How to Honor Christ in our Apologetics

How to Honor Christ in our Apologetics

Posted: 20 Mar 2018 01:01 AM PDT

@ The Cripplegate

There was a man who thought he was dead.  In fact, he told all his family members that he was dead. Finally, after months of being unable to convince him, they dragged him to a doctor. The doctor, also unsuccessful, finally asked him, “Do dead men bleed?” The man responded, “Of course not!” The doctor promptly took out a knife and cut the man’s finger, and as the man watched the blood run down his hand he exclaimed, “Wow! I guess dead men do bleed!”

This man had presuppositions he brought with himself to that doctor’s appointment. He believed that he was dead and no evidence was going to change his mind. In a similar way, every one of our evangelistic encounters happen with someone who has preconceived notions and presuppositions.

Understanding why people don’t believe the Gospel is key. Either they lack the evidence and are just waiting for the perfect argument to come along or they are blinded by their sin and need the Gospel. As believers, we are called to make a defense. 1 Peter 3:15 gives us our calling. Peter says,

“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”

This verse gives us three keys on how to do apologetics that we should apply in our everyday conversations as we “make a defense” with unbelievers.

First, make a defense that honors Christ as holy.

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…

Honoring Christ is our priority in evangelism and apologetics. Too many times we are concerned with honoring the unbeliever, and sometimes, when we are so focused on this, we end up dishonoring Christ.

One way we dishonor Christ is by not trusting what the Bible says about unbelievers. The Bible tells us in Romans 1 that all men know God exists but suppress the truth in unrighteousness. As we talk to unbelievers, we should not grant to them that they do not believe in God. I’m not saying that we should point at them and scream “liar.” But we must gently and carefully, but boldly, show them in Scripture that the Bible says that all men believe but suppress the truth because they love their sin. When someone says that they would believe in God if they could only have some evidence, we know that, biblically, this simply isn’t true. The Bible is the only evidence that people need. Whether it is Romans 10:17, or the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the Bible proclaims itself to be the only evidence people need in order to have faith. Jesus, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, goes as far as saying that a resurrection wouldn’t be enough to convince someone. The Bible is enough, and it is the only power unto salvation. Besides, presenting evidence to an atheist would mean that you are the lawyer, they are the judge and jury, and the judge of the universe–God, Himself–is on trial! That is flipped, messed up, and dishonoring to Christ.

Another way we dishonor Christ is by the way we talk about the Bible. Saying things like “if the Bible is true,” or “I could be wrong,
or “give Jesus a try!” may seem humble, but, ultimately, they dishonor Christ by acting as if it isn’t certain that He is the Son of God and the only way to Heaven.

A third way we dishonor Christ is by thinking that our words will convince unbelievers of the existence of God. Whether it is through our persuasion, or thinking that we can come up with the perfect evidence, when we go away from Scripture we are trusting in our own devices.  We are practically saying that we can reason someone to believe in God, when Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:25 that it is God who must grant someone repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth. First comes repentance, which is granted by God Himself, then comes truth, in that exact order. People don’t need reason, they need repentance.

Second, make a defense for the hope that is in you

…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…

Something happened to you that has transformed you. You actually believe in absolute truth. There is no question in your mind that Jesus is God. There is no question in your mind that you will spend eternity in Heaven with Him. You are ready for the Day of Judgment, and are not afraid to die.

On the other hand, unbelievers don’t have this hope. They have constant doubt. Their salvation is dependent on the way they live. They have no idea whether God will accept them one day. They are not ready for the Day of Judgment, and most are afraid to die, or at least they should be. Most question the idea of absolute truth.

Most atheists out there know only one thing for sure:  that there is no such thing as absolute truth. When you ask them if that is absolutely true, they say yes. They live in what is called an infinite regress. A is true because of B. B is true because of C. C is true because of D and so forth. This doesn’t end at Z, but continues on in infinity. In other words, they can’t know anything. The only way to solve this regress is if you know the One who can see the whole thing.  That is God, Himself, who knows all things and can let us know some things for certain. God has done this with general and special revelation.  On top of that God has given you supernatural faith, and you can make a defense because you have the hope that He’s given you. Your evangelism and apologetics should reflect this.

Third, make a defense with gentleness and respect.

…yet do it with gentleness and respect.

I wrote a lot about this last week. But I cannot stress enough the fact that our words should reflect the transformation that has happened in us. You simply cannot be a jerk and get angry in evangelism. Believers exhibit the fruit of the spirit not only while speaking to other believers, but especially in talking with unbelievers. Stephen, while being martyred in Acts 7, is an incredible example of gentleness, calmness, and forgiveness. Of course, Jesus is our Master Teacher of how to face persecution in a way that exalts God.

There was a pastor who went to visit a student on a college campus. This student wanted the pastor to talk to his roommate. The roommate, upon seeing the pastor, immediately stated, “I could never believe in a book that says that a man survived after being swallowed by a whale!” The pastor wisely asked if he could just share his testimony and tell him what the Gospel was. The roommate says yes, and after about an hour he trusted in the Lord and was saved.  About two hours later, the pastor remembered his initial objection and asked him if he wanted to talk about Jonah. The young man replied, “I guess not. If it’s in the Bible I believe it.”

The young man had an issue with God’s Word because he loved his sin. The minute he repented, he instantly trusted the Truth. A lot of times in our evangelism, we can put our trust in our methods instead of putting our trust in the Lord to do the work of saving souls. We must remember to honor Christ in our evangelism.

