financial planning for the worst-case scenario, where not only federal money but also tax-exempt status is revoked; and careful reflection on how the curriculum can cultivate accurate and wholesome aesthetic judgment. And, given the very brief time colleges have to shape young people’s minds, they need to see their task as adjunct to the greater task of family and, above all, church—the vessels that carry us from the cradle to the grave.”

Will You Pray for Awakening? Download Your Free Prayer Guide
“We hope this prayer guide encourages you this year and in future years. Join us in praying fervently for a mighty movement of God’s Spirit today, thankful that He has graciously promised to hear us, and confident that He will answer our prayers according to His will.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Defending Your Faith: An Introduction by R.C. Sproul $2.99.

Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today  by David R. Helm $3.99.

Do No Work: Beat Burnout, Find Inner Peace, and Strengthen Your Faith by Studying the Most Overlooked of the Ten Commandments by Andrew Gilmore $0.99

A Brief History of Needs-Based Apologetics

Over a number of blog posts, I’ve been arguing for the addition of  ‘emotional’ apologetics to the apologists armory. I’ve been making the case that apologists should pay more attention to basic human needs, feelings, longings, and desires and the suitability of the Christian faith to meet and satisfy them. In a previous post, we looked at the biblical evidence for such an apologetic method and today we want to highlight examples of this approach in church history. Unless stated otherwise, the quotations are from Avery Dulles’s classic book, A History of Apologetics.

The Letter to Diognetus (@130 AD): This letter of disputed authorship was written by “a brilliant rhetorician who painted an appealing picture of Christian faith and life” and “it remains one of the most stirring presentations of the Christian ideal.” (29)

Clement (150-215): In his apologetics, he writes in a style “calculated to attract his readers and make them enthusiastic for the following of Christ.” Clement portrayed Christ as “the new song, which, like the canticles of David before Saul, drives out evil spirits and restores health to those disturbed in mind.” (32)

Tertullian (160-225): He “gives a moving description of the Christian way of life, reminiscent of that in Justin’s First Apology.” (41)

Origen (184-253): Christian minds, he says, “are marvelously filled with peace and joy” and experience “wonderful moral renewal.” (36-7)

Augustine (354-430): One of his books was entitled The Happy Life, An Answer to Skeptics. “The point of departure for Augustine’s apologetic is subjective and psychological rather than objective and systematic. He notes within man an inescapable drive toward happiness and, once the possibility of immortality becomes known, a drive toward eternal life. As he observes at the conclusion of his dialogue On the Happy Life:

This, then, is the full satisfaction of souls, this the happy life: to recognize piously and completely the One through whom you are led into the truth, the nature of the truth you enjoy, and the bond that connects you with the supreme measure. (60)

Dulles sums up the apologetics from the third to the sixth century as similar in structure to those of the second century but notes “they prefer to argue from the effects of the gospel on the minds and hearts of believers.” (70)

Aquinas (1225-1274): He develops “some very long and persuasive proofs based on the total harmony of revealed truth, the accord between revelation and naturally known truths, and the correspondence between the Christian dogmas and the needs of man.” (94)

John Duns Scotus (1266-1308): God “gives light and consolation to those who sincerely inquire and adhere to the Christian faith.” (99-100)

Raimundus Sabundus (d. 1436): His basic principle was ‘Believe whatever makes a person happier.’ “A fundamental principle of the author’s reasoning is that man ought to affirm ‘whatever is more for his profit, good, and improvement, for his perfection and dignity and exaltation, insofar as he is a man, whatever promotes joy, happiness, consolation, hope, confidence, and security, and whatever expels sadness, despair.’ On this basis Sabundus finds it easy to establish the existence of God as a belief that impels man to higher perfection and joy.” (95)

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498): Savonarola’s argued for Christianity based on the effects of embracing the Gospel. “Unlike many of the apologists so far examined he puts little emphasis on the proofs from prophecy and physical miracles. Far more central to his argument are the wisdom and goodness of Christ and the manifest effects that follow from a wholehearted acceptance of the gospel. One of the principal effects of the Christian life is peace, joy of spirit, and liberty of heart.” (109)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): Although Pascal is often thought to be the pioneer of the more psychological needs-based type of apologetics, the evidence thus far shows that he was simply following a long tradition of apologists. Pascal’s basic question was ‘If man was not made for God, why is he never happy except in God?” He explains his method:

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good.

After listing various religions and philosophies, he asks: “Do they give a plausible account of the actual state of man and do they offer any remedy that could give man happiness?” The aim of his argument says Dulles is to bring someone “to the point of wishing that he could believe, without having yet proved that Christianity is true (125)

In Existential Reasons for Belief in God, Clifford Williams highlights Pascal’s classic ‘Infinite Abyss’ passage:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

Or as he put it elsewhere “No one is so happy as a true Christian, or so reasonable, virtuous, and lovable.”

Williams notices how hopeful this existentialism is compared to the despairing existentialism associated with the French atheistic existentialists, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Yes, Pascal agrees, there are great human needs, but the Christian God can satisfy them all and has done so on many occasions. Whereas Camus and Sartre used the dark holes in humanity to run away from God, this existential argument uses them to drive people to God.

