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Rethinking Apologetics for the 21st Century, Part 2

From the series Why I Believe

The current moral decline and theological compromise among Christians is no longer concerning – it’s alarming. We see division and false teaching, even in the Church itself. What can those who care do? In this program, Chip explains how can we stand for biblical truth and winsomely communicate, even regarding controversial issues, with love and integrity - just like Jesus did.

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Message Transcript

Yesterday, the moral climate and the values of major institutions like education, medicine, the media – they reinforced our values. I’m a little older than some of you. I remember as a kid that if you got in trouble at school, your parents found out about it because the values of the school were pretty much the same as mom and dad.

Today, a high school student cannot get an aspirin but can have an abortion without their parents knowing it. The media, the sports, the institutions, the tech companies where I live in the Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area – their values are absolutely antithetical to what historic, traditional, biblical, or Christian values are.

And so, today, the moral climate of these institutions ridicule our faith and make it more and more difficult for our kids because it’s politically incorrect but now you get punished. There was a day where it was unpopular, but now you are punished. You step up as a student in a university and say, “I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Bible,” you are viewed as, “What planet are you on?”

You step up in a high-tech company and say, “I’m a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I actually believe the Bible is true, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life,” you are, you are some weird person.

And yet, that’s exactly what it was like in the first century. And so, here’s what I want to tell you, and this is my last observation. Before those institutions would reinforce our beliefs and now we are living in a world that is far more like the first century than the last century.

And Christianity did something in the first century and the answers to how to respond when Christianity and your faith is ridiculed is already available.

Now, I am going to ask you to do something right now. I’d like you to open your Bibles to 1 Peter. And I want to tell you that 1 Peter was written to a group of people who, if you think you’re getting persecuted, they were blamed at this point in time for burning down Rome.

They were viewed as anti-government, they were viewed as the problem and more and more of what I hear is the problem in America is Christians and their absolute values and their dogma. So, what did God say in the first century that allowed them to have an apologetic that transformed the world?

Rodney Stark in his excellent book The Rise of Christianity and The Triumph of Christianity talks about, sociologically, not the Holy Spirit, not God’s power, but just sociologically, what in the world could happen that an itinerant preacher with twelve followers who, when He died, only had about a hundred and twenty faithful followers, who made outrageous claims that were anti to the Roman government, that was a polytheistic world and He claims He’s the way, the truth, and the life – how in the world could that itinerant preacher, there is no printing press, there are no satellites, right? No silicon chips, no computers, no videos,

And yet, in less than three hundred years, by 313 A.D., that little group of followers called the Way, later to become Christians, were more than fifty percent of the known population of the Roman Empire. Think of that.

There was something radical about their lives. There were about sixty million people in the Roman Empire. By 313 A.D., it’s estimated thirty-three million were devoted followers of Christ.

I think the answer is right here. Now, don’t get me wrong. Classic apologetics is really important. But they need to be repackaged. Listen to what God would say through Peter to a group of people persecuted.

First of all, he opens it and says, “To those who reside as aliens scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, and Bithynia.” In other words, this is for everyone in Asia and Asia Minor. And then he says to them, “My grace and peace be with you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy we are born again,” get this, “to a living hope, protected by God’s power we have an inheritance that is imperishable that will not fade away, reserved for us in heaven.” And he goes on to say, “In this you greatly rejoice, even if now for a little while you are distressed by various trials.”

Here's what I want you to get: the Early Church had a living hope. It was powerful. They really believed there was an eternal life and that they lived in this temporal time and so that shaped everything. They believed they had an inheritance.

Now, especially in the world, it was a very crude and difficult and a world of much suffering. And so, these people had hope that they clung onto in the midst of great difficulty and great persecution.

He goes on to say, “Fix your hope fully on this grace and this hope,” this following of a living God, not a religion, not a set of principles, “it was set on Him. And the living hope,” he says, “therefore, gird your minds for action.” So, it starts. And we don’t use that word a lot.

But a Roman soldier would have a long robe and when he was ready to go into battle, he would take his belt like this and he would take it and he would tuck it in and he would gird it. He would say, “Be sober. Here’s what I want you to do. You need to get ready. You need to think in a different way. You need to be sober in your thinking. You need to get ready to go after it.” He says, “You’re in a battle.”

And then he goes on to say, “After this hope and you are ready to think in a completely different way, focused on God’s grace,” then here’s what he says.

“As a obedient children, do not be conformed any longer to the former lusts that were yours in your ignorance, but like the holy One who called you, be ye holy also in all your behavior.”

So, what he’s saying is, first and foremost, you can’t look at this life as your home. You’re an alien. You’re a stranger. Second, when you have this hope, when you have an eternal perspective that happens deep in your heart, your behavior, you become a holy person. Not holy as in weird, holy as in loving and pure and moral.