Apologetics is a wonderful tool that the Lord has used to encourage so many believers in their walk. But, ultimately, it is a powerless tool to bring someone to Christ. It can be a tool God uses to open an ear to the Gospel, but on its own it cannot save. We must always remember to preach the Gospel and to quote Scripture as we do so. As Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Christian Hospitality Toward False Teachers

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.“ – 2 John 1:10 (ESV)

The above passage has been used to assert that Christian apologist James White violated scripture by taking part in a dialog in Memphis with Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim, that was intended to demonstrate similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, and in fact did so admirably. Here are four respected commentaries concerning that passage, followed by a few observations from yours truly.

Commentaries

John Gill

If there come any unto you,…. Under the character of a preacher;

and bring not this doctrine; or does not preach the doctrine of Christ, as before explained, but despises it, and preaches a contrary one:

receive him not into your house; neither into the house of God, suffer him not to preach there; nor into your own house, give him no entertainment there: false teachers always tried to creep into houses, where they served their own turn every way, both by feeding their bellies, and spreading their pernicious doctrines; and therefore such should: be avoided, both publicly and privately; their ministry should not be attended on in the church, or house of God; and they should not be entertained in private houses, and much less caressed:

neither bid him God speed; or give him the usual civil form of salutation, as a good day to you, all hail, all health and prosperity attend you, the Lord be with you, and the like. The word used by the Jews was אישר, which signifies “happiness”; so it is said (i), what do they salute with? אישר, “God speed”; which was forbidden to say to one that was ploughing in the seventh year. The meaning is, that with such no familiar conversation should be had, lest any encouragement should be given them; or it should induce a suspicion in the minds of other saints, that they are in the same sentiments; or it should tend to make others think favourably of them, and be a snare and a stumblingblock to weak Christians.

(i) T. Hieros. Sheviith, fol. 35. 2. Vid. Taanith. fol. 64. 2.

Albert Barnes

If there come any unto you – Any professed teacher of religion. There can be no doubt that she to whom this Epistle was written was accustomed to entertain such teachers.

And bring not this doctrine – This doctrine which Christ taught, or the true doctrine respecting him and his religion.

Receive him not into your house – This cannot mean that no acts of kindness, in any circumstances, were to be shown to such persons; but that there was to be nothing done which could be fairly construed as encouraging or countenancing them as “religious teachers.” The true rule would seem to be, in regard to such persons, that, so far as we have contact with them as neighbors, or strangers, we are to be honest, true, kind, and just, but we are to do nothing that will countenance them as religious teachers, We are not to aid their instruction, Pro_19:27; we are not to receive them into our houses, or to entertain them as religious teachers; we are not to commend them to others, or to give them any reason to use our names or influence in propagating error. It would not be difficult to practice this rule, and yet to show to others all the kindness, and all the attention in circumstances of need, which religion demands. A person who is truly consistent is never suspected of countenancing error, even when he is distinguished for liberality, and is ready, like the good Samaritan, to pour in oil and wine in the wounds of any waylaid traveler. The command not to “receive such an one into the house,” in such circumstances as those referred to by John, would be probably understood literally, as he doubtless designed that it should be. To do that, to meet such persons with a friendly greeting, would be construed as countenancing their doctrine, and as commending them to others; and hence it was forbidden that they should be entertained as such. This treatment would not be demanded where no such interpretation could be put on receiving a friend or relative who held different and even erroneous views, or in showing kindness to a stranger who differed from us, but it would apply to the receiving and entertaining “a professed teacher of religion, as such;” and the rule is as applicable now as it was then.

Neither bid him God speed – Καὶ χαίρειν αὐτῷ μὴ λέγετε Kai chairein autō mē legete – “and do not say to him, hail, or joy.” Do not wish him joy; do not hail, or salute him. The word used expresses the common form of salutation, as when we wish one health, success, prosperity, Mat_26:49; Act_15:23; Act_23:26; Jas_1:1. It would be understood as expressing a wish for success in the enterprise in which they were embarked; and, though we should love all people, and desire their welfare, and sincerely seek their happiness, yet we can properly wish no one success in career of sin and error.

Jamiessn- Fausset- Brown

If there come any— as a teacher or brother. The Greek is indicative, not subjunctive; implying that such persons do actually come, and are sure to come; when any comes, as there will. True love is combined with hearty renunciation and separation from all that is false, whether persons or doctrines.

receive him not … neither bid him God speed— This is not said of those who were always aliens from the Church, but of those who wish to be esteemed brethren, and subvert the true doctrine [Grotius]. The greeting salutation forbidden in the case of such a one is that usual among Christian brethren in those days, not a mere formality, but a token of Christian brotherhood.

Adam Clarke

If there come any unto you – Under the character of an apostle or evangelist, to preach in your house; and bring not this doctrine, that Jesus is come in the flesh, and has died for the redemption of the world.

Receive him not unto your house – Give him no entertainment as an evangelical teacher. Let him not preach under your roof.

Neither bid him God speed – Και χαιρειν αυτῳ μη λεγερε· And do not say, Health to him – do not salute him with Peace be to thee! The usual salutation among friends and those of the same religion in the east is, Salam aleekum, “Peace be to you;” which those of the same religion will use among themselves, but never to strangers, except in very rare cases. This is the case to the present day; and, from what John says here, it was a very ancient custom. We have often seen that peace among the Hebrews comprehended every spiritual and temporal blessing. The words mean, according to the eastern use of them, “Have no religious connection with him, nor act towards him so as to induce others to believe you acknowledge him as a brother.