Pascal argued for the Christian faith not only because it is true, but because it satisfies heart-need, or, as he put it: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

Jaques Abbadie (1654-1727): Like Pascal, his apologetic employs the “logic of the heart” and “shows how the intrinsic attributes of the Christian religion correspond with the religious needs of man.” (132).

George Berkely (1685-1753): He “defended Christianity against the skeptics on the ground of its tendency to good, its superiority to the other religions, its natural harmony with man’s needs, as well as the usual arguments from miracles and prophecy.” (140).

Schleiermacher (1768-1834): “Schleiermacher was perhaps the first to construct a thoroughgoing ‘inner apologetic’ that proceeds through the progressive unfolding of man’s innate longing for communion with God.” (161)

August Tholuck (1799-1877): “Tholuck extols the joyful experience of regeneration through Christ and maintains that the new life impressed upon men’s hearts by the Holy Spirit is its own guarantee.” (164)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834): In his Aids to Reflection he warned the evidentialist school against a merely theoretical approach to Christianity that forgets the spirit and life at the heart of it:

Hence I more than fear the prevailing taste for books of Natural Theology, Physico-Theology, Demonstrations of God from Nature, Evidences of Christianity, and the like. EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY! I am weary of the word. Make a man feel his want of it, and you can safely trust to its own Evidence

Coleridge can say that-strong as are the historical evidences in favor of Christianity, the truth revealed in Christ … has its evidence in itself, and the proof of its divine authority in its fitness to our nature and needs;—the clearness and cogency of this proof being proportionate to the degree of self-knowledge in each individual hearer.” (168-9)

Thomas Erskine (1788-1870): “Sometimes called the Scottish Schleiermacher, he looked to the inner life of the believer for the rational basis of faith. In his best-known work, Remarks on the Internal Evidence for the Truth of Revealed Religion (1820), he stresses the moral influence of the gospel and bypasses the usual arguments from miracles, prophecy, and eyewitness testimony…As a testimony to the inner life of a deeply convinced Christian, Erskine’s Internal Evidence is not unimpressive.” (171)

Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872): “At a time when England was being rocked by the controversy growing out of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, Maurice maintained that the current debates about documents could never lead to any religiously satisfying results. In faith, he argued, one knows God as He personally imparts Himself to man in experience, and this personal communion is for the believer its own evidence.” (170)

Like any Reformed reader of Dulles’s book, I wish he had given more attention to the high-calibre apologetics being produced in the Reformed Church, especially over the last century. However, there haven’t been many Reformed exponents of ‘experiential’ or ‘emotional’ apologetics in the same period. That wasn’t always the case, as I’ll show you tomorrow with a surprising example from Puritan times.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics
Experiential Apologetics
The Most Common Apologetic in the Bible?

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12 Ideas You Must Embrace to Affirm Theistic Evolution
“Theistic evolution is a viewpoint that God created matter and after that, God didn’t guide, intervene, or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes. But, what that belief implies is that there are actually twelve details in Genesis 1-3 that simply didn’t happen. If you hold to theistic evolution (in the most common form in which it is held today), you would say: ”

Sage Advice: The Teacher as Pastor
“I have long felt that if all I was in the classroom was a disseminator of information, I would fail. The problem today is that the seminary (or college, or graduate school) classroom is often too academic, and too few students fall in love with the process of exegesis and feeding their flock—even looking upon the act of “feeding” in terms of delivering simple topical messages. We must show students the relevance of the biblical text for their lives, stimulating them spiritually as well as intellectually. The truth is that they can find everything we are going to say in commentaries and other sources. What we need to do is show them how practical and refreshing deep exegesis can be.”

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?
“Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.”

Registered Sex Offender: A Sample Church Membership and Attendance Policy
“In this post, I have drafted a policy for how a church would think through the attendance and membership stipulations for someone who is under Registered Sex Offender (RSO) status. The enactment of this policy assumes that both (a) the sexual abuse episode has been reported and (b) that the legal process has concluded resulting in RSO status as the verdict; meaning the individual under RSO status has paid, or is currently paying their debt to society.”

The Year I Saw Billions of Dollars in Art
“As I think back to all I’ve seen in 2017, I marvel at what human artists can do with stone, canvas, and bronze. But it makes me consider: If a human artist can do so much and gain such acclaim through his use of the most mundane materials, think what the Divine Artist can do with a human canvas. Think how much acclaim he can gain from the likes of you and me—creatures who are created in his very image.”

Forgive, but don’t return repentant pastors to the pulpit
“To “forgive” a pastor means we don’t personally hold his sin against him and that we restore him to his office of church member. If he is repentant, he meets the qualification of membership. That doesn’t mean we should restore him to the office of pastor. Our forgiveness does not mean he magically meets those qualifications. His life, quite simply, is not above reproach.”

Kindle Books

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie $2.99.

Hearing God’s Word: Expositional Preaching by Bobby Jamieson $0.99.

Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes by Phil Ryken $2.99.

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund P. Clowney $2.99.

Expedition 2: A Ruined World (Video)

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition Two. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.