And then he, look at verse 22, he skips on down. “Since you, in obedience to the truth, have purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another, because you have been born again by the Word of God.”

So, notice this apologetic. It’s first this place. My world is not about just the now and just the happiness and how my life turns out and how my kids get into which school or am I upwardly mobile? It’s first and foremost: I have a faith that is rooted in eternity that leads to a holy life, that leads to this fervent love. This isn’t about just being in a small group.

This is your kids growing up in a world and your friends seeing that you love one another. You give your time, you give your energy, you give your money, you care about people. You care about the marginalized.

The Early Church were the ones who would take the infants off the garbage dumps. The Early Church was the one that helped the leper. The Early Church grew according to Rodney Stark because in the first eighty to one hundred thirty years, there were three major plagues that went across the whole Roman world.

And everyone ran to the hills, especially the wealthy. And Christians stayed willfully in the cities and served and many of them died and their names are recorded as martyrs. They were martyrs who died to save the people, ministering to them through these plagues.

And Rodney Stark observes that then there were huge, major metropolitan cities that the only people that were left were Christians who survived or unbelievers who were nursed back to health through Christians.

See, it wasn’t their reasons. It was their life, it was their love, it was their dedication. And I will tell you that where I live, the “nones” if you will, non-religious affiliation in the Silicon Valley, seventy percent. They are people from all over the world. It’s the most diverse place, it’s the most intelligent place. And what I can tell you, what we have had the privilege of doing, when we have loved people, when we have helped the immigrants, when we have helped do things in the schools, when we have served the city, when we have helped those in the homosexual lifestyle and driven them to their doctors appointment and cared for them, rather than judge them.

Do we hold to the truth? Absolutely. But a radical love is what marked the Early Church. Holy lives, radical love, eternal perspective.

As you open to chapter 2, he says, “Therefore, get rid of all malice and guile and hypocrisy and envy and slander. And like a newborn baby, long for the pure milk of God’s Word, that by it you may grow.”

Do you hear the attitudes? They weren’t telling Rome what they ought to do. They weren’t saying, “We’ve got to have our rights.” Get rid of all hypocrisy. Get rid of this anger. Stop posting things about this group or that group. Stop blaming. Cause your lips to be lips of praise and encouragement.

You hold to the truth, you live the life. And then he says you become these living stones and you, a movement occurred in the Early Church where they became the source of solving some of the biggest problems in the first century.

And they cared for people that hated them. They returned good for evil. As they were marched into stadiums arm-in-arm, they would sing praises, praying out loud, “God, please forgive those who are killing us.”

It’s a faith that I see when I go to China. It’s a faith that I am seeing when I travel in the Middle East. And it’s the resurgent, the apologetic of the faith that we need in America today.

Your kids are not going to be followers of Christ because you send them to a Christian school and you go to a building and everyone sits and listens to someone talk and they hear a few songs and whether it’s a small, little church or a mega-church, I will tell you, your kids are bombarded, your friends are bombarded with a worldview that is completely antithetical to Scripture.

And what it’s going to take is an apologetic – are you ready for this? Here’s the number one apologetic: it’s your life. It’s a holy life with an eternal perspective that is radically loving. And then in chapter 2, he goes on to say that this builds and you’re this chosen generation, you’re God’s vehicle.

It’s not a political party that is going to change the world. You’re a group of priests, you’re His kingdom operational agents to make a difference.

And then he says – are you ready for this? “I urge you as aliens and strangers,” just like you don’t belong here, “to abstain from fleshly lusts.” Our morality, we can’t speak words and tell people how they ought to live. Our morality, especially in the area of sexual purity, it begins with us, not judging other people.

He goes on to say then, this gets wild, “Submit, therefore, to the government, even when they’re wrong.” He said, “I want you to submit to the government; every institution.” You ought to be the best citizens in the world, not the whiners, not the complainers, not the blamers, not the people that say, “The government did this. This political party did this.” Or, “I’m going to blame the media here and it’s higher education here.”

The Early Church understood it was the positive message of their life and they hold to the truth, but they were the best citizens, the kindest people. They were the most winsome. In fact, he would even go on to say, “What credit is there if you suffer for doing what’s wrong? But when you suffer for doing what is right,” not claiming your rights, “this finds favor with God. For you were called to this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, providing you an example to follow in His steps.”

Do you understand what it looks like when – everyone knows when things are unfair, when you respond in a good way when a boss or a meeting or a neighbor or a situation when it is so unfair and it is so wrong and they meet someone who models Christlikeness – don’t you understand that’s powerful?

That’s what Jesus did. And so, he says to us: here’s the core of your apologetic. Before you give them reasons, before they want to sit down and ever ask about the hope that’s in you, you know what they need? They need to see the kind of life that is saying, “What makes you tick?”