Observations

1.  The letter is addressed to an ‘Elect Lady’, which we are told could be a specific person, or a local church that met in a home. We don’t know for sure which of those John meant.  One part of the Memphis dialogues took place in a church building on a Tuesday evening, was not a church ‘service’. Using the church building was convenient for matters of logistics and cost.

2. While ‘anyone’ in the passage might refer to anyone at all, there is a direct connection to the ones ‘who went out from us because they were not of us’ mentioned in 1 John 2:19. The ones who ‘went out’ had professed to be believers. Yasir Qadhi has never, nor will he ever (short of divine intervention – not an impossibility).

3. While these false teachers were not to be received or hospitably entertained, nothing is said of confronting them directly as to their errors concerning Christ. In addition to not receiving them they were not to be sent away with God’s blessings.

Dan’s ‘opinion’ concerning using 2 John 1:10 as the undeniable absolute ‘proof’ that James White, by talking about religion with Yasir Qadi, was in serious violation of scripture? 

Exegetically, you can’t make the case.

And again,in case you are new to all this about Memphis, I am NOT defending James White,nor am I condemning him. 

What is the relationship between apologetics and evangelism?

Easy, you say. Evangelism is sharing a specific message that Christ died for the sins of men, while Christian apologetics is defending the Christian faith against all comers. 9Marks offers an excellent summary of this relationship.

  • Difference 1: Evangelism is telling others the gospel. Apologetics is defending the truth of the Christian faith.
  • Difference 2: Apologetics addresses everything from the existence of God to the reliability of the Old and New Testaments. In contrast, evangelism is telling one specific message: the good news about what Jesus Christ has done in order to save sinners.
  • Difference 3: Another difference between apologetics and evangelism is that apologetics usually requires some level of intellectual sophistication. Apologetics can involve logical arguments, historical debates, philosophical discussions, interpretive disputes, and more. On the other hand, evangelism is simply telling others the message about Jesus Christ. That’s something every Christian—even a brand new Christian—should be able to do.
  • The link: However, the two can be closely linked. Apologetic conversations can lead to good opportunities to share the gospel. And evangelistic conversations will often lead to apologetics when non-Christians respond with questions or criticisms that require a reasoned response.
  • Bottom line: So, while Christians shouldn’t let apologetics distract us from sharing the gospel, we should also work to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15).

Although I might be ‘preaching to the choir’ with this post, I thought a good reminder might be in order, based on recent experiences with a Facebook group I came across a few weeks ago. The purpose of group is stated as sharing the gospel and defending the faith (evangelism & apologetics) – both noble endeavors. Group members are encouraged to share their witnessing encounters with other faiths and encouraged to provide their favorite questions for challenging specific faiths/religions, i.e., Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.

My main contribution to the group was that I share Christ with lost sinners in pretty much the same manner, irrespective of the religious persuasion. Begin or enter an ongoing conversation about spiritual matters, steer the discussion to the issue we ALL have with sin, and offer God’s solution through Christ. And of course I need be ready to engage in apologetics to defend the Christian faith. The gospel message is paramount, with apologetics running a close 2nd. That’s how I became unpopular with this particular group, whose zeal is to be commended! It seems that (I was told by the group ‘owner’) we need to refute the lies of other faiths to be able to share Christ

This morning I listened to a 45 minute encounter between a member of this group and a couple of JWs at a college campus (it sounded like one), in which the table manned by the JWs were offering free literature, and engaged the JWs in conversation. He went straight to the task of refuting JW teachings and was met by some excellent rebuttal from the JW viewpoint. In fact, if I were asked to ‘judge’ the quasi debate as an outsider, I would have to say that the JWs won. They were more articulate quicker with their Bible verses than our evangelistic brother was.

The whole thing was difficult to listen to due to it being a noisy campus venue, but I stuck it out for one main reason. I was waiting to hear something concerning the way manner in which a person finds salvation as a JW, compared to Christianity. In case you are wondering, the JW teaching is that salvation is based on faith plus works, while Christianity teaches salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. That is what I was waiting for, but it never surfaced. There was an amiable parting of the ways at the end of the encounter.

False religions all have an element of works for salvation, so going to the issue of how anyone is saved is a good principle to follow. My own most memorable experience with JWs was when a couple came to the door of our apartment when we were stationed in Italy. I let them tell me about ‘The Kingdom’ and how to enter it according to their church and when the time seemed right I gently interrupted and told them I wanted to see if I understood them correctly.

“According to what you are telling me, I can make it to the Kingdom if I believe the right things and do the right things?” They were thrilled! Then I asked them to read, out loud, Ephesians 2:8-9, from their Bible ( I knew those passages had not been corrupted because I had a copy of their ‘New World Translation.):

8By this undeserved kindness (grace) you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift. 9 No, it is not a result of works, so that no one should have grounds for boasting.”

That was it. They had absolutely no response. They had controlled the conversation, I asked them if I was understanding them, and then asked them to read to me from their Bible. The very passages they read out loud to me contradicted what they had been telling me. Hopefully, their silence and calm departure from my door meant that the Holy Spirit had begin to go to work.

So there you have two different encounters between Christians and Jehovah Witnesses. I hope they have been instructive. Let us hit the streets, travel the highways and by ways, share our faith with whomever God gives us the opportunity! And let us always endeavor to keep the simple the main topic of conversation!

Have a blessed day!

Indictments Against the Church

by Pastor Josh Buice

The success of The Shack is a true indictment on the shallowness of mainstream evangelicalism. The church is not only called to evangelize the world with the gospel, she is also called to have biblical discernment. That lack of concern when it comes to understanding the Bible and the core essential teachings of Scripture among many evangelical Christians should bring about great concern. When bookstores, even Christian bookstores, are willing to peddle books like The Shack and other sub-Christian titles, we should be greatly concerned. Albert Mohler writes:

The Shack is a wake-up call for evangelical Christianity…The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us — a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine. [4]

A further indictment must be centered on the pulpit in the evangelical church today. Christians, if taught properly each Lord’s Day from the pulpit, would detest such books as The Shack.  If robust teaching was the common diet, books like The Shack would be so unsuccessful that a movie producer wouldn’t give it a second thought—because in his mind he needs the evangelical church to buy tickets to watch it. Therefore, when the pulpit is shallow, dysfunctional, and sub-Christian—you can expect the people to crave that same type of entertainment.

Pastors guard your people by telling them the truth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, please make the movie version of this heretical book far less successful by staying home.

____________

TGhe above remarks are part of a longer and well written article by Pastor Buice concerning The Shack. You can read the entire article here.

Hillsong and Man

This is the third in a series of articles from Grace to You ministries and again, well worth the read. It’s not a ‘hit’ piece, but is borne of a concern for the integrity of God’s Word and the true gospel.

Hillsong and Man

by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson

hillsong-and-man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heart of the human problem is the human heart. Therapy can’t change it. Self-help gurus can’t fix it. Positive confession can’t conceal it. And self-esteem can’t convert it.

Sinners cannot be persuaded into the kingdom of God. Salvation is not achieved through mental assent or emotional responses. Unless God regenerates the heart (Ezekiel 36:25–27; John 3:3) it remains dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), hostile to Him (Romans 8:7), and worthy of condemnation (Ephesians 2:3). That’s not a matter of opinion—it’s God’s own diagnosis of the unregenerate heart. And the only cure is His redeeming and transforming work. Everything else is woefully insufficient.

If you get the doctrine of man wrong, you can’t help but get the gospel wrong, too. That’s why John MacArthur describes total depravity (or “total inability”) as the most distinctly Christian doctrine:

No doctrine is more hated by unbelievers than this one, and even some Christians find it so offensive that they zealously attack it. Though the doctrine of total depravity is often the most attacked and minimized of the doctrines of grace, it is the most distinctly Christian doctrine because it is foundational to a right understanding of the gospel. . . . The neglect of this doctrine within American evangelicalism has resulted in all kinds of errors, including both the watered-down gospel and the seeker-driven pragmatism of the church growth movement. [1] John MacArthur, Slave (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 121–22

That was exactly what we experienced during our visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, where the biblical view of man has been discarded and replaced with something far more palatable to a therapeutic, self-centered culture.

Man Is Central

In Hillsong’s spiritual economy, man has tremendous inherent worth. The individual replaces Christ as the central figure in God’s redemptive plan. Their own doctrinal statement says that the purpose of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to “prove His victory and empower us for life.” The redemption of wretched sinners is not in view.

That man-centered approach is a recurring theme throughout Hillsong’s global ministry empire. Their songs are often more about the ones singing than the One they’re singing to. Every passage they preach is a promise of God’s blessing and favor for you. And their altar calls emphasize an endless stream of temporal, personal benefits—breakthrough, healing, success, and prosperity.

Effectively, Hillsong’s leaders seek to enable and empower a latent human condition. Their focus is primarily on the enormous potential we have to do great things and be great people. Hillsong’s official website contains a gospel presentation in which we are told that the main point of Christ’s incarnation was to “show us our full potential . . . the wonderful potential of perfected humanity.”

The preaching is where Hillsong’s man-centeredness is most blatant, as all the sermons we heard adhered to a simple but consistent template. First, a narrative portion of Scripture would be isolated and severed from its larger biblical context. Next, the preacher would insert him or herself and the congregation into the story. Third, the text was routinely used as a bridge to introduce personal illustrations from the preacher’s own experiences. And finally, after those personal experiences had been fully exegeted, the passage is recast as a promise from God for the congregation. Sitting under that kind of teaching long enough would convince you that all of Scripture is merely an allegory for you and your life.

God’s purpose in writing the biblical story, or its place in His wider redemptive plan, was never mentioned in any of the messages we heard. Man was always central. However, his culpability for sin was avoided at every turn.

Man Is Never Prosecuted

Human guilt barely registers on the Hillsong radar. While the word “sin” does get an occasional mention in Hillsong worship songs, it is never defined or described. The same goes for all the Hillsong preachers we heard—and even then, they prefer to describe sin as “dumb stuff” or “mistakes.”

Their statement of faith attempts greater clarity on the subject, but still falls far short of the biblical definition: “We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.” That’s not a false statement, but it drastically understates the reality of man’s fallen condition.