I was with a Google executive recently, and we’re on a plane riding together and he is from a Hindu background, but like most Hindus, like most Buddhists, like most people in Islam, and like most Christians – they don’t practice their faith, okay? They’re culturally that, like most Jews.

And so, what we really practice is upward mobility, getting ahead, getting a good education. But I will tell you this about every person: he really cared about his wife. He wanted to be a good dad.

We had a conversation for an hour and a half on a plane and you know what? I didn’t start with, “Here are the five reasons why I believe the Bible. I want you to know Jesus is the only way and here are all the reasons for it.”

He didn’t want to hear any of that. He actually said to me, you know, this sounds kind of crazy because he was super well educated. He was super bright. He goes, “I don’t really get Christianity, Islam, I don’t even know the basic story. Could you tell it to me?” And I did.

Then pretty soon, I started talking about forty years of marriage. And I started talking about some struggles, big struggles that I had with some of my kids and how God worked and what the principles were and what I believed and why.

I’m telling you, an hour and fifty-one minutes into that flight, over that time, this guy, I end up handing him the book Why I Believe, and instead of him feeling like, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” you know what he felt like? He felt like someone put his arm around him and we were sitting on this side of the table and truth is on that side of the table and there’s a loving God that has truth that wants to help him be a good dad, that wants him to have a great marriage, that wants to help him invest in his kids, and that there is truth that is sustainable and verifiable.

But he wasn’t ready to hear any of that until I listened, until I loved him, until I didn’t judge him. And he gave me all, “I think as long as you’re sincere, it doesn’t matter what you believe.” I said, “That’s a really interesting statement.” And we walked down that path logically. And I am going to tell you, little by little by little, what he realized is he has heard all this mantra of our day, but he hadn’t really thought it through. He didn’t know what he really believed or why.

And he – the same human needs that everyone has, that’s where we begin. I love it, he even tells us to let our family life demonstrate it. He says, “Wives,” in chapter 3, “this is how to respond to your husband.” And then, “Hey, husbands, this is how you respond to your wife.” And this is so radical. A woman who was just a piece of property to be used and abused, and he says, “Live with your wife in an understanding way. She’s a coheir of the grace of God.”

And then he says to sum it up; this is a great passage, because it’s the actual context. He says, “Here’s what I want you to know. To sum up, let all be harmonious and sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult.” Can you imagine if we just applied that to social media alone?

Not evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead, for you were called for this very purpose” – why? “that you might receive a blessing.” And then that passage talks about that blessing and the kind of life it produces and it’s that kind of life that people will say, “Oh! Would you tell me the hope that’s in you? Can you tell me how your family looks like this? Can you tell me how your life is working like that?”

Because here’s what I know. People can say whatever they want. You don’t have to believe in gravity. You jump off a four-story building, I’ll tell you what, the results are about the same of someone who says, “I believe in gravity.” This person says, “I don’t believe in gravity.” They both jump off.

You don’t have to believe in how, what God says about relationships, you don’t believe that Jesus is the only way, you don’t have believe. But I will tell you, when you violate the principles of the kingdom of how God has designed life to work, then what you have is destruction and heartbreak.

We have the highest suicide rate in the history of America, especially among thirteen to seventeen-year-old girls and middle aged people. Those who are struggling with sexual identity issues, whether transgender or with homosexuality, you have, again, high suicide rates. We are living in a day where what Christians need to be and to become are first and foremost, godly, loving, kind and winsome.

Because here’s the deal: classic apologetics assumed that we were living the kind of life that people were asking about the hope that’s in you.

Now, you. Anybody asking you that? What’s your hope? Is your life that different? Can I be very gentle, but I want to start our time, be very direct. Have you unconsciously, unconsciously – so, I don’t mean you have willfully done it – somehow thought that just going to church, intellectually believing a few facts, praying a prayer is really going to cause your family, your kids, your neighbors to see Christ as the most attractive and powerful reality in all the world?

And if you’re concerned about your children, if you’re concerned and feeling intimidated by what is happening in our world, stay with me. Because we are going to talk about this new apologetic that starts with your life and how then we use all those facts and all that truth in a winsome way to put our arm around people to really help them understand and them to accept and understand that there is a God who cares about them.

The mandate hasn’t changed: “Go unto all the world and” – what? “preach the gospel.” That’s what God wants to do in us and through us. Father, I pray right now for every, single person that You would give them a moment of truth to analyze and evaluate where they’re at in their relationship with You. Father, I pray that we would grasp first and foremost that our lives have to scream the love of God and the truth of God before our mouths can speak about the same. Would You guide our time? Would You help us to be Christians who really live like Christians for Your glory and for our good? In Jesus’ name, amen.