The reticence regarding sin extends throughout the ministry. We spoke with some of the Hillsong volunteers responsible for integrating new attenders. They made it clear that they had been instructed to avoid challenging or confronting people about their sins—even open, unrepentant sin. Considering the way Hillsong operates, you can’t help but wonder where and when such a confrontation might happen? It’s certainly not coming from the pulpit.

That reluctance to deal directly with sin is institutional at Hillsong. When Brian Houston—Hillsong’s founder and global pastor—was interviewed on Australian television, he was incapable of expressing any clear-cut biblical convictions on prominent moral issues:

I think that the homosexual question and sexuality generally is one of the most challenging questions there is for the church in the 21st century. And it’s one where I feel conflict myself, as a believer in the Bible and specifically the New Testament, I think that marriage is God’s idea, and I think it’s for a man and a woman. But I also represent a God that’s merciful and gracious and kind, and having to connect those two things I think is one of the great challenges for me as a church leader.

In the church we can point the finger so easily. On the subject of abortion, I’m pro-life. But in a way I’m pro-choice as well, because I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe that life begins at conception. But I also believe that ultimately human beings have to make their own choices, and I ultimately can’t tell you what you should do. I can only give you the parameters that I believe.

Those quotes don’t represent Christian conviction. They are the chameleonic ramblings of a political pragmatist.

Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong New York, goes even further than Houston. Instead of equivocating on morality, he simply chooses to avoid the subject altogether. During a television interview with Katie Couric, Lentz was asked for his views on gay marriage: “Do you feel you have a moral imperative to speak publically about some of these more controversial issues?” He responded: “No, because we try to be like Jesus. Very rarely did Jesus ever talk about morality or social issues.”

That’s either a lack of integrity or biblical literacy. Either way, it’s indicative of just how far Hillsong is willing to go to avoid dealing with sin directly.

Man Is a Victim

Since Hillsong refuses to offer any exploration or explanation concerning our personal guilt, our condition is always couched in therapeutic language. Man is regularly designated as the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Both Hillsong’s music and message label the primary problems of unbelievers with words like trapped, bound, enslaved, captive, hurting, wounded, disappointed, let down, and brokenhearted. Certainly some of those words reflect the biblical truth about the unregenerate heart. But the gospel of Hillsong is presented as the remedy to those problems—not reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:19) and rescue from His wrath (John 3:36).

During our visits, we regularly heard different Hillsong teachers point out that God loves us just as we are; that He understands how hard our lives are; that He has great desires and dreams for us; that He wants to fix all our financial, health, and relationship problems; and that He’s waiting on us to let Him unleash blessing and breakthrough in our lives. But none of that can happen until we have repented of our sin and surrendered our lives in faith to God.

We’re not denying the existence of genuine victims. But in terms of eternity, even the greatest victim still needs to appreciate the depth of his own guilt in order to grasp his need for the Savior. The speakers we heard at Hillsong LA were only interested in salving our own grief—there was no thought whatsoever for how our sin grieves God.

Man Doesn’t Need to Change

The natural consequence of concealing human guilt is that it removes all need for repentance—another word we rarely heard in our time at Hillsong LA. It did fit the rhyme scheme of one or two songs, and it occasionally slipped out during the routine alter calls, but it was never explained or stressed as a necessary element of faith in Christ.

Oddly enough, Hillsong’s statement of faith does talk about repentance: “We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives.” However, that quote only highlights the danger of taking doctrinal statements at face value. Concerning Hillsong and the doctrine of repentance, there is zero correlation between what they claim in print and what they actually preach.  

For the sake of honesty, Hillsong should either conform their preaching to their doctrinal statement or conform their doctrinal statement to their preaching. As it stands now, it’s hard to see it as anything less than a devious misrepresentation. Worse still, they have congregations full of people—many of them previously unchurched—who are being kept in the dark about the seriousness of their sin and their urgent need to turn from it.

Man Is Validated

That leaves Hillsong with an emaciated, man-centered gospel. A gospel where God is the supporting cast to man’s starring role. It is a gospel that fails to prosecute men for their sins against God, and instead portrays the criminal as a victim—a gospel that places no requirements on the sinner to turn from his wicked ways. Salvation is thus reduced to God’s revitalization of the victim rather than His justification of the sinner.

Even during a discussion on the prayer acronym ACTS—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—we were specifically cautioned against confessing sins. The confession part of prayer was instead explained as reminding ourselves and God of His promises of blessing for us—a practice commonly referred to in charismatic circles as “positive confession.” With the doctrine of depravity already in ruins, it makes sense that Hillsong turns confession into another opportunity for self-aggrandizement.

That example pretty much encapsulates the delusional anthropology Hillsong teaches to its attenders. They focus on building self-esteem rather than our need to esteem Christ. They spotlight our disappointments at the expense of our guilt. They emphasize our potential while ignoring our depravity. And all the while the Hillsong flock is left in the dark about their true need for Christ.

A Final Word

Please don’t misunderstand our purpose in this series—as though we take some perverse delight in chronicling such a theological disaster. Instead, we feel a responsibility to warn the church about what we’ve seen and heard during our time at Hillsong, and encourage God’s people to be discerning about the ministries they allow to influence their faith and spiritual growth.

We also hope these posts will be lifelines to men and women who are unwittingly drowning in theological error. The people we encountered at Hillsong LA were some of the friendliest, kindest, and most welcoming people you could hope to meet. We are genuinely grieved for them and deeply troubled by their spiritual malnutrition. It’s our sincere hope that our words will help awaken them to the truth—that they are being denied the life-giving truth of God’s Word.

Perhaps you know people likewise caught under the sway of Hillsong or another similarly weak ministry—sadly, there are many others. Pray for them, and do what you can to funnel quality, biblical teaching their way. They are not the enemy; they are a spiritually starving mission field that needs to hear about the greatness of their sin and an even greater Savior.

Notorious False Teachers

A few years ago blogger, author and book reviewer Tim Challies wrote a series of articles spanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Having studied many of these teachers at length, I think it fair to say that these articles represent a good summary of each of these teachers along with their spurious teachings, and what the Bible has to say. This is one of those articles, taking a look at the life and legacy of a man who prepared the way for Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and so many others – Norman Vincent Peale. Links to other articles are included after the article. – Dan C.

Norman Vincent Peale

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Norman Vincent Peale was born on May 31, 1898, in Bowersville, Ohio, the first child of Charles and Anna Peale. Charles was a Methodist minister who served a variety of churches in Ohio, and before long Norman, too, began to consider ministry as his vocation. When he was a boy, one of his teachers accused him of being “a weak willy-nilly” and he soon realized the teacher’s assessment was correct. He saw that he would need to push himself past a deep-rooted inferiority complex and crippling self-doubt.

As a young man Peale attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. During his first summer break he returned home and was asked to fill a nearby pulpit. He dutifully prepared a sermon and showed it to his father. His father read it and promptly advised burning it, telling his son, “the way to the human heart is through simplicity.” These are words the young man took to heart.

In 1922 he was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was assigned a small congregation in Berkeley, Rhode Island. Two years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York where he established himself as a gifted communicator so that in only three years he grew a church from 40 to 900 members. He spent a few years at another Methodist congregation in Syracuse, New York, before changing his affiliation to the Reformed Church in America so he could pastor Marble Collegiate Church, one of the oldest Protestant congregations in America. When he arrived, this church had around 600 members; upon his departure 52 years later it had 5,000. It was here that he would gain worldwide acclaim and notoriety as a teacher of positive thinking.

clip_image002Peale developed a fascination with psychiatry as an answer, or partial answer, to his congregant’s problems. While he was at Marble, he teamed up with a Freud-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, to begin a religious-psychiatric clinic in the church basement. They wanted to respond to the psychological needs of their congregation and especially the deep-rooted effects of the Great Depression. In 1951 this clinic was organized into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale as president and Blanton as executive director.

Peale spread his teaching through a variety of media. While serving the church in Syracuse he founded a radio program called “The Art of Living,” and it would broadcast his sermons for 54 years. By 1952 he and his wife were also on the new medium of television, featured on the show “What’s Your Trouble?” In 1945, along with his wife Ruth, and Raymond Thornburg, a local businessman, he founded Guideposts. What was at first a weekly four-page leaflet evolved to a monthly inspirational magazine that would soon have 2 million subscribers.

During his lifetime, Peale authored 46 books, and the most successful by far was The Power of Positive Thinking. Published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times list of bestsellers for 186 consecutive weeks and sold 5 million copies, making it one of the bestselling religious books of all-time. It began with these words:

This book is written to suggest techniques and to give examples which demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything, that you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ceasing flow of energy. In short, that your life can be fully of joy and satisfaction.

The book had chapters with titles such as “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “How to Have Faith in Healing,” and “Power to Solve Personal Problems.” Each chapter contained sections titled “energy-producing thoughts,” “spirit-lifters,” or “faith attitudes.” Much of his teaching was distilled to lists of eight practical formulas or seven simple steps. This book rocketed Peale to new levels of fame and acclaim, and elevated his message with him. He became one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world, gaining a voice into business and politics, even officiating at the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon. On March 26, 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded him the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his contributions to theology.

Peale retired as senior pastor in 1984 and died of a stroke on December 24, 1993 in Pawling, New York. He was ninety-five years old. President Bill Clinton honored him with these words: “While the Clinton family and all Americans mourn his loss, there is some poetry in his passing on a day when the world celebrates the birth of Christ, an idea that was central to Dr. Peale’s message and Dr. Peale’s work. He will be missed.”

False Teaching

Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it.

Norman Vincent Peale popularized what came to be known as positive thinking. He took existing ideas from Christian Science and other inspirations, gave them a biblical veneer, integrated them with psychology, and packaged them for the masses, spreading his message through The Power of Positive Thinking and his other works. His foremost contribution to the world was this notion that thoughts are causative, that our thoughts can change our lives, our health, our destiny. Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it.

Peale believed we live in a world that is mental more than physical and this allows our thoughts to be determinative. If this is the case, all that stands between us and our desires is properly controlling our thoughts. In one of his books he taught the importance of a form of mental activity called imaging. It consists of vividly picturing, in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great, untapped energies. It works best when it is combined with a strong religious faith, backed by prayer, and the seemingly illogical technique of giving thanks for benefits before they are received. When the imaging concept is applied steadily and systematically, it solves problems, strengthens personalities, improves health, and greatly enhances the chances for success in any kind of endeavor. (Positive Imaging)

None of this would be remarkable, except that he taught it as a minister who claimed to be a Christian. Yet as a Christian minister he denied that God was a being, saying “Who is God? Some theological being? He is so much greater than theology. God is vitality. God is life. God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized!” (Plus: The Magazine of Positive Thinking). As a Christian minister he told Phil Donahue, “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God, I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine … I’ve been to Shinto shrines and God is everywhere. … Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.” He denied the very heart of the Christian faith and replaced it with his doctrine of positive thinking.

Many Christians critiqued Peale, including Episcopalian theologian John Krumm who saw that Peale had reduced God to a force and made Christianity self-centered rather than God-centered. “Very little is said about the sovereign mind and purpose of God; much is made of the things men can say to themselves and can do to bring about their ambitions and purposes.” Surprisingly, some Christians continued to embrace him. In 1966 Billy Graham said, “I don’t know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant any more in my life for the encouragement they have given me.”

Followers & Modern Adherents

The popularity of Peale’s teachings guaranteed his lasting influence. One of his most committed devotees, who patterned himself accordingly, was Robert Schuller, also a minister in the Reformed Church in America. Schuller restyled “positive thinking” into “possibility thinking,” but kept much of the core teaching intact. But Peale’s influence was much wider than that. His voice can be heard behind contemporary books like The Secret, which advocates the law of attraction, another way of speaking and believing reality into existence. His voice can be heard behind the Oprah Winfrey’s, Joel Osteen’s, T.D. Jakes’, and Tony Robbin’s of the world, along with a host of others who teach that the power of the mind, combined with some kind of faith, can change your life and change the world.

Mitch Howoritz points out, rightly I think, that this idea that thoughts are causative is one of the most important theological and psychological concepts of our time. Before Peale it was rare to hear phrases like “Nothing is impossible” or “Be all you can be.” But today we take such phrases for granted. It is not coincidental that the first chapter of Peale’s book is titled “Believe in Yourself.”

What the Bible Says

The Bible makes it clear that the troubles we experience in this life are not merely the result of negative thinking that can be overcome by tapping into our potential through positive thinking. They are the result of a deep-seated rebellion against God that involves not only the mind, but the will. We simply cannot overcome the evils of this world, or even the evil in our hearts, in our own strength. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). Apart from being born again, we are eternally dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

Where Peale taught that our deepest problem is a lack of belief in ourselves and that our salvation comes with a simple shift in thinking, the Bible teaches that no man can save himself, regardless of how positive his thoughts may be. His salvation must come from outside himself. The glory of Jesus Christ is in the fact that he “has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” sinners “who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21-22). Tragically, by his life and legacy, Peale showed that he rejected this Savior and chose to trust in his own strength.

Links to Tim Challies’ articles:

Arius (AD 250 or 256–336)

Pelagius (Circa 360 – 418)

Muhammad (Circa c. 570 – 632)

Joseph Smith (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844)

Ellen G. White (November 26, 1827 – July 16, 1915)

Harry Emerson Fosdick (May 24, 1878 – October 5, 1969)

Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993)

Marcus Borg (March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015)

Creflo Dollar (January 28, 1962 – Present)

T. D. Jakes (June 9, 1957 – Present)

Benny Hinn (December 3, 1952 – Present

Brian McLaren (1956 – Present)

Marcus Borg (March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015)

Harry Emerson Fosdick (May 24, 1878 – October 5, 1969)

Hillsong and Worship

by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson, GTY

 

hillsong-and-worship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is no performance
Lord, I pray it’s worship
Empty words I can’t afford
I’m not chasing feelings
That’s not why I’m singing
You’re the reason for my song

And I only wanna sing
If I sing with everything
If I sing for you, my King

I can’t imagine why
I would do this all for hype
Cause it’s all to lift You high

At this point in the song—titled “Only Wanna Sing”—the music soars, the strobe lights fire up, and everyone on stage and in the crowd begins to dance with reckless abandon.

The irony is hard to miss.

That song—by the band Hillsong Young and Free—epitomizes many of the issues with much of Hillsong’s worship music: vague lyrical content, confused doctrinal perspectives, and an emphasis on style over substance.

Appeal Through Ambiguity

Hillsong’s philosophy fits well with the zeitgeist of our day. The social scientists now tell us that morality is subjective, gender is fluid, and truth is an illusion. Clearly, the precise theology espoused in ancient hymns won’t get the job done anymore.

Hillsong has probably done a better job than anyone else in filling the musical void that many modern churches have experienced. Their songs are catchy, their musicians are excellent, and their songwriters know how to “sound Christian” enough to salve the consciences of all in attendance. Consequently, their music permeates the Christian world, and their album sales are huge—even by secular standards.

Lest you anticipate some fundamentalist rant at this point, we need to be clear: This is not a screed against modern music infiltrating the church.

But we should be wary when our ancient and exclusive faith is overrun with modern songs featuring a fluid and indistinct message. In many instances, Hillsong lyrics are so vague they could be embraced by most religions.

At break of day, in hope we rise
We speak Your Name, we lift our eyes
Tune our hearts into Your beat
Where we walk, there You’ll be

With fire in our eyes, our lives a-light
Your love untamed, it’s blazing out
The streets will glow forever bright
Your glory’s breaking through the night

You will never fade away, Your love is here to stay
By my side, in my life, shining through me everyday

You wake within me, wake within me
You’re in my heart forever

Those lyrics come from “Wake,” a song with no distinctive Christian element. In fact, there’s little to distinguish it from the forlorn ramblings of a junior high love letter.

Hillsong pastors readily point out that all their songs are reviewed for theological accuracy. But when it comes to songs like “Wake” and “Only Wanna Sing,” what is there to review?

Doctrinal Gaps and Malpractice

Not all Hillsong worship songs suffer from ambiguity; some evidence attempts to be more theologically concrete. “What a Beautiful Name” is one example where the biblical themes are at least discernible.

The first verse references Christ’s eternality and deity: “You were the Word at the beginning / One with God the Lord Most High” (cf. John 1:1). Later, the song’s bridge refers to His resurrection: “Death could not hold You / The veil tore before You . . . For You are raised to life again.” And throughout the song, Christ is referred to as King.

However, the second verse is a great example of the doctrinal maladies that plague most of the Hillsong catalogue—malpractice, man-centeredness, and missing information.

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now . . .

The writer of “What a Beautiful Name” would have us believe that the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was because He “didn’t want heaven without us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not remotely biblical. In fact, it’s doctrinal malpractice by people who should know better. 

Nowhere does the Bible state that an unsatisfying solitude in heaven was God’s reason for redeeming people. Rather, the theme that resounds throughout Scripture is God’s desire to glorify Himself by redeeming sinners. Romans 3:21–26 explicitly describes Christ’s atonement as the display of God’s righteousness. Undoubtedly, the cross was also the demonstration of God’s great love for sinners (John 3:16), but that doesn’t mean He was lonely without us.

Furthermore, that unbiblical statement flows out of the man-centered worldview that permeates almost everything Hillsong does. Rather than seeing ourselves as the undeserving beneficiaries of God’s redemptive plan, we become the central characters in a story that’s meant to glorify God.

The other major problem that plagues even the best songs in the Hillsong library is also evident in “What a Beautiful Name.” Even when they get it theologically right, the missing information robs the lyrical content of any useful meaning. “My sin was great, Your love was greater” begs more questions than they’re willing to answer. It’s exceedingly rare for Hillsong worship to even mention sin, but even if they do it’s left completely undefined.

Similar subjects like God’s wrath, repentance, judgment, depravity, and personal holiness are virtually absent from the entire Hillsong catalog. But those biblical realities form the necessary background to explain most things Hillsong does talk about: grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. If grace is unmerited favor, we need to know why we don’t merit it. Mercy is meaningless without understanding the wrath that we deserve. Forgiveness is incomprehensible without grasping our personal guilt before God. And salvation rings hollow when we’re never told what we’re saved from.

At the Strange Fire conference, John MacArthur had this to say about another popular Christian band, and what passes for worship music in many churches today:

Let me explain worship in a simple way. The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the deeper your understanding of God Himself, the higher your worship goes. Worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more full your grasp of biblical truth, the more elevated your worship becomes. You don’t have to turn the music on for me to worship.  Low understanding of God—superficial, shallow, understanding of God—leads to shallow, superficial, content-less hysteria. You can whip that up, you can create that kind of frenzy. It has nothing to do with worship; it isn’t worship; it’s not connected to worship; it is sheer hysteria in a mindless expression. You’ve been singing hymns this week. Why? Because there’s rich theology in hymns. We don’t have to go hysterical; we want your mind fully engaged. . . . I don’t need 7-11 choruses, seven words eleven times over. I need to advance the doctrine. I need to advance the richness. I need to deepen the truth and broaden the truth. And hymns have verses, not just five words repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated but never really with the nuances of theology. So, yeah . . . that’s not worship, that’s not even Christian. That’s no different than a rock concert. There’s a lot of ways to manipulate people’s minds, and they have figured out how do that.

Doctrine matters. At best, a steady diet of Hillsong music will leave you with an incomplete theology of salvation. At worst, it promotes unbiblical falsehoods about God, us, and how we can be reconciled to Him.  

Style over Substance

It’s worth pointing out that we did not cherry-pick the lyrics referenced above. In a musical catalogue as vast as Hillsong’s, it wouldn’t be hard to find a few weak songs to critique.

Instead, the songs mentioned above come directly from our visits to Hillsong church services. For a few months now, we’ve been visiting Hillsong Los Angeles—one of the ministry’s most recent church plants. While the American audience is primarily familiar with Hillsong’s worship bands, CDs, and concerts, throughout most of the rest of the world, they are one of evangelicalism’s fastest-growing church networks. With franchises established all around the world, they’ve recently begun to expand into the US.

In our estimation, Hillsong represents the next wave of the kind of seeker sensitivity John MacArthur has warned about throughout his ministry. They are cut from the same cloth as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren—they’re just aiming for a younger, hipper audience.

Hillsong LA’s church services are virtually indistinguishable from rock concerts. From the moment you walk in, your eyes and ears are assaulted by incoherent multimedia displays, with vague artistry passing for profundity.

While the familiar elements of a church service are there—prayer, worship, teaching, etc.—they’re usually designed and deployed as an appeal to your senses, not your soul. It makes you wonder what people think they’re committing to during the pseudo-alter call that ends every service.

In the end, Hillsong’s carelessness and ambiguity extend beyond their lyrics, touching every element of their global ministry. In the days ahead, we’re going to look at the practical theology they proclaim, and compare it to their own doctrinal statements and ultimately to Scripture.

What you’re going to see—as we have seen firsthand—is that the significant influence Hillsong wields is sowing confusion and corruption into the next generation of the church.  